Predator 2 Review
‘I’ll be back’ said a young Arnold Schwarzenegger to a tired, old cop, and ‘back’ he did come, only this time he returned without questions and a very bad attitude. It would appear that an old foe of the aforementioned actor, has taken him up on his word, and three years after the original the Predator returns for a second helping. Minus the leading man from the original film, minus the original director John McTiernan, and minus the isolation of the original’s jungle wilderness, could Predator 2 successfully continue the saga? The answer is a definitive ‘yes’.
After Ridley Scott’s Alien, new doors seemingly opened for science-fiction films, of which Predator 2 is a product, and in essence, nothing more than a ripple in Scott’s initial wave. However, while obviously taking its cues from films such as Aliens and Robocop, Predator 2 has a lot to offer, not just technically, but in the mythology of its story origins and in the continuation of a prospering franchise.
Set in a magnified Los Angeles, warring gangs are running the city through big business drug dealing, incessant violence and terror tactics. The police, caught up in the middle, appear helpless in dealing with the problem and many media journalists begin to call for martial law. During one such battle between the police and gang members, fearless cop Mike Harrigan (Danny Glover) turns up to turn the tables, and they eventually peg the group back into a nearby building. On entering the building, Harrigan, accompanied by fellow cops Danny (Ruben Blades), Leona (Maria Conchita Alonso) and a couple of disposable uniformed police officers, find the gang to be dead. At first believing that another rival gang had massacred them, they begin to wonder how they could have got in and out without the police noticing. As Harrigan later says, ‘Maybe there’s a new player in town…’
The original film worked so well because of the way in which it isolated the characters in an environment, which was to them, alien. The towering trees, and endless foliage of the jungle, created a twisted, all-enveloping cocoon that not only choked the characters but also the audience. Enter an unseen evil, picking each man off one by one, and what you have is terrific, thrilling terror. Open up that environment, and make the devil’s playground a near-futuristic Los Angeles, this could suggest that all that is ‘great’ about the original may be lost. This is not the case however, as director Stephen Hopkins and writers Jim and John Thomas, cannily place the action in an exaggerated Los Angeles where the media are calling for the heads of the city’s bureaucrats, and the actual drugs, violence and weapons problems L.A deals with in real life are magnified almost to the point of satirical social commentary. The police, in this case, are so overwhelmed with the problems of the city, it has become much like the jungle’s all-enveloping cocoon – the gangs out-number the police, both in numbers and weaponry, and have much more power and control over the city in terms of money and business due to the drug and weapon’s trade. The media lingers like a bad cold, with camera’s everywhere – one such scene shows a reporter secretly getting to a crime scene and before he can be led out, uses a pocket video camera to record the room’s contents.
Concentrating on Harrigan, and his team’s story, they are cocooned by the world that surrounds them but now they must face this new ‘terror’, this unseen evil. Here, they are not surrounded by endless jungle but the film never loses the idea that the main characters are at the center of a maze, and not making any progress. While a quick getaway may seem on the cards, there’s always a sense of a ‘No Exit’ sign at every turn, and Hopkins (who also directed the admittedly terrible Nightmare On Elm Street 5) creates this with assurance.
The film has many action set pieces, which work to differing degrees, but one particular scene has always stood out for me. On an underground train, Leona and renegade rookie Jerry Lambert (Bill Paxton) come across a small gang troubling commuters. A fabulous bit of humour sees a dozen passengers pull guns on the gang – a suggestion of future relaxed gun laws in America, or a statement of gun law affairs in present day U.S.A perhaps? Well, proceeding from this, the train gets attacked by something nasty and all the commuters, the gang and the two cops are left in total darkness desperately trying to see something to shoot at. This is Hopkins at his best, using the flashing white of passing lights outside of the fast-moving train to light the scene which is otherwise total blackness. Character’s are seen screaming for their lives, guns are seen firing into the abyss, and what we have is total, concentrated warfare that quickens the pace of the heart and forces your lungs to stop working for a few seconds. The scene represents action cinema at its simplistic best. Using chaotic editing, a cluttered frame and uneven hand-held camerawork it is blindingly brilliant, and the sequence doesn’t fail to shock right up until its stirring, breathtaking finale.
