Jaws (1975) tells the story of a huge great white shark, which is terrorising the Amity Island holiday resort; and Predator (1987) is a film about tough, special forces soldiers sent on a search and rescue mission, deep in the South American jungle, only to come face-to-face with a ruthless, extra-terrestrial life form intent on hunting them.
Jaws takes place at a holiday town, and mostly focuses on the sea around Amity Island: Predator is located in the jungle. In Jaws, the sea is associated with pleasure and fun — but the shark has taken over this domain; it silently, and invisibly, comes and goes, and anyone on, or within, the water, is in danger of being savagely killed. The jungle, in Predator, is where Major Alan ‘Dutch’ Schaefer feels comfortable, he’s an expert in jungle warfare, but now this environment, is dominated by the alien creature, who is hunting them as prey — the alien creature is perfectly adapted, with its invisibility cloak, heat sensing ability (which allows it to see through foliage), and an ability to move at speed through the tree canopy; armed with deadly blades, and a high tech blaster fixed to its shoulder, it’s a lethal killing machine.
Major Schaefer, in Predator, is an experienced leader, and his team’s assault on the guerrilla stronghold shows both his first class military skills, and the quality of his men: they’re the best of the best. In Jaws, Police Chief Martin Brody, is a New York policeman who has moved to a tranquil small town, where he expects to come across nothing more challenging than an occasional stolen wallet.
The monster threatens both heroes — and the people around them — because it will never stop killing. It demands the hero faces it with everything they have, in a battle that will end one-on-one, with only one victor. The female guerrilla, Anna, in Predator, shares valuable information about the alien creature (the local people have a legend of a creature that takes men as ‘trophies’). Major Schaefer’s own scout — a man with exceptional tracking skills, who is not afraid of any man — acknowledges that this is ‘no man’. Major Schaefer is able to use this information, and his own experience, to work out that the alien uses the trees to move around, and is hunting them. Chief Martin Brody, in Jaws, is dissuaded from closing the beach, because the Mayer forces a death-by-boating verdict from the coroner. Later on, Brody is able to learn from Matt Hooper (an oceanographer), and local professional shark hunter, Quint, that the monster must be stopped, by any means. The hero in both stories is able to keep their cool, and to see what is really going on.
The monster strikes by killing its victims one-by-one — the hero is helpless to stop the slaughter. Each time someone is killed the pressure on the hero increases: they must stop the monster, or more people will die. In Predator the monster is killing Major Schaefer’s team one-by-one, ‘taking them out’ and hanging up their bodies. Each attack increases the team’s desperation. Now, once fearless men are afraid. In Jaws, Brody has to watch innocent people in his community slaughtered by the monster. He has to fight the Mayer’s refusal to accept that it is a shark (because it might damage the town’s summer holiday business), and then to fight the lie that a smaller tiger shark — which local fisherman have caught — was responsible for the deaths.
The turning point comes when the hero is able to learn enough about the monster to predict its behaviour. Brody has Matt Hooper, the oceanographer, and the professional shark fisherman, Quint, to learn from — Brody knows the shark will never stop until they kill it. Major Schaefer understands, as one hunter to another, that the alien want’s them all dead, and it will keep going unless he can kill it.
The heroes must use their ingenuity to tackle a monster that has greater strength than them. Major Schaefer uses his jungle survival skills, to make his own weapons and to build a trap, using himself as bait. He discovers that the alien sees heat signatures, and so he is able to use fire, and cover his body in mud, to hide his own heat signature. Eventually, using himself as bait, he manages to put the alien out of action by using a tree trunk as a falling deadweight trap.
Brody manages to shove the compressed air canister into the sharks mouth, and then, as the top of the mast — his last refuge — falls toward the surface of the sea, leaving him completely vulnerable — making him the bait — he is able to shoot the compressed air canister, literally exploding the shark into hundreds of pieces. The monster is slain, not by strength, but by human ingenuity. The monster is so fixated on its prey, that it unknowingly exposes itself to danger.
The monster is not human; it does not talk, or reason. The predator mimics human voice only to trick its victims, and although it is unmasked at the end, we have no understanding of what it is, or where it’s come from. The shark, in Jaws, is a relentless killing machine — with absolutely no sense of remorse, or guilt.
Both these stories are warnings — when a group is threatened by a creature, which lacks human values like guilt, or empathy — one member of the group must take on the task of dealing with this threat, and they will need to use all their resourcefulness, strategy, and ingenuity they can muster, to kill it. Although the stories present us with a grim account of horror and death, because the monster is killed, and the hero survives, they can ultimately be understood as celebrations of human strength in the face of adversity.
In Predator — with the monster dead — Major Schaefer leaves the jungle by helicopter — Anna is already on board: she’s the only one able to comprehend his ordeal. In Jaws, Brody swims ashore with Matt Hooper, the oceanographer, each one is a witness to the other’s ordeal.
Now, in both stories, life can continue as normal — the nightmare is over.