Predator 2: Collector's Edition Review
“Silent. Invisible. Invincible. He’s in town with a few days to kill...”
10 years after laying waste to a central American jungle, the Predator is once again on the prowl. This brutal alien species, which uses state-of-the-art weaponry instead of teeth and claws, isn’t in Los Angeles to see the sights. Instead, this “ultimate hunter” is more interested in a human safari; killing anyone who crosses his path. In fact, the Predator never seems to do anything else. Whether battling that other alien race, or slicing up a human or two, the life of a Predator is never mundane. After all, we never see him dating, or popping down the local Indian for some grub. The Predator’s only agenda is to make mince meat out of its foes, which puts our planet on the critical list. Last time, our only hope was a determined commando in the guise of Arnold Schwarzenegger, but LA seems to be running low on beefed-up grunts, placing our fate into the hands of gruff cop Mike Harrigan (Danny Glover). A man who isn’t afraid to piss on the rule book, he’s fighting a war against the city’s drug lords; a network of criminals who are targeted by the fiend of the title. Will Harrigan uncover the true nature of this invisible killer, and more importantly, will he live to tell the tale?
Released in 1990, Predator 2 has always been overlooked. Maligned by many critics, it failed to match the claustrophobic intensity of John McTiernan’s original, yet delivered plenty of blood-splattered thrills. Helmed by the underrated Stephen Hopkins (Under Suspicion), it has remained my favourite guilty pleasure. In most respects, I feel people have treated Predator 2 rather harshly. Those expecting a sequel to match the likes of Aliens deserve to be disappointed. After all, the original concept was hardly a stroke of genius. McTiernan’s work was an efficient fusion of action, sci-fi and horror, which used its principle location to full effect. Yet, the story was nothing new, and Schwarzenegger’s role was strictly one-note. But the film worked. It was pumped-full of testosterone, and boasted a fine array of stunts and arterial spray. Therefore, it was a little mean to lament Predator 2 for being more of the same. I for one, have always enjoyed this picture, and its barrage of over-the-top carnage is a must for any fan of comic book schlock...
Of course, it’s the setting that gets most of the attention. Trading the jungles for urban ghettos, the screenplay takes a logical route. After all, if the film merely rehashed the same location, the filmmakers would have been criticised for their lack of effort (not that Predator 2 is anything but a cash-in quickie.) Screenwriters Jim and John Thomas seem to love the urban setting, allowing Hopkins to employ a different style and tone. But the location does introduce problems. After all, the wild is scarier than civilisation, and the director can’t replicate the moody atmosphere that McTiernan delivered in spades. To his credit, Hopkins tries hard. On release, Predator 2 was considered “futuristic”. Set in 1997 (a full seven years ahead of the film), the LA seen here is one dogged by a constant heat wave, and gang warfare that threatens to blow the city apart. Such a gimmick allows the action to be explosive, giving the Predator a pretty exciting playground, if little else.
Some fans had a problem with the cast too. Stripped of Arnold’s patriotic hero Dutch, the screenwriters had to introduce new characters. Carrying the film on his shoulders, Glover does an admirable job, and he clearly relished the chance to play the flip-side of his Lethal Weapon role. While he doesn’t convince as a one-man army, and his dialogue is pretty poor, Glover keeps the material engaging. Harrigan is a tough, get-it-done kind of guy, who shows compassion for his co-workers, but would rather work alone. Naturally, we’ve seen this type of cop many times before, but Glover’s charm makes Harrigan a delightfully unpredictable hero. I also appreciated the supporting players, and thanks to some shrewd casting, the film has plenty of familiar faces; providing a neat contrast to McTiernan’s wise-cracking rogues. We have the loyal partner, Danny (Ruben Blades), the tough-as-nails Leona (Maria Conchita Alonso) and the wisecracking Jerry Lambert, played with enthusiasm by Bill Paxton (by this point in his career, he’d been killed on screen by an Alien, a Predator and the Terminator.) The characters are typical cannon fodder, and only Paxo amuses as the “comic relief cop”.
In fact, they all play second fiddle to the late Kevin Peter Hall. Given first billing on the credits, his turn as the Predator is probably the best performance in the picture. His towering frame made the creature an imposing screen presence, performing most of the stunts with gusto. Of course, Hall had help from Stan Winston’s bravura make-up designs. Just as memorable as H.R. Giger’s Alien, the Predator is a wonderful visual. The comic book would eventually broaden the designs (and even hack-for-hire Paul Anderson played with the look), but this dreadlock-sporting terror is a true original. Drawn by heat - a fact Anderson overlooked with the snowbound AvP - he kills purely for sport, which makes the Predator unique. After all, here is a creature of honour and skill, that refuses to kill for blood alone. He’s a true hunter, even taking a trophy. His bag of tricks is intimidating too, and Hopkins takes great relish in improving his arsenal. A circular saw that flies through the air; a net that cuts through flesh; a retracting spear; all of which make Harrigan’s custom pistol fairly laughable. And lest we forget the Predator’s heat vision? It once again provides an unnerving bird’s eye view, as the creature prowls rooftops around the city. Add the invisibility cloak, and you have one formidable opponent...
