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  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer (RSDL 61)
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  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • English: DTS 5.1 Surround
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Predator: Special Edition

20th Century Fox/20th Century Fox . R4 . COLOR . 102 mins . M15+ . PAL

  Feature
Contract

The early ’80s heralded the arrival of the Big Dumb Action Film (BDAF) as a major box office force, and none came bigger or dumber than Arnold Schwarzenegger. Getting his start with Conan the Barbarian (1982), and establishing his star potential with The Terminator (1984), over the course of the decade Schwarzenegger slowly graduated from roles with little or no dialogue, to roles comprised entirely of witty one liners. The ’90s saw Arnie seek increasingly more diverse and complex characters, with successful turns in Total Recall (1990), Terminator 2 (1991) and True Lies (1994), but towards the end of the decade Arnie’s search for ‘A-grade’ material was to prove his downfall, ending out the millennium with a string of downright ridiculous, pseudo-intellectual action-films. Sadly it’s a trend that continues to this day.

Produced in 1987, when the popularity for BDAFs (Big Dumb Arnie Films) was just nearing its peak, Predator is arguably one of Schwarzenegger’s best action films; fuelled with the indelible Schwarzenegger ingredients of big muscles, big guns and big cigars. Like Terminator 2 that would follow, it sees the big lug pitted against a foe that may well grind him into mincemeat, but who has yet to meet his formidable arsenal of quips and retorts.

At the request of the CIA, Dutch Schaefer (Schwarzenegger) and his battle-hardened squad of elite commandos begrudgingly accept a mission to free a group of political hostages held by terrorists in the remote jungles of South America. But once airlifted into the jungle, Dutch and his band of khaki cutthroats get the feeling that something’s not quite right - and it’s not that their leader is having trouble with his English. Although they find the terrorist camp and blow it all to hell, the hostages are long-since dead and turn out to be CIA operatives. They begin to smell a CIA set-up and, left with a long march through the jungle to their extraction point, someone’s certainly going to pay when they get back.

However, when members of the squad start being torn to shreds, Dutch and his comrades must put aside their thoughts of revenge to track down an agile, and more importantly invisible, assassin that's picking them off one by one. All too soon, Dutch finds himself all alone in the jungle, surrounded by bodies and facing what is now all-too-obviously a skilful and merciless alien hunter. Setting his over-sized jaw, Dutch and his cigar decide that the only way out is to beat the hunter at his own game and they slowly devise a plan to kill the creature. Will Arnie’s gigantic cranium become the creature’s next trophy?

"If id bleets, ve can kill id."

With its high-octane mix of Rambo and Aliens, Predator certainly delivers on its promise of exciting, energy-packed action. Schwarzenegger may not be Hollywood’s greatest actor, but at his peak he sure knew how to entertain an audience. And what with casting director Jackie Burch managing to assemble a bunch of supporting actors with even less talent than the smiling Austrian, (most notably the appalling Carl Weathers), he really doesn’t come off looking too bad at all. But despite the poor acting, the film's characterisations are strong (albeit one dimensional) and each member remains true to their distinct personality. Still, I can’t say that I was sad to see any of them go. The one exception is Kevin Peter Hall who, as the film’s title character, puts in a nicely believable performance as a cold-blooded killing machine. You might remember Kevin as the lovable giant Harry from Harry and the Hendersons.

Director John McTeirnen (Die Hard, 13th Warrior) is famous for generating tension and suspense using confined locations, and he certainly uses the steamy Mexican jungle to great effect here; winning the fight against cliché and genre-predicability to place you squarely on the edge of your seat. And the jungle itself, playing as it does such a crucial part in proceedings, looks really wonderful - it’s as much a character in the film as the various ‘actors’ themselves. As always, Stan Winston’s creature effects are great, and the alien ‘invisibility camouflage’ effects still impress.

All in all, Predator is a film that delivers exactly what it promises. An effective and entertaining mix of big explosions, treacherous landscapes and impressive special effects, this is one film that, once the dying starts, doesn’t let up until the credits roll.

  Video
Contract

As Steve reported back in Feb 2001, Fox’s initial release of Predator was a little sub-standard in the video department. Indeed it looks like we’ve been served up the exact same anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) for this Special Edition (see caveat below). But the news isn’t as bad as it might sound - the majority of the problems are isolated to what seems to be the first reel of the film (i.e. the first 15-20 minutes).

