Predator: Ultimate Hunter Edition (US - BD RA)
Gabe reviews an old favourite as reenacted by Gumby characters...
A group of elite army commandos led by Major Alan ‘Dutch’ Schaeffer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is assigned a top secret rescue mission. Following the commandos’ efficient decimation of the offending ‘terrorist’ camp, it’s clear that CIA Special Agent George Dillon (Carl Weathers) isn’t telling them the whole truth. Soon it’s also clear that someone or something is hunting them, and doing a terrifyingly efficient job.
John McTiernan’s Predator comes very close to being the essential action film of the ‘80s. More sci-fi heavy effects extravaganzas like Total Recall may overshadow it a bit viscerally, and there aren’t any Road Warrior worthy car chases, but besides McTiernan’s follow-up, Die Hard ( the essential action film of the ‘80s), I can’t think of many other films I’d hand to future generations as a definition for what movie-going earthlings once considered perfect action entertainment. The movie is a tongue wagging celebration of bulging biceps, graphic violence, and massive fireballs, and it might hold the record for the most bullets expended in a single sequence of film. Predator is also comes close to the essential Arnold Schwarzenegger flick. At the very least it sees the star at the height of his manly man charm, and ‘Get to da choppah!’ might be his most quotable line outside of ‘A’ll be back’. Generally speaking I am a big fan of the film, and won’t waste your time gushing all over it, since I’m sure you’ve all come to your own conclusions by now, and since this disc wasn’t sent to me until the Thursday after its public release date.
Whoops. I guess this is what we get for complaining about too much grain. Fox is either making a point about being weary of what we wish for (or in this case demand), playing a cruel, ironic joke on the film’s fans, or they’re doing their honest best to give us what they think we want. Whatever the reason, it’s safe to say the early warnings others posted concerning this HD transfer have been more or less verified, and I’m very sorry to say what some of us hoped was videophile hyperbole is actually relatively accurate analysis. I’ve never actually seen the original Blu-ray release in motion (I was warned away, and took the advice), so the comments that follow pertain to comparisons between the previous R1 DVD releases, and stills from the original Blu-ray’s reviews, not a direct, back to back Blu-ray image comparison.
This release isn’t a complete mess, but it’s a huge misfire in the wrong direction. The opening scenes, where Dutch gets his orders, set things off on just about the wrongest foot possible, short of reframing the shots, or literally smearing grease over the print. It’s clear from the start that DNR has been over-utilized based on the lack of naturally occurring grain, but the close-ups on Arnold and Carl Weathers’ faces are mortifying. The actors look as if they’ve been recast in plastic. All their pores have been erased, their skin textures flattened, and their facial hair punched into their flesh like doll hair. Once our heroes set off into the forest the problem is depleted a bit, enough to ignore it for long swaths of film time, but always returns, especially in under-lit, medium close-up faces, where beads of sweat form like clear balls of wax. Even with all the DNR smoothing busy wide shots still exhibit quite a bit of noise, weird halos and edge-enhancement. These shots appear just as uncanny as the plastic close-ups, because all the natural grain is very obviously smudged out of existence. Seriously, there’s no grain on this damn print. Some of these shots, like the super-slow-mo shot of Dutch falling into a river, look like awkward television censor smears gone out of control. The busy tropical backgrounds dance slightly due to smudged grain, and the overall ‘cleanliness’ slightly flattens some of the compositions.
The transfer is an upgrade in terms of colour quality and overall brightness, which has been just as large an issue for some fans. This is an overall lighter and brighter presentation, which makes for slightly less mood, but a lot more detail. I’ll agree with the purists that some of the night scenes have been over-lightened, though I’m pretty fond of the more easily discernable smoke elements. Red against green contrast is the most predominantly impressive new visual element. The skinless dead bodies really bounce off the lush jungle greens, and the Predator’s laser beams targets look a lot more laser beam-like than they ever have on home video. There’s something slightly cartoonish about this new palette, which is simplified, almost painterly, but I’ll go on record as saying it generally works in the film’s favour considering the inherent comic book tone. The colours here are also more consistent than previous releases, which were a little muddy, and featured occasionally perverted blacks. Black levels in general are about the same they’ve always been, but are purer overall here.
So they borked the video, but for the most part Fox did a good job with this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. The Predator-Vision sound effects are the first real sign of aural improvement. The DVD’s DTS sound mostly matches up to this point, but these more abstract elements are louder, sharper, and wider in scope, including a cool rear channel. Then comes the first big action scene, and its veritable smorgasbord of explosive elements. Besides being generally loud, and incredibly immersive in terms of directional effects and stereo/surround support, each weapon is surprisingly easy to discern among the general chaos. The later forest flattening scene manages even more LFE impact and noise, but isn’t as impressive in terms of surround and directional elements. The more subtle jungle ambiance is less bombastic, but no less satisfying overall, including well placed birds, and the Predator moving through the underbrush and trees. The centred dialogue track is clear, but a little too soft at times, inconsistent in terms of volume, and it features some slight crackle. Jesse Ventura’s voice in particular plays minor havoc with the high end, and there’s a discussion around the forty-three minute mark (just after Hawkins has been killed) that runs a wide gamut of volume levels, even while coming out of the same actor’s mouth. Alan Silvestri’s inspired, and much mimicked score (which I think is just as indelible as Jerry Goldsmith’s Alien score) sounds fantastic, especially all that uncompressed brass, and stereo effect percussion.
