The Predator franchise exists almost entirely on the strength and adoration of the 1987 original. After a less than stellar first sequel, another many years later, plus appearances in two poorly received Aliens vs. Predator films, the batting average is pretty low. However, the iconic predator creature and the ceaselessly engaging first film resonate strongly for fans even today. In other words, good will from that first film bleeds into the other appearances making this trilogy appealing and fun, flaws and all.
The Production: 4/5
“There’s something out there waiting for us, and it ain’t no man. We’re all gonna die.”
In the unforgiving jungles of South America, Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his crack team of commandos have been deployed to rescue a captured diplomat from well-armed rebels. Tagging along against his wishes is Dutch’s old buddy, Dylan (Carl Weathers), who now pushes pencils for the intelligence community. On the ground, the team soon discovers that the rescue mission story was a ruse, but that’s the least of their worries. The jungle holds a deadlier menace and the team are lethally stalked by a hunter that can camouflage itself among the jungle canopy, with superior weapons and technology. They have become prey.
Predator is an action classic with a rich, fertile concept that exploits the muscular cast and jungle settings expertly. Outside of the first two Terminator films, Predator is Schwarzenegger’s crowning achievement. While Arnie rattling off a few humorous quips likely helped Predator become beloved, it is the steelier, serious side that he displays that ultimately serves the film best. Among a curious mix of characters that range from tobacco chewing macho to wiry comic relief, Arnold’s Dutch is a strong, effective leader with an instinct for the danger he and his team are in. Ultimately, Dutch has to use his military training and wiles to try and outsmart a vastly superior force, and that makes for a very interesting proposition. Besides the now legendary alien creature design and impressive special effects, it is Predator’s assortment of memorable characters, and the actors who brought them to life, that are key to the film’s success. Carl Weather’s CIA man, Dylan, who’s questionable loyalty to Dutch makes him a short-term fly in the team ointment, is intense and very good. His interplay with the outfit raises internal tensions in all the right places. Bill Duke’s quiet character, Mac, is imposing and a little odd in how he reacts to tragedy, and that makes him a fun curiosity. Jesse Ventura’s tobacco chewing mercenary-type is a scene stealer. Sonny Landham’s Billy, a man in tune with their terminal predicament, is serious and likeable, and his reaction to Shane Black’s Hawkins character is even a little charming. Richard Chaves’ Poncho rounds out the crack team, and he gets a few good lines himself. Elpidia Carrilo’s Anna, someone the team captures during what they thought was a rescue attempt for the captured diplomat, equips herself nicely against testosterone-heavy cast.
Special mention goes to Kevin Peter Hall, the very tall actor behind the predator character. What the late actor does behind such heavy effects is quite something, giving a very good and memorable performance that defined how we now expect the predator to behave. Hall played the predator again in the first sequel, but died shortly after in 1991. The movement of the predators in 2010’s Predators and the two Aliens vs. Predator movies have never been as good as Halls delivery.
The unabashed machismo and unembarrassed embrace of cheesy quips and one-liners adds to Predator’s charms, but it’s the raw expression of the films ideas, the solid direction under what appear to be difficult conditions, and the pitch-perfect casting and execution of its visual and practical effects that elevate Predator from good to great. The combination of muscle, monsters, and high-tech concept is manna from heaven to many, including those like me who were on the edge of manhood when they first encountered the film. The sign of a great film, one that sets it apart from the myriad of other films that we might enjoy from year to year, can be how it holds up and stands up years later. Here we are, just over 30 years since Predator first landed on the big screen, and it holds up wonderfully.
Predator 2: 3/5
“Ten years ago one of his kind stalked and eliminated an elite special forces crew in central America. There were two survivors. They indicated that when trapped, the creature activated a self-destruct device that destroyed enough rainforest to cover 300 city blocks. Remarkable weaponry. That’s right lieutenant. Other-world life-forms.”
Los Angeles is a war zone in a heat wave. Warring Colombian and Jamaican drug gangs are turning the streets into battlefields and the police force is outgunned. When Lt. Harrigan (Danny Glover) and his team move to end a particularly bloody gun-fueled street brawl, they push a well-armed gang into a building, raiding to take them out, but find them all dead, hanging upside down from the ceiling. Los Angeles, it seems, has an even greater threat. Harrigan catches a glimpse of something, picking up scent of an unseen killer that seems to be slaughtering gangs at random. When a secret government team tries to muscle in and take over the investigation, Harrigan is having none of it.
