Widely considered, and rightly so, to be one of the absolute best and most manly of late eighties action cinema, Predator was a box office smash thanks to the amazing star power that Arnold Schwarzenegger's name carried at the time. This was a time when Arnold's name was equated with box office gold and it seemed he could do no wrong. We all know that this trend wouldn't last forever but the film remains one of his best thanks to its ass kicking combination of horror and sci-fi elements, an incredibly macho supporting cast, and one of the coolest big screen beasties to come along this side of Giger's creature designs from Alien (a franchise that would run head first into this one for two goofy Aliens Vs. Predator films).
The opening shot shows a mysterious spaceship heading towards Earth but from there we cut to a scene where Major Alan "Dutch" Shaeffer (Schwarzenegger) and his pal, a CIA officer named George Dillon (Carl Weathers) are out to rescue a politician who has recently been kidnapped by insane Guatemalan resistance fighters. Along for the ride are a few other hot shot military types - a Native American warrior named Billy Sole (the great Sonny Landham), a Vietnam vet Mac (Bill Duke), and a maniac named Blaine Cooper (Jesse 'The Body' Ventura) who carries a massive Gatling gun he's named 'Ol' Painless.' What appears to initially be a fairly standard 'get in, get the guy, get out' type of mission soon turns out to be a whole lot more when they come across a string of bodies hanging from the trees above them, their skin completely peeled off of their bodies. They quickly figure out that something evil is afoot, something not even close to human, and that it's hunting them for sport. As the crew make their way through the jungle, trying to outwit whatever hulking alien beast it stalking them, their numbers quickly dwindle and Dutch finds himself having to go mano a mano against an ugly creature with lasers and a cloaking device. Hope is not lost, however, because, as Dutch so astutely puts it, 'if it bleeds, we can kill it.'
By mixing up elements from The Most Dangerous Game with a jungle survival film, war films, and whatever slasher picture you might care to name, Predator is a blissfully awesome genre stew that cares only about entertaining its audience. While there is some logic to the story and the events that unfold in it, the film is more concerned with action, violence and monster mash mayhem with more regard for macho posturing than for complex plot development or fancy twists. The film delivers exactly what you'd want it to - some of the toughest guys on the planet throwing down in the middle of a hot, sweaty, nasty-ass jungle against a beast they know nothing about who has better technology and a complete physical advantage over them. The only thing they have going for them is their training and their smarts.
Arnold is at his tough guy best here, with only Terminator standing out in his filmography as a more appropriate role for him (simply because that role plays to his somewhat wooden acting ability). He's as ripped here as he ever was, and when he's all decked out in his commando gear he absolutely looks like the right man for the job. The supporting cast are not to be outdone, however, with former porn star Sonny Landham giving an effectively intense turn and Jesse Ventura couldn't be more pumped full of testosterone than he is in this picture, lugging a massive gatling gun through the jungle and spitting chewing tobacco.
The effects work in the picture still hold up quite well. The monster design work is interesting and unique, the Predator himself a fairy unique creation courtesy of Stan Winston and his talented team. The optical effects, in which we see the creature use his camouflage ability, might look a little more dated than some of the other tricks of the trade but they too hold up fairly well. There's plenty of effective blood and gore work in the picture, easily earning the film it's hard R rating, and the movie always moves along at a great pace. Director John McTiernan was obviously well aware of the type of film he was making here, essentially a big budget major studio B-movie, and so he gives the audience what they want and in copious amounts. While it may not be deep and it may not be a thinking man's film, it's pretty hard to dispute the picture's status as an eighties action classic. It's tense, it's exciting, it's got a rad monster and it's deliciously violent and those qualities, when coupled with its fantastic cast, have earned the film its loyal following.The Blu-ray:
Fox previously brought Predator to Blu-ray a few years ago in a transfer that was a bit on the dirty side and which didn't really look all that impressive. Perhaps that's the reason they've gone completely insane with scrubbing out all of the grain from this reissue, presented in the film's original 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer. The amount of DNR applied to the image on this disc is, to be blunt, appalling. Skin now looks like wax and detail has gone absent without leave. Close up shots of faces show actors who once looked tough and earthy now sporting complexions looking something more akin to a Barbie Doll. Human skin now looks fake and smeary and while the colors tend to look much better than the previous release, the loss in detail and texture is a massive strike against the image quality on this release. On the plus side, the black levels are solid and there aren't any obvious compression artifacts to complain about, but it's hard to look past the fact that the detail that was once in the film has been mowed down like a jungle with a gatling gun. To call the transfer disappointing is an understatement, especially because there is a noticeable improvement in compression, color reproduction, and the edge enhancement that plagued the last disc is noticeably improved as well. But the DNR here is off the wall - remember how bad the original Gangs Of New York Blu-ray looked because of the excessive noise reduction applied to it? This release of Predator looks worse. Let's all keep our fingers crossed that the Alien collection release stated for fall of 2010 doesn't look like this...Sound:
The biggest and best of the audio options on this disc is the English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track, though an English Dolby Digital 4.0 option is supplied as are dubbed tracks in Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and French DTS 5.1. Optional subtitles are provided in the same three languages.
