In the ‘80s, Arnold Schwarzenegger was the action king. With famous one-liners, including his trademark “I’ll be back”, and whatever weapon was handy, Arnold took on the opposition and ruled the action genre. Predator was one of his more impressive films, combining a military buddy flick with a science fiction spectacle with Schwarzenegger in the hero role this time (unlike 1984’s The Terminator).
For the few of you who haven’t seen Predator here’s a brief recap: Schwarzenegger plays Major “Dutch” Schaeffer, the commander of a special forces unit made up of titans like Jesse Ventura, Bill Duke, and Sonny Landham (if I had to go into a jungle, these are definitely the guys to go with). Dutch’s unit is called into the jungles of South America by Major George Dillon (Carl Weathers – the names just keep coming) to retrieve prisoners of war from a terrorist encampment. While the mission goes relatively smoothly, the special forces unit quickly finds themselves being hunted by an unknown entity, and the military story suddenly becomes an intergalactic game of cat and mouse as the alien Predator picks off the unit one by one.
It’s an interesting concept for a movie: the hunters become the hunted. Early in the picture, when it seems to be a military movie on par with The Dirty Dozen, we see the soldiers prepare for battle. As the film transforms into a science fiction film we watch them flee for survival, and see the preparations of the alien aren’t that different, just superior. The whole concept of the film is well executed, and personally I like it starting out as a more mundane film and transforming into something more fantastical.
The film is considered to be one of science fiction’s great movies of the ‘80s. When I was studying sci-fi films in college, it was part of the curriculum alongside movies like Them and This Island Earth. With special effects unlike anything seen at that time, it is one of the best representations of both science fiction and action films. A lot of this credit belongs to Stan Winston who came on board and changed the look of the predator from a cheesy looking insectoid creature to the fearsome hunter we’ve come to know.
This film really was a jumping point for many of its cast and crew. This is director John McTiernan’s first film who went on to do several of the Die Hard flicks before going downhill with Rollerball. Shane Black was actually a writer (Lethal Weapon) who was hired as an actor with hopes he would help fix the script and keep an eye on the new director. The Predator would be the role that gentle giant Kevin Peter Hall would best be remembered for. Of course everyone knows that both Jesse Ventura and Arnold Schwarzenegger would move into politics and become governors. Who would have guessed that at the time?
This “Special Edition” release finally gives Predator some meat to add to its previous bare-boned editions. With commentary, featurettes, a deleted scene and outtakes, and a theatrical trailer, Predator is given the royal treatment.
Of course, it’s not all good. I have to start out with my biggest complaint about DVDs these days, and it holds true for this one: Separate fullscreen and widescreen editions. I really hate it when studios do this, but this goes a step further this time. The DVDs are only labeled on the back as to which version they are. So if you’re in a hurry and you just pick up the disk, you have no idea what version you’ve picked up. This is extremely sloppy. I don’t think we always need different artwork for the two separate editions, but if you’re going to insist on releasing separate versions of the film you owe it to Joe Public to clearly label the DVD. How much effort would it take to put a sticker on the front letting me know I’m about to waste twenty bucks on the wrong version?
The other disadvantage of the set is that it’s a “digipak” which means primarily cardboard packaging. I wish companies would realize that DVD geeks see the packaging as part of our collection, not just the movie. Also, the artwork displayed on the packaging is interesting, with quotes from the movie and faces of the cast, but it isn’t spectacular.
Once you move to the disks everything evens out. It’s a two-disk set, with the movie on one disk and the bulk of the extras on the second disk. The movie has two commentary options: an audio commentary by Director John McTiernan, or a text commentary made up of information from interviews with cast and crew. McTiernan’s audio commentary is really bad. The guy mumbles and talks like he’s drugged up and his sentences trail off needlessly. It’s a problem apparent from his first sentence, where he says they wouldn’t let him use animorphic because of the visuals, so he used the animorphic Fox logo so it would appear stretched? Huh? Luckily the text commentary is full of great bits of information, and is less intrusive, allowing you to enjoy the movie while reading the tidbits.
The second disk is where the guts of the set are. The first documentary, “If It Bleeds, We Can Kill It” gives an overview of the movie making process, using interviews from both then and now. It’s interesting to see McTiernan’s origins and how little the studio trusted him at that time (which, given Rollerball is an approach more studios should probably take). For a more specific look behind the scenes, there are 7 featurettes, each focusing on a specific area: stunts, weapons (specifically Old Painless, one of the best guns used in a movie to date), makeup, the jungle location, the characters, a tribute to Kevin Peter Hall (who passed away in 1991) and impressions of Arnold himself. These more detailed looks are no more then 5 minutes each, but are really well done. I specifically liked “Classified Action” which focused on stunts. Most of this featurette had no narration and was just a behind the scenes video shot of what was going on from about a minute before “Action” was called to the call to “Cut”. It’s a neat rough look at behind the scenes of an action flick. Jesse Ventura, still in the height of his days as a wrestler, is ridiculously funny in these extras, as he brags endlessly about himself in that wrestler locker room style he did so well.
The set also offers a small behind the scenes look at the Predator himself, showing footage shot before they inserted the Predator’s signature camouflage effect. Instead of the Predator, we get to see a man in a red suit and red hood (What the DVD never says is that the red suit was played early on in the filming by Van Damme). Another selection shows you various camera tests for the camouflage effect. If you pay attention, you’ll notice some of the footage of the red suit and camera tests sometimes features the more insect like version of the Predator that was originally planned. It’s all neat footage, but probably could have been made into one of those 5 minute featurettes to make it more interesting and explain exactly what we were looking at.
Three “outtakes” and a deleted scene are included. The deleted scene features Arnold running from the Predator, but the Predator effects weren’t finished, so it’s Arnold running from a red suit - kind of silly. The scene really offers very little and I don’t know why it was included other then to say they had a deleted scene. The outtakes aren’t really what we expect as outtakes either. They aren’t bloopers or mistakes, just alternate or extended footage from scenes in the movie. On most DVD sets this is considered deleted footage, but like the deleted scene I think it was labeled as outtakes to add more content to the DVD label.
The rest of the extras include a profile on the Predator (describing and showing pictures of his various weaponry, costume etc), and a photo gallery. Last but not least is the ever-important theatrical trailer. Since the trailer was the only real extra on the previous releases of Predator you can bet I would have been angry if it hadn’t been included here.
It’s nice to see one of the best sci-fi/action movies from the ‘80s finally get its due. While this isn’t the best “Special Edition” around, it’s better then the previous versions we’ve gotten. Since it’s an Arnold film, we can probably expect a few more versions somewhere down the road just like the continually increasing Terminator releases. I think for the next release they need a “Gubernatorial Debate” commentary track with Arnold and Jesse Ventura, or a “Troops” commentary track with the members of Arnold’s Special Forces unit. Anything but another John McTiernan commentary!