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Predator (Ultimate Hunter Edition)

Fox // R // June 29, 2010
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted July 2, 2010 | E-mail the Author
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I kind of went back and forth on how to start off this review, but...whatever. I'll just come right out and say it: Predator is the single best action flick ever made. Go ahead and name another contender if you want, but that doesn't change the fact that I'm right and you're clearly mistaken. This is the movie that made Arnold Schwarzenegger a household name. It sports a perfect cast...a ridiculously quotable and devastatingly sleek script...a breakneck pace...a seamless blend of high-octane action, sci-fi, and blood-spattered horror. Predator remains inhumanly tense even my thirtieth or fortieth time through, and its hunter inarguably ranks up there with Alien and its first sequel as cinema's best-realized murderous creature from another world. This is a film whose twenty-fifth anniversary is just off on the horizon, and it doesn't feel the least bit dated.

Yeah, yeah...I know you've already watched Predator a couple hundred times and can pass on the recap, but I'll tear through the plot anyway. Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his elite rescue squad swoop into the heart of a steaming South American jungle to grab a kidnapped cabinet minister, or at least, that's the story he's handed by his old Army buddy Dillon (Carl Weathers). Nothing seems right from word one -- too many holes in Dillon's cover story...a rack of U.S. soldiers' skinned corpses strung up from a tree -- but Dutch and his men charge ahead undaunted and slaughter an entire guerilla camp. The mission's about as much of a success as it could be, but as Dutch and company trudge through the jungle to their extraction point, some invisible force starts picking off the soldiers one by one. They're on the receiving end of some sort of intergalactic safari, and this unseen hunter has a taste for this sort of dangerous prey. All of the heavy artillery they're packing is useless, and when there's just one man left standing, his only hope of survival is to become as primal a force as the untamed jungle around him.

Not that I've kept a running tally or anything, but I've probably watched Predator more than any other movie over the past couple of decades. I've clearly had the opportunity to evaluate whatever flaws it may have, but even with so many viewings over the course of so many years, it still seems absolutely perfect to me. An essential part of what makes Predator such a flawless action flick is how it never stops charging ahead. There are no sprawling backstories or rambling, fist-sized chunks of exposition to drag the movie down. Dutch and his men have a hell of a lot of personality -- kinda goes without saying with guys like Jesse Ventura, Bill Duke, and Shane Black on the payroll -- and the script doles out all of that without stopping to catch its breath. There are lulls in the action, but Predator always fills those down moments with something: mistrust, pig-sticking, pussy jokes, the nagging sense that something's not quite right... The pacing never has a chance to drag, from a gun-toting first act that's waist-deep in spent shell casings to the brutal, feral action/sci-fi/horror melding of
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Predator's extended climax. I'm still impressed by how lean and efficient the script is, especially compared to the bloated action flicks Hollywood's listlessly churning out these days, and it's about as endlessly quotable as they come: "If it bleeds, we can kill it"; "Run! Go! Get to the choppaaah!"; "You're one ugly motherfucker"; "I ain't got time to bleed". I could keep going, but you get the idea.

...and then there's the alien itself. The predator is a completely different beast from the biomechanical insects of the Alien movies, but it does have a similar blend of unspoken intelligence and ferocity, not to mention an equally brilliant creature design. There's something unsettling about the fact that the alien has no voice of its own. It can't be reasoned with. It can't spout off any backstory or cackling monologue to Dutch in the climax. It's a hunter, pure and simple, slaughtering the major's men because it wants to. To spout off another movie analogy, I'm even reminded somewhat of Jaws; both hold off on revealing their unstoppable killing machines, alternating between POV shots and fleeting, half-obscured glimpses until well over an hour into the film. The alien is as elusive to the audience as it is to Dutch and his men, making the creature that much more menacing. The alien's obvious frustration in the climax when his elaborate arsenal of weaponry proves useless, the frequent shifts into its infrared point of view, its deciphering of muddled, distant chatter that it gradually learns to mimic, and the truly outstanding design of the creature and its armor make it feel both otherworldly while still grounded in some sort of reality. This too serves to heighten the intensity.