Going rogue, Harrigan and his partner, Archuleta (Rúben Blades), scheme to snoop around a new vicious crime scene, they suspect to be the work of the mysterious killer. When Archuleta is killed during the after-hours investigating, Harrigan rages. He has no idea what he’s stumbled upon – but he’s about to find out.
Predator 2 has always been a fun, but a notably lesser follow-up to the popular Arnold Schwarzenegger original. Relocating the setting from the jungle to the city must have seemed like a good idea at the time, but it forced the writers to exaggerate the reality of the city to try and fit the template of the original. In the original, the sweltering jungle setting and human conflicts buried amongst the green canopies offered the predator’s prime hunting ground. For the city to hold the same lure, Los Angeles of 1997 had to become a war zone of crime and ineffectual policing amidst an unforgiving heatwave to replicate the favored hunting conditions. The ‘future’, just seven years ahead of when Predator 2 was released, didn’t feel plausible and still seems like an odd choice for us to buy. Had Schwarzenegger not balked at the script and city setting, this ‘near future’ might have made more sense. But it doesn’t.
The cast are all quite good though they’re asked to give exaggerated performances (which the successfully deliver). Danny Glover is no Arnie, and his hotheaded Lt. Mike Harrigan is only given two modes, run and shoot, and curious detective. There’s no middle ground. Bill Paxton’s Jerry Lambert is perilously close to irritating with his used car salesman approach to the detective work. Paxton makes the most of it and his character is redeemed by the time his heroics get a workout in the film’s impressive subway car sequence. Rubén Blades’ Danny Archuleta comes closest to being a reasonable and believable member of the police force, while Maria Conchita Alonso’s Leona Cantrell showed potential, and is likeable, though should have been given more to do in the finale. Gary Busey’s Peter Keye’s has an important role to play in the plot, and I suppose does fine, but he and the plotline he represents don’t work as well as needed for the film to properly expand the predator canvas. The slaughterhouse sequence feels like a knock-off of a key sequence from 1986’s Aliens, and while effectively shot, does little more than look good.
Predator 2 unabashedly embraces the pulp, pushing everything to 11, including all the performances, trying to ride the over-the-top feel of it all for energy and excitement. Oddly, from time to time, this approach works, but far too often it feels silly. For a film series born on the straightforward and tautly executed original, Predator 2 feels entirely too silly and inauthentic.
Where it missteps perhaps most unforgivably is in trading the slick and efficient for the busy, loud and preposterous. It starts with a bang and finds it has nowhere else to go. There’s no mystery here, no drama, no tension, but a set of characters who have to learn what we, the audience, already learned in the first film. There is fun to be had here, and I do like the film, but it bounces between a few action sequences, borderline caricature drug kingpins, and covert government operatives, without much else for us to invest in.
Stylistically, director Stephen Hopkins’ DNA is unmistakable. He finds the corners of plausibility and asks for us to ride along. And we mostly do. Hopkins embraces the pulpy, comic-book angle of this alien threat and that doesn’t really feel like the right approach. There isn’t enough humor to carry it off, and not nearly enough tension or drama to make a play for the brooding side of the story. So, it exists uncomfortably in-between, and I say that as an unabashed fan of this film (for nostalgic reasons, mostly).
“We’re being hunted. The cages. The soldier. All of us. All brought here for the same purpose. This planet is a game preserve. And we’re the game. In case you didn’t notice, we just got flushed out. They sent the dogs in, just like you if you were stalking boar or shooting quail. They split us apart and they watched. Testing us.”
Waking up in a freefall over a strange jungle, Royce (Adrien Brody) puts his military training into high-gear the moment his chute opens and he lands, hard, on solid ground. He’s not alone. A handful of others with no idea how they made their way into the same situation, eventually band together to try and figure out what on earth is happening. The team, an assorted group of trained killers and military types from across the globe, soon realize the jungle is a game preserve, and they are the game. The hunters they face have superior weaponry, know the terrain, and are good at their sport.
Predators takes a step back for every step forward it manages. Finding a clever way to change the game while still playing the same game from the first film, it comes with a lot of promise and only half delivers. Moving the action back to the jungle after the excursion into the sweltering city of Predator 2 was a good move. Produced by Robert Rodriguez (From Dusk Til Dawn), who was rumored to be directing at one point, and directed by Nimrod Antal (Armored), Predators is a well-mounted production and very capably handled. Antal seems to display a healthy efficiency in his direction, and keeps the entire affair moving along briskly, making good use of the cast assembled.
