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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 7/29/04



Predator
Collector's Edition - 1987 (2004) - 20th Century Fox

review by Dw Dunphy of MusicTAP (special to The Digital Bits)

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsEncoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

Predator: Collector's Edition

Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B-/B

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): B-/A

Specs and Features

Disc One - The Film
107 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at ??), keepcase packaging, audio commentary by John McTiernan, text commentary by Eric Lichtenfield, Aliens vs. Predator behind-the-scenes featurette - 2 mins, I, Robot behind-the-scenes featurette - 2 mins, Aliens vs. Predator teaser trailer, animated film-themed menu screens with sound and music, scene access (25 chapters), languages: English (DD & DTS 5.1), French ( DD 2.0 Surround) and Spanish (DD 2.0 mono) subtitles: English and Spanish, Close Captioned

Disc Two - Supplemental Material
All features 4x3, If It Bleeds, We Can Kill It: The Making of Predator documentary - 29 mins, 7 Inside the Predator featurettes (including Classified Action - 5 mins, The Unseen Arnold - 5 mins, Old Painless - 3 mins, The Life Inside - A Tribute to Kevin Peter Hall - 4 mins, Camouflage - 4 mins, Welcome to the Jungle - 4 mins and Character Design - 4 mins), 5 Predator Special Effects featurettes (including 3 "Red Suit" Special Effects featurettes and 2 Camouflage Tests), 1 deleted scene and 3 outtakes, Predator Profile text feature, photo gallery, Alien Quadrilogy promo trailer, Easter egg: Jessie Ventura - 2 mins, film-themed menu screens with music, languages: English (all features DD 2.0), subtitles: none


Call it The Most Dangerous Game meets Ten Little Indians, wherein an alien is the hunter and the prey is none other than Apollo Creed, Jesse "The Body" and The Terminator. Coming up through a particular phase of American popular films, that of the ultra-beefy ultra-warrior, Predator survives particularly well after all this time, unlike many of Arnold Schwarzenegger's other flicks of the period (When's the last time you broke out Red Heat just for fun?).

The plot takes some time and turns getting where it needs to go, but I'm sure that all are familiar with the crux of the story by now. A crack commando team is dispatched to rescue dignitaries downed somewhere in a South American jungle... but not really. In fact, it's a ruse to get the squad in to put down a small Junta uprising. Apparently these jungle warriors are a vicious lot, hanging their skinned victims from the trees like sides of beef. Again, things aren't as they seem as one by one, the super macho soldiers are picked off by ever growing strangeness amongst the vines, long after they've blown their opposition to kingdom come. Ultimately, it all comes down to Dutch and the Rastafarian Martian, fighting mano a monstero.

The cast is a rough and ready bunch of characters, including Carl Weathers as the operative who sends them all into harm's way, a Gatling gun-wielding Jesse Ventura, Native American and shamanistic Sonny Landham, eyeglass-wearing smart alec Shane Black (screenwriter of Lethal Weapon, by the way) who comes closest to having "dead meat" tattooed to his noggin, the paranoid Bill Duke, the company man who hangs on until the ignominious end in Richard Chaves, and of course Arnie as "Dutch", the commander of the gang.

Sure, this is the kind of ensemble straight out of a John Sturges actioner from the 60s, and every racial archetype seems to get their chip on the table, but the real fun of Predator is just how broad the strokes are. The guns and the explosions get bigger and bigger, just like the stunts, as the cast gets smaller and smaller. The all-American G.I. Joe at the front-and-center is an enormous Austrian (and by the way, Ahnuld has only once played a character remotely Austrian/Germanic in, you guessed it, Pumping Iron where he played Arnold Schwarzennegger). The true enemy, a space invader on a hunting trip, is even bigger and nearly wipes the hapless Dutch out. Director John McTiernan does occasionally go for solid, psychological subtleties, such as when the camouflaged baddie sneaks right behind its quarry, seen to us but not to the poor, dumbstruck bucks it is about to cap. Predator ain't Proust, but it is testosterone-charged fun nonetheless.

Fox Entertainment has finally gotten around to presenting Predator in an edition befitting its cult status, rather than the pallid movie-only disc they've hawked for years. Separated into two discs, the movie takes advantage of new compression technology and a slightly higher bit-rate on the presentation, which it sorely needs. The movie was shot on a film stock that could move ably between light and shadow, depending on how much plant cover any particular section of the location had. That meant that, during darker scenes, the original film grain would be readily apparent. Also, because of the haze and smoke in this rainforest atmosphere, there would always be swirling plumes of diffusion. All of this wreaks hell on average DVD transfers, with lots of "bugnoise". Fortunately, those distractions are greatly minimized on disc and only apparent when you're trying hard to find them. There's a minute bit of edge enhancement, most noticeable in the sci-fi flashes, lasers and arc-sparks, but all in all, nothing so distracting as to throw you out of the movie. This isn't reference quality, but it's the best this film has ever looked.

As for the soundtrack, the new Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix, while solid in bass resonance, doesn't really utilize the full sound field to best advantage. With all the noises inherent in a jungle caper, you'd think that this would be audio-reference quality, but the quiet parts are "big-quiet" and the loud parts are "big-loud" and the listener is less immersed in the experience than whacked by an oncoming wave, traveling front to back with mostly atmosphere coming from the rear. Yes, all the surrounds are active, but it's hard to get into the middle of it when the mix is so busy beating you upside the head. The DTS track, on the other hand, is a huge improvement. It's much fuller sounding with crisper music, a smoother sound field and much better dynamics overall. Predator really comes alive with the DTS track. If you have DTS capability, that's the one to listen to.

The big deal with Predator: Collector Edition is a host of supplementary materials, including a new mini-doc, the standard recollections and behind-the-scenes stories we've come to expect, trailers, design galleries, and a commentary by director McTiernan. All of this is great, but all of it has slight drawbacks as well. McTiernan has a tendency to 'low-talk' and mumble in his basso profundo voice, so much so that I had to keep cranking up the volume to figure out what he said, and then a loud sound effect would slip by and scare me to death. You won't learn much about how to direct a big action picture from this commentary, and McTiernan spends a lot of time complaining about the original Predator design, but he's more entertaining than not. More substantive is Eric Lichtenfield's text commentary popping on-screen. The problem there is that Predator isn't really a dialogue rich story, so your eyes are often too distracted by visuals to keep up with tidbits.

Speaking of the dreaded costume, the original Predator suit was a horrible, huge red padded suit with claws, like a mongoloid lobster walking on fin tails... some of the behind-the-scenes footage shows how ludicrous it could have been had Stan Winston and his evil designer minions not cooked up a cooler nemesis. Oddly enough, the most effective featurette is a tribute to the actor portraying the blood-sporting Predator, Kevin Peter Hall. Apparently Hall was as gentle and nice as his character was vicious, traits that served him well as the loveable bigfoot of Harry and the Hendersons. The sad end to Hall was his contracting HIV AIDS from a bad blood transfusion. This mini eulogy goes far in presenting to the world the gentle giant behind the claws and mandibles. Fans of Ventura will enjoy a retro Easter egg featurette about his future political ambitions.

The days of the larger-than-life action hero are probably gone for good, along with a string of fairly forgettable flicks featuring them. Predator survives and still entertains because the heroes remain vulnerable and human, and the filmmakers take pains to keep it just light enough at points and just edgy enough at others. Pop it on with a bowl of popcorn at your side and the volume ready to rumble, and let the body count roll.

Dw Dunphy
dwdunphy@musictap.net


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