Blu-ray Review: “Predator: Ultimate Hunter Edition”

Like wrinkles on a middle-aged man, time has a way of making even the most mundane movie appear distinguished. Maybe you were a kid when you first saw that middlebrow comedy; maybe it’s been awhile since you’ve watched that predictable action flick with the saggy second act. As objects recede into memory, they appear … better, somehow.

Take, for instance, 1987’s Predator, a rock-‘em, sock-‘em action orgy that grew out of a gag about Rocky Balboa fighting an alien and evolved, I guess, into an excuse for Arnold Schwarzenegger and a coterie of machine-gun-totin’ dudes to tromp through the jungle while being hunted by a homicidal extraterrestrial.

Perfect popcorn fare, in other words. And thanks to some nifty creature design by Stan Winston — as well as the overlooked talents of Kevin Peter Hall, a gifted actor whose seven-foot physique doomed him to a career in monster suits — Predator was nowhere near as bad as it probably should have been. For something that was inspired by a dumb joke, it’s actually sort of smart; you’d be hard-pressed to find an action movie that builds this slowly today, and its gradual shift from a military rescue flick to a sci-fi/horror film is fun to watch.

Predator definitely has its strong points. But it’s also deeply hokey. And yes, we’re talking about a movie about a Green Beret with a thick Austrian accent fighting an alien in a jungle somewhere near Guatemala, so a certain amount of corn is implied. But this is the kind of movie that likes to beat you over the head with everything from its score (a collection of painfully obvious cues from Alan Silvestri) to its characters (will the Native American badass also be a mystic who touches a talisman around his neck when he’s getting ready to fight? You bet) and its dialogue, which is either extremely cliched or simply slaughtered by Schwarzenegger, whose line readings couldn’t be any more wooden if he were a dime-store Indian. (Still, no one can slather himself in mud, clamber up a tree, light a giant torch, and scream like Arnie. No one.)

John McTiernan, fresh off the silly Pierce Brosnan film Nomads, directed Predator like a big-budget A-Team episode, with plenty of cigar-chomping banter and slow-motion explosions. Schwarzenegger, lit in silhouette, fires up a stogie and arm-wrestles Carl Weathers; Jesse Ventura barks apparently good-natured insults like “slack-jawed faggots” and carries a Gatling gun; a young Shane Black makes pussy jokes. They pick up a woman at one point, but in a brilliant metaphor for the war between the sexes, most of them can’t understand a word she’s saying. Forget about the “kiss kiss” part, just give us the “bang bang.”

There’s plenty of bang waiting to be detonated here, but it never really hits you the way it should; the script is loaded down with stuff that takes you out of the movie. For instance: after Arnie whoops its ass for the final time, the Predator programs a bomb strapped to its body — and then flings open its mandibles and starts laughing like a maniacal James Bond supervillain.

In short, Predator probably hasn’t aged as well as you think it has. It’s fun, and it’s a damn sight better than the dull 1990 sequel and miserable Alien crossovers, but without Schwarzenegger’s star power, this could have been just another Brian Bosworth movie.

It’s also been on Blu-ray before via a pretty dumpy bare-bones transfer; the only reason we’re getting this “Ultimate Hunter Edition” now is because the Robert Rodriguez-produced Predators is arriving in theaters. Adding insult to injury, the latest reissue is visually below average for the most part; you’ll notice scratches and spots from time to time, and quite a bit of detail has been wiped away with digital noise reduction (Carl Weathers’s close-ups, in particular, seem to have been run through the same filter used for Cybill Shepherd on Moonlighting). Ditto the 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio track, which is forceful and clean, but can’t do much to improve upon the canned-sounding explosions.

The special features have mostly been ported over from the double-DVD edition, meaning they’re in SD and you probably already own them if you’re a fan of the film — but on the bright side, there are a lot of extras, even if you toss out the ones that exist obviously and solely to pimp Robert Rodriguez’s Predators. Just about anything you’d ever want to know about the movie is here, from behind-the-scenes footage to new(ish) interviews with the cast and crew. You get about an hour and 20 minutes of featurettes, a (frankly dull) audio commentary from McTiernan, a fascinating subtitle commentary from film historian Eric Lichtenfeld, deleted scenes, trailers, a photo gallery … the works.

The result is a mixed bag that’s difficult to recommend. Ordinarily, I’d say that if you didn’t already own Predator, this would be the version to buy; even with its visual flaws, it’s still better-looking than previous editions, and it bundles a hi-def transfer with a healthy stack of added content. But with the movie’s 25th anniversary coming in 2012, it’s easy to imagine Fox putting out yet another “ultimate” reissue. If Predator isn’t part of your library by now, you can probably wait.

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  • http://mulberrypanda96.blogspot.com rwcass

    I liked your review, Jeff, but throughout it I was wondering, “When will he connect 'Predator' to 'Moonlighting'?!” And then you did. Thank you.

  • http://www.popdose.com jefito

    Some walk by night, Robert.