Shock of all shocks, and without sounding like some tumor-inducing VH1 special, I had no idea the year 1987 churned out such a sizable share of horror films. As Friday the 13th: The Series and Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theater debuted on the boob tube, the likes of Hellraiser, Near Dark, The Gate, Evil Dead II, The Hidden, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 (sing with me: “We’re the dream warrioooors!”), The Monster Squad, and John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness were scaring up some bucks in limited and wide theatrical runs alike. That’s an impressive rollout, but then again, this was the ‘80s. Money flowed a bit freer for genre pictures in those days. Risks were taken and learned from.
At this point in this reviewer’s life, I’ve seen Predator more times than what’s probably deemed healthy. While growing up, my friends and I were no strangers to whispering lines such as “Turn around” and “Any time” (uttered by the great Bill Duke in the film) as we snuck up on each other during epic paintball battles or putting on a thick Arnie accent to scream “Get to the choppa’!” A fan I most certainly am, forever enamored by Stan Winston’s creature design the minute my father flipped open a copy of Fangoria to show me a two-page spread of the thrill-killing alien with dreadlocks, mandibles, and an arsenal of hunting weapons that only got cooler when the sequel was released in 1990 (yep, I dig Predator 2 in spite of all its flaws).
Over a decade later McTiernan’s sophomore effort is a survivor of that instant movie paralyzer called “time.” It holds up and could quite possibly be regarded as a forefather to genre-combining experiments like From Dusk Till Dawn. Predator begins as a straightforward ‘80s actioner brimming with machismo, muscle, and firepower as Major Dutch (Schwarzenegger) and his team head into the jungle to retrieve the members of a downed U.S. chopper. Bullets fly. Dialogue zingers are exchanged. The mission, much to Dutch’s dismay, turns out to be a bust. Cue skull-collecting, otherworldly monster to pick off this homeward bound unit roughly fifty-minutes (!) into the picture.
Although undeniably similar in concept to a 1964 Outer Limits episode called Fun and Games (penned by Robert Specht and Psycho’s Joseph Stefano), Jim and John Thomas’ script for Predator makes the action/sci-fi/horror formula click. There’s not a single emotionally expendable member of Dutch’s crew. The bond among them is palpable and refreshing in a time (I’m talkin’ about now, fella) where weak characters, and even weaker films with an ensemble cast, reign the screen. (Resident Evil, despite all its “fun” value, featured one of the worst portrayals of a character group dynamic I’ve ever seen.) Revelations come in their own time, especially regarding the titular creature, but not at the expense of mounting suspense and mystery. And McTiernan, with cinematographer Donald McAlpine and stunt coordinator Craig Baxley (director of Storm of the Century), deliver on the action and keep Predator rooted in an organic visual style that lends realism to what is an otherwise far-out plot. Monster fans had plenty of reason to rejoice in ‘87 when Predator was first released, and they’ve got good reason to do so again now over Fox’s “Collector’s Edition.”
Accompanying a somewhat grainy but otherwise agreeable presentation of the film is a stilted, soft-spoken McTiernan, who wades through the only audio commentary. Much of what he has to say is interesting to say the least as he a paints a vivid portrait of a young director cutting his teeth on a picture with Hollywood’s “big boys.” There’s also a sense of reform from him when he talks about his exploitation of “gunplay perversion” (corporate Hollywood’s fixation with gunfire) and the events of Columbine — all this coming from a man who has given us Die Hard along with its third entry, Die Hard: With a Vengeance, The 13th Warrior, and the fetid Rollerball. Disc one also features a “text commentary” with journalist and film historian Eric Lichtenfeld.
Disc two presents the most detailed, revealing, and hilarious accounts I’ve ever heard on the making of Predator in the documentary If It Bleeds, We Can Kill It (28m 44s), a combination of old and new interviews with cast and crew. More can be heard in the seven featurettes listed under the Inside the Predator banner, all of which focus on more specific elements of the film. You’ll also find a few special effects tests with the early Predator design (every bit as bad as you’ve heard), deleted scenes, and set photos. For some puzzling reason the only “trailer” offered on this second disc is for Fox Home Entertainment’s massive Alien Quadrilogy set. In a further bit of shameless cross-promotion, anyone who purchases this package gets a free ticket to Paul W.S. Anderson’s Alien vs. Predator.
Predator: Collector’s Edition (1987)
(20th Century Fox)
Directed by John McTiernan
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Elpidia Carrillo, Bill Duke, Sonny Landham, Jesse Ventura, Shane Black, Richard Chaves
Audio commentary by John McTiernan
Text commentary by Eric Lichtenfeld
An “inside look” at the making of Alien vs. Predator
Bonus disc featuring various featurettes including the documentary If It Bleeds, We Can Kill It
A trailer for The Alien Quadrilogy box set
Deleted scenes, and outtakes
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