Predator 2 (Special Edition) 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 the fast-moving train to light the scene which is otherwise total blackness. Characters 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 had a little more quality. However, as a sequel it is one of those more under-appreciated second helpings, 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 original, extra free, region 1 DVD had excellent picture quality and this region 2 version appears to be very similar if not identical apart from the difference between PAL and NTSC. In my review of the region 1 DVD I wrote:
‘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.’
This new Special Edition retains the picture quality of previous releases and looks great.
It’s in the soundtrack that this DVD excels though and beats the old region 1 release hands down. The all-new DTS 5.1 soundtrack is simply superb and the fact the original Dolby Digital 5.1 track was truly brilliant gives viewers a good idea of just how good this new DTS track is. Certainly the film lends itself to a pumping, action-film soundtrack but just comparing the DTS with the old Dolby Digital track shows just how much it improves upon it. The main difference appears to be dialogue appearing a little clearer and well-separated in this new DTS track, as both handle the action scenes superbly.
The best showcase for the DTS is in the underground train sequence when all hell breaks loose, and anyone with their amps cranked up to high volume will know too well about it. Every speaker appears to working overtime to produce a fantastic soundstage of flying bullets, gunshots, and screams. The sound of the train traveling through the tunnel rumbles through the sub-woofer creating a deep, all-enveloping sound that really puts the viewer into the action. The separation of the gunfire and frantic screams work superbly to create a horrific, breathtaking ambience.
Both English Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS tracks are available on the disc. It should be noted that the Dolby Digital track is also superb.
Feature commentary by director Stephen Hopkins - Despite some overlap between the documentary featured on the disc and this commentary, Hopkins is a good speaker who speaks passionately about the film and has plenty of interesting and entertaining anecdotes to tell. Fans of the film are certainly in for a treat, but the commentary is definitely worthwhile listening to as Hopkins discusses the special-effects, shooting the film in Los Angeles, and casting the actors.
Feature commentary by writers Jim Thomas and John Thomas - This is a terrific commentary with Jim and John Thomas, who wrote both Predator and Predator 2, who reminisce about the film with great affection. They have lots to say about the scripting and the tone of the film.
The Hunters and the Hunted - A thirty-five minute long documentary looking at the making-of Predator 2 examines the origins of the film, as well as casting, characterization, stunt and special-effect work, with interviews with all the principle cast and production crew. This feature is excellent viewing for fans of the film and the franchise, as it has a wealth of information, and the contributors have plenty of interesting facts and anecdotes to tell. It’s a shame the only newly recorded interview is with director Stephen Hopkins, but this is the only drawback in what remains a competent and enjoyable featurette. Some interesting things to found in the documentary include the trials and tribulations of night shooting in the centre of big cities – including bags of ‘shit’ been thrown at the crew, sewer rats the size of dogs being put on leads by the special-effects guys, and dead bodies in the trash. Also, entertainingly, Gary Busey’s inane comments and interview snippets are quite funny, especially his thesis on why his character has to capture the Predator.
Evolutions - This special-effects feature displays some of the optical-effects used in the film, with relation to three particular scenes, each accessed separately, or collectively in a ‘play all’ button. Commentary by visual-effects supervisor Joel Hynek accompanies each sequence, and this is certainly interesting for those that like to see how special-effects are done.
Weapons Of Choice - This feature focuses on the art department and their work with the Predator’s weapons from his self-destruct mechanism to his plasma cannon.
Promotional Gallery - This section contains three featurettes each geared to promoting the film. They are titled The Predator Goes To Town, International ‘Making-of’ featurette, and Creating The Ultimate Hunter. These are mini-making-of featurettes and act like extended trailers.
Hard Core Segments - The actual news reports Morton Downey Jr. recorded for the film that were not shown in their entirety are given their showcase here. Two are available to view separately and make for interesting satirical viewing.
Photo Gallery - Lots of photos are available depicting the production of the film.
This great two-disc presentation of an underrated sequel boasts a fantastic DTS soundtrack and some excellent additional features such as the documentary, and the two commentaries.