It came for the thrill of the hunt. It picked the wrong man to hunt.
A cross between a sci-fi and an action film, with a splash of horror, Predator slowly builds the creepy tension from start to spectacular finish. Almost as creepy is the poor treatment that 20th Century Fox gave to this disc.
Predator is a good solid film, which turns the tables on the action genre by making the hero the hunted and manages to sustain a slow buildup of tension and horror. I bet that a fair amount of credit must be due to the efforts of director John McTiernan, who is best known for his success with Die Hard, Die Hard 3, and The Hunt for Red October. At the same time that he is managing the buildup, John McTiernan gives us some impressive action sequences and nice special effects (in part due to the wizardry of Stan Winston). A pity Fox got its hands on this movie, but more on that later.
We start out on our cinema experience by meeting Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) as he flies into a military base somewhere in an unnamed tropical country, where he is told that he will be leading a mission to rescue some hostages at the request of an old friend, Dillon (Carl Weathers), who now works for the CIA. Dutch is none too happy about the mission, and neither is his battle-hardened squad, composed of Mac (Bill Duke), Blain (the Governor of Minnesota, the Honorable Jesse Ventura!), Billy (Sonny Landham), Poncho (Richard Chaves), and Hawkins (Shane Black). Blain has an extremely funny little riff on the benefits of chewing tobacco during the flight to the target, so pay attention!
Once on the ground, our squad of bad-asses quickly accumulates clues that something is not quite right, and you, the audience positively knows that something strange is going to happen. Dutch and his gang proceed with the plan, and locate the camp where the rebels who captured the hostages are holed up. In short order, the camp and its rebel soldiers are decimated with lots of ammunition and explosives. Sorting through the aftermath, we learn that the hostages are dead and that the mission was a CIA setup from the start. Dutch is understandably pissed, especially when he decides that the group will have to trudge through tough jungle terrain to reach a helicopter extraction point.
Things really start to go bad when Hawkins is horribly murdered by a strangely camouflaged creature who vanishes as quickly as it kills. As the group spreads out to investigate, Blain is cut down by energy blasts, and the creature vanishes into the jungle, though not without injury. Needless to say, the survivors are pretty darned concerned at their situation, and do their best to defend themselves against a mostly unseen enemy. As good as they are, a trap for the creature is broken in short order, and both Mac and Dillon are killed in quick succession. Billy, who's been a little on edge since they landed, goes over the edge and challenges the creature to a little mano a mano contest, in a vain attempt to give the remaining soldiers enough time to escape.
Soon, only Dutch is left, who discovers an unexpected means of defense against this alien hunter. With a much better understanding, and a lot more motivation, Dutch prepares an elaborate trap for the very unfriendly E.T., having decided that revenge is at least as important as escape. The climactic battle ensues in spectacular fashion, to the bitter and very final end.
Though only two years after Commando, by the time Predator rolled around it is clear that Arnold Schwarzenegger was steadily growing into the polished action movie actor that he is today. Here he seems more comfortable and articulate in his action-hero role, and that seems to have helped the other actors in their own performances. Conflicts and friendships among the characters are credible, and the occasional moments of humor flow naturally without being of the eye-rolling variety.
The story is not very long or complicated, but it doesn't need to be for a movie of this sort. It is simple and refreshingly straightforward, letting the tension of the soldiers' predicament carry the action along without gratuitous complications or distractions.
Your sonic experience will be pleasant, as from what I can determine this is the first time Predator has been released with a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack (at least according to the IMDb). Did Fox go soft on us and spend a few dollars on a remaster? Channel separation is nice and clean, but as usual for an older movie the bass for big explosions seems to be underdone. The score is sparsely used, but assists in moving the action and keeping the mood very effectively.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Once again, Fox has put very little effort into a quality presentation. The video is a bit better than it was in Commando, but not by much. Video noise is too obvious through the movie, though it seems more prevalent towards the beginning. Sharpness is only adequate, color saturation is similarly okay but nothing to get excited about, and sharp lines are susceptible to the shimmer that may be caused by digital enhancement. Once again, as in Commando, the opening credits magnify this flaw, as they shimmer and jump around in annoying fashion…As usual, Fox flips the DVD buyer the big bird, foisting a non-anamorphic transfer on us. However, this seems to be a pretty clean print, so be thankful for small favors
Fox decided not to embarrass itself and include a Special Features menu, only to stick a trailer in it and nothing else. Instead, we get the full frame, lower quality trailer (ick!) direct from the main menu, and that's it for the extras! Oddly enough, the back of the box shows a main menu screenshot that is not the one on disc, as it lists a "Cast/Director Mini Bio" option that is not on disc, and doesn't list the theatrical trailer option that is on disc, and uses a different background! The menus are movie themed and static, and Fox insists on using its own annoying keep case as packaging. On the up side, we do get a nice color picture on the disc.
Better than your average action flick, Predator delivers thrills, chills, and plenty of gunfire and explosions in Schwarzenegger style, but Fox takes a lot of the fun away with its lackluster treatment. If you haven't seen it, rent it, if you are a big Schwarzenegger fan, you'll want it, but I can't recommend a purchase ($30!) unless you can find it in a bargain bin somewhere.
The movie is acquitted. Fox is guilty yet again of an overpriced disc with less than stellar quality and the barest of extras, and should be burnt at the stake for its repeated and unrepentant heresy.
[Editor's Note: Fox has re-released Predator with an anamorphic transfer and DTS audio. Unfortunately, we have yet to review the new edition.]
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