In June of 1987 many of us took to our local theaters to watch two future state governors tackle an alien creature in the jungles of southeast Asia. Director John McTiernan had combined the Rambo mercenary-styled film with that of a creature feature. The result was an impressive $60 million on a mere $15 million budget, and a franchise was born. From its first reveal in those Asian jungles, the Predator was an impressive sight. The creature was highly intelligent, to be sure, but it possessed those baser instincts of hunting and survival. It was a monster, but one who utilized advanced technological weaponry to accent its own fearsome brutal nature. It was the stuff that new nightmares would be made of. A sequel featuring Danny Glover and placing the creature in an urban setting soon followed. While that film is widely disregarded, I found it to be a rather good film. I still think it’s an underrated monster movie.
It didn’t take very long before the fan boys in Hollywood started getting their imaginations running wild. The inevitable question, since Frankenstein’s Monster met up with The Wolfman — who would win if we put the Predator against the Alien. It was a heavyweight fight just itching to play itself out at the box office. And, it did … twice. The result might have destroyed both franchises. It seemed that these creatures had finally met their match, and it wasn’t each other. Bad writing and wayward filmmaking brought down both creatures. It appeared as if they were both gone, forever.
Enter Robert Rodriquez. The man who brought Sin City to life had been a huge fan of the original Predator movie. When Rodriquez decided to produce the movie, he insisted on several things. The movie would only reference the first film. The story would pretty much pretend the rest of the franchise never happened. He was insistent that the design of the Predators remain faithful to the original design while still offering some fresh ideas. The technology had to also be consistent with the original universe of the franchise. The end result is a new and fresh while staying true to what the fans loved about that very first film. Did he succeed? I’d say he exceeded expectations.
A group of people known for the willingness to kill are abducted and taken to an alien world. They are dropped from an airship with the weapons of their trade and left to fend for themselves. The planet is an intergalactic game preserve where Predators stalk and kill prey from many planets across the universe. The band of humans don’t know where they are. In fact, the film doesn’t waste any time on setup. The first thing we see is the first thing the captives are aware of. They are in freefall toward the jungle. At first they believe it to be an Earth location, but it becomes clear before too long that they are nowhere on planet Earth. Now they must work together … or not, to try to survive being hunted.
The collection of characters is a pretty nice assemblage of actors and characters. While they all have the history of killing in their past, they are quite different in almost every other way. The take-charge Royce (Brody) emerges as the de facto leader of the group. It’s hinted that he has been engaged in some type of black-ops missions. Isabelle (Braga) is the lone woman in the group. That doesn’t imply that she’s any kind of weak link in the group. She knows her weapons and has mad fighting skills. Stans (Goggins) is a serial killer who was just days away from execution. Of all of the group, he appears the most comfortable here. He is not bothered much by the alien and dire circumstances. He’s right at home. Cuchillo (Trejo) packs a couple of huge pistols and looks like something out of Scarface. He’s responsible for many of the film’s one-liners. It’s the kind of character that Trejo has made a career out of playing. He’s a mainstay in Robert Rodriquez films, and this character is a good enough explanation as to why. Noland (Fishburne) is the quiet analytical member of the group. The rest of the cast are your typical military and tough-guy types with the notable exception of Edwin (Grace). He appears to be a mild-mannered doctor that just doesn’t belong in this group. Of course, looks are almost always deceiving here. This group of characters is what makes this a better film. There is a dynamic that works and develops here, which allows the film to remain compelling between the money shots. The life blood of a movie like this is the group that goes up against the big bad. They may not be a likable group of people, but they are real enough for us to become invested in what happens to them. This is something that the infamous Alien vs. Predator films appeared to have forgotten.
Of course, the characters are an essential part of making this a better movie, but what you really came to see are the Predators themselves. You won’t be disappointed. There are several on this planet, and not all of them are the hunters. Apparently, this is a competitive society, and even their own kind are fair game, pun intended. Give a ton of credit here to director Nimrod Antal. He uses the shadows and lighting to make his creature reveals as effective as possible. The team opted to do practical effects wherever they could. That means these creatures feel like they are invading the same space as the characters. The interactions are that much more powerful. Once again the KNB folks have really come through. With a collection of prosethics and puppetry features, they manage to create some of the most convincing creatures you’ll ever see in a horror film. I don’t think I’ve seen more convincing creatures … ever. The crew stayed very faithful to the original design. Each creature has just a few touches, nuances really, that make them individuals. There is a “hero” creature that does take the design several steps farther. I guess you could call it an uber-predator. Even here, the design is completely identifiable as existing in the same universe.
