'Predators' should have been bigger.
I remember going to a press screening one sweltering summer morning in New York this year, and having a ball with the film. (Most of my contemporaries, no matter what they wrote the following couple of days, were having fun too.) It was a sleek rubber monster movie, cleverly imagined as a direct follow-up to John McTiernan's immortal (and often imitated) 1987 original. With strong direction by Nimrod 'Armored' Antal, 'Predators,' based on an idea by producer Robert Rodriguez, felt like a breath of fresh air in a summer of over-hyped, underwhelming big budget franchises. Its shoot-from-the-hip cheapness was actually a huge asset.
And then I went and saw the movie with an "everyday" audience the opening night. And I could feel that the audience wasn't buying it. Sure, they chuckled a couple of times at some of the more clever one-liners, and maybe gasped at a few moments, but they largely remained unresponsive. It baffled me. All the reasoning I did afterwards, about the only so-so box office and lukewarm critical response (people were worn out by the god awful "Alien vs. Predator" movies; Adrien Brody isn't an action hero, etc.) didn't really soothe my soul. It should have been bigger.
The story for 'Predators,' the title being a subtle nod to James Cameron's 'Alien' sequel as well as the double-meaning of the movie's "predators," is irresistibly clever: instead of a bunch of macho Americans who are battling the predator, that gnarly, maw-faced intergalactic killer from the '87 original, a bunch of bad-asses from Earth are captured and dropped onto a hunting reserve in some far-flung corner of the galaxy. Included in this motley crew are Adrien Brody as a US black ops guy, a drug cartel enforcer (Danny Trejo), a Yakuza hit man (Louis Ozawa Changchien), an Israeli sniper (Alice Braga), and a superstar serial killer (Walter Goggins). Also among the crew is a dopey American dentist (Topher Grace), who may or may not be harboring a dark secret…
Their goal is to get off the planet, and survive the three predators that are hunting them (and, in a new twist to the franchise, the predators' multi-tusked "hounds"). But the wrinkle is that they're all such disagreeable bastards that they're just as likely to murder each other as kill the baddies. (Nifty, isn't it?)
Antal, who as far as I'm concerned is a bright light of genre filmmaking after his underrated studio pictures 'Vacancy' and 'Armored,' steadily ups the ante, with breathless, far-flung chase sequences (much of the movie, with its jungle setting, reminds me of 'Apocalypto' or 'The Naked Prey') and nimble camerawork. Occasionally, some clumsy ideas entry the fray and clutter the otherwise streamlined story - a bit about the predators capturing creatures from other worlds is both totally appealing and almost immediately forgotten about. In a movie that held steadily to a very tight budget, this might have been one "idea" too many, and its quick introduction and just as quick disposal reeks of "monetary restraints."
Also, the movie fails to crescendo properly, which is more than a little baffling given the killer finale Antal brought to 'Armored.' It feels more like a sigh than the guttural cry of a predator, but up until then, the focused, character-driven action is an absolute delight. About the time that Lawrence Fishburne shows up, in an extended cameo as a demented survivor on the hunting world, you're either with the movie or you're not.
Apparently, most people were not, which is a shame, because 'Predators' is the kind of go-for-broke, very smart sci-fi/action movie that people are always clamoring for. Antal is a wonderful director and 'Predators' is a whole lot of fun. Hopefully, given its miniscule budget and healthy worldwide gross, we'll be rewarded with another visit to the vast hunting planet, with some even worse bad guys for the predator monsters to do battle with.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The 50GB disc automatically plays, first with a trailer for Robert Rodriguez's iffy exploitation flick 'Machete' (god, if any movie were ever to lose 20 minutes, it would be this) then the 'A-Team' and some other stuff I skipped over ('Mirrors 2,' plus ads for the cable channel FX and the wonders of digital copies). When you FINALLY get to the main menu, then you can choose to play the movie. The disc is Region A locked, BD-Live ready, and has a second disc with a digital copy.
'Predators' comes with a video transfer that is very literally perfect from a technical stand point. This is seriously one of the best live action transfers I have seen in quite some time.
