In September there is going to be a new film in The Predator franchise called The Predator. It’s directed by Shane Black, who actually starred in the 1987 original film and soon after went on to develop the Lethal Weapon series and make a bit of a name for himself in the buddy-cop genre. It’s no surprise that Fox wants to capitalize on the release by giving us UHD/4K releases for the other three films in the franchise. Let’s try to forget those Alien vs. Predator disasters and focus on the three films of this particular franchise. I don’t yet know what to expect from the upcoming film. I was glad to take a journey back in time with the other films, and this 4K release is just the ticket for you to upgrade those nasty DNR crapfests that were the original Blu-ray releases and see these films once again as they were originally meant to be seen.
This was the film that brought together two tough guys who both made it into acting after having big careers in athletics. The two would also share a bit of an odd future, as both would eventually serve as governors in the real world. Of course, I’m talking about Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura. No one knew about their political futures then, but the reality puts Predator in a lost of historically significant films as well as the beginning of a new franchise.
Schwarzenegger plays Dutch (nickname of another California governor) who leads an elite group of special ops guys. The team includes Jesse Ventura as Blain, nicknamed Painless, Rocky star Carl Weathers as Dillon, who gets the team into this mess, and Sonny Landham as tracker/American Indian member Sonny. They are told that a cabinet member accidentally strayed into enemy territory and crashed. Their mission is to find and rescue the VIP’s. What they encounter, however, is an alien creature who has come to Earth on a hunting trip. The creature has sophisticated weaponry and a suit that makes it nearly invisible. The team gets picked off one by one until it’s Arnie and the creature in a climactic showdown.
Predator 2 (1990)
Neither of the Predator vs. Alien films were as successful at the box office as was hoped, and this film has had its share of detractors since its release in 1990. I, for one, find it to be as good as, if not better than, the original film. Watching the two governors Arnold and Jesse take on the Predator in the Columbian jungles was certainly a hoot. Let’s be honest, however. Who didn’t cheer, if only inside, when the big bad ugly started to take on LA’s drug lords in Predator 2? This sequel is more than just a romp with a monster. The story is far more compelling. The cast of Danny Glover, Bill Paxton, Kent McCord, and Gary Busey team up well. The film’s production partner Joel Silver’s influence hangs heavy over the film. Glover’s Harrigan is really just Lethal Weapon’s Murdock without Riggs. The LA street firefights and car explosions are ready-made for the Silver cop buddy series. Don’t get me wrong. This is not great filmmaking here. It is a lot more fun than it has been given credit for, however. Now with the release of the movie in high definition on Blu-ray, I advise you take another look at this one.
An alien warrior is back on Earth for another safari. This time the jungle is the mean streets of LA. The prey happens to be ruthless drug lords. Federal Agent Keyes (Busey) heads a secret government team to track and capture the creature. Det. Harrigan (Glover) wants to avenge his partner’s murder even if it means clashing with the feds.
It was clever to move the sequel from the jungle to the streets of the L.A. urban setting. There are some great analogs here that play well into the scenes of the first film. The expanded cast makes it a better film overall. While the first film gave us some great thrills, this film fleshes out the entire franchise and leaves an unfired bullet in the chamber. There were so many places the franchise could have gone from here. But the combo platter films took up the reins and have been a huge disappointment. As much as it’s every fanboy’s dream to see these kinds of matchups, history shows us we’re better off leaving the distinct natures to their own devices.
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 free fall 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. 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 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 who 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 lifeblood 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. OK, 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.
Each film is presented in its aspect ratio of 1.85:1 (first 2 films) and 2.40:1 (third film). The ultra-high-definition 2160p image is arrived at by an HEVC codec with an average bitrate of 65 mbps. The best thing about these films is that the grain returns that was taken away by excessive use of DNR on the Blu-ray editions. Now the films return to their wonderful organic natures, and that is a bonus just in itself. Now the films return to that richness of environment, both jungle and urban. Colors are natural and a bit over-saturated in the first film. Black levels are incredible, with the welcome grain the only limiting factor. You will see these films for the first time since they were originally released as they were intended to be seen. The shimmer f/x of the creature don’t hold up as well under this kind of resolution, and there are a couple other flaws that leak through. But many of the f/x still hold up, and the creature itself is made much better by the ability to truly appreciate the work of the late Stan Winston and the performance of Peter Kevin Hall who sadly passed before the third film was made.
The DolbyTrueHD 5.1 tracks aren’t Atmos or DTS:X. There’s no 7.1 enrichment here and I still find that a bit of a disappointment. What you get here are the exact audio tracks from the Blu-ray releases.
The extras are all on the Blu-ray versions of the films and are exactly duplicated from the earlier release.
I have been waiting for better versions of these films since the release of the disappointing Blu-ray releases. If you don’t have this collection, then you simply do not have these films in your collection. If you love these films or just want to get caught up before the new movie, “You better take a look at this.”