It is unfortunate that the film never really recovers from this, because it can’t hit these heights again, and as the plot nears its climax, Hopkins becomes a little heavy-handed with his control and execution in the last third. This is not to say he does a perfect job beforehand either, because his handling of some of the more expositional scenes does touch on the bland, while slow-motion, pornographic explosions and the odd bit of extraneous character interaction slow the pace. One problem the director has, comes from his own eagerness to push the film further and further into the unknown, and trying to second guess the audience into thinking the movie is going to go in one direction, and then surprising us by taking it in another. In what should be a fast-paced final third, Hopkins ends up not quite getting things right. The idea of a ‘trap’ to lure their prey in, is very reminiscent of the sequence in Aliens when the marines first attempt the save the colonists under the atmosphere processor station. In Predator 2 the tension is sapped away through poor dialogue and pacing. Additionally, following from this, the director never gets the motor running, with constant stops and starts in the action. However, there’s an ever-noticeable feeling that while it’s clunky, it’s still a lot of fun
Nevertheless, some of the performances atone for this with Bill Paxton standing out as the sarcastic, always joking around, genius cop who hits the mark with plenty of great, quotable one-liners. We meet him for the first time as he is telling the story of a past assignment where a woman killed her husband, and the woman in question seemed oblivious to the crime. Mimicking her voice he says, ‘I stabbed that son-of-a-bitch plenty a times, he never died on me before!’ Paxton, playing the role of Jerry Lambert almost as if it were the brother of his character Hudson in Aliens, offers some light comedy relief but doesn’t go over the top into self-parody. His remark about public transport, ‘…it’s hard enough to find a seat and when you do, someone’s either pissed in it, or thrown up all over it’, does ring quite true. But everything is grounded by Danny Glover who clearly isn’t ‘too old for this shit’, and sits reasonably comfortably in the lead role. More hard-nosed, and unsympathetic than his Lethal Weapon character, he is believable in a role that demands realism when surrounded by the unbelievable.
Predator 2 may not be as good as the original, and certainly there is no comparison between each film’s final third where the original has a little more quality. However, as a sequel it is one of those more under-appreciated second helping’s, that has enough originality and entertainment value to merit it as a entity of its own. The Hollywood Reporter claim, ‘You’ll barely have time to catch your breath’, and they’re not wrong.
The picture is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and anamorphic enhanced. The first thing that caught the eye in the original film’s DVD release was excessive grain, which thankfully eventually decreased, but as a marked contrast, Predator 2 opens with a brilliantly pristine image, both in colour, clarity and depth. Throughout the picture is relatively clear of grain and dirt, as the print used is clearly in good condition - especially good for a film that is now well over ten years old. Facial tones are natural, and black level is very good.
During chapter 9, the scenes are shrouded in darkness but the DVD copes with this perfectly well, showing a much crisper image than I have seen before. During chapter 15 (the underground train sequence), the flickering lights flash through the darkness, but again the image is clear and well defined.
The audio is Dolby Digital 5.1, and while immediate thoughts turn to the fact that there is no DTS, worries should be dispelled because this is an excellent surround track. The opening scene of the film is very action orientated so I was hoping for good use of the surrounds, especially with the gunfire. The 20th Century Fox logo fills the speakers straight away, and then bullets start flying. Bass level is strong from the beginning, and immediately bullets spit out of the speakers, with excellent use of the rears. An early explosion gives the viewer an idea of how the sub woofer is going to get used throughout the film, literally by moving objects around the room with its slow, brooding rumbles and quick, sharp bombardments. Dialogue is clear and free from distortion, with excellent use of the front spectrum to produce a distinctly ambient sound. Rear speakers are in operation from start to finish, superbly used during violent action, and excellently used during quieter scenes to create a good sense of the foreboding.
Featurette - Less than six minutes in length, this is a very promotional, orientated ‘making of’. Very brisk interviews with principle cast members and the director are featured but none really make for an interesting or informative listen.
Predator 2: Creating The Ultimate Hunter - Less than four minutes in length, this mini-documentary hastily looks at the special effects.
Theatrical Trailer - Presented in anamorphic 2.35:1, this is a good quality trailer.
Predator 2 is a good film that deserves a better release than this, and maybe sometime down the line, like Predator, it will get special edition treatment. However, while the additional features are poor, the presentation of the film is superb with an excellent image quality, and one of the best surround tracks on the market.