A capital G Great action film hits 4K UHD
Predator director John McTiernan dwells among the action movie gods. You can’t get much more elite than having *several* of the greatest titles of the action genre under your belt, not the least of which being Die Hard, which is generally regarded as history’s greatest pure (American) action film. He also helmed Die Hard With A Vengeance, which virtually all Die Hard fans will agree is the second best film in that storied franchise.
Just prior to jumping on the John McClane train in 1988 and forever cementing his action bona fides, McTiernan directed Arnold Schwarzenegger in Predator in 1987. That’s right. Back to back, from the jungle to Nakatomi Plaza, John McTiernan lensed two of the greatest action movies in the genre’s entire history.
Predator has gone on to inspire about as many sequels as the Die Hard franchise, with either a fourth or a sixth entry (depending on who you talk to and whether you count the two Alien Vs. Predator films) hitting theaters soon from director Shane Black. That upcoming film is certainly the reason that Predator, Predator 2, and Predators are all getting the 4K treatment, and I’m here for it.
One of the things that makes Predator so fundamentally great is just how far from a guarantee this eventuality was. Plagued with myriad issues, Predator could easily have become an embarrassment for all involved. Instead it has become a shining example of a smart team of filmmakers rallying, getting creative, and crafting something eternally memorable. Shooting locations required jungles, and their first choice for that setting was a total debacle. They rallied, moved, and shot one of the most iconic jungle films ever made. The necessary “heat vision” for the Predator creature proved cost prohibitive and ineffective. They rallied, found a solution, and the heat vision has been an essential visual cue for the entire franchise. The Predator creature design initially filmed on set has become a thing of legend: embarrassingly silly looking and, curiously, worn by a then-unknown Jean-Claude Van Damme. They rallied, and Stan Winston’s workshop created one of modern cinema’s most iconic movie monsters. All of these examples just go to show how much of a true uphill battle motion pictures really are, and all of those challenges had really nothing to do with some of the core elements of great filmmaking: the script and the cast.
Brothers Jim and John Thomas wrote a great script for Predator. That could all have been for naught if the elements above had gone south. But when McTiernan and crew came through, it was the strong backbone of a wonderful script that kept this thing afloat. (Though McTiernan indicated in his commentary that he also made some character changes that probably impacted the final shooting script). Snappy, filled with characters that you feel like you know and love before they’re unpleasantly dispatched, and appropriately badass, the Thomas’ script stands the test of time (and their return for the sequel also proves crucial to the success of Predator 2 as well).
It’s in the cast where Predator cements its legacy. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Dutch, a military team leader who is the “best of the best”. His unit is brought into the jungle on a CIA mission led by Carl Weathers’ Dillon, a former operative turned desk jockey who has a past with Dutch. There’s a fair amount of action and drama that establishes these characters, as well as Dutch’s whole team including Bill Duke, Sonny Landham, Shane Black, Jesse Ventura, and more, which all takes place before we really even leap into the extraterrestrial with our titular intergalactic hunter. In many movies this would be a bad thing. Wheel spinning. But here we get killer set pieces that really give weight to our characters, the situation they are in, and shows us how formidable of a group of opponents they are going to be for our Predator.
It can’t be understated just how awesome the Predator creature really is. Truly a work of designing genius, this creature just looks like the epitome of what can be done to make a man (Kevin Peter Hall in this case) in a suit look like something entirely otherworldly and also very physically present, tangible, and threatening. The Predator has endured as a cinematic monster of our generation because they have a story behind them as well. Sure, an alien that hunts for sport isn’t EXACTLY Shakespeare, but the look of the creature, the VFX utilized to bring its cloaking and heat vision technology to life, the Alan Silvestri score and sound design, and the mythology and culture behind its actions all build together to create a wholly satisfying threat to Dutch and his men.
And that screenplay really shines as the story goes along. Different aspects of the creature are revealed ever so slowly in a page right out of the Jaws manual of filmmaking. Characters are methodically killed and removed from the equation. Eventually, as though it were destined, only Dutch and the creature will remain. It’s a showdown for the ages, with mankind’s greatest physical specimen up against a godlike creature with powers beyond those of a mere man, but with a bit of a hunter’s code that gives Dutch just the edge he needs.
A whole mess of talent working at the top of their games in front of and behind the camera came together at the perfect times in their careers to create the lightning in a bottle that is Predator. If any of the various pieces of this wildly constructed film had failed, this movie almost certainly would have collapsed. Instead Predator fires on all cylinders and stands out as the far and away best entry in a now long-suffering franchise that hopefully gets a shot in the arm in just a weeks time with Shane Black at the helm.
Predator is one of those films that, due to its enduring and widespread appeal, has gotten the prestige home video treatment many times in the past. Just 5 or 6 years ago a big prestige Blu-ray featuring a 3D version of the film hit the market with much fanfare. (I never caught that version as I am not much of a 3D guy). I’m happy to report that the 4K disc does indeed look great, with the best visual of the entire film being the sweaty, panicked face of Bill Duke as he encounters the Predator. All that said, this is one of those situations where the 4K presentation didn’t create a demonstrably new viewing experience for me. As a matter of fact, I watched Predator 2 on Blu-ray just after this, and that film looked so fantastic on Blu-ray that it retroactively made me think this 4K wasn’t all that revolutionary.
For Predator fans who haven’t revisited the film in ages, this release is an easy recommend. You get the Blu-ray and a ton of the special features that likely all existed in previous releases, and you get the new 4K transfer. If you’re happy with the Predator films you already own, however, I wouldn’t say rushing to the store to buy this 4K disc is a must. I may have felt differently if I’d gotten the chance to check out all of the films in their new 4K transfers, but I only got the chance to see the first and best one.
And I’m Out.
Predator is now available on 4K UHD from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment