Has there ever been a decade more testosterone-obsessed than the Eighties? This was the most overtly-manly era on record as violent he-men dominated movie screens. During that decade, Sylvester Stallone reinvented himself as a muscle-bound super-patriot, and we saw the rise to fame of folks such as Jean-Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris, and - most notably - Arnold Schwarzenegger.
At first, Arnie came across as little more than a Stallone wannabe, but slowly his fortunes overtook those of the Italian Stallion. During the second half of the Eighties, Schwarzenegger starred in a series of undistinguished but successful action flicks that established him as a virtual brand name; rarely would one of these movies offer anything special, but at least you knew that you’d encounter a certain level of quality. That certainly made his works different from those of the other names I mentioned, especially Stallone, who starred in some of the smelliest stinkers of all time.
At least Schwarzenegger had a couple of stellar works to his credit, though he has yet to make a great movie without the word “Terminator” in the title. During his late-Eighties hey-day, probably the best of the Arnie bunch was 1987’s Predator. For the most part, the film was just more of the same: beefy guns shooting guns. However, it earned some points for the creativity of its set-up.
Arnie stars as “Dutch”, the head of an elite commando team. Recruited to rescue a VIP whose helicopter has crashed in a Central American jungle, Dutch and company soon discover that there’s a lot more at work in this scenario, which ultimately leads to a confrontation with a foe more deadly than the Russkies and the Nazis combined: the Predator.
The latter is an alien who has come to Earth for some hunting. (It remains unknown if the Big P also enjoys fishing and pro wrestling.) Predator slowly makes his presence known as Dutch and friends gradually learn what kind of enemy they face.
Much of Predator is little more than silly Eighties cheese. Dutch and all of the others are just the usual super-muscled ultra-tough comic book characters who bring little to the table other than their testosterone. Granted, it’s an awful lot of fun to see Jesse Ventura as one of the commandos in light of his later political career, but little else about his performance - or any of the others - seems compelling.
Essentially the fun in Predator comes from the cat and mouse came played by the alien as he stalks the humans. We know that few of the commandos will survive this mission, so - as in a slasher flick - the entertainment stems from the manner in which they’ll receive their reward. In that regard, Predator is generally successful, though I couldn’t help but feel that it did too little with the premise. Perhaps this occurred because of the generic nature of all the commandos; although the script attempted to create some differences in their personalities, they truly were interchangeable and I never cared about any of them.
As such, not a lot of Predator rises above the level of Schwarzenegger’s other action flicks of the era. Big men, big guns, big explosions - that’s the motif. Big fun? If you like that kind of movie. I do, to a certain degree, which is why I thought Predator provided a generally interesting experience. However, it never quite performed as well as I thought it should. 1990’s sequel, Predator 2, provided a less-consistent but more satisfying experience; here’s hoping it hits DVD soon.
Predator appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. As a whole, the film presented a solid picture, but a few concerns harmed its appearance.
Sharpness seemed consistently fine. One or two instances of soft or fuzzy images occurred, but these were rare. During the vast majority of the movie, it looked crisp and well-defined. Moiré effects and jagged edges offered few problems, and I saw only minor artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV. Print flaws caused the image’s main concerns. Grain appeared semi-frequently and could become quite heavy at times. I also detected some grit, speckles, and a few nicks throughout the film. I won’t say that the movie looked tremendously dirty, but I thought the print defects were somewhat excessive.
Predator takes place in a heavy jungle environment, so it uses a palette that sticks strongly to various shades of green. Within that realm, the picture displayed the colors accurately. Everything looked appropriately drab, and the greens were deep and clean. Black levels seemed rich and dark, and shadow detail usually came across as appropriately opaque but not overly thick. On a few occasions, I thought the low-light scenes became a little too heavy, but these were rare. All in all, Predator suffered from some print flaws but otherwise offered a pretty strong image.
The new DVD of Predator provides two different soundtracks: we find the same Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that appeared on the original DVD and we also get a DTS 5.1 track as well. I didn’t discern any enormous differences between the two, but ultimately I preferred the DTS mix. As such, I’ll discuss it first and then summarize the reasons why I was more fond of the DTS track.
Predator presented a very active soundfield that seemed quite impressive for a moderately old film. The forward channels dominated the proceedings as they offered nearly-constant audio that made the movie much more engaging. Directionality seemed strong, with sound that was well-placed and vivid, and audio moved effectively from channel to channel.
The surrounds also kicked in a solid amount of support, from gunfire and explosions in the louder scenes to general ambiance the rest of the time. The rear speakers also added a lot of “oomph” to the score and complemented the mix nicely. Note that the surrounds appeared to be monaural; although encoded in a 5.1 format, the audio has not been modified from the original mix to make each rear channel offer discrete information. However, the full-range capabilities of 5.1 made the surrounds more involving than they would have been with a Pro Logic mix, and I thought they worked well.
Audio quality seemed largely solid. Some of the dialogue was poorly looped, but speech usually sounded crisp and distinct with little edginess and no problems related to intelligibility. Music was nicely bold and vibrant, and the score appeared fairly dynamic; it showed its age at times but it generally came across well. Effects displayed minor distortion during a few of the louder scenes, but as a whole they were clean and accurate. The entire track boasted surprisingly solid bass. The low end didn’t compete with modern standards but it seemed nicely taut. On a couple of occasions I noticed some light tape hiss, but these passed quickly.
For the most part, the Dolby Digital mix seemed similar to the DTS track, but a few differences appeared. In general, I thought the DD version displayed slightly more brittle and edgy qualities, and the bass sounded less deep and rich. It had a “choppier” tone that was especially evident during musical passages; the horns seemed thinner than they did during the DTS track. The DD mix also appeared somewhat less active and it didn’t involve me as well. These differences aren’t enormous, but I thought they were significant enough to merit alternate grades for the two mixes. The DTS track gets an “A-“ while the DD edition earned a still-solid “B+”. If you can utilize the DTS version, do so, but you’ll still be happy with the DD track if you need to listen to it.
As is often the case, the DTS mix has been mastered at a higher volume level than the DD track. Because of this, you’ll need to adjust your settings if you switch from one track to another. I didn’t think the differences were radical - sometimes the DTS is much louder than the DD - but the concern remains. Be careful out there!
You’ll undoubtedly be less happy with the supplements found on Predator. All we get is the film’s theatrical trailer; the new DVD adds nothing that wasn’t found on the original disc. That’s not a surprise but it is a disappointment. It would have been nice to see a true special edition, but there are no additional extras here.
As such, that means I have to view my recommendations from two different angles. First let’s look from the point of view seen by folks who don’t already own a DVD of Predator. I found the film to be a somewhat lackluster but decent action piece. It never quite lives up to its potential, but it provides enough solid adventure to deserve a look. The DVD offers decent but somewhat flawed picture plus quite strong sound and no significant extras. Despite some drawbacks, those who don’t already own Predator on DVD may want to give it a look.
For those who did purchase the original DVD, the issue is more complex. The new disc offers the DTS 5.1 soundtrack in addition to the DD 5.1 mix, and it also provides an anamorphically-enhanced picture. Are those factors enough to warrant a new purchase? That’s up to you to decide. The anamorphic image will undoubtedly be more pleasing for those who own TVs that can take advantage of the extra resolution, and the DTS track was slightly more dynamic and rich. Clearly the new DVD is the better of the two, and if you can replace your old copy without too much financial woe, it’s worth it.