PREDATORS – Blu-ray review

If the original “Predator” (1987) had a bit of a “Dirty Dozen” vibe to it, with muscleman-turned-action hero-turned-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and wrestler-turned-action hero-turned-governor Jesse Ventura among an elite squad sent on a near-suicide commando mission in Central America, the 2010 incarnation from Nimród Antal feels more like “Lost.” There’s no stinking mission. Just characters literally falling from the sky into the jungle, with no recollection of how they got from where they were to this steamy and exotic soon-to-be hell.

While they’re trying to figure out where they are and why they’re here and who the “others” are who are threatening them, I’m wondering how Adrien Brody managed to get himself cast as an action hero. He’s a great actor, certainly, having won an Oscar for “The Pianist” (2002). But he has the face of an intellectual and the body of one to boot, no matter how much iron he pumps to try to buff up. It’s hard enough buying into the fact that he’s the 2010 version of Ahhhnold, but it was almost impossible for me to believe that he and the other seven men and one woman were apparently hand-picked and dropped from the sky onto this ferny and watery game board because they were either a) trained killers or b) conscienceless folk who’d kill at the drop of a parrot feather. It wasn’t just Brody. I had a hard time believing that any of them–well, except for the always tough-looking Danny Trejo and Laurence Fishburne–could be anything more than ordinary people plopped down into an extraordinary situation.

So while my colleague at DVD Town, Christopher Long, appreciated Antal’s “no-frills action flick with little time for piddling concerns like explanations, psychology, or, until the end, even names,” I had a problem with the casting and with the fact that there wasn’t enough to surprise me. A film like this, which hovers somewhere in the void between being a sequel and being a remake, has to have some shock value for it to work. And I really didn’t think there were enough deviations from the original script to provide them.

In fact, the biggest deviation was in Antal’s shunning of the dual point-of-view narration from the original film, where we got to see much more of what the Predator was seeing with his heat-sensing visual apparatus. We get some of it, but it doesn’t build suspense the way it had previously.

Writer and producer Robert Rodriguez (“Machete,” “Once Upon a Time in Mexico,” “Sin City”) said that the people dropped from the sky were themselves killers so that they weren’t just “prey.” It would give the film two layers of “predators.” Well, as cinematic coincidence would have it, he ended up with three, since the dictionary definition of director Antal’s first name–nimrodmeans “skillful hunter.” And despite all I’ve criticized, the hunting sequences in this film and the special effects that surround them are all quite accomplished. I’ll say this, too. Antal wastes no time getting to the action, and once he does he doesn’t leave it, not even to take a bathroom break.

The characters themselves are as disposable as any you’ll find in a straight action flick. Here they’re types, ranging from a Japanese yakuza killer to a death-squad thug from a small African nation. If anyone’s a decent match for the alien predators who’ve been getting their kicks from hunting Earthlings way south of Route 66 (so south, in fact, that it might be a totally different planet), it’s this group. Though a trip-wire sends hundreds of pointy stakes up from the jungle floor and dropped from the canopy, all of these folks manage to avoid them. And with that flurry of traps, Rodriguez and Antal declare that while these heroes may be clueless, they’re not boobs.

We never learn what more they’re not (or are), because in the tradition of action films we get little-to-no character backstory or development. All we get is an introduction, really, to Brody as Royce, a mercenary soldier; Topher Grace as Edwin, a doctor who’s also a psychopath; Alice Braga as Isabelle, an Israeli soldier and CIA assassin; Walton Goggins as Stans, a former death-row inmate; Oleg Taktarov as Nikolai, a Russian commando; Fishburne as Noland, a U.S. army soldier; Trejo as Cuchillo, a Mexican drug cartel enforcer; Louis Ozawa Changchien as Hanzo; and Mahershalalhashbaz Ali as Mombasa, a Sierra Leone death-squad soldier. I do agree with Chris that it’s odd, especially since Rodriguez featured Trejo in “Machete,” that he didn’t give him more to do in “Predators.” As a result, the most interesting among them is Noland, a soldier who’s somehow survived in the jungle for many years. Through him, the others learn about the alien predators and how there’s a feud between different types of predators from different tribes . . . also shades of “Lost.”

After make-a-buck sequels failed to live up to their hype, this installment in the “Predators” franchise should please fans because it gets back to basics. Instead of extreme close-ups, quick-cuts, and spend-up footage used to mask what essentially isn’t much action, KNB EFX tried to stay faithful to the original look and movement of “Predator,” and the action looks as real as the aliens.

In the end, though, I realized that I missed the old governors and some of those sideplots that Chris thought unnecessary. I just couldn’t get past the initial premise and, having seen most of the films in this series, didn’t get enough to shock me. I pretty much knew what was coming, even though the characters didn’t. And maybe if Brody had facial hair, or at least a five o’clock shadow, I’d find it more believable that he was a mercenary soldier.

Boy, I never saw people scream as loud and as long as they did when the Ultimate Hunter Edition of the original “Predator” came out this past summer. Fox apparently listened to the anti-DNR people who cried that the film was too slick and glossy and that there wasn’t an ounce of original film grain that hadn’t been scrubbed out. “Predators” features a clear and pristine picture but with a noticeable thin layer of filmic grain that’s apