Blu-ray Review: ‘Predators’

Making a sequel to a highly successful film – especially decades after the original – is among the hardest things a director and creative crew can be tasked with. Not only does the follow-up have to capture the tone and attitude of its predecessor, but it also has to successfully introduce a slew of new ideas that expands the mythology of the series without creating anything that contradicts what came before it (Highlander 2, I’m looking at you). The most noticeable exception to this rule is James Cameron, who has successfully taken horror films like Alien and The Terminator – I know some people will disagree, but I always considered the Arnie classic to be a slasher/thriller – and successfully turned their sequels into epic sci-fi/action hybrids. Predators attempts the same formula of changing genres, and it does indeed introduce new mythology and ideas, but it oversaturates itself with them, and because of that and the various tweaks made to Robert Rodriguez’s original spec script over the years, the sum is not as great as its parts. Nimrod Antal’s sequel, which ignores Predator 2 and the almost universally hated AVP films, starts off on the right foot by introducing a group of grizzled killers (military and otherwise) who are pitted against the famed alien race moments after the opening credits roll. Among the group is a U.S. black ops officer (Adrien Brody), an Israeli sniper (Alice Braga), a Yakuza swordsman (Louis Ozawa Changchien), and a regular, mild mannered dentist (Topher Grace) who is obviously harboring a dark secret. As they try to make sense of where they are (a Predator hunting planet) and why (to be hunted for sport), they come across new species and a Colonel Kurtz-like character (Laurence Fishburne), whose sole purpose is to vomit up exposition.

At this point in the film, its problems become painfully evident. It’s chock full of new ideas (so much so that they needed to create a character just to explain most of them), which I’m grateful for, but they’re abandoned almost as quickly as they’re mentioned, proving that they either should’ve been saved for another film or explored a lot more in this one, which would’ve dragged the film out to three hours if they really wanted to run with them. One of the greatest ideas at play in the film is the variety of creatures and that the Predators capture and hunt more than just humans. Aside from the classes of Predators and their hounds, viewers catch just a fleeting glimpse of other races. The idea is merely touched upon, and is dropped just as quickly as it was brought up. The flick is about walking as much as Birdemic is about driving, and the ending, which should be an amazing showdown, is short lived, predictable, and only exists to serve as a sequel segway.

Fox’s Blu-Ray treatment provides more treats than the film itself. The 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is fantastic in its own right, and certainly when compared to the horrible video quality of both high-def releases of the original. Given the technology-centric approach that Rodriguez has to everything associated with his name, it should come as no surprise that the digitally-shot film is as crisp and clear looking as possible, with no noticeable noise-reduction or other pesky issues. The forest setting is gorgeous, with greens, oranges and reds that pop off the screen. The nighttime scenes have a lot of noticeable black variations and shadow contrast. The DTS-HD 5.1 mix is on par with the transfer, providing a robust, full soundtrack. The jungle scenes are immersive, showcasing every insect noise, wind gust, and water drip. The action scenes are ear shattering, and I could differentiate between every single shot fired and punch thrown. The special features are a mixed bag, but the high points are really high. The behind-the-scenes documentary, Evolution Of The Species, is actually better than the film, proving a lot of insight into the history of the film; the same goes for the commentary track with Antal and Rodriguez. The rest are sadly just EPK featurettes and throwaway deleted/extended scenes.

The character-driven action of the first quarter of the film proves to be solid entertainment, but Predators kind of ruins its pace and excitement level by promising so much, and following through on so little. Adrien Brody is surprisingly great as an action lead (in fact, most of the cast is great), the creature and art design is incredible, and the action is competently handled by Antal – though one has to wonder how much of that is actually the work of Rodriguez, whose fingerprints are all over this as opposed to his last directorial effort where they are almost absent. If only Dutch had dropped out of a spaceship at the end like he did in the original treatment, I’d be excited for a sequel, but as it stands, not so much.

Special Features

Commentary – The comradery between director Nimrod Antal and producer Robert Rodriguez that I witnessed at a junket earlier this year is prominently on display in this commentary. Rodriguez dominates the track – let’s face it: he’s very talkative about ALL his projects – and goes into detail about the most fascinating aspect of the film’s history: how he got involved with the project, and the various drafts and tweaks made to his original vision (I would have loved to see Dutch in the flick). Antal really got the chance of a lifetime with Predators, and whether you enjoyed the film or didn’t, it’s hard not to appreciate his enthusiasm with the project and the amount of behind-the-scenes knowledge he provides.

Motion Comics (10:56) – The prequel motion comics are split into two sections: Moments Of Extraction features the back story of Isabelle, Cuchillo, Hanzo, and Mombasa before they were captured, while Crucified shows how the classic Predator was caught and crucified previous to Royce’s team finding him. Kudos to whoever got the original actors to voice their characters in the Moments section.

Evolution Of The Species (40:12) – This multi-part making-of documentary covers all the ground you’d expect it to cover, and features fairly comprehensive interviews with most of the actors and behind-the-camera talent, and plenty of on-set footage. There’s a strong emphasis on the art and effects of the film, which were the strongest elements of the film, and it really goes beyond the standard EPK nature of the majority of the bonus materials on the disc. It’s also important to note that besides for the Decloaking The Invisible: Alien Terrain section, the rest of the documentary is Blu-Ray exclusive.

The Chosen (4:52) – Pretty standard EPK stuff, and actually spoils the back story of some of the characters, which is purposely unveiled slowly throughout the film.

Fox Movie Channel Presents Making A Scene (7:06) – This featurette focuses on the predator hound sequence, which is also discussed in the superior Evolution Of The Species. A few other clips and interviews are included, but, again, there’s a lot of overlap here with the much longer behind-the-scenes documentary on the disc.

Deleted And Extended Scenes (11:21) – Nine deleted and extended scenes are provided, featuring a little more back story with a few characters – the extra bits with Danny Trejo’s Cuchillo character are amusing. It was obvious why most of them were cut (too much fat), especially one that makes Topher Grace’s character arc even more obvious than it already was.

Film: 2.5/5

Blu-Ray: 3.5/5