So, that's what...four paragraphs straight of me rambling on about how Predator is the single greatest action movie ever committed to film? Why, you ask, the emboldened, italicized Skip It over there in the sidebar? Fox first dumped Predator on Blu-ray in 2008 with an aging master, a low-bitrate encode with a notoriously inefficient codec, and no extras to speak of...oh! And a bloated $39.99 sticker price just to twist the knife a little further to the left. Needless to say, this didn't go over particularly well. To cash in on the looming theatrical release of Predators, the Robert Rodriguez-produced sequel, Fox minted this shiny new Blu-ray re-release, correcting some of those missteps but completely and thoroughly mangling the high-def presentation in the process. Of course, you can probably already see a bunch of screengrabs below this to illustrate how shoddy an effort -- if you can even call it that -- this Blu-ray disc is. I'll ramble on about all that in a bit, but if you want the short answer...? Don't bother. Oh well. Predator celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary in just a couple of years, and I'm sure Fox'll ring that in with yet another re-re-release. Maybe the third time'll be the charm, but until then...? Skip It.

"If there's grain, we can kill it."

Look, if you managed to dig up this review, chances are that you've already stumbled across a slew of screenshot comparisons and long-winded rants about how badly mauled this re-release of Predator is on Blu-ray. If not...well, just click on these screenshots to get a sense of what passes for a remaster at Fox these days.
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The smart money says those abysmal shots are all the review you really need.

Just to get this out of the way, Predator has never been a film that sparkled and gleamed. This is a movie I've owned on Laserdisc, DVD, and twice now on Blu-ray, and I'd be terrified to guess how many times I've caught it on cable. Up until now, in every single one of those presentations, black levels have always been all over the map, the weight of its film grain varies wildly from one shot to the next, and the movie even has trouble staying in focus. No matter how much money Fox chucked at a remaster, Predator is a movie that will never score a perfect rating on a DVD or Blu-ray review site.

When Fox first issued Predator on Blu-ray, there wasn't much of any attempt at cleaning it up. There was a little speckling. The grain inherent in the production of the film -- a stock that doesn't hold up well under low that reportedly couldn't stomach the sweltering heat and humidity of this location shoot -- dominated the image. Fine detail rarely ranked any higher than mediocre. It just looked as if Fox dusted off whatever HD master they'd had sitting on the shelf for years and disinterestedly slapped it on Blu-ray. Even though I know this isn't a movie that'll ever be showcase material for my home theater rig, I couldn't shake the sense that Predator should still look at least a little better than that. Even worse, Fox dumped Predator onto a single-layer Blu-ray disc with an old MPEG-2 encode whose average bitrate hovered around the 19Mbps range. Those are almost the exact same tech specs I'd get from NBC with an antenna plugged straight into my TV, and broadcast HD quality obviously falls short of the benchmarks I've come to expect out of Blu-ray. The compression didn't bug me when I reviewed that initial Blu-ray disc a couple years ago, but I was using a 50" 768p display at the time. Having upgraded to a 60" 9G Kuro Elite since then, I can more clearly see the MPEG-2 encode on the original disc creak and groan.

Reviews for that initial Blu-ray release were mixed, with most of the complaints centered around how grainy the film is. Grain is not inherently a flaw. What detail you can discern in a movie captured on film...that's grain. In the same way that a pixel is the building block of a digital image, so too is grain when it comes to celluloid. The more the grain is filtered away, the less distinct...the less detailed the image will ultimately be. Fox responded to the griping and grousing about the initial gritty Blu-ray release of Predator by digitally pressure-washing away every last trace of grain. This no longer looks like a movie shot on looks like low-rent video. By filtering out the grain, all sense of texture and detail has been drained away too. Edges are frequently smeary and indistinct, kind of like an oil painting. Arnie looks like he's been jabbed in the forehead with a barrel drum of Botox. Instead of being able to pick out individual fibers or subtle textures in clothing -- the sort of intricate details that typically shine on Blu-ray -- a muddy, monochromatic smudge takes its place. Rather than being able to discern the veins and texture on the foliage of the jungle, the overprocessed imagery makes it all look more like a bunch of rubber plants from the discount shelf at Michael's. As inconsistent as Predator has looked in the past, the movie still seemed to settle comfortably into its erratic appearance. This re-release has been scrubbed so raw that when the image falls slightly out of focus, it's so much more jarring now than it used to be. In shots that have always been extremely grainy -- such as Dutch tumbling off a cliff and into the dazzlingly blue water below -- the digital noise reduction is just cranked up that much more, and what's left can be almost completely indiscernable.