That cast is led by Adrian Brody’s Royce, a wiry and reluctant protagonist who becomes a welcome deviation from the muscular hero. Brody is perhaps the last name to come to mind when thinking of an action film lead, but that’s precisely why he works. In every scene, he’s using his calculating menace to react to the dire situation. A silent hero measuring out his words and aversely leading the band of earth’s experienced killers through the alien jungle. Alice Braga’s Israeli sniper, Isabelle, is good, but not commanding enough to standout, playing a character that misses out on its potential. Frankly, if her character had been written as the de facto leader of the rag tag band of killers surviving the unknown, it would have been a bolder and fare more interesting angle for the role. Danny Trejo’s Chuchillo isn’t exploited nearly enough for how immediately interesting that character is simply by being played by the great Trejo, and his time in the film is far too short. Mahershala Ali’s Mombasa is intriguing, but underused, though his tangling with Walton Goggins’ racist Stans provides for some of the film’s more interesting character interplay. Leg Taktarov’s bulky Nikolai is the closest in frame to the collection of characters from the 1987 original, and Louis Ozawa Changchien, who says just a handful of words in the entire film, cuts an interesting presence stalking each scene as an active observer of the chaos. Topher Grace rounds out the motley crew, playing a man who seems to be the odd one out. Grace is rather good in the role though I’m not sure his character’s presence in the film made it a better one. Laurence Fishburne completes the tight cast as Noland, a survivor on the alien planet whose time alone has made him a little kooky.
Predators is a handsome production, effective in its action sequences, but in the end, not particularly memorable. It comes with a number of good ideas executed well, but suffers from a slavish flurry of callouts and throwbacks to the original. The film chooses to doff the hat to what has come before rather than subvert expectations. The introduction of ‘super predators’, and intra-species fighting (which later gives rise to an interesting development of allegiance) is perhaps the most lasting mark of the film. But, at its core, Predators is merely a likeable variation on a theme, and not fresh and new enough, or bold and big enough, to really stand on its own.
3D Rating: NA
Filmed on 35mm stock in some challenging conditions, Predator on home video has a less than stunning history. It’s most onerous release was 2010’s Ultimate Hunter edition that scrubbed the image to within an inch of its life (check out Matt Hough’s fine review of that release). Now, Fox has outdone themselves with as perfect a presentation of this film as we could have hoped for. In short, Predator on UHD is a stunner. All of the flaws and missteps from Fox’s previous home video releases, especially the notorious Ultimate Hunter edition, have been done away with. This is a thing of beauty and the addition of HDR grading provides an even more pleasing saturation to colors.
The image is finely detailed, with appropriate grain (such glorious grain), excellent contrast, and strong black levels. Colors are balanced nicely, with the greens of the jungle and glowing green of predator blood popping at times. Some moments are a little soft, but that’s due to the source. The heavy mist used throughout the production mean that not everything is lush and crisp, but again, that’s what it’s supposed to look like. But with flesh tones looking so natural, and skin pores and fabric details in close-ups looking so marvelous, this release knocks it out of the park.
To sum it up by paraphrasing a great line from the film, “If it looks this good, we can buy it.” And because it looks this good, we can and most certainly should buy it.
Predator 2: 4.5/5
Predator 2, presented in 1.84:1 apparently, is a lovely affair. Film grain is deliciously apparent, Colors are really quite vibrant, with the reds, blues, and in the few moments where you see grass and trees, greens standing out. Flesh tones are warm, but natural, finer details like texture and skin pores shining in close-ups. Night sequences in particular benefit from the HDR grading at play here.
The HDR 10 grading deepens colors and black levels. For those that have owned Predator 2 before (like me, on English VHS, Australian DVD, then North American Blu-ray), the UHD seems like it’s the final say on the matter. I can’t imagine this film looking better than it does here – certainly not with the technology available.
The newest film of this trilogy has less opportunity for improvement over the already strong Blu-ray release from several years ago (read Matt Hough’s review for more on that), but it is an improvement.
What we do have is improvement in the black levels, level of detail, and the benefit of a quite look HDR grading (HDR 10). The green of the jungle pops a little more than previous editions and the already terrific shadow details are stronger than ever while the low-lit sequences, and there are quite a few, benefit from stronger contrasts and detail levels. The color palette in this film is relatively uniform, with striking blue-ish tint and worn yellow later in the film being strong deviations, the level of detail and strong blacks and contrast help give the overall of the film a far more interesting texture.
