Updated: Sep 28, 2020
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
A new 4K restoration exposes the gritty and natural film grain for the first time. It was poorly mastered nearly a decade ago with a heavy hand of digital noise reduction (DNR). On the right side notice the waxy face of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
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4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 1987; R for violence and language throughout; Streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNOW, Google Play, iTunes (4K), Vudu, YouTube
Best extra: Evolution of a Species: Hunters of Extreme Perfection
IT ALL STARTED when the Thomas brothers (Jim and John), first-time writers without an agent, snuck onto the Fox Studio lot and slipped their “Predator” spec script under the door of studio executive Michael Levy.
Surprisingly, Levy read it the Thomases’ chronicle of Major Dutch Schaefer (Arnold Schwarzenegger, in the film) and his U.S. commando team’s mission to rescue an alleged South American cabinet member and his aide in a Central American jungle. Their helicopter crashed and they were captured by guerrilla fighters. Schaefer’s team soon discovers their adversary is more than a group of captors with guns; it’s a predator from outer space that skins its victims and hangs them upside down.
Levy shared the script with Fox Studio chief Larry Gordon who agreed to buy it, along with first-time co-producer John Davis, who had recently become friends with Schwarzenegger. They had met during the filming of “Commando” (1985), another Fox production. Schwarzenegger felt Davis would be perfect as the producer. “You never say no to Arnold, so I came on board and the project was born,” says Davis during the featurette, “Evolution of a Species.”
Davis recalls being able to get financing in the $14 - $18 million range, but “we still ran out of money.” So, Davis and director John McTiernan (“Die Hard,” “Hunt for the Red October”) helming his first studio film, headed back to Hollywood to screen the footage with studio executives, after weeks of filming in a claustrophobic steamy Mexican jungle. Fox responded positively and greenlit the rest of the production.
The chemistry between the writers, the director, and Stan Winston's Oscar-nominated special effects just came together, says Davis. McTiernan’s motive for doing “Predator” was simply the desire to “do an old fashion popcorn movie,” he says during a 1986 ‘Making of’ documentary.
Davis says a number of filmmakers, including director Robert Rodriguez, were influenced by “Predator” — it had been one of their favorites growing up.
“What I liked about ‘Predator’ is that it played against expectations. Everyone expected another ‘Commando-type’ movie … and it starts off that way, but then switches gears and goes very horror, sci-fi. It was refreshing to see something take that turn and become something else, and that’s what I think gave it its cult-classic status.” – Robert Rodriguez
“People hadn’t seen anything like that before. It was very out there,” and took on a sort of “slasher-movie aspect,” adds Rodriguez. Moviegoers identified with the predator, with its humanoid look and dreadlocks, “who’s just very cool-looking.” But most went to see Schwarzenegger on screen, after “The Terminator” (1984).
For Rodriguez, the iconic moment in “Predator” was when the it comes out of the water and you see it for the first time. “Even though it’s a man in a suit, it didn’t quite feel like that. It felt like it was its own being.” The movie trailer never gave it away, but when it takes off its mask and reveals its face, “I just lost it,” says Rodriguez.
During his commentary, featured on the 4K disc, McTiernan says it was Fox’s notion that “Predator” was a “Rocky meets Alien” storyline. But he felt it was more like “‘King Kong,’ as a bunch of guys go to an island and go deeper and deeper and — shazam! — the thing they’re chasing is much bigger than they thought.”
What a difference a decade makes in the eyes of the restoration team at Fox. They were notorious in the early days of Blu-ray in the late 2000s, for giving any film that had a healthy dose of grain a major scrubbing job to remove it. When they did, it would also remove the finest details found in each 35mm frame. This would give an actor's face a waxy look for home viewing. It plagued the 2010 edition of “Predator,” just as it did the World War II classic, “The Longest Day,” released in 2008; as well as the original version of Oscar-winner “Patton,” which was later remastered, giving back its natural look.
For this 4K release (also available on iTunes), Fox scanned the original 35mm camera negative (1.85:1 aspect ratio) and the grain dances with a gritty texture, just like its original theatrical version. Since much of "Predator" was filmed under the dark canopy of the jungle, Australian cinematographer Donald McAlpine used minimal lighting, for a natural look. A film stock had been developed by the 1980s to handle low light levels, but a side-effect was a larger film grain.
Some viewers may not like it, especially those spoiled by years of watching digital movies virtually without grain. But it’s part of the cinematic experience of that era, and exciting to see "Predator" in its original style and look.
The expansive 4K sharpness is most evident with wide shots, while close-ups reveal skin textures never visible on the Blu-ray. The HDR toning is darker and natural, with richer greens from the jungle, reds and oranges from the explosions and fires at the encampment, while the blacks are deeper for a bold contrast level.
The 4K disc provides a 6-channel DTS-HD soundtrack and the original 4-channel soundtrack. Both are nicely restored, with good effects bouncing to home theater surround speakers, while composer Alan Silvestri's ("Back to the Future," "Avengers") score provides a standard soundtrack with plenty of horns, strings and timpani percussion, including familiar music cues found in '50s and '60s war films.
"Predator" was a huge blockbuster, topping nearly $100 million worldwide. It finished 12th domestically for the year, and started a franchise of films. “The Predator,” a reboot, hits theaters in September. Directed by Shane Black (“The Nice Guys,” “Iron Man 3”), it stars Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Olivia Munn and Keegan-Michael Key.
The “Predator” 3-Movie Collection is now available on 4K. That package also includes “Predator 2” (1990) with Danny Glover and Gary Busey, and “Predators” (2010) with Adrien Brody and Laurence Fishburne.
― Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer