The first time Predator was released on Blu-ray, things didn’t go so smoothly. There were complaints about the poor high-def transfer, as well as a lack of bonus features which had previously appeared on its DVD releases. Due to all of the negative feedback, it was reasonable to suspect that a double dip was forthcoming to hopefully rectify all of these issues. Coming out timed to the theater release of Nimród Antal’s Predators (9 July), the Ultimate Hunter Edition of Predator attempts to amend its predecessor’s faults with a new digitally restored transfer and a sizable load of extras.
The idea behind Predator was born from the joke that since Rocky Balboa had run out of earthly opponents following Rocky IV, his next potential foe would have to be an alien. After a script based on this concept (originally titled Hunter) by brothers Jim and John Thomas was picked up by 20th Century Fox, producers Joel Silver and Lawrence Gordon enlisted John McTiernan to direct his first big-budget film.
It might have looked like a gamble until Arnold Schwarzenegger came on board and the film began to take shape as the story was re-tooled to feature an ensemble of characters rather than simply one man vs. one alien for the duration. Despite a mixed critical reaction when released in the summer of 1987, the film was a success at the box office and was later followed by two sequels, as well as two Alien vs. Predator spin-off features.
Arriving in Central America, Major Alan “Dutch” Schaeffer (Schwarzenegger) is assigned to lead a joint task force into the jungle in order to rescue a presidential cabinet minister kidnapped by guerilla forces. Dutch is joined by George Dillon (Carl Weathers), a former military friend and current CIA officer. As the team progresses through their journey, they come upon a series of skinned bodies which are identified as Army Special Forces. After an intense battle with a rebel group which leads to them capturing a female prisoner named Anna (Elpidia Carrillo), Dutch suspects that his team was setup to do dirty work as Dillon confesses that the skinned bodies they found were soldiers that had disappeared in a failed rescue mission of two CIA agents.
As the group heads back to their extraction point, things begin to get really strange. Members of the group are being killed off mysteriously by an unknown creature. Although the group refuses to declare that whatever is stalking them is alien, it soon becomes apparent that they are not dealing with any mere earthbound animal.
Played by Kevin Peter Hall, the Predator alien is still an imposing monster by today’s standard. Aspects of it including glowing blood, thermal vision, and invisibility, are all convincingly portrayed with impressive effects, so it’s no wonder that it was nominated for an Academy Award for Visual Effects. Sure, the dreadlocks may look a bit humorous and its laugh at the end does sound awkward, but it all becomes a part of what is, well, endearing about the thing.
If you’re a fan of big explosions, unrelenting pacing, and machismo coming out from every pore, then Predator will be right up your alley. John McTiernan’s direction of the atmospheric jungles gives a claustrophobic tension to the film as the group fights for their survival. There isn’t a lot of time to develop the characters, but the actors manage to inject them with just enough personality. Former wrestler/politician Jesse Ventura provides some comedic relief with his in-your-face masculinity; while Lethal Weapon writer Shane Black’s bizarre sexual jokes always provide a laugh. Schwarzenegger, Weathers, and Bill Duke stand out the most in their roles, with Schwarzenegger carrying the last act almost entirely by himself.
At times, all the male posturing and arbitrary explosions can be a bit of an overload when you realize how shallow the story is. People often say films like this don’t necessarily have to be “smart”, and while there is some truth to that, it doesn’t mean it’s acceptable to have sophomoric politics, awkward dialog, or a plot that makes little sense. Although lacking the cerebral scares or distinct aesthetic of a film like Aliens, Predator does what it does well, and that’s pure tension and action.
For that reason, it may seem like more a product of its time, which is not to say that it has aged poorly. There are still plenty of moments which illustrate why this is such an influential action film, including the intensely epic final fight between the Predator and Dutch.
This time around, 20th Century Fox got things right with the Ultimate Hunter Edition of Predator. The new digital transfer isn’t perfect, but is indeed a great improvement on the previous Blu-ray disc. Thankfully, all of the bonuses from the previous DVD releases are included here. There is a great making-of featurette entitled If It Bleeds, We Can Kill It, and several production featurettes that have some great interviews with cast and crew.
Other features include an audio commentary by John McTiernan, text commentary by film historian Eric Lichtenfeld, and deleted scenes. What’s exclusive to this disc is a sneak peek at the new Predators film, which this DVD is tied to. Robert Rodriguez also contributes his words to the brand new featurette entitled Predator: Evolution of a Species, which is a retrospect on the film’s success that references Predators as well. These new additions to an already beefed up special edition make for an altogether satisfying release.
The Predator series might not be looked upon as favorably as the Alien franchise by science fiction fans, but the first film in the series remains highly influential in the action genre. McTiernan’s fast-paced direction and the brutal survival narrative remain engaging, while the special effects are dated but effective. Despite a set of flaws, Predator is one of the most memorable action films of the ‘80s.