One of the frustrating things is that some of the tech specs here are what the initial release of Predator should've had in the first place: a high-bitrate AVC encode with the sort of expansive headroom a BD-50 disc has to offer. With that alone, I bet that early Blu-ray release would've been a lot more warmly received. I'm still impressed by how punchy the colors are compared to the duller, muddier transfers I've watched over and over again in years past. There are even a few scattered moments that genuinely struck me as looking terrific, despite all of this processing, although maybe that's just strictly by comparison. None of that matters. This is embarrassingly shoddy work and scrapes the bottom of the barrel as one of the worst presentations to claw its way to Blu-ray. You are one ugly motherfucker.

So much of what makes Predator such an intense action flick can be traced back to its sound design. Its pounding, instantly recognizable score...the thunderous, low-frequency roar when the camera shifts to the alien's infrared perspective...the devastating artillery that both sides invisible creature skulking through a jungle in pursuit of the most dangerous game...the alien's haunting mimicry of his prey; this is a movie that demands an outstanding soundtrack, and Fox has delivered with this 24-bit, six-channel DTS-HD Master Audio track. The 5.1 remix does a remarkable job of immersing the room in sound. The surrounds are used extensively, of course -- massive explosions, unending streams of gunfire, whirring chopper blades, and blasts from the alien's shoulder-mounted cannon -- but there's plenty of stereo separation across the front channels as well, everything from radio chatter to buzzing flies to extraterrestial hack-and-slash. The mix is reinforced by a colossal low-end that keeps the subwoofer rattling throughout. Predator is also clever enough to know when to use silence to draw out the most tension, and those moments aren't marred in the slightest by any distracting hiss or distortion either. Its score also snarls with a ferocity lacking on earlier DVD releases. The only stumbling block is the dialogue, which often sounds flat and scratchy, worlds removed from the fidelity of the rest of the mix. Again, that's the way I've always heard Predator sound, so I can't consider that to be a flaw with this Blu-ray release.

The list of audio options is sprawling. The Dolby Digital 4.0 track from previous releases has been included yet again alongside Dolby Digital 5.1 dubs in Spanish and Portuguese. DTS 5.1 soundtracks are offered in French, German, Italian, and Castilian Spanish. There are twelve subtitle streams, so no matter what language you happen to speak, chances are that you're covered.

A sticker on the shrinkwrap serves up $10 in Hollywood Movie Money for The A-Team, Knight and Day, or Predators.

This re-release -- one of just a handful of movies so far to be double-dipped on Blu-ray -- is shamelessly cashing in on Predators as it starts making the rounds in theaters, and there are a couple of other plugs for the movie on this disc too. There's a high-def trailer for Predators, natch, along with a two minute promo about this latest sequel. The only other addition of note is the double-coloned "Predator: Evolution of a Species: Hunters of Extreme Perfection", an eleven minute HD featurette that's mostly just Predators' Robert Rodriguez and Nimród Antal fawning over how badass the original movie is.

If you already have the 2-disc
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DVD special edition from a few years back, the rest of this'll sound awfully familiar. For the uninitiated, though, the extras really are tremendous. Since the dawn of DVD, just about every movie produced has a documentary crew taping away, and there's a concerted effort to hold onto outtakes and behind-the-scenes footage. That wasn't the case back in 1986 and 1987 when Predator was underway, and the sheer volume of footage from the set (even including a few deleted scenes!) is pretty remarkable for a film of its vintage.
  • If It Bleeds, We Can Kill It: The Making of Predator (29 min.; SD): The centerpiece of Predator's extras is a mix of retrospective interviews from 2001 and an impressive assortment of behind-the-scenes footage dating all the way back to 1986. Everyone of any note, from top to bottom, is given a chance to participate at some point, and they're candid about just how grueling a film this was to produce...the sweltering heat, the logistical headaches of shooting in this sort of terrain, and the dismal failure of the original alien design. Of course, it's every bit as straightforward about the sunnier side of the shoot as well: the friendly but fierce competitive streak on the set, the spec script for Predator being covertly slid under a Fox exec's door, lining up this cast, and how an offhand comment on a flight to Tokyo with Stan Winston and James Cameron wound up defining the look of the unmasked alien. "If It Bleeds, We Can Kill It" strikes a perfect balance between informative and infectious fun, and it's one of the meatiest extras on this disc.

  • Inside the Predator (31 min.; SD): Rather than hammer out another half-hour documentary, Fox chopped "Inside the Predator" up into seven individual clips. They include a five minute Valentine to Arnie, an extended look at what it takes to tackle an action flick of this scale, why you need a top-notch production design team even when you're shooting on location in a place kinda jungle-ish as it is, and infusing the special ops team with that much more personality through their weapons and distinctive camo facepaint. Also featured here are an extended look at Old Painless -- the Gatling gun that's usually mounted on a helicopter; here it's lugged around by Jesse "The Body" Ventura -- as well as a tribute to the late Kevin Peter Hall, the man behind the creature.

  • Short Takes (10 min.; SD): Four mini-featurettes have been crammed together here. Director John McTiernan kicks things off by talking about how he's come to live in a world of pictures, and it closes with chatter about the cast and crew being plagued by diarrhea during the shoot in Mexico. Kinda comes full circle? In between is a discussion about how Jesse Ventura wound up being cast, what he was like during the shoot, and how it's not all that surprising that he wound up in politics. By far the best of these clips is Stan Winston talking about how he got back on Arnold Schwarzenegger with a prank involving a pillowcase full of bullfrogs, only...well, that'd be telling.

  • Special Effects (4 min.; SD): The navigation with this feature is a little clumsy: it's divided into two sections that are then segmented out further to reveal a grand total of five different clips. We're offered several looks at the raw footage of the red predator suit that'd later be camouflaged out during post-production, including before-and-after shots of the abysmal, rubbery alien design that would quickly be abandoned. An early test with a moth fluttering off the invisible alien has also been included.

  • Deleted Scenes and Outtakes (5 min.; SD): The cat-and-mouse between Dutch and the creature is extended quite a bit in two of these deleted scenes...coming to the realization in the first that the alien is toying with him, and then a longer look at Dutch preparing to turn the tables. The other pair of clips are much shorter: Ana briefly entranced by a chameleon -- too on the nose, of course -- and a few different takes of Arnie sliding down a hill.

  • Photo Gallery (HD): Of these forty or so high-res stills, the highlight has to be a shot of Jean Claude Van Damme halfway in the original, clunky,
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    discarded alien suit.

  • Predator Profile (HD): This interactive feature tears into the technical specifications of the alien's arsenal.

  • Theatrical Trailers: The original trailer for Predator is presented in high-def, although it really doesn't look the part. Predator 2's minute-and-a-half trailer is limited to standard definition only.

  • Audio Commentary: This commentary track with director John McTiernan is a slow, lumbering slog. There are long stretches of uncomfortable silence, and most of the highlights have already been tackled elsewhere on the disc. McTiernan does delve into why Predator was shot flat rather than in scope, expands on some of the specifics of the creature suit, and covers the frequently told story about trying to put a monkey in a red suit for the alien effects, but there's too much repetition and far too much dead air to be worth a bother. He also has a tendency to get caught up in random tangents, ranting about studio politics and the role Hollywood plays in tragedies like Columbine. Not really worth a listen.

  • Text Commentary: On the other hand, the text commentary -- a subtitle track by Eric Lichtenfeld that interviews a small army of the folks who toiled away behind the scenes -- is essential viewing. There's a candidness to it that infuses the track with an enormous amount of personality, and that doesn't get in the way of delivering a remarkable amount of insight into the making the film. Why the alien's shoulder cannon earned the nickname 'Parrot Gun', an emphasis on casting Vietnam vets to play the special ops soldiers, one fully-produced special effects setpiece that was nixed for being too violent, the Foley team skulking around and swiping foliage from around the neighborhood to make the jungle sound fresh and alive...this just cannot be mistaken for the usual sort of subtitle trivia track. It's everything you'd hope for in a proper commentary minus the audio, and quite a few of its highlights aren't covered anywhere else on this disc.

The Final Word
It's really not even up for debate: Predator is the single greatest action flick of all time. If you disagree, you're wrong. I mean, we can still be friends and everything, but here...? You're wrong. This really is one of my all-time favorites -- an unrelenting, genre-bending adrenaline rush that keeps reeling me in no matter how many times I see it -- and that's why it hits me like such a slug to the gut that Fox has mangled Predator so badly on Blu-ray. The overzealous noise reduction has sapped away so much of the texture, clarity, and detail that this can hardly even be considered high definition anymore.

Forget it. Predator's 25th anniversary is only a couple years off, and I don't think there's really any question that Fox will hammer out another re-release sometime around then. Predator's first Blu-ray release is imperfect, sure, but it looks a whole hell of a lot better than this "Ultimate Hunter Edition" (?)...and that original disc is also ten bucks cheaper on Amazon as I write this to boot. Virtually of the extras on this special edition can be found on the DVD set, and a used copy of that'll only add a few more dollars to that total. There's not a whole lot more I'd like to do than slap DVD Talk's highest recommendation on Predator, but until Fox can be bothered to assemble a truly definitive release, Skip It.
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