John McTiernan's Predator was much more than a knee-jerk reaction to the success of Fox's own burgeoning Alien franchise; it was a calculated move to launch star Arnold Schwarzenneger even further into the stratosphere, beyond the Red Heats and Red Sonjas, and into the world of action/horror/sci-fi. The success of Predator begat Total Recall which begat The Running Man which begat Kindergarten Cop...err....
In any event, Predator was a huge turning point in Schwarzenegger's career, and also introduced us to one of the most popular movie monsters in motion picture history; the titular Predator. It's actually rather funny, though, as it seems that the Predator, itself, has had a longer and more storied career than the California Governer, no? It’s also a film fans begged for on Blu-ray, and Fox obliged them with a somewhat hit and miss release back in 2008 that featured a less than impressive HD transfer and precious little else. Now, Fox aims atones for said lackluster release with Predator: Ultimate Hunter Edition – a feature-packed, digitally remastered collection that serves as the perfect appetizer course for the (at this writing) upcoming Robert Rodriguez-produced Predators.
We all should know this story by heart, by now, but here it is in a nutshell. When a U.S. special ops team goes missing in guerilla infested jungles somewhere in South America, Dutch (Schwarzenegger) and his team of legendary badasses are sent in to survey the damage. When they arrive, they find the skinned and flayed bodies of the missing ops team hanging from the treetops, and blame it on the guerillas. However, after Dutch and his men lay waste to a guerilla camp, they encounter something else in the jungle; something invisible. Something deadly!
Predator is one of those films you can literally watch again and again and never tire of. I've probably seen this film at least twenty times, and I'll probably see it twenty more, especially now that it's made its way to Blu-ray. It's one of those effortless chunks of easily digested cinema, packed with so-crass-it's-funny macho dialogue, killer special effects, and a satisfyingly large body count. However, I've always found the movie a bit slow through the first two acts, taking it's sweet time getting us to the good stuff (ie; the Predator). Of course, I feel that way about the original Alien as well, so take that for what it's worth.
The previous Blu-ray release of Predator featured an ultra-grainy transfer that, at times, obscured much of the fine detail and vibrancy the medium is known for. While some scenes (especially well lit ones) looked spectacular, others were shrouded in a veil of buzzing grain that looked as though the characters were being besieged by a swarm of tsetse flies. Fox has gone to great lengths to remove said grain, but, in some cases, it seems, they’ve gone a bit too far. Digital noise reduction, when overused, often results in something many reviewers refer to as “clayface”, in which an actor’s face has been so thoroughly cleansed of grain and imperfection as to make it appear overly smooth and scrubbed of fine detail. The effect is apparent early on, when we are first introduced to Carl Weather’s “Dillon”, and it’s downright distracting as Weathers’ skin is so smooth and diffused that he almost looks like a CGI creation rather than a flesh-and-bone actor. Luckily, things get decidedly better as the action moves into the jungle, and it’s actually quite astonishing how much the restoration has improved the overall picture quality throughout. Yes, DNR still rears its ugly head on occasion (mostly in night sequences and dimly lit interiors) but the trade off is worth it as the problematic grain of the original transfer is all but eliminated, resulting in an image that’s extremely sharp, very detailed, and more vibrant than I’ve ever seen it. While I’d love to see a happy medium in which some of the filmic grain was preserved and the more extreme instances of DNR were reigned in a bit, this is, by far, the best Predator has ever looked in this viewer’s estimation, and, for hardcore fans, this fact is worth the upgrade alone.
I didn’t have a problem with the previous Blu-ray’s DTS HD mix, and, apparently, neither did Fox, as the mix here sounds identical to it. It’s just as crisp and robust, with defined sonic imaging, excellent bass response, and crystal clear dialogue. The sound effects are tres eighties, with bombastic explosions and stacks upon stacks of gunfire tracks all culminating in the deafening whine of the chain gun, but the soundtrack also handles the film's "quieter moments" nicely, especially the Predator's whispers and throaty rattle.
Making up for the lack of extras included in 2008’s release, Fox has gathered a nice selection of goodies to please both fans of the original film as well as placate those who are waiting for the much-anticipated Predators. Previously released content includes a somewhat pedestrian commentary track from director, John McTiernan, a “text commentary” by film historian, Eric Lichtenfeld, and the fairly comprehensive retrospective, If it Bleeds We Can Kill It (SD), which sports lots of interviews from the set, behind-the-scenes footage, and more. Inside the Predator (SD) is a seven part featurette that breaks down the nuts and bolts of the production that covers everything from casting to creature design, while Special Effects, Short Takes, and Deleted Scenes (all presented in SD) offer brief looks at effects tests, extra interview footage, and deleted and alternate takes, respectively.
As for new content, Fox proffers Predator: Evolution of a Species: Hunters of Extreme Perfection (HD), a short piece in which Robert Rodriguez, Predator’s director, Nimrod Antal, and producer, John Davis, discuss the Predator mythos, interspersed with scenes and behind-the-scenes snippets from the original Predator films and the new one. We’re also given a brief look at the new film in Predators: Sneak Peak (HD), a pair of trailers for Predator and Predator 2 (in HD), a stills gallery (HD), and a Predator Profile (HD).
Predator is classic sci-fi/horror stuff in any format, and this new Ultimate Hunter Edition is sure to wash the bad taste out of the mouths of fans who felt ripped off by the 2008 barebones release. While I still found the image somewhat problematic, there’s no question that it’s vastly superior to any other version of the film currently available, and, seeing how costly and time-consuming a digital restoration can be, I’ve got a feeling that this is about as good as this one’s going to look for the foreseeable future. The inclusion of an abundance of extras, both old and new, should certainly help to take the sting out of succumbing to what is obviously a “double dip”, but the real star here is the sizeable boost in video quality, which is worth the upgrade alone.