Blu-Ray Review: PREDATORS

What do Jaws and the original Alien have in common? They are both films which expertly create tension and fear in an audience by deliberately refusing to show the titular creature. Aside from the occasional glimpse, the creature is unseen and becomes enigmatic, intriguing, more frightening and exciting. Of course, with both these examples there was a practical consideration in that the directors knew that with limited technology, showing the creature would look phenomenally silly. So when your "monster" is basically very, very silly anyway, with long fingernails and dreadlocks, it should be a no-brainer: just don't show us the monster. It is a lesson that should have been learned by the makers of the original 1987 actioner Predator, as well as its much-maligned 1990 sequel Predator 2. Both of which show rather too much of the rubbery Rastafarian alien then is really wise. As soon as a man in a rubber suit starts running towards the camera I am no longer scared. In fact after I see that I am no involved in the movie. OK, so both those movies jump the shark way before the Predator turns up. The original 'Predator' has an adrenaline fuelled, explosive gun battle in which muscle bound tough-guys make a village of evil Latino people explode by the score, all accompanied by familiar 1980s Schwarzenegger zingers ("stick around!"). The sequel sees a gun crazed Danny Glover enter a strange, dystopian LA that feels like something out of a long lost Paul Verhoeven movie. The streets are full of various over the top, ethnic scumbags who need culling. Both films strain credibility long before the man in the rubber suit makes an appearance (although that can be varying degrees of fun in its own way). However, the tragedy of the latest installment in the franchise, the Robert Rodriquez produced 'Predators', is that for the first half hour it is actually fairly well made and quite engrossing stuff. It returns the series to the jungle setting of the original and sees a group of macho-types from around the world dropped into the middle of a game preserve, apparently to serve as quarry for the blood-sport obsessed aliens. Director Nimród Antal creates a good atmosphere and is helped by a cast of decent and appealing actors in the various roles, including Adrien Brody, Alice Braga, Topher Grace and Danny Trejo. Antal quickly establishes all the characters personalities and backgrounds and starts the movie at a breakneck pace with Brody falling out of the sky into the jungle before the titles pop up. The film is at its strongest as the unlikely band of misfits group together and try to work out what is going on and how to survive. As an audience we know they are soon going to be picked apart one-by-one by bloodthirsty aliens, which creates a decent tension as we ponder who will be the first to die. It is far from perfect even at this stage, with the dialogue mostly consisting of people shouting "what the fuck is going on?", "where the fuck are we?" and "what the fuck is that thing?" The characters aren't especially deep, instead they are broad archetypes. But this is forgivable and the actors bring a lot to their roles, especially Brody who some may think is an odd choice here as a beefcake-commando, but he lends plausibility, intelligence and depth to a role which could just so easily have fallen to Vin Diesel. The thing is that, as enjoyable as these early stages are, it isn€™t long before the Predators themselves turn up. And from then on things get progressively sillier and sillier to the point that by the end most the initial goodwill has dissipated as, when seen in daylight and in long sustained full-body shots, the Predators are perhaps the most ridiculous movie antagonists imaginable. The film reaches its nadir during one sequence which sees two men in Predator suits punching each other for about five minutes, which is easily as appealing as seeing two CGI robots punching each other in a certain Michael Bay movie. That said, it is great that Rodriquez and Antal made a conscious decision to stick with the practical effects of the original, with minimal CGI and extensive location shooting. There is also a fundamental problem with the concept suggested in the title (no doubt a nod to €˜Aliens€™): that this time there is more than one Predator. Upping the number of Predators diminishes their threat rather than increasing it. Predators used to eat units of commandos for breakfast, but now they are hunting in packs and struggling to kill Topher Grace? But maybe these are rubbish Predators anyway, on some sort of game-tourism weekend. Whereas previous Predators used to take the trouble to land on Earth and seek out bad-asses (and Bill Paxton) to skin alive, this lot are content to land on a local hunting ground and use their heat-sensor equipment (which seems like cheating to me) to hunt disorientated primitives. It€™s a hard sell to suggest, as these films invariably do, that there is anything noble about the Predator. As a Blu-ray disc €˜Predators€™ is a pretty solid offering. Most of the extras are presented in high-definition, with the exception being a disposable seven minute TV spot made for Fox Movies. There is a decent forty minute making of feature which looks at the sets, costumes and the production history of the film, as well as a couple of €œMotion Comic€ prequel stories which are fun to watch (although quite short). There are also half a dozen deleted scenes, most of which are short, fairly humorous character moments, and the feature is also backed up by a commentary by Rodriquez and Antal, which is more sedate (and more self-congratulatory) then you€™d imagine but still full of nice insights into the behind the scenes of the film, as well as some nice anecdotes. It is also a bonus that the UK Blu-ray includes a digital copy and a DVD €“ if you€™re into that kind of thing. There isn€™t much at fault with the feature itself in terms of its high definition picture and sound in this format. It€™s a sharp and slickly presented release that isn€™t far off reference quality. But in spite of this quality, in the end 'Predators' is fairly disappointing as a film. Not because I had especially high hopes going in, but because the opening minutes suggested it could have been much better. But then the men in their rubber suits started running towards the camera, fighting Yakuza samurai and an over-the-top (and overweight) Laurence Fishburne. Maybe the problems I had are the result of a disconnect between my hopes for the film and the reality of what this film series is all about, and maybe I am not supposed to be taking this movie seriously at all. Truth is that there is nothing particularly out of keeping with the original films in this sequel and fans of the series may find less to complain about as they settle down and enjoy the campy ride. But if you're in the market for silly, stick on the 1987 original and have done with it. 'Predators' is neither good enough, nor silly enough, to warrant too much attention in spite of its early promise. Predators is available now on Blu-ray.
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A regular film and video games contributor for What Culture, Robert also writes reviews and features for The Daily Telegraph, GamesIndustry.biz and The Big Picture Magazine as well as his own Beames on Film blog. He also has essays and reviews in a number of upcoming books by Intellect.