Predator is a classic of the sci-fi genre, featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger at the peak of his powers, John McTiernan’s taut direction, a killer concept and a record number of quality one-liners. It’s a seamless fusion of action and horror, providing viewers with a squad of badass, muscley dudes with big guns – who are ultimately helpless in the face of a literally out of this world threat.
It’s a testament to McTiernan’s skill that a potentially cheesy concept still holds up today, but it didn’t always seem like a slam-dunk. Scholars of Predator have undoubtedly seen the pictures of the original creature, where an unknown Jean-Claude Van Damme donned a costume to play a ridiculous looking monster that wouldn’t cut the mustard on an episode of Power Rangers. McTiernan – knowing the suit would kill his movie – shot footage of it in motion to show the studio, hoping it would convince them to shut production down so it could be reworked. Thankfully they agreed, drafting the great Stan Winston to design a new hunter and creating a genre icon in the process.
All of which brings us to late author Paul Monette’s Predator novelization. While the story is largely faithful to the film, Monette was clearly working from an early draft when the production hadn’t quite figured out exactly what the title beast was. The book also contains some curious deleted scenes and subplots, including an alternate ending McTiernan nixed because he felt it was a little silly.
“What da hell are you?”
The biggest difference between the novelization and film is the Jungle Hunter himself. The creature in the book bears little resemblance to his cinematic counterpart and in its regular form is a tall beast with ice-blue skin, with scales that allow it to camouflage itself. He lacks the shoulder mounted plasma cannon and is commonly equipped with a razor sharp spear instead. His abilities only get crazier from here.
It turns out this Predator is a shapeshifter who can transform itself into any animal it touches. It does this a couple of times early in the story, taking on the form of a hawk and a jackal. It can’t take the form of human beings, however. It can even disappear into thin air and take on a mist-like form. The movie was wise to drop these kitchen sink abilities, especially since the creature never makes use of them during a fight.
While the film teases the arrival of the hunter during the first half, the book opens with the creature scanning Earth for lifeforms worthy of hunting and looking at various animal readouts until humanity grabs its interest. This creature is something of an academic you see, and while it likes the thrill of the hunt it also seeks to study mankind. It skins bodies out of scientific curiosity and to learn how makes humanity tick. When wounded he bleeds a thick amber color, instead of the movie’s glow stick green.
While Predator 2 memorably featured a trophy skull room – complete with a certain H.R. Giger creation making an easter egg cameo – McTiernan dropped this idea during filming. The creature in the book has one though, complete with the skulls of its many victims. One unique addition to its arsenal is a trap Dutch narrowly avoids while chasing the beast in the finale. He comes across what looks like a big spider’s web, but he can instantly tell something’s off. Needless to say, it’s a nasty trap which rips and crushes anything it catches. The concept of the Jungle Hunter setting its own traps in an interesting one that the movie’s themselves haven’t really explored.
“Hey Billy, how many marines does it take to eat a squirrel?”
There are some notable differences between the characters in the book and film too. The most intriguing is Billy.
In the movie Billy is the first to sense something is very wrong, and later sums up the team’s dire situation with “We’re all gonna die.” This is played like intuition on his part, but the novelization take this notion and runs with it. It reveals Billy is actually psychic, and during the sequence where he stares at the trees sensing the hunter’s presence, he has a full-on psychic vision, flashing back a thousand years to when his ancestors faced another alien hunter.
When he snaps out of this he immediately warns Dutch of the danger they face, and while the men are understandably reluctant to believe him at first, they come around to the idea of an alien hunter stalking them surprisingly quick. Billy is also gifted with a memorable off-screen demise in the movie where he prepares to face down the beast one-on-one, before his piercing scream is heard by the fleeing survivors. The book robs him of that, however, revealing he didn’t put up much of a fight:
“The alien had taken him in a flash, its weapon slicing through the Indian’s jugular and then zigzagging down his chest and belly like a mockery of some tribal blessing.”
The language barrier between guerrilla prisoner Anna and the squad plays a role in the first half of the movie until she reveals she could speak English the entire time. In the book Dutch can speak Spanish, removing that whole dynamic. Sadly the book also removes her memorable “trophies of man” speech. The book implies something of a simmering love story between Anna and Dutch, and when he’s rescued at the end she runs up to him, hugging him and kissing his chest. The Predator also uses Anna’s voice against Dutch in the finale to try and lure him into an ambush.
Dillon is depicted as more regretful of his deception and even includes himself in the “expendable assets” line, arguing his lie was a necessary evil. The book underlines his need for redemption when he chases after Mac after the failed bid to trap the alien, and both he and Dutch instinctively know he won’t be coming back, so Dutch quietly forgives his former friend for his actions.
In a strange twist Dutch actually finds the strung up body of Hawkins in the book during his initial search, but for some reason, no attempt is made to recover it. Hawkins also makes only one bad joke to Billy in the novel, and it’s unlikely even Shane Black could have sold this one.
“Hey Billy, how many marines does it take to eat a squirrel? Two. One to eat it and one to watch for cars.”
To the surprise of no one, Black wrote his own gags for the movie. On a sidenote, Black has had an interesting journey with the Predator series, going from the creature’s first onscreen victim in the original to the writer/director of recent sequel The Predator.
“The demon who makes trophies of man.”
Poor Dutch misplaces his pants after narrowly escaping the Predator and getting covered in mud, so he spends the entire showdown in the nip – which would have been a brave choice for the movie. The biggest addition to the finale is Dutch tracking the wounded alien back to its spaceship where it keeps his trophies. The beast isn’t very honorable in its final moments either, running back to the craft when he realizes Dutch has the upper hand.
Dutch grabs the creature’s fallen spear and chases it down, and is horrified to discover the skins of his fallen comrades being displayed on nearby trees. He arrives just in time to throw the spear through the ship’s closing cargo door, which stabs through the hunter and kills it. Unfortunately for Dutch it also sets a self-destruct mechanism, so he has to flee from the explosion, which also wipes out all traces of the alien’s massacre. McTiernan wasn’t fond of the alien ship concept and fought to have it removed, though he wryly noted most of the ideas he rejected later found their way into 1990’s Predator 2.
The other changes in the book are negligible: only Mac and Poncho fire into the woods following Blain’s death instead of the entire squad, most of the team die by gory neck wounds – including the title creature – and Dutch’s rescue team nearly shoot him, since he looks like a monster himself.
The Predator novelization is an easy read but it isn’t great literature ultimately, and can only be recommended to die-hard fans who are curious about the differences. We suspect that covers quite a few of you, though!