It’s ironic that at a time when the entire world feels at war, when guns and rescue operations make regular appearances on the nightly news, that home-movie audiences are seeing a resurgence of 1980s action films. Never did movie studios spend more on machine guns, blank rounds, near-nuclear explosions and gratuitous violence than in the mid to late 80s, so maybe it’s par for the now-desensitized course that these action films are returning to the American psyche — and in high definition, to boot.
Twentieth Century Fox has been particularly diligent in raiding its archives, releasing a handful of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s most timeless non-Terminator films. The premiere among these is Predator, a sci-fi/action hybrid that set the stage for an insanely successful franchise and introduced a new breed of intelligent alien for moviegoers to root both for and against. It also just so happened to give sci-fi fanboys an eventual dream team film: Aliens versus Predator (and its sequel).
Predator is a not-so-subtle reminder of why 1980s action films were so over-the-top enjoyable. The movie features Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura decimating entire Central American jungles with ammunition rather than gubernatorial campaigns. It has no shortage of massive explosions. It’s got endless waves of mindless (and helpless) enemies getting tossed through the air. And last but not least, it has dialogue and punch lines so ridiculously bad that you can’t help but smile and say “this is an awesome script…now where’s my beer?” Oh, and just for good measure, there’s an alien single-handedly killing off entire platoons of Special Forces.
The plot is also classic 1980s action film. And by that, I mean there really isn’t much of one. You see, there’s this alien — let’s call him “Predator” — who’s out doing some recreational hunting in Central America. America’s finest stumble upon his guerilla targets, upsetting said alien and making themselves his new target du jour. One by one the commandos fall, including Carl “Don’t-Call-Me-Apollo” Weathers, but Schwarzenegger and the only female in the entire film somehow survive the onslaught and save the day — but none of the other soldiers. A helicopter lands, Schwarzenegger flies off into the sunset covered in mud, and the credits roll.
In a movie so reliant upon things going boom, image quality is absolutely essential to delivering a fun experience. I’ve watched a half dozen or more “archive” movies resurrected on Blu-ray, and to be honest, my hopes were slim for the transfer quality of Predator. The film was originally released in 1987, long before HDTVs and digital formats, and most recent BD transfers of older films have shown signs of age. Not so with Predator. The contrast and saturation could have benefited from additional sweetening in the movie’s early scenes, but after about the 15-minute mark, Predator looks as crisp and bright as most mainstream Blu-ray releases such as Juno or No Country for Old Men. It’s not completely up to par with modern sci-fi or action releases, but it definitely holds up to about 90 percent of the modern Blu-ray movies out there.
The one real visual snafu in the film’s MPEG-2 video ironically comes in one of Predator’s most important aspects: the active camouflage of the Predator himself. If George Lucas can go into the original Star Wars and add a horrible digital rendition of Jabba the Hut, why couldn’t Fox have gone in and sweetened the Predator’s camo a bit? I realize that the camo is supposed to look a bit “off” so viewers can see the enemy, and I know that tinkering with the camo would have been outright heresy to thousands of fans. But truly, the first few scenes that show the Predator in action look ridiculously bad, almost like some effect you’d expect to see in Star Trek: The Original Series.
Fortunately, the Predator’s clicking “whisper” is perfectly intact, and the DTS HD 5.1 Lossless Master Audio does a fantastic job of making viewers feel like they’re actually in the jungle hearing the creature tease its prey. The audio track also does a good job at maintaining a high/low volume balance between dialogue and explosions, although to be fair, most of the audio (including the insanely cheesy one-liners) appear during the first two-thirds of the movie anyway, so the balance is almost a moot point during the best parts of the film. Unfortunately, the dialogue does suffer from a few obviously spliced segments, and it’s bad enough that it stands out without even listening for it. Again, though, this is essentially moot for 50 minutes of the film, and none of the classic lines are affected (“stick around” and “I ain’t got time to bleed”).
For Predator’s appearance on Blu-ray, Twentieth Century Fox exercised some non-80s restraint and opted for the “less is more” strategy with bonus features. The Theatrical Trailer (2:11) is presented in high definition, and for everyone who thinks movie trailers are melodramatic now, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen this head-shakingly cheesy trailer. The audio, presented in just two channels, may sound a bit muffled, and the video itself may be soft, but seeing this lesson in Melodrama 101 makes for two minutes well spent.
Aside from Previews for five other Fox Blu-ray movies and a minigun-shaped Smart Menu, the only other bonus is D-Box Motion Code, a feature we would’ve loved to experience and review with this film. D-Box is the company responsible for bringing motion seating to home audiences, a service that’s best described as having a personal Star Tours or Soarin’ seat hooked into your home theater. D-Box engineers hand-code the seat’s motions on select movies (more films will use D-Box code in the months ahead), letting viewers “feel” explosions or, in the case of something like Return of the Jedi, “feel” the jump to hyperspace. Predator is the absolute epitome of massive 1980s explosions, so I can only imagine what the D-Box Motion Code adds to the experience.
As one of the classic sci-fi action films, Predator makes perfect sense to release on Blu-ray Disc. What’s most surprising is just how good its transition to high-definition has been. Much like the franchise has prospered during the past 21 years, the film itself has withstood the test of time, providing an incredible visual transfer that’s on par with modern theatrical Blu-ray releases. The screenplay and actors aren’t about to win any awards, but as far as BD “archival” movies go, Predator is near the top of the food chain.
- Score: 7.8
- The digital transfer is amazing, and the film is a great reminder of the “power kitsch” of the late 1980s. However, the lack of a commentary track or making-of feature is disappointing, particularly given the futures of some of its stars. We also wish we could’ve experienced the D-Box Motion Code, as it seems perfectly suited to a film like Predator.
— Jonas Allen