As the film opens, we are treated to poor detail - courtesy of a high level of film grain and an abundance of film artefacts. And things certainly aren’t helped by a generous helping of telecine wobble. Although black level is adequate, what colours there are appear quite washed out. But as Steve also reported, the moment the squad is dropped into the jungle the image improves markedly, with grain dropping-off and sharpness increasing dramatically. Consequently there is a marked improvement in the level of detail, allowing us to see Carl Weather’s eyeliner quite clearly, and providing some stunning jungle vistas. The colours also come to life, rendering the predominantly earthy colours - the browns and the surprisingly bluey greens of the mud and foliage - without a hint of bleeding. As Jesse Ventura quite rightly puts it...

"I ain’t got time to bleed!"

While the film contains many night scenes - in particular during the finale - black level is acceptable but not remarkable. Likewise the source material provides a level of shadow detail that is serviceable but not spectacular. Film artefacts, whilst never as bad as during the first reel, continue throughout the remainder of the film, a number of non-distracting specks appearing at regular intervals. Thankfully the transfer is devoid of compression artefacts, with the small exception of a little pixelisation in the smoke following the storming of the terrorist camp. The layer change, plonked right in the middle of a scene (albeit a quiet one), is rather noticeable.

All in all, this Special Edition release of Predator presents a reasonable video transfer, (albeit identical to its previous incarnation) that is acceptable if you can bring yourself to ignore the state of the first 20 minutes. Given Predator’s popularity, I can't help thinking that it must be a candidate for digital remastering in the future. Here's hoping.

  Audio
Contract

Accompanying the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack that shipped with the original release, Predator Special Edition provides somewhat of a luxury for region 4 – a DTS track. As Steve reported in his review of the original disc, the 5.1 mix is completely devoid of rear channel separation; i.e. the mix effectively provides only a single surround track. The DTS track - undoubtedly the same as that which was created for the region 1 release – suffers from the same and, in effect, both soundtracks provide only 4.1 channels. Given the age of the film this deficiency not too surprising and Predator’s soundtrack is quite reasonable in spite of it - ably supporting both the action and suspense aspects of the production.

During the majority of the film, concerned primarily as it is with the building of suspense, the soundstage is essentially composed of Alan Silvestri’s dramatic score, and is very front-heavy. Whilst dialogue is clear and distinct from the centre and sync is good (despite some poor looping work), the surround level is generally low and certainly not used to full effect. Ambient sound, such as forest insects and the like, are carried at so low a level that they are basically inaudible.

During the action sequences, however, the story is completely different. At these times the surround channel roars to life, and is used to great effect. Also impressive are the predator point of view sequences in which the alien’s heartbeat fills the centre of the soundstage. At these times the soundtrack is full and immersive, and you’ll soon forget its deficiencies. Given the lack of surround channel separation, direction effects are sparse, however we do get the odd back-to-front helicopter flyover.

The subwoofer is also put to good use during the action sequences, with many a window-shaking explosion. Unlike the surround, the sub also gets to help out at other times, in particular adding the necessary level of foreboding to the score.

At the end of the day, the differences between the 5.1 and DTS mixes are minimal. Whilst the DTS mix provides a touch better fidelity, it adds nothing more in terms of directional effects or channel separation. Although I appreciate the addition to the disc, those without a DTS decoder certainly aren’t missing much.

  Extras
Contract

With a second disc crammed full of extras, Fox's re-release of Predator certainly earns the title of 'Special Edition' - more than making up for the dearth of extras that accompanied the original release.

  • Audio Commentary – Director John McTiernan: A very interesting commentary, McTiernan reminisces about his first big-budget Hollywood experience. Like most of the best commentaries from directors, McTiernan focuses on the technical aspects of the film – how shots were achieved and the reasons for choosing certain locations and camera angles - but he also provides interesting anecdotes about the production, problems with Mexico, achieving optical effects, working with the cast and so on. Although there are some breaks, McTiernan talks almost continuously, easily holding your attention for the duration. All in all, one of the better commentaries I have listened to recently.

  • Subtitled Commentary – Various Crew : A nice addition to the disc, this subtitle track provides anecdotes from many of the crew, including writers, the casting director, editors, and the stunt coordinator/second unit director to name a few. Complimenting McTiernan’s commentary nicely, there’s some interesting snippets presented here; in particular the stunt coordinator’s comments on preparations for fire-stunts.

