"If it bleeds, we can kill it." With those seven words spoken by Arnold Schwarzenegger, a new franchise was born. 'Predator' is the monster movie that keeps on giving, going from just a decent-sized hit for the muscle man in 1987, to spawning a lackluster, Schwarzenegger-less 1991 sequel, to inexplicably giving rise to its own bastard spin-off series, the 'Alien vs. Predator' films. I'm not sure 'Predator' is a film good enough to really warrant such a cinematic legacy, but it was one of the better sci-fi action flicks of its decade, and next to 'The Terminator' and 'Total Recall,' it ranks up there with Schwarzenegger's most memorable efforts.
The plot is simple, almost reading like a 'Friday the 13th' flick, but one with marines instead of teenagers and Jason wearing dreadlocks. Schwarzenegger stars as the captain of an elite fighter team sent into the jungle to rescue downed comrades. These gung-ho grunts get far more than they bargained for when they're intercepted by a visitor from another world. It seems that one of the race of "Predators" -- errant creatures who fly to other planets to hunt for sport -- has decided to camp out and play paintball with a vengeance. One by one, the Predator downs his prey, until it's only Schwarzenegger left to kill the baddie in a knock-down, drag-out drag-out, finale.
There isn't much to 'Predator' aside from its style, pacing, and humor. Schwarzenegger doesn't really have a character so much as he has a series of stunts to perform ("If it bleeds, we can kill it" is about as extensive as his dialogue gets). Co-stars Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura, and Sonny Latham are likewise all aggressive cliches and potty-mouth, misogynist/homophobic humor, though it's done with such a tongue-in-cheek wink to drive-in conventions that it feels like everyone is in on the joke. So the fun of 'Predator' is in watching a bunch of Predator-fodder boast about how they are gonna kick ass and take names, only to watch them get slaughtered like ducks in a barrel.
'Predator' was directed by John McTiernan, before he entered into his career-tailspin phase with over-reaching crap like 'Rollerball' Here his focus is tough and direct, stripping down the the fat to the bare minimum and just giving us what we want. 'Predator' moves like a bulldozer, careening from one attack scene to the next, with a few bits of comedic byplay and suspenseful POV monster shots thrown in to spice things up. Its meat and potatoes, but such economical storytelling (if you can call it that) is actually the film's greatest asset.
You know, I take that back -- 'Predator's real best asset is the titular monster itself. Okay, so the dreads are a bit silly, but boy are those pinchers rad. This dude is seriously intimidating, and as designed by Stan Winston, it still holds up as a truly original and effective creation. It's rare that any '80s horror flick can still deliver the goods, but there are moments in 'Predator' where the monster is just as scary as anything seen in cinema since. 'Predator' is not a great movie, but it is an efficient machine -- and twenty years later, this machine still holds up pretty darn well.
'Predator' comes to Blu-ray after a particularly checkered history on home video. The title must hold some sort of record in terms of DVD re-issues, to the point that a Fox announcement regarding a new version brought groans from even the most optimistic home theater fan. Unfortunately, none of those DVD editions every really impressed, a fault due (in part )to the rough photographic style of the film.
I wish I could say this highly anticipated Blu-ray edition was a slam dunk, but sadly, it's just so-so. It's clear the source just doesn't have what it takes to deliver truly stunning high-def. The film is quite grainy, sure, but even so the print has some dirt and the occasional blemish. Black levels are fine if sometimes lacking in many shots, and contrast never pops, or looks too dark. Detail is decent considering the source, but shadow delineation in particular suffers from a harsh black crush and a lack of true fine texture. The image is also pretty soft, though at least Fox hasn't over-enhanced it to the point of irritating halos and aliasing. Finally, colors are better than any of the DVD versions (particularly reds, which are generally clean) and fleshtones are pretty good. Still, these are small plusses for a transfer that certainly is a distance away from being demo material.
Fox has provided a DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/16-bit) for 'Predator,' and like the video, it's perfectly fine if unremarkable. The film's sound design just isn't all that active, and add to that its 1987 origins, and you have a presentation that doesn't pack much of a wallop.
'Predator' continues to underwhelm me in terms of dynamics. The lows just never move the subwoofer to any powerful degree, and high-end feels a bit weak and muted. Dialogue is also lifeless, though at least it's intelligent and fairly well balanced. Surround use is also weak. Discrete effects never really wowed me -- I struggled to even make them out most of the time. The majority of the film's runtime feels front-heavy, with only minor ambiance and score bleed to liven things up. 'Predator' doesn't sound terrible, but it's a far cry from the better '80s remasters I've heard on high-def.
Despite a myriad of standard DVD releases to cull from, Fox has not provided any supplements of note for 'Predator's Blu-ray debut.
'Predator' is one of Arnold Schwarzenegger's better extravaganzas (his dialogue is kept to a minimum), and also one of the few '80s action flicks that holds up quite well today. This Blu-ray is a bit too meat and potatoes. The video and audio are solid if not spectacular, and there are no extras of note. This one gets the job done, but for $39.99, I really expect more.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.