The reason why the 1080p AVC MPEG-4 transfer (aspect ratio: 2.35:1) is so great is that it appears to be a direct-from-the-digital-source transfer. The film was shot using the Panasonic Genesis camera, an earlier version of which shot the unremarkable 'Superman Returns' a few years ago, and it looks absolutely killer. The question of the visual density of digitally shooting a movie in the jungle is a big one, I think. Mel Gibson, with 'Apocalypto,' side-stepped the problem somewhat, but there were still some sequences that were overwhelmed by how busy the jungle can be, visually.
Here, things look absolutely great. When I first saw 'Predators,' it wasn't until the train ride home, reading the press notes, that I even realized the movie was shot digitally. There is a three-dimensional lushness to the film that is really, really wonderful. And in high definition, with the direct transfer, things look even better. This is eye-popping, reference-quality stuff.
If you're worried about an overtly scrubbed-clean look, like the dreadful 'Predator' re-release from earlier this year, fear not. This looks exactly like it is supposed to, with no evidence of after-the-fact digital tinkering and (mercifully) no glitchy technical issues either.
Detail is obviously quite high (you can count the pock marks on Danny Trejo's face, practically), skin tones look natural (for the multi-culti cast, a very good thing), and the special effects and rubber monsters seem even more real, scary, and present. The lush jungle foliage and topography (rushing waterfalls, craggy rock formations, etc.) look wonderful; it's all so good.
Additionally, black levels are nice and deep and inky, which is good because some of the more breathless action sequences happen at night, or in hazy situations.
In short: there's nothing on this 'Predators' transfer worth complaining about. They did a bang-up job.
Miraculously, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is just as spectacular as the video presentation.
An energetic mix, in every sense of the word, it is one of the most active and most accurately directional mixes I have heard in a very long time. As the humans whip through the jungle, you feel every leaf lashing at your face. Even bigger, badder action sequences, like the hunt with the predators' "hounds," sound that much more dynamic - cross-channel explosions of violence and chaos, yet perfectly calibrated for optimal audio precision.
It's rare to hear a mix this bold and yet this skillfully nuanced, and quieter scenes, in which the atmosphere of the alien jungle overwhelms all else, perfectly exhibit these aspects of the mix. Also, it should be noted that John Debney's outrageously excellent score, which interpolates some elements of Alan Silvestri's music from the 1987 original, while creating a whole host of new cues and themes, many of which remain in the spirit of the original music while being distinctive and fresh, sounds phenomenal. Just phenomenal. Along with everyone else associated with 'Predators,' Debney's music got the shaft, but here it sounds so great that I can't imagine anyone ignoring it.
Additionally, dialogue sounds crisp and clear, no matter what kind of madness is unfolding on screen (not to mention the whole host of accents and regionally-inflected dialects); it's always well prioritized and easy to understand. Not often am I truly blown away by the presentation of dialogue in an action movie mix, but this was so on-point that I must give it props. It's the kind of audio mix that is so good that it acts as an example of how lousy most other audio mixes can be.
Perfectly reflecting the international flavor of the 'Predators' cast and crew, there are additional Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes on the disc, as well as subtitles in English SDH, Spanish, Portuguese, Cantonese, and Traditional Mandarin.
There are a whole bunch of special features on the 'Predators' Blu-ray, many of which are exclusive (and one bizarre overlapping point), and almost all of them are worth watching.
I'm not going to front: I thought 'Predators' was a kick-ass good time. And what's more - it's a kick-ass good time that's enhanced greatly by some properly atmospheric visuals, rich direction by Nimrod Antal, and a wonderful cast of characters played by cracking actors like Adrien Brody and Alice Braga. As a what-could-have-been direct sequel to the original 1987 film, 'Predators' is a worthy successor. And while it should have been given more love when it was released theatrically over the summer, it will hopefully find a cultish appreciation on home video, thanks largely to this Blu-ray release, which features sparkling audio and video and a wealth of informative and highly watch-able extras. 'Predators' is highly recommended for anyone with discerning genre taste who wants to get a lot of kick out of their home entertainment set-up.