Reviews

'Predator': Bite Me, Baby

Timed to the recent theater release of Predators, the Ultimate Hunter Edition of Predator is a welcome dose of machismo.


Predator

Director: John McTiernan
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Elpidia Carrillo, Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura, Kevin Peter Hall
Distributor: Fox
US Release Date: 2010-06-29

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.

7

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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