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If the genre of science-fiction has an enemy, its name is technology. While some of the greatest movies of the genre were filmed during the 1970s and 1980s, watching some of them today is almost laughable. Computers have advanced so far in the past 20 years that movies like The Lawnmower Man or The Abyss look almost cartoonish in retrospect.
Today’s films are no different. As more and more CGI is used, no matter how lifelike it looks today, a few years down the line it will look rudimentary and hacky. Some day Transformers will look like the original Clash of the Titans. The only way to combat the inevitable is with subtlety and by not letting special effects take over the film. It is for this exact reason that John McTiernan’s Predator remains a solid action film to this day.
In case you have forgotten, the film follows an elite team of commandos, led by a soldier named Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Hired by the CIA for a rescue mission in the jungles of Central America, they soon find themselves in a game of cat and mouse with an elite hunter hiding in the trees. As Dutch’s men begin to fall, they slowly learn exactly what they are up against.
Watching the film for the first time in years, it immediately becomes clear what action movies from the 1980s had that somehow got lost in the fold: catchphrases and witty dialogue. Predator is chock full of both. Be it Jesse Ventura scoffing at an injury, claiming he “ain’t got time to bleed,” or Schwarzenegger mocking the alien as “one ugly motherfucker” after it finally removes its iconic mask, the lines have stuck with audiences ever since. Perhaps the habit jumped the shark somewhere in the 1990s, but it is surely something that would be welcomed back...if done well.
Another reason the film still works so well today is because McTiernan uses the Jaws philosophy when dealing with his monster. By revealing the villain only sporadically and gradually, much like the shark in Jaws, suspension builds whenever it is not around, because the audience knows it could show up at any time. This is also quite effective when using the disarm/surprise technique, which is used repeatedly but never becomes tiresome. It's a more subtle approach that even extends to when things go boom. With the exception of a five-minute scene before the film’s main villain even shows up and the final explosion at the end of the film, the most we get is equivalent to fireworks. Thanks to directors such as Roland Emmerich and Michael Bay, every explosion in a contemporary action film must be seen from space and preferably take out a world wonder/national monument. For the most part, McTiernan gets his point across with heat vision and three bundled laser pointers, and the movie is all the better for it.
Of course, the film must also be evaluated through the spectrum of its sequels, which include 1987’s Predator 2, 2004’s Alien vs. Predator, and 2007’s Aliens vs. Predator -- Requiem. Needless to say, all follow-ups have been downright awful, particularly those made in the past five years. In all three, everything that is great about the original film is thrown in the gutter and exchanged for the typical and the overt. Instead of hiding the Predator, he is out in the open, be it in Los Angeles, Antarctica, or Colorado. Alien vs. Predator alone completely emasculates the hunter with a crippling PG-13 rating and provides a completely unnecessary opponent that would continue into the next film. Robert Rodriguez’s Predators is due out next, and we can only hope that the last 22 years have provided enough of a lesson.
Based simply on its own merits, Predator is a fun film that is more than the sum of its explosions and action sequences. Nearly one-third of the film focuses on the one-on-one battle between Dutch and the Predator as our hero tries to learn more about the alien creature. These moments are ripe with suspense and tension, with Dutch pitting his “Boy Scout bullshit” against a high-tech killer from another world. The film certainly has its flaws -- the heat vision is more than occasionally a mess, and the speed at which a Hispanic girl learns English is miraculous -- but it certainly has earned its spot amongst the greatest action films of all time.
It should surprise nobody that this film’s upgrade to Blu-ray can be credited to the release of Predators this Friday, and Robert Rodriguez/Nimrod Antal fingerprints are everywhere, but not in a negative way. Both men are included in the special feature titled “Predator: Evolution of a Species -- Hunters of Extreme Perfection,” and there is a special sneak peak of the new film.
As for the rest of the features, there isn’t much that hasn’t been available on other releases, including deleted scenes, mini-featurettes, and a must-watch commentary track with John McTiernan.
If you already own a copy of the film and you don’t have any interest in the upcoming release, it all comes down to the quality of the transfer. Unfortunately, it’s nothing to be too enthusiastic about. The picture quality is not up to the standard that we’ve become used to with the new format, and the picture still quite grainy. If you don’t already own the film, this copy isn’t a terrible pick-up, but it’s certainly not worth the upgrade.
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