For the most part the extras on this ‘Ultimate Hunter Edition’ match the extras found on the old two-disc DVD release, which isn’t a problem, but a little disappointing. The only new extras are ads for Predators, starting with a general sneak peek (01:40, HD), an elongated trailer with behind the scenes footage and interview footage with producer Robert Rodriguez. This is followed by ‘Predator: Evolution of a Species: Hunters of Extreme Perfection’ (11:20, HD), which starts as a discussion with the original film’s producer concerning the film’s production and reception, but quickly turns into a pair of ‘interviews’ with Rodriguez and Predators director Nimrod Axelrod, who throw love at the original film. Ironically some of the footage from the original film has had grain artificially added to it to emulate the look of Rodriguez’s Grindhouse work.
From here things get familiar, starting with John McTiernan’s solo audio commentary, and a text commentary from journalist/film historian Eric Lichtenfeld. McTiernan is his usual droning, awkwardly pausing, but generally informative self. This track requires a lot of patience, features a whole lot of blank space, and in general isn’t as informative as most of McTiernan’s other tracks, as he hadn’t revisited the film in quite some time at the time, and his memory was a bit rusty. The text commentary comes from a series of interviews with the sound effects editors, second unit and stunt directors, casting director, special effects coordinator, editors, FX supervisor, cinematographer, and screenwriters. These subtitles work because they don’t come from interviews with McTiernan, and are thusly from a different series of points of view. There is overlap between the tracks, but not too much.
‘If It Bleeds We can Kill It’ (28:40, SD) is a compact but informative making-of featurette, complete with raw behind the scenes footage, retrospective and original EPK interviews with the major members of the cast and crew (minus Arnold and Joel Silver in the retrospective mode), and clips from the film. Subject matter includes scripting, pre-production, casting, direction, training, production/filming, special effects, shutting down production when money ran out, redesigning the Predator, and release. The highlights include Shane Black putting the kibosh on rumours that he doctored the script, and footage of the original Predator costume (which is, indeed, totally crappy). ‘Inside the Predator’ follows the featurette up with seven shorter featurettes entitled ‘Classified Action’ (05:20, SD), ‘The Unseen Arnold’ (04:40, SD), ‘Old Painless’ (03:30, SD), ‘The Life Inside (Tribute to Kevin Peter Hall)’ (04:20, SD), ‘Camouflage’ (04:50, SD), ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ (02:40, SD) and ‘Character Design’ (04:40, SD). The titles pretty much describe the content.
The one ‘new’ extra that doesn’t pertain to Predators is a series of ‘Short Take’ interviews (better referred to as outtakes from the making-of featurettes), including ‘John McTiernan on Learning Film’ (03:00, SD), ‘Jesse’s Ultimate Goal’ (02:20, SD), ‘Stan Winston: Practical Joker’ (03:00, SD) and ‘Don’t Drink the Water’ (02:00, SD). These are all on the old DVD, but are hidden as Easter Eggs, so they might be new to some people. Extras are completed with ‘Special Effects’ is a series of five brief, raw effects plates and camera tests, one deleted scene, three outtakes, a ‘Predator Profile’ gallery, a photo gallery, and trailers for Predator and Predator 2.
The tall tales are true—Fox took fan outcries to heart, and they’ve DRN’d the living hell out of the new release of Predator. Overall I was personally still able to enjoy the film, but even when going out of my way to ignore the problem I was torn out of my suspension by plastic faces and fuzzy backgrounds. The sound is fine, give or take a few dialogue issues, but the only new extras not already found on the DVD special edition are basically elongated ads for Predators, which will likely have its own similar special features when it sees a Blu-ray release. In the end I don’t really have a definitive answer for readers still deciding if they want to purchase this Blu-ray or not. The old Blu-ray release features no extras, and doesn’t look much better than the DVD (it’s MPEG-2 and crammed onto a BD25), and from what I’ve seen features a whole different set of problems. Some folks won’t be bothered by all this DNR, and might even see it as an improvement. I’m afraid I don’t have Blu-ray capture abilities to better illustrate the problems, but the net is swimming with them, so take a Google search and draw your own conclusions. I apologize for the lateness of this review, and hope it helps out with the consumer choice anyway.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Thanks to Troy at Andersonvision.com for the screen-caps.
Here's one more screencap for the road:
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 29th June 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 4.0 English, DTS 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Director's Commentary, Text Commentary, Predator: Evolution of the Species: Hunters of Extreme Perfection, Predators Sneak Peek, If It Bleeds We can Kill It, Inside the Predator Featurettes, Special Effects Featurettes, Short Takes, Deleted Scene, Outtakes, Photo Gallery, Predator Profile, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: John McTiernan
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura
Genre: Action, Adventure, Horror and Sci-Fi
Length: 106 minutes
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