The large budget allows these devices to truly impress, and it must be said that Predator 2 works best as eye candy. Still, the writers do take the time to introduce a “story”, thin as it might be. The first film played like Platoon mixed with Alien, and this time they meld the sci-fi elements with a detective story. For the first half of the film, Harrigan’s team has no clue that this visitor is from the stars, and the fact that government agent Peter Keyes (Gary Busey) is tailing the perpetrator furthers their confusion. Of course, the government has been following the Predator ever since he destroyed several acres of rain forest. It’s a little-known fact, that the character of Keyes was supposed to be Schwarzenegger’s Dutch, but in his defence, Busey does his usual best - a caricature that has become the norm for him. This adds another tantalising sub-plot to the film, but unfortunately, it never gets the pay-off it truly deserves. This picture is all about action, and in that respect, it delivers.
The pace is set from the very first frame, and never lets up. The audience is thrown directly into a war zone, between the Colombian drug cartels and a diminishing police force. Explosions, furious gun fights, and several bloody deaths fly across the screen. Of course, the Predator swoops out of hiding to slaughter these criminals in various grisly ways. In fact, you have to wonder why Harrigan is so concerned about this “new player”, since he’s doing a better job of cleaning up the streets. But logic has no place here - it’s a one-way trip to bombast central. Hopkins goes way over-the-top, and for once, it’s just the ticket. In 1990, we weren’t so politically correct as we are now, and Predator 2 is a big-budget exploitation picture that doesn’t shy away from gratuitous violence and grand guignol gore. Speaking of blood, this sequel gets pretty nasty. Gruesome slayings are the order of the day, and no scene shows this better than when the Predator takes out a whole room of gun-toting criminals. People get pinned to the wall, skewered on the alien’s pincers, and torn to pieces. Hopkins even starts the scene with some explicit sex, and porn star Teri Weigel makes quite the impression. If you haven’t guessed, subtlety is not this films strongest point, and I’m not complaining.
The momentum reaches its peak in the final act, which starts with the famed subway train sequence. After stalking Jerry and Leona, the Predator boards the train, takes out the power, and proceeds to face his targets in total darkness. It’s the only moment in Predator 2’s run time, that possesses any considerable tension, and Hopkins milks the situation for every last drop of suspense. Of course, it’s all just a build-up for Harrigan’s confrontation with the creature, and the conclusion provides enough surprises to satisfy. The cop traces the Predator to his hide-out, which is, rather fittingly, a slaughterhouse. Another bloody battle ensues, with Busey’s government cronies thrown-in for a lively body count. Sparks fly, guns fire, and the creature is soon on the move again; resulting in the final fight aboard the Predator’s hidden space ship! There’s so much excitement to be had in the last 30 minutes, that many of the flaws are forgiven, especially when one final revelation is revealed (no, it isn’t the Alien skull neatly concealed in the Predator’s trophy cabinet.) Those who hated the rest of the film probably won’t be swayed, but the filmmakers get points for their effort. After all, it’s more involving than the bloodless and rather weak Alien Vs. Predator, which failed to capitalise on its titular stars.
15 years later, Predator 2 still carries a bad reputation. I don’t have a clue why. Is it better than the classic original? Certainly not, but it’s an exciting and fast-paced blend of detective clichés and sci-fi conventions, that makes the faults easier to bare. The action rouses, Alan Silvestri’s score sweeps, and the blood flows like fine wine. Predator 2 isn’t big, and it definitely isn’t clever, but it gets my vote as the most underrated sequel in recent times...
This release has been a long time coming, and Predator fans have waited patiently while Fox unleashed a sub-par effort, that featured pathetic extras and a middling transfer. Well, those days are over. It was obvious to me, that with the imminent release of AvP, Fox would revisit the film and give it the red carpet treatment. This Region 1 title is a two-disc set, with plenty to enjoy. Fans will be in heaven, and while there is room for improvement, I can safely say that Predator 2 has never looked or sounded better.
The Look and Sound
As before, Fox present Predator 2 in its original aspect ratio (1.85:1), with the customary anamorphic enhancement. Right from the start, the transfer is clean, and surprisingly free of grain. The colours are fairly vibrant, and the dusty, washed-out look of Peter Levy’s photography is nicely transferred. The image is very detailed and fresh, though it does lack the sharpness of more recent efforts. Blacks for instance, could have been more solid, yet the shadow delineation and shading are all well above-average; while the bright reds and blues of the Predator’s heat vision leap off the screen. No clarity is lost during the night-time footage, and even the darkened subway skirmish looks pretty impressive. Spots of compression and edge enhancement aside, this is a good-looking transfer, that improves greatly on past editions.