  • If It Bleeds We Can Kill It – The Making of Predator: (full-frame 28min 50sec) a great featurette that documents the production from script to box office release. Packed with cast and crew interviews, topics such as the script by first time writers John and Jim Thomas, getting McTiernan involved, casting, military training, stunt coordination, working in the jungle, and Stan Winston’s production-saving special effects are covered. Interspersed with widescreen footage from the film, the video transfer is reasonable and the audio is serviceable.

  • Classified Action: (5min 20sec, full-frame) This great featurette goes behind the scenes with stunt coordinator and second unit director Craig Baxley on location with the filming of the raid on the terrorist camp. Supported by interviews with the actors, this is a nice look into the construction of a ball-busting action sequence.

  • The Unseen Arnold: (4min 43sec, full-frame) Presents footage of Schwarzenegger working and playing on-set, plus interviews with his collaborators giving us an idea of what a swell guy he is to work with – fun, accessible, easy-going. ‘A living comic book’ as John McTiernan puts it.

  • Old Painless: (3min 30sec, full-frame) Cast and crew members reminisce over Jesse Ventura’s massive gattling gun – the real star of Predator.

  • Life inside (A Tribute to the late Kevin Peter Hall): (4min 27sec) Interviews with Stan Winston, John McTiernan and other cast and crew about the lovable gentle-giant, and how he breathed life into Predator’s title character.

  • Camouflage: (4min 57sec, full-frame) Makeup artist Scott Eddo relates the process of keeping the makeup consistent throughout the production, and how each of the camouflage patterns mirrors the character's distinct personality. He also gives us some insight into how Arnold’s mud coating was created day after day.

  • Welcome to the Jungle: (2min 41sec, full-frame) Director John McTiernan discusses the dramatic possibilities that the jungle allowed him to pursue, whilst director of photography Donald McAlpine discusses the problems of working in such an environment, and production designer John Valone recalls how they prepared the jungle locations with water weeks before shooting.

  • Character Design: (4min 42sec, full-frame) McTiernan and other cast and crew discuss how each of the squad members is given his individuality in terms of weapons, costume, and script.

  • ”Red Suit” Special Effects: Three separate shots are provided 'pre-effects' that show the red-suited predator alien standing out from the surrounding jungle. These shots would later be turned into the ‘invisible’ camouflaged predator in post-production.

  • Predator Camouflage Tests: Shows various types of ‘invisible’ predator effects that were trialed before the final effect was agreed upon. There isn’t much difference between them - they just get progressively more transparent! I would have really liked to see a featurette on how the effect itself was produced - it is the one aspect of the production which is the most intriguing and the one that is least explained. Sadly, we’ll just have to keep guessing.

  • Deleted Scenes and Outtakes: A single deleted scene shows Arnie running away from a highly visible red predator, getting bitten by ants, fired at by non-existent lasers, and generally looking worried. Three outtake scenes show Anna playing with a Chameleon, Arnie putting the finishing touches on his trap, and a front-view of Arnie sliding down a hill. Riveting stuff, all in non-anamorphic widescreen from very poor source material. I’m still not sure what the difference between an outtake and a deleted scene is...

  • Predator Profile: Nine mini-pages of text with supporting images give a rundown of the Predator's many armourments and other equipment.

  • Photo Gallery: 96 images, comprising publicity shots, photos from on-set and covers for Predator video releases in several countries.

  Overall  
Contract

When the original release of Predator arrived on our shelves back in early 2001, Steve reported that the dual-region release had been savaged at the hands of the BBFC. Thankfully this new release from Fox suffers no such censorship, and (to my knowledge) corresponds with the Australian theatrical release. Fans rejoice!

Predator is the kind of film that really does have something for everyone. With a burly, wise-cracking protagonist, a cold-blooded alien killing machine, oodles of ridiculous bravado, big weapons, bigger explosions, and even the luxury of a name director, Predator is a jewel in big Arnie's career. With a Special Edition release that finally does justice to this action gem, it's well past time you got your hands on a copy. Go on, you know you want to...


  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=1494
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      And I quote...
    "...a Special Edition release that finally does justice to this jewel in big Arnie's career..."
    - Gavin Turner
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Toshiba SD-2108
    • TV:
          Panasonic TC-68P90A TAU (80cm)
    • Receiver:
          Yamaha RX-V795
    • Amplifier:
          Yamaha RX-V795
    • Speakers:
          B&W 602
    • Centre Speaker:
          B&W CC6 S2
    • Surrounds:
          JM Lab Cobalt SR20
    • Subwoofer:
          B&W ASW-500
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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