All of those traditional elements are here. There is the cloaking effect which mirrors the original but looks even better. There’s plenty of that green glow-stick-fluid blood. The armband controllers are back. The helmets hark back to the first movie, but each is slightly unique. That mandible mouth is presented, not through computer graphics, but awesome puppetry design courtesy of KNB. The first film is referenced through a story one of the characters delivers. There are also a few homage shots along the way.
One of the biggest complaints I hear is that the film doesn’t push any new boundaries and is, in essence, a remake of the first. I’m not sure that anyone who has actually seen this movie could make those kinds of statements. The Royce character couldn’t be more different than the Arnie role. The team in that first film was a family that had been working together for years. This group of people share only their violent histories. They do not always work together as a team. There are several agendas here that ultimately get in the way. I thought the whole idea of moving the location to an alien world was quite clever. In the first film there was always the hope that our hero could escape the jungle with his life. If he could, he’d be back in the comfort zone of civilization. When you’re on an alien planet, where are you going to run? Even if you found a ship, does anyone really expect they could fly it back to Earth? Where is Earth, for that matter? I don’t suspect there are any Quickie Marts along the way to buy a cheap map and a Slushee. It’s the absolute isolation that makes this film a very different animal from the rest. Then there are the Predator dogs. Okay, I didn’t find them that impressive, but that’s the kind of thing we can explore more along the way with a revisit to this particular planet. It may not be a perfect film at all. I don’t need perfection here. I just need a hell of a ride. Got that.
Predators is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC/MPEG-4 codec at an average of about 30 mbps. The film is strong on rich textures, and that’s where this high-definition image presentation shines the brightest. The creatures are the product of some careful detail and hard work. Here’s where that effort is paid off with an audience who can see every little detail in texture and color. It’s amazing that the creatures hold up under this kind of close scrutiny. Colors are solid. The jungle greens provide a wide variety of subtle shades. The black levels are impressive. You’ll find tremendous shadow definition in the dark moments. There are no issues with compression or the original print. This is a solid image presentation through and through.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 does not deliver quite as well as the image. It’s not that the sound wasn’t clear and well spread throughout the surround field. There just wasn’t the dynamics in the sub levels that I thought many scenes required. The score dominates a bit too much at times. Dialog is fine. The stand-out here is the Predator sounds. Those clicks and gurgles really cut through the mix and provide a wonderful sense of direction. Here the audio is quite immersive.
There is an Audio Commentary by Rodriquez and Antal. They allow their reverence for the source material to shine through with almost everything they say. This was obviously a labor of love for Rodriquez, and he can’t contain the passion for the material. One gets the impression he’d love a chance to carry this franchise forward. I hope he gets that chance.
Motion Comics: (10:56) HD These animated comics fill out the story with prequel back-story.
Evolution Of The Species: (40:12) HD This feature combines several small features with a handy play-all option. It covers the entire production. There’s plenty of cast and crew participation. There is also a ton of behind the scenes footage here.
Fox Movie Channel – Making A Scene: (7:06) SD This television promo looks at the creature-dog scene.
Deleted And Extended Scenes: (11:21) There are 9 with a handy play all. This is all character stuff with really no additional creature footage.
The film cost a mere $40 million to make. That may sound like a ton of money, but when you consider all of the spectacular images this movie provides, that’s not a lot of money at all. Rodriquez and his crew make every cent count. It’s all up on the screen doing everything it can to immerse you in this experience. The weaponry is a step beyond that with which we’ve seen before. There is this blue-pulse weapon that is absolutely sweet. All of this costs money, and the crew here made this look like a film of triple that budget. The Hawaii and Texas locations go a long way to helping create this alien environment, yet one that is believable. If this is the future of the Predator franchise, I’d say it’s in safe hands indeed. There is still an Alien vs. Predator group out there that hopes to continue that aspect of the franchise. Can I make a request, guys? “Please stop doing that.”
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