What is there to say about Predator that has not already been said? The movie is a goddamn flawless masterpiece from top to bottom, and I still love it today as much as ever. This is simply the perfect ’80s movie, offering an amalgamation of the three most popular mainstream genres of that decade: action-adventure, horror, and science fiction – and it’s an Arnold Schwarzenegger flick to boot. All of these components are mixed up to form this heady brew of violent action, macho posturing and ridiculously quotable dialogue, which is all set at a breakneck pace.
At its most basic narrative level, Predator is your usual men-on-a-mission movie (think The Wild Geese or The Dirty Dozen) with added flourishes of horror and sci-fi. At the beginning of the film, Dutch Schaefer (Schwarzenegger) and his battle-hardened squad of elite commandos begrudgingly accept a mission set by the CIA to rescue a group of political hostages from guerrillas in the remote jungles of Central America. The assignment seems simple enough, but shortly after rappelling into enemy territory, Dutch and his team get the feeling that something isn’t quite right. Not only have they been set up by the CIA who in reality wants them to recover military intelligence, but there’s also something lurking in the jungle…a creature from another planet watching their every move. As the men head to the extraction point, they are slowly targeted one by one…
A huge part of what makes Predator such a top-shelf action flick is that it never stops charging ahead. There’s a refreshingly uncomplicated plotline in place which is never dragged down by sprawling back-stories, rambling chunks of exposition or gratuitous distractions. Dutch and his commandos have a hell of a lot of personality, and the screenplay (credited to Jim & John Thomas) doles them out without ever stopping to catch a breath. The lulls in the action are always filled with something: mistrust, pig-sticking, pussy jokes, the nagging sense that something’s not quite right, intense character interaction… The pacing never has the chance to drag. On top of this, Predator is one of the most quotable films in history (not far behind Arnie’s Commando) – “If it bleeds, we can kill it“; “Get to the choppaaaah!”; “I ain’t got time to bleed“; “You’re one ugly motherfucker“…the list could keep going, but you get the idea.
The legendary John McTiernan’s direction is claustrophobic and assured; confidently staging amazing action whilst also concentrating on tension and atmosphere. The jungle itself plays a crucial part in the proceedings, and it’s wonderfully photographed by Donald McAlpine. Then there’s the Predator itself. Despite being little more than a man in a suit that bleeds highlighter ink, it’s a marvellous creation engineered by effects maestro Stan Winston (with some input from James Cameron). Played by Kevin Peter Hall (who stands an imposing 7’2”), the Predator is an unnerving combination of insect, reptile and professional wrestler. The creature effects are immaculate, with the invisibility camouflage optical effect still impressing to this day. Naturally, not all of the special effects stand up, but even the more phoney-looking shots are still serviceable.
Predator features countless large and in-charge actors. Arnold Schwarzenegger leads the pack. He may not be Hollywood’s greatest actor, but at the peak of his career he certainly knew how to entertain an audience. Interestingly, the film features another actor who went on to serve as Governor – Jesse Ventura. The most dynamic action sequences are saved for these two very large men, whose oversized physiques are in full display here. Two of the most macho African American performers of the 1980s also feature in Predator – Bill Duke and Carl Weathers. Both men submit highly authoritative performances. Sonny Landham, meanwhile, was actually hired for the film under one condition: that he had a bodyguard with him at all times – not to protect Sonny but to protect everyone around the actor (he was prone to starting bar fights). That trivia fact reveals pretty much everything you need to know about the badass Landham. Rounding out the cast is the endearing Elpidia Carrillo as Anna, in addition to Richard Chaves and Shane Black as other members of Dutch’s unit. This was Black’s screen debut, and spent his free time on the set writing his screenplay for The Last Boy Scout.
With its thrilling, high-octane mix of Rambo and Aliens, Predator certainly delivers on its promise of non-stop, energetic action – and it does not disappoint in the macho department. It’s cheesy as hell, of course, and slightly dated, but it’s also entertaining and cool as hell, with tonnes of quotable lines and an utterly unforgettable villain. Predator is an action movie with something for everyone, and a jewel in Arnie’s career.
THE ITUNES PRESENTATION:
So Predator has had a long, tragic, sordid history with home video releases. Its Blu-ray debut is okay and watchable, but it has dated badly due to noticeable compression, the recycling of a DVD-era master, and the outdated MPEG-2 video codec. The “Ultimate Hunter Edition” in 2010 advertised a brand new master, but Fox took the initial criticisms to heart and scrubbed away every single trace of grain. Despite making use of a new scan, the resultant presentation looked like garbage – smeary, no fine detail, and faces looked like they were made out of wax. Since then, we have hoped and prayed for a new master, across a 3D release that recycled the waxworks transfer, to an advertised 2K master in France a few years back. But lo and behold, Fox have finally done something with the movie – and the results are everything we could have ever dreamed of.
Of course, Predator was shot with low-grade film stock in the jungle, and it has always been a grainy movie with shots having been zoomed-in during post (one shot of Arnie falling into the water looks like trash). So colour me surprised as I watched this presentation and saw refined, well-resolved grain that isn’t too heavy or blocky, as well as beautiful fine detail and textures aplenty. The jungle seems to be alive. Clarity is much better than the MPEG-2 Blu-ray, and it looks so much better than the waxworks Blu-ray that it’s not even a close call. Colours are lush (but true to how the movie has always looked), contrast is amazing, and there’s terrific image depth. Sharpness is about as good as can be expected given the source – certain shots look soft, while others look razor-sharp. This is either a recent scan, or the original files from the 2010 remaster – pre-DNR – were used. But make no mistake, this is not just the waxworks master coated in fake grain. This is the real deal. And this is almost certainly a scan of the original negative, rather than an interpositive or release print.
Fox have fully remastered the movie as well. I couldn’t detect a single speck of dirt, as the master looks pristine. No print damage is apparent. Watching Predator for the millionth time, but in remastered 4K, it felt like watching it for the first time all over again. I was so lost in the quality of the master and never stopped admiring it, that I didn’t pay much attention to the film itself. Hell, I’ve seen this movie screened in a cinema twice, but it was the waxworks master – this iTunes stream is the best it has ever looked. And since it was so thoroughly remastered, it probably looks better than it did at the cinema back in 1987.
I never thought Predator could look so damn good. Of course, it is compressed since it’s a stream, and a High Dynamic Range grade could make it look even better. It’s worth pointing out, too, that only lossy 5.1 audio is available (which sounds hissy at times), and I would love to be able to watch this master with a beautiful lossless mix. But the fact that this master exists is exciting – it’s ready for a 4K Blu-ray, and we may get it sooner rather than later with the release of The Predator coming up. Maybe the movie will be good for something?
NOTE: The only way you can watch the movie in 4K is via an Apple TV 4K connected to your television. You cannot download or watch in 4K on your laptop or desktop computer. However, the 1080p version available for streaming has been updated to make use of the new master, and therefore you can still enjoy the new master even if you don’t have an Apple TV 4K. I personally use my Apple TV a lot and it’s worthwhile to me – though others are welcome to disagree. Fox has been releasing a lot of their back catalogue in 4K, including a remastered version of Die Hard that will probably be the basis for the forthcoming 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray slated for release this year. We live in exciting times…