Audio-wise, Fox offers up the same DTS-HD Master Audio track from the earlier Blu-ray release. While no Dolby Atmos or 7.1 mix, the 5.1 mix delivers a suitable experience driven largely by Alan Silvestri’s energetic, propulsive and addictive score. It’s filled with plenty of bass-boom, clear dialogue focused in the center channel and a good spread of gunfire across the fronts and, in the chaos of battle, the surrounds at times too.
Predator 2: 4/5
Predator 2 comes equipped with a good but not exceptional DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track (the same one that accompanied the previous Blu-ray release). Dialogue is well balanced out of the center channel, bass and low frequency effects give the subwoofer plenty to do during the many gunfight sequences (and especially at the very end of the film with the predator ship). The surrounds are nicely active and it is once again Alan Silvestri’s rambunctious score and distinctive score that gets a great deal of play high in the mix.
While there is opportunity of improvement in the audio, what we have here is certainly effective and enveloping enough that the sheer onslaught of action and noise, and the ambient hums and predator sounds, can put that thought out of mind.
Fox hasn’t upgraded the audio mix for this UHD release, so while there’s no Atmos here, the DTS HD-MA 5.1 track from the previous Blu-ray remains a fun, strong option. The audio is really quite immersive from the opening frames and carries that through to the closing credits. The bass and LFE thunder healthily while dialogue is well-balanced and focused mainly in the center channel. John Debney’s score is surprisingly dominant in the mix, but it’s a fine score even if it sounds 90% like a remix of Silvestri’s superior work for the first two films (there’s very little of Debney’s composer voice to be found in this score). A solid audio.
Special Features: 3/5
The UHD disk contains just two special features, the Director’s audio commentary and film historian Eric Lichtensfeld’s text commentary, but the special features from 2010’s Ultimate Hunter edition are contained on the accompanying Blu-ray disc. A look at those special features courtesy of Matt Hough’s astute review are below:
- Director John McTiernan contributes a relatively mundane audio commentary as he languidly describes his memories of making the movie. Fans of the film will want to hear what he’s got to say, but it’s a pretty long slog as the director struggles to remember the movie after being away from it for so long.
- Film historian Eric Lichtensfeld contributes a text commentary offering up trivia about the movie and interviewing various filmmakers about aspects of the film. These comments appear in white subtitles that are easy to read and may be turned on and off on the fly during the movie.
- “Evolution of the Species: Hunters of Extreme Perfection” is actually a long, low bow to the makers of Predator by the makers of the upcoming film Predators. Director Robert Rodriguez along with Nimrod Antal and others describe their impressions of the original movie. Rodriguez also describes the sequel he wrote years ago in this 11 ¼-minute featurette in 1080p.
- “If It Bleeds, We Can Kill It” is a making-of documentary featuring interviews with the leading actors, the director, producer, writers, director of photography, production designer, stunt coordinator, and special effects supervisor, all discussing their work on the project. Presented in 480i, this runs 28 ¾ minutes.
- “Inside the Predator” is an omnibus title for a series of seven short featurettes on various aspects of the production: “Classified Action (5 ¼ minutes) gives details on the stunt work, “The Unseen Arnold” (4 ¾ minutes) is a homage to the star of the movie, “Old Painless” (3 ½) details the Gatling gun used by Jesse Ventura in the movie, “The Life Inside” (4 ½ minutes) is a loving tribute to the late Kevin Peter Hall who played the alien, “Camouflage” (5 minutes) introduces the film’s makeup artist talking about the various facial camouflage designs for the leading actors, “Welcome to the Jungle” (2 ¾ minutes) deals with various location stories told by the cinematographer and production designer, and “Character Design” (3 minutes) has the actors talking about the characters they play. All are in 480i.
- There are two special effects featurette sections: three ½-minute vignettes on the “Red Suit Special Effects” and two ½-minute shots of the alien’s jungle camouflage tests. They’re in 480i.
- Four short take featurettes on the film are offered: “John McTiernan on Learning Film” (3 minutes) finds the director talking about his film school experiences, “Jesse’s Ultimate Goal” (2 ¼ minutes) has the former wrestler talking about his strategy for an acting career, “Stan Winston’s Practical Joke” (3 minutes) has the creature builder relating an embarrassing moment for him ten years after the film premiered, and “Don’t Drink the Water” (1 ¾ minutes) retells a familiar story about the effect the water had on the systems of several of the actors. They’re in 480i.