The previous release boasted a brilliant 5.1 track, which is retained here. But that’s not the good news. We also have an all-new DTS 5.1 mix to salivate over. It’s the very reason why you should ditch your old copies, and it really brings Predator 2 to life. Easily beating the video transfer, the DTS option is a loud juggernaut of a track, that will get your sound system working overtime. The film might be ageing fast, but I had no problems with the technical work achieved here. Dialogue, sound effects, and Silvestri’s rollicking score all sound excellent, with plenty lashes of deep bass, and surround activity. I’m sure that bass-junkies could find flaws with this mix, but for someone who’s only witnessed Predator 2 in crappy 2.0, this is a cause for celebration. Well done Fox...
These are pretty neat, with a different layout on each disc. The first is taken from the subway scene, and both feature animation and film footage as transitions. The bonus disc showcases the Predator in all his glory, with a dark and moody look. Silvestri’s music is utilised too, with the odd amusing sound effect thrown in for good measure. Wonderfully presented and fully-functional, these are a step-above the previous copy in every respect.
I never thought this day would come, but it has - Predator 2 is now a bona-fide “Special Edition”. And it’s a pretty sweet one too. Packing a couple of commentaries, a few featurettes, and some vintage material, it should make the die-hard followers pretty happy. So, what’s under the hood?
Audio Commentary by Director Stephen Hopkins
This is a light and breezy chat from Hopkins, who by the sound of it, hasn’t seen this movie in a long time. He admits here and elsewhere on the disc, that his directorial style has changed over the years, and he offers plenty of thoughts on his second studio feature (which, incidentally, followed A Nightmare on Elm Street 5.) He defends most of his choices well, and to his credit, is vocal about the story elements he would have done differently now. Discussions range from the special effects, to action scenes, casting and shooting in LA. There are some funny anecdotes here, and Hopkins provides that rare beast - an entertaining commentary. The few dead spots aside, this is a good yack-track, and time hasn’t dimmed his memory of the production.
Audio Commentary by Screenwriters Jim Thomas and John
Equally enjoyable, the Thomas Brother’s track covers plenty of ground. There is some overlap with the previous commentary, but it didn’t bother me; the discussion is so involving. Since they created the character, most of the time is spent highlighting the genesis of the project, and how they came up with the concept in the first place. They talk about shooting the first Predator, hanging out on the sequel set, and the ways in which they brought new ideas to the table for Predator 2. Apparently, they wrote the script in three weeks, since the production was so rushed. However, the most intriguing element of the track has nothing to do with the film. According to them, the US military tried to replicate the Predator’s invisibility cloak from the movie! Imagine the possibilities...on second thought, lets not...
“The Hunters and the Hunted”
This brand new documentary runs for just over 30 minutes, and comprises fresh interview material alongside footage from the set in 1990. Hopkins is on hand to discuss the movie some more, and there’s plenty of behind-the-scenes action to see. Danny Glover, Bill Paxton, Gary Busey, Ruben Blades and Maria Conchita Alonso were all filmed while shooting the movie, so we don’t get any new contributions from them, which is shame. However, this is an interesting retrospective, that highlights how the production was shot, and what pains the crew went to in order to achieve certain shots or effects. Stan Winston and his team also appear, and the Predator suit is dissected for our viewing pleasure. It seemed like a fun set to be on, and while this is hardly a comprehensive featurette, it’s the best piece I’ve seen yet for Predator 2.
There are 3 present: “The Predator Goes to Town”, “International Featurette” and “Creating the Ultimate Hunter”. All of them were used to promote the film back in the day, and appeared on the previous DVD. They include some more behind-the-scenes activity (most of which was left out of the new documentary), and a smattering of early interview moments. We even get to see Hopkins directing the cast, and LA residents discussing the Predator. Each piece is only short, though I recommend “Creating the Ultimate Hunter”, which gives Winston another chance to plug his sophisticated creature work.
Since Predator 2 was so reliant on visual effects, it isn’t surprising that the DVD would concentrate so heavily on their creation. Surprisingly, “Evolutions” turns out to be the most fascinating extra in the set. Fascinating, because the film was made prior to the CGI revolution, so every single shot had to be achieved optically (it’s refreshing to see such a forgotten technique.) We get to watch four different “Evolutions” in total, including the opening title sequence, and of course, the subway scene. We see, in various clips, how the effects progressed from shooting to the screen; ending with the final composite. Audio commentary is also included. Rarely are featurettes of this nature so engrossing.
“Weapons of Choice”
This would have been the throwaway extra of the set, if it wasn’t so much fun. By selecting a weapon from the Predator’s arsenal, you’ll be able to watch a small vignette about its creation. Winston, in particular, is full of enthusiasm for these devices...he really needs to get out more.
The remaining extras include a promotional gallery of trailers and TV spots, the full “Hard Core” news reports as seen in the movie, and a behind-the-scenes still gallery of 57 images. Last but not least, there’s an easter egg, which according to some sources, is a blooper reel. A pretty stellar package.
“Nothing like this has ever been on Earth before”. So said the posters for the original Predator; something which describes this release pretty well. For fans of Predator 2 this is a must-own disc, and it’s probably the best version we’ll see (especially with that earth-shattering DTS track.) Fox have done wonders with the transfer, and the special features impress too. You may love or hate the film, but collectors are advised to take a look...