'Predator' is one creature-feature that revels in its own animated excess, a major studio production of graphic exuberance. A combination of The Most Dangerous Game meets Lord of the Flies, the John McTiernan-directed blockbuster infuses a tongue-in-cheek attitude into a cheap-thrills plot, where audiences are expected to actually believe the unstoppable, muscle-bound Arnold Schwarzenegger could ever be in mortal danger. As it turns out, only a seven-foot, big-game hunter from outer space can provide such a menacing threat to the rippling stature of the Austrian megastar of the decade. The following year, McTiernan would go on to change the face of the action movie with 'Die Hard' — average Joe turns action hero. But here, the director delivers with a boisterous combination of formulaic style and 1980s ultra machismo.
At first a seemingly brainless summer action flick, 'Predator' is a surprisingly well-structured movie which seamlessly and cleverly melds genre conventions. Even the promotional campaign took part in convincing moviegoers this was a straightforward guns and explosions type of feature while at the same time keeping the alien's appearance to a minimum. The sci-fi aspect was not a secret, but no one really anticipated the sudden shift in formula, treading carefully between horror and slasher elements. It was like nothing that had really been seen before. To have a movie unexpectedly change into a thrilling cat and mouse game of human versus extraterrestrial was a bit of a shock to say the least. And somehow, the experience isn't jarring or irritating at all, but exciting and novel.
As the movie moves along, McTiernan shows great control of the camera by maintaining focus on his main attraction, namely Schwarzenegger. And later, when the elite commando team raids a rebel encampment, the filmmakers have us fully convinced that things will continue in this direction. Essentially, the entire first act is nothing more than a setup, a crafty swindle of sorts to draw viewers in with expectations of a typical Schwarzenegger actioner. It's much like what Dillon (Carl Weathers) does to Dutch in the story. It's no coincidence the film follows a small fighting force into the jungles of Central America with what at the time was standard action violence. The moment it's over, the deception — both on Dutch as in the audience — commences, with tension that never lets up and a gory spectacle from an unseen assailant that stalks and kills his victims, one at a time.
Even as 'Predator' abruptly changes gears into a suspenseful thrill ride, McTiernan keeps our attention on the soldiers while keeping the alien at bay. Sure, we're allowed some minor glimpses of the creature, but it's always from a distance so as to save the best for last. Unlike the horror/slasher flicks which occupied many of the screens at the time, these men are not simply fodder for the massacre. They're a group of guys we end up liking, combatants with highly-specialized skills of defense. And unlike standard action fare, we are made to believe these fearless warriors are in serious peril, that they are victims rather than the heroes. Again in the encampment scene, they demonstrate their competence and know-how during a dangerous confrontation. So when the creature finally goes on the hunt, their expertise is put to the test while the alien is practically seen as more effective and proficient, which only adds to the overall suspense.
Born of a joke that Rocky's next title match should be with E.T., 'Predator' is ultimately a spectacle of violent, self-indulgent action with a surplus of manliness that humorously borders on homoeroticism. From the very start, we see that the movie will be a gathering of enormous, throbbing muscles — Dutch and Dillon arm wrestle as part of their introduction — including that of the alien played by Kevin Peter Hall ('Harry and the Hendersons'), who thankfully replaced Jean Claude Van Damme for his more physically dominating presence. Normally, Schwarzenegger is the sole brawn giant on screen, but here, he's joined by a cast of gung-ho behemoths with sizeable, intimidating weapons. Jesse 'The Body' Ventura chews tobacco and loves his Gatling gun (nicknamed "Old Painless"), Bill Duke shaves his face without the luxury of saving cream, and Sonny Landham is just one scary-looking dude.
