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The Spin Sheet

DVD reviews by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits


AVP: Alien Vs. Predator

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Encoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

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AVP: Alien Vs. Predator
Widescreen - 2004 (2005) - 20th Century Fox

Film Rating: D+

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

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): B/B+


The year is 2004. A satellite belonging to billionaire industrialist Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen) detects a mysterious temple buried beneath the Antarctic ice sheet. To investigate it, Weyland assembles a crack squad of ice climbers and archeologists, led by Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan). Little does the team know that the temple was built thousands of years ago by ancient Predators-worshiping humans, that Predator young use it as place to conduct their "manhood" trials... and that they're about to walk right into the middle of one. You can probably already guess where this story is going and how it's all going to shake out.

AVP is mildly entertaining in a sort of B-movie kind of way, but die-hard fans of either the Alien or Predator franchises are going to be left seriously wanting. There's not a lick of intelligence or sophistication in this film whatsoever, and the whole thing is barely 100 minutes long - an exercise in style over substance. We've seen these creatures for years now, so they just aren't scary anymore. They're not enough to sustain a film by themselves. What's left are a collection of thinly drawn characters we aren't invested in, and a story that, as you might guess from the title, is just the setup for a series of Matrix-esque fight scenes. Yes, that's right... CGI aliens, Predators that look a little too much like Klingons and bullet time wire-fu. There's one good line and a couple cool moments, but by and large AVP is blandly written (it messes with Alien franchise continuity), it's poorly acted and (like Alien³ and Alien: Resurrection before it) it features mediocre, overly-designed creature effects. Why is it that in 1979 and 1986 we saw monsters that looked and felt like REAL and dangerous organisms, and in 2004 we get monsters that look like videogame cannon fodder? Maybe it shouldn't surprise you. The film's writer/director, Paul W.S. Anderson, is best known for his Resident Evil films... yes, based on a videogame property.


This DVD is presented as a single-disc set, with anamorphic widescreen video (a separate full frame version is also available). The video quality is good overall, but only just good. Contrast, color and overall detail are decent, but the video looks somewhat overcompressed. There's a lot of material on this disc in addition to the film, and so it appears that image quality has been compromised a bit as a result. There also appears to be a little edge enhancement added - not a lot, but enough to be obvious on a large front or rear projection screen.

The film's audio is available in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 options. Both are solid tracks, fairly atmospheric with mostly lively surround channels and plenty of bass reinforcement in the LFE. Neither track is going to blow you away, but they each serve the film well. The DTS has the slight edge in terms of creating a smoother, more unified sound field, but it isn't going to make or break your experience.

The extras here aren't scant, but they are lackluster. First, you get a slightly extended version of the film, available via branching. It features a brief prelude set in 1904 Antarctica, in which Predators hunt the original crew of the whaling station. There are a pair of commentary tracks, one with Anderson, Henriksen and Lathan, and another by the effects supervisor (John Bruno) and the creature designers (Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr.). They're okay, but the film is only so interesting... so discussion of its making is likewise just so interesting. You can tell that everyone involved went into this film with the best intentions. Unfortunately, that only got them so far. Also on this disc is an AVP Promo, which isn't a trailer but rather a 22-minute "making of" featurette that seems to have been compiled from the promotional footage that's already available on the film's website. There are a trio of deleted scenes, but they're all extremely brief and only one ("Predator Humor") would have really added anything to the film. The rest of this DVD is just filler - a gallery of Dark Horse AVP comic covers, promo trailers for Fox Sports and other TV crap (but no trailers for this film), and a bit of DVD-ROM material that's okay (AVP comic previews, etc), but I just really am not a fan of DVD-ROM material so I don't much care. By the way, the DVD features two different random menus schemes - one of the temple environment and one of the Predator ship.

Sadly, AVP is really very lackluster in almost every respect. It's clear to me that Fox has NO idea what to do with the Alien and Predator properties, and that's a shame. Had this film been made 10 years ago, when people still cared about the videogame, that might be one thing. But that time has unfortunately passed. As for this DVD, if you like the film... you'll probably like this disc. A word of warning however - we've heard rumors that a more elaborate 2-disc version of AVP is being planned. So buyer beware.




Predator: Collector's Edition

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

Film Rating: B

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

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


When a government official goes missing and is presumed captured by rebels during a covert mission in Central America, a highly-specialized black ops team is called in by the U.S. military to conduct a rescue operation. Led by Major 'Dutch' Schaeffer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) under CIA supervision (provided by Carl Weathers), their mission is simple - slip into the dense jungle, free the hostages and get out quick. Things start becoming far more complicated, however, when members of the team start getting picked off one by one, not by the local guerilla forces but by a far more dangerous enemy - one that's both unseen... and unearthly.

This is a great little film. Deftly directed by action familiar John McTiernan (Die Hard, The Hunt for Red October), the original Predator works on almost every level. Much of this is due to the simplicity of its story and effectiveness of its dialogue. The film convincingly starts out as a basic commando actioner... but gradually twists in a different direction. The cast is solid across the board, breathing life into characters that are sparsely drawn, but become absolutely familiar. You like these guys, and while you don't know much about them, you know everything you need to root for them. Clinching the film's success, the Predator creature (as conceived by writers Jim Thomas and John Thomas, and realized by Stan Winston) is surprisingly believable and original. This creature is both dangerous and interesting - it's the perfect mano-a-mano foil for Schwarzenegger's campy, pumped-up bravado.


This 2-disc set contains the film in remastered anamorphic widescreen on Disc One. The transfer is probably not going to blow you away, given the aged condition of the original film elements. There's moderate to occasionally coarse print grain visible, and detail is sometimes a bit lacking. But color and contrast are decent at all times - this is certainly the best I've ever seen the film looking before. It's a much better transfer than was available on the previous, movie-only DVD release.

