talk about monsters for a bit. We often fail to acknowledge how vital their
place is in the cinematic landscape. No square-jawed leading man can leave
such a lasting impression as they do; no glamorous starlet cuts quite the
same niche into our subconscious.
They haunt our dreams, reflect our deepest fears and hold
us rapt with their fascinating, horrifying beauty. We loathe and fear them,
but part of us loves them as well, and when they truly reach the heights
they’re capable of, nothing in all of film can quite match them.
When Predator first opened
in 1987, few of us realized that such a figure was being born: created by
Stan Winston, played by Kevin Peter Hall, but occupying the same place as
King Kong and H.R. Giger’s
Alien. It stalked through the jungles of Central
America with a wet, inhuman gurgle, seeing all and yet unseen by its gaggle
of hapless victims. When it finally revealed itself, it lent no doubts: this
didn’t look like a guy in a costume or a clever bit of computer graphics,
but a bona fide creature from outer space.
The concept worked so well that it held up three (and
possibly four) increasingly shoddy sequels by its merest presence. The
Predator has earned its place in the pantheon of great movie monsters
because we believe in it. It lives, it breathes, we feel that brake-fluid
blood pulsing in its veins. Its culture remains utterly convincing - inhuman
but chillingly understandable - and we know instinctively that those supreme
ultimate bad-asses it’s hunting might as well be teenagers in a Friday
the 13th movie.
That last bit helps further cement
Predator’s status as a minor yet undeniable classic. It arrived in
another era of action films, dominated by steroid-laden übermenschen who
triumphed over their adversaries by sheer force of will. Director John
McTiernan sticks to that formula to a point, with Arnold Schwarzenegger (in
one of his better outings) leading a team of machine-gun toting goodwill
ambassadors into the jungle primeval to rescue a group of hostages from the
local bad guys. Then the monster shows up and everything we assumed about
the scenario gets tossed into a cocked hat.
That twist signaled the first halting steps in a sea
change for the genre. Suddenly, the unstoppable killing machines upon which
action movies had thrived looked weak and vulnerable. Suddenly, their
swagger and bravado meant nothing. Big guns and bulging biceps couldn’t get
the job done anymore; in order to triumph, the hero had to think his way out
of the box while facing the very real possibility that he wouldn’t walk away
this time. A year later, McTiernan’s Die Hard brought the trend to
full fruition, but Predator laid the
groundwork upon which it could grow.
simpler terms, the film just rocks, thanks to McTiernan’s muscular approach
to the material and Predator’s utter refusal to surrender to camp.
The thing in the jungle demands that we take it seriously, even with
Schwarzenegger’s cheesy one-liners and the Reagan-era simplicity with which
it all unfolds.
The Predator scares us. We feel it even when it isn’t there and jump at it
even when we’re not sure what we’re seeing. Both Winston and Hall have
passed on, but their work endures in that utterly convincing visage . . . a
visage that sent shivers through the Terminator himself and helped this film
age like fine wine. In the end, it’s just a simple action picture, and yet
it’s so much more. There’s a monster in there - a wonderful, terrifying
monster - and the movies are a little bit better as a result.
THE DISC: The Blu-ray contains just a single disc,
but packs it full of goodies. Excellent audio-video quality marks a big step
up from previous versions of the film, which were marred by quick-fix
transfers and degraded images. It also ports over all of the featurettes
from the two-disc DVD set - covering everything from Hall’s legacy to Jesse
Ventura’s ridiculously menacing chain gun - as well as a new
behind-the-scenes doc intended to tie in to the new
Predators movie. Indeed,
the entire affair seems geared as cross-promotion for the 2010 film, but
considering the quality on display, it hardly matters.
WORTH IT? Fans finally have an excellent transfer
to enjoy, while newcomers can see how well the film has held up in the
ensuing two decades. It took them long enough to get a proper Blu-ray
edition together, but now that it’s here, the wait is worth it.
RECOMMENDATION: If you own the two-disc DVD, you
may want to give it a pass. Otherwise, this new Blu-ray is clearly the disc
- Rob Vaux