- The trailer for Predator runs for 2 ¼ minutes while the trailer for Predator 2 lasts for 1 ½ minutes. Both are in 480i.
- A selection of photos is arranged in a gallery which can be stepped through by the viewer. There are both stills from the movie and behind-the-scenes shots of the actors and crew.
A Predator Profile can be stepped through by the viewer. It offers photos and text descriptions of the creature and his weapons arsenal.
Predator 2: 3/5
Predator 2 comes with just two special features on the UHD disc, the previously recorded Audio Commentaries with the director, and the second with the writers (these are also available on the Blu-ray disc). The accompanying Blu-ray contains all the previously released special features from that disc.
The collection of special features include a more than half-hour making of Predator 2 (“The Hunters and the Hunted”), with lots of interview with the cast and crew from the time. The evolutions special feature covers a few sequences effects. Other features look at the weaponry used, a look at the in-film news segments from ‘Hard Core’, and a collection of trailers, TV spots, and promotional featurettes.
UHD Special Features
Commentary by Director Stephen Hopkins
Commentary by Writers Jim Thomas and John Thomas
Blu-Ray Special Features
The Hunters and the Hunted
Weapons of Choice
Hard Core Segments
Promotional Gallery (Theatrical trailers and TV spots, ‘The Predator Goes to Town’, ‘International Making-of’ and ‘Creating the Ultimate Hunter’ featurettes)
The UHD comes with just the previously available audio commentary, but the collection also includes the previously released Blu-ray, inclusive of the special features. For coverage of those, I’ve shared Matt Hough’s thoughts on them from his great Predators Blu-ray Review.
The audio commentary is by producer Robert Rodriguez and director Nimrod Antal, and the two friends have a lively and fact-filled discussion about the making of the film. Rodriguez is an old hand at doing these and knows what fans want to hear about on this kind of track.
The motion comics of Robert Rodriguez present information on five of the characters in six vignettes which give biographical facts on them before they land in the film proper. The featurettes of Isabelle, Cuchillo, Hanzo, Mombasa, and two on Noland can be viewed separately or in one 8 ¾-minute group. Another motion comic called “Crucified” runs 2 ¼ minutes.
“Evolution of the Species: Predators Reborn” is a 40 ¼-minute documentary detailing the making of the film broken down into six parts which deal with the original premise, the location scouting and shooting in Hawaii and in Texas, the soundstage sets built to match location scenery, the casting of the movie, the costuming for the creatures, and the director’s feelings about helming the movie.
“The Chosen” is a 5-minute featurette detailing the members of the troop and why they were chosen to be victims for the creatures.
“Fox Movie Channel Presents Making a Scene” gives some behind-the-scenes looks at the dog chase sequence with director Nimrod Antal, co-star Walton Goggins, and producer Robert Rodriguez along with the production designer and the special effects coordinator discussing the sequence. It runs 7 ¼ minutes in 480i.
There are nine deleted and extended scenes which may be watched individually or in one 11 ¼-minute grouping.
The film’s theatrical trailer runs for 2 minutes.
BD-Live offers two features not on the Blu-ray disc:
- An introduction to the Blu-ray disc by producer Robert Rodriguez which runs ¼ minute in 480i.
- A “set visit” with director Nimrod Antal instructing the actor playing one of the Predators about his behavior. It runs 2 minutes in 720p.
There is also Live Lookup available powered by the IMDb.
The disc offers 1080p trailers for Machete, The A-Team, Mirrors 2, and FX’s dramatic series.
This collection of the first three Predator movies (a fourth will hit cinema’s in September 2018) showcase the inconsistent quality of this ‘franchise’, but despite the sequels paling in comparison to the superb original, they have enough good qualities and likeable, pulpy-moments to make this set a worthwhile addition to your collection. With excellent video and very strong audio quality, this UHD set represents the best these films have ever looked for the home market (and perhaps even better than the way they looked during their theatrical runs). For fans, owning this set is a no-brainer.https://smile.amazon.com/Predator-1-3-Blu-ray-Arnold-Schwarzenegger/dp/B07DQ9JMQS/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535315936&sr=8-1&keywords=predator+4k