5.1 surround audio is provided in both Dolby Digital and DTS options. Both tracks feature moderately active surrounds, good overall clarity and excellent bass. The DTS mix is a little more smooth and expansive, while the Dolby Digital seems slightly more biased to the front portion of the soundstage, but both are good on the whole and serve the visuals well.

Extras on Disc One include an audio commentary track with McTiernan, and a subtitle text trivia track. The commentary is very subdued in tone, and features occasional long gaps between comments, but what McTiernan does say is quite interesting. Predator was his first studio film, making its success that much more surprising. The text commentary is pretty standard, but features trivia and notes by some of the production team. There's also an Inside Look featurette promoting the theatrical release of AVP (though if you buy the AVP DVD, most of what you get in this featurette is also included in the AVP Promo piece on that disc).

Disc Two opens with the If It Bleeds, We Can Kill It documentary. This runs nearly a half-hour, and is a nice retrospective look back at the making of the film, featuring both new and period interview material and behind-the-scenes footage. Most every topic you're interested in is addressed, from the story and casting to the design and execution of the creature itself. Next up are 7 Inside the Predator featurettes, covering all of the various aspects of the production in even further detail. There's on-set footage, interview material, stunt and technical insights and more. There are additional Predator Special Effects clips showing how the Predator camouflage effects were achieved. Included here are rare camera tests that are cool to see. A deleted scene from the film is available on this disc, along with a trio of outtakes - nothing major but nice to have. There's a slideshow profile on the creature's weapons and capabilities, along with a production photo gallery and a promotional trailer for the Alien Quadrilogy box set (although sadly there's no trailer for this film). Finally, there's some interesting Easter egg material hidden in the menus, including a featurette highlighting Jesse Ventura's future "political" aspirations.

It certainly took a while, but Fox has finally delivered a decent special edition of Predator on DVD. This is an interesting, fun and highly effective little action flick, and while this 2-disc set isn't going to win any awards, it does contain sufficient (and sufficiently 'meaty') behind-the-scenes material to satisfy most fans.




Predator 2: Special Edition

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Encoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

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Predator 2
Special Edition - 1990 (2005) - 20th Century Fox

Film Rating: C+

Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): B/C+

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): B/B+


Three years after the original film, the Predator has returned to Earth to stalk its prey in a different sort of jungle... the concrete, glass and steel kind found in urban Los Angeles.

While investigating a series of bizarre murders, hard-nosed LAPD officer Mike Harrigan (Danny Glover) begins to suspect that the perp he's hunting isn't your average, run-of-the-mill killer. Meanwhile, ever on the lookout for a worthy adversary, the Predator suddenly finds one in Harrigan and begins hunting him as well. What follows is classic cat-and-mouse fodder pitting the streetwise cop against the cunning extraterrestrial hunter.

Predator 2 isn't great by any stretch... but it is entertaining and it does manage to function passably as a sequel. Once again, the story is simple but effective and the casting is fairly solid. What draws you into Predator 2 however, is that the film never quite takes itself seriously. There's a bit of a tongue-in-cheek quality at play here, starting with the very opening logo, and the gun battle in Downtown L.A. between the cops and drug lords. This film reminds me a little of the Robocop sequels in that respect - there's just enough camp to entertain you until the real drama and action starts unfolding. What's more, the team at Stan Winston Studios expanded the creature's weapons and capabilities nicely, never going too far with their designs but evolving the Predator just enough to keep it believable and fresh. What more can I say? It ain't Shakespeare, but Predator 2 works.


The video quality of this DVD is quite decent - slightly better even than the Predator: Special Edition. This is due largely to the film elements being in a bit better condition. Grain is visible as it should be, but detail and clarity never suffers for it. Colors, contrast and compression are generally good at all times. This is a solid transfer, and it services the film well.

As with the other two DVDs reviewed above, audio options are once again available in both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 surround. Both tracks are very good and are well matched to the image quality. You'll hear a lot of "urban" atmosphere in the mix, which draws you into the visuals. Overall clarity is excellent, with active surrounds and solid bass. The DTS is a little more natural sounding, but it's very close.

Extras on this 2-disc special edition aren't quite as plentiful as the Predator: Special Edition, but Fox has delivered enough to satisfy. There are a pair of audio commentary tracks on Disc One, including one with director Stephen Hopkins (whose more recent work includes HBO's The Life and Death of Peter Sellers and several episodes of Fox's 24) and another with writers Jim Thomas and John Thomas. They're fairly average tracks, but I'm a big fan of writer commentaries in particular and I quite enjoyed this one. Disc Two delivers the all-new documentary Predator 2: The Hunters and the Hunted, which runs more than 30 minutes. It's about what you'd expect in terms of content, but it's certainly more substantial than the usual promotional pieces. There are good featurette looks at the Predator's various weapons, as well as 4 short video segments on the development of key effects shots (with audio commentary by effects supervisor Joel Hynek). You get to see the original Hard Core TV segments that were created for the film, and there's a gallery of 50-some odd production photos. All of the film's theatrical trailers are included in anamorphic widescreen, and there are a number of TV spots too. Best of all, all of the featurettes that were included on the previous, movie-only Predator 2 DVD have been carried over to this edition, so you can safely trade the old disc in for whatever value you can get for it.

If you switch off your brain, Predator 2 is a fun little ride. It's not complex, but the film's strength lies in the fact that it never tries to be anything other than what it is. On DVD, this is a more than adequate special edition - nothing really outstanding, but probably more than the film deserves anyway. If you're a fan, you should be plenty happy with it.

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com


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