The only characters without their own gravitational orbits are a female prisoner (Elpidia Carrillo), who's obviously exempt from the blatant display of virility, and two average guys, Poncho (Richard Chaves) and Hawkins (Shane Black). Other than proving to be efficient soldiers, the two men seem to be compensating for their lack of muscles. While one carries a grenade launcher to make really big explosions, the other comes equipped with really bad, vulgar and lewd sex jokes. Now, I'm not pointing this out to form a disapproving judgment of 'Predator.' Rather, I like to think of it as part of the film's overall effect, where all the heavy firepower and strong presence of machismo clearly does nothing in combating a superior alien being. This forces the main protagonist to find his inner hunter-gatherer, to use his primeval instincts as a means to fight back.
In the end, 'Predator' is one sci-fi/action extravaganza with a shrewdly understated sense of irony, using genre conventions effectively for a fun time at the movies. No matter how we look at this now classic, the creature-feature was a novel twist to the summer blockbuster, igniting a popular franchise. Today, it remains just as entertaining as ever with one of Stan Winston's most memorable creations.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment unleashes 'Predator' unto 3D Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack. The Region A locked, BD50 disc is housed inside a blue, eco-vortex case with a lenticular slipcover and a DVD-9 copy of the movie. Viewers are directly taken to a static menu screen with the option to choose between the 3D or 2D version.
Of all the movies being needlessly converted to the new 3D format, John McTiernan's 'Predator' was probably at the bottom of my list. But wouldn't you know it, the results are shockingly not half bad, especially when compared to the other Fox titles 'I, Robot' and 'Jumper.' Indeed, this is probably their best looking effort thus far, as the 1080p/MVC MPEG-4 encode consistently shows impressive dimensionality throughout. With strong, clean separation between the foreground and background, objects genuinely move independently of each other, and the image has an attractive layered appeal that penetrates deep into the screen. Wide shots of the forest are particularly striking, and when the camera adjusts focus between actors, viewers can practically feel depth also correcting. I'm surprise to say the 3D image added an immersive feel to the movie.
Unfortunately, rather than taking the time to make a new remaster of the original source, Fox decided to recycle the same, hugely disappointing transfer from the "Ultimate Hunter Edition." Presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, the video is sadly "one ugly motherf**ker" mostly because the natural grain structure, which should be understandably thick and heavy, has been digitally removed via noise reduction. Several scenes look artificial and synthetic, lacking any definition in the aged faces of actors and showing plenty of soft edges. Complicating matters, contrast has been boosted somewhat. Granted, there are no issues with clipping and the image possesses a nice pop, but this is at the cost of weaker black levels during night scenes. Colors, on the other hand, are bold and quite vibrant, but as it stands, the 80s action favorite remains a disappointing high-def presentation, in spite of the 3D.
On the brighter side, the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack appears to be identical to the previous Blu-ray release. Personally, I like the way 'Predator' sounds, but I admit the original design doesn't allow for the most immersive home-theater experience. A few sporadic atmospherics help to enhance the soundfield somewhat, but they're not very convincing and largely feel pretty inconsistent. The low-end is fairly weak as well and cuts off far too early, making several of the action sequences rather flat.
At its best, the front-heavy presentation displays a clean mid-range with strong fidelity. The entire soundstage fills with good imaging and balanced separation between channels, feeling very open and wide. Dialogue reproduction is stable and appreciable during the mix's loudest moments though nothing standout. Alan Silvestri's memorable score is the lossless track's best feature, extending into the background smoothly and keeping viewers engaged. Overall, 'Predator' sounds good on Blu-ray, but it doesn't pack much of punch to rank any higher.
All supplemental material can be found on the standard definition DVD and most are the same set of featurettes from the "Ultimate Hunter Edition." The 3D Blu-ray only contains a 2D version of the movie.
John McTiernan's 'Predator' is a fun and entertaining creature-feature which revels in its animated machismo and an exuberant display of graphic action. The movie is a surprisingly well-structured blend of genre conventions which draws viewers in with one set of expectations and abruptly changes pace for a suspenseful thrill ride. The 3D Blu-ray surprises with a strong 3D presentation but also shows the same ugly, digitally man-handled video presentation, and the audio is the same as before. The same set of bonus features is ported over, but only accessible via the accompanying DVD. All things considered, this is just another case of good flick given a bad disc.
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.