When I was a kid in the 80’s, Predator was one of those films that you weren’t supposed to watch, but everybody did anyway. Over-the-top action, invincible heroes, cheesy one-liners and big, big explosions made this a film that was a favorite of pre-pubescent boys everywhere. Going into this disc, I found myself wondering if the film would stand up to the harsh tests of time and maturity.
The answer to that question is both “yes”, and “no”. In the “no” column, it is very apparent early on in the film…that there is very little here in the way of plot. Some soldiers are hired to go behind enemy lines to rescue an American politician who has been kidnapped by generic terrorists. Once the team arrives at their location, they discover that they have actually been sent on the mission for different reasons altogether, though those reasons are never really made clear. On their way back to the rendezvous point, they have multiple encounters with an evil and mysterious creature who tries to kill them (and occasionally succeeds). That’s about it. Beyond these basic plot outlines, dialog is basically reserved to screaming profanities and the aforementioned goofy one-liners.
OK, fine, so this is obviously not a great film. So what? It’s fun! I guess a part of every man never outgrows the simple pleasure of seeing a grass hut explode as if it were made entirely of nitroglycerin, or witnessing a pro-wrestler fire a gattlin gun that was originally designed for use on a helicopter. I don’t care who you are… that’s just fun times.
I was pleasantly surprised by two elements of this film in particular. First, the gore factor. American movies are pretty gore-free, by international standards. You don’t see a lot of real brutal gore in many mainstream movies in this country. Predator is the exception, however, as the jungle is painted red with blood in many scenes. Skinned corpses and piles of entrails run rampant in this film, so if you are squeamish, this may not be the disc for you.
Secondly, I was pleased to find that the special effects still hold up exceptionally well. When the Predator is cloaked, his eerie movement is just as scary now as it was years ago. This is an excellent example of a special effect done the old fashioned way, before the prevalence of CGI, that looks better than it would have looked had computers been more heavily involved. Take that, George Lucas.
Sure, this film doesn’t have the visceral impact of Alien, but it’s still a fun summer popcorn flick. This movie is the very definition of mindless entertainment. Sometimes it’s nice to sit back and zone out for a couple of hours. That’s what movies are all about anyway, right?
Predator is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC/MPEG-4 codec at an average of almost 35 mbps. Here we go again. It’s time to bring up the old DNR issue. For the most part this could have been a very solid high-definition image presentation. Detail is sometimes remarkable. There’s a scene where you see a close-up of Mac, and his face is sweating like crazy. It’s one of those incredible image details that brings a smile to my face. Unfortunately, someone decided to pile on the DNR and removed every speck of natural film grain in the movie. By the way, with the grain they removed a ton of detail and left many parts of the picture looking like Barbie and Ken were playing the leads. It’s fine if you want the film to look like plastic. Me, I want my film to look like … here’s a tough one …film. Grain is an absolutely crucial part of watching something shot on film. Of course, I complain when grain is so invasive that it’s hard to get any detail. But grain is what makes film work. It is not necessary to sanitize every single movie just because we can. And remember, that every bit of grain removed takes other aspects of the film with it, most important is any feeling of texture. There’s no thread on these clothes. They look plastic.
I know there are many of you out there who have been born into the digital age. For you, grain has become a nuance. But if FOX and other studios want to appeal to the true collectors, this crap has to stop. The Godfather Blu-rays are great examples of a good restoration. I’ve heard complaints about the grain, but the grain gives image life. Look at a flower on digital and after a time it looks like a still image even if the thing is still rolling. Take that same flower on film. There will be movement and life on that film even if the flower is still. Digital is great, when the source is digital. Digital is still great with a film source, if the person playing with the pots doesn’t get carried away. Here endeth the lesson.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 appears to be pretty much lock and step with the earlier high definition release. The gunfire is particularly sweet here. The surround channels open wide and immerse you into the film’s action. There are sounds I didn’t quite catch in the DVD version of the film that are obvious here. When Ventura runs his multi-barrel gun here, there is a whine I just didn’t catch before. Now it’s sooooooooooo obvious. Dialog is great. The sub is a bit weak, is my only complaint. There isn’t quite the punch to those explosions that an uncompressed track should absolutely have been able to provide.
There is also an audio commentary by Director John McTiernan, as well as a text commentary by film historian Eric Lichtenfield. I was expecting the text commentary to be the same kind of thing that was included on the fantastic reissue of The Great Escape, but unfortunately, it is not even close. This commentary is a mostly-dry transcript of comments made by various people regarding the film, in subtitle format. I was thoroughly unimpressed.
Predator – Evolution Of A Species: (11:13) HD The feature begins with some very general observations by director McTiernan. The rest of the feature looks at other filmmakers specifically involved with the current new film. They talk about their favorite moments from the original, and there’s talk of the original script material leading to the new one.
The Making Of Predator: (28:47) SD The big extra is a half-hour documentary on the making of the film, which includes some amusing anecdotes form the set, as well as some equally amusing interviews with Jesse Ventura, when he was still in the mindset of a wrestler instead of a governor. I really enjoyed this mini-documentary, but I wish that it had been a bit more extensive.
Inside The Predator: SD This is a collection of short features. The most important is the tribute to Kevin Peter Hall who played the creature in the first two films. He passed away in 1991 at the young age of 35. He was an imposing young man standing over 7 feet. That meant he got to play more than his share of creatures. It was bittersweet watching Stan Winston reflect on the late actor because, of course, we recently lost Stan as well.
Special Effects: SD 2 parts. One on the suit, the other on camouflage tests.
Short Takes: SD 3-5 minute lighter moments from the set.
Special features include trailers, a fairly-thorough photo gallery, as well as three outtakes and one deleted scene.
Finally, you get a ticket to see the new film.
Thanks to this special edition, Predator is now poised to corrupt an entirely new generation of boys and teenagers. Plus, the older fans will have some nice extras to remind them of the days when bloody, mindless films were fun, and muscle men were in movies, instead of in the governor’s mansion. Hoo-Ahh!
Parts of this review were written by Gino Sassani. He’s the one you should blame/thank for the DNR rant.