The DTS-HD 5.1 track appears to be the same as the one that appeared on the previous Blu-ray edition, which is fine. It sounded good there and it sounds good here. There's a lot of good and aggressive use of all five channels and the subwoofer kicks in on a pretty regular basis to provide some welcome low end thump. Gun fire sounds great, as the bullets zip past you from different directions, while the explosions that occur in the film have some strong resonance to them. There isn't as much to work with here as there might be with a more modern film, but this track sounds pretty decent. Dialogue is easy to follow and understand and the levels are well balanced. Ambient noise creeps up subtly from behind during the quieter moments in the jungle while the more bombastic scenes sound just as tense and exciting as you could want them to.Extras:
First up is a commentary track with director John McTiernan who wastes no time getting right into things. His delivery is a bit on the dry side and he has an almost sleepy tone to his speaking mannerisms, but he manages to share some interesting stories about making this picture. He notes that the insurance company involved in the production required a bodyguard on set at all times to keep Sonny Landham from destroying anything or anyone and he seems really keen on talking about the logistics of working with the gatling gun that Jesse Venture carries around in the film. Generally it's a pretty solid track, as he speaks about shooting so much of the film in Mexico, how hot weather made the heat vision scenes tough to shoot and how in turn this wreaked havoc with budgetary and scheduling issues. There's also a text based commentary track on this disc as well, created by Eric Lichtenfeld, much of which is culled from interviews with the editor and effects team. It's also quite interesting as it covers some ground that McTiernan's track does not and offers some insight into some of the technology used in the picture. It also offers some input from the writing team and some of the stuntmen who worked on the film. Between this track and McTiernan's, there's a lot of ground covered and fans should be pleased. These were both carried over from the previous 2-disc DVD release.
Also carried over from the previous 2-disc DVD release are a bunch of featurettes starting with the twenty-nine minute If It Bleeds, We Can Kill It: The Making Of Predator, which is a pretty damn solid documentary that contains interviews with most of the core cast and crew members (Schwarzenegger being the most noticeable absentee) and which features some good behind the scenes footage. Inside The Predator is a collection of seven smaller segments that cover stunts, Arnold's box office power, Ventura's gatling gun, a tribute to Kevin Peter Hall, the make-up used in the film, the locations used in the film, and the character design. There's about a half an hour's worth of content when it's all said and done. A three minute look at the film's Special Effects is interesting if far too brief, while the Short Takes section contains some interesting, if also far too brief, interviews with McTiernan, Ventura, and Stan Winston as well as an amusing bit about not drinking the water in Mexico.
Exclusive to this new release is Predator: Evolution of a Species: Hunters of Extreme Perfection (HD), an eleven minute segment in which producer John Davis talks about the Predator series with Robert Rodriguez and Nimrod Antal about the series' enduring popularity and impact. Rounding out the extras is the film's original theatrical trailer (HD), a trailer for Predator 2, a trailer for Predators (HD), a still gallery (HD), a character profile that gives some background on the Predator (HD), a two minute interview with Robert Rodriguez who discusses Predators (HD), animated menus and chapter selection. All of the extras are in standard definition except where noted.
Fox has done right by carrying over all of the extras from the 2-disc special edition DVD to this Blu-ray but has completely buggered up the transfer, more or less making this a moot point. The transfer on the previous Blu-ray release, as imperfect as it was, is considerably better in many ways to the smeary, artificial mess of a picture we've been served with on this reissue. Predator: The Ultimate Hunter Edition should have been a must own disc but the terrible picture quality is too big a strike against it. Since the important extras are already available on the SD release and since the transfer is better on the previous Blu-ray, it's hard to recommend this one at all. Skip it (ouch, that hurts) and hope that Fox fixes this horrible transfer the next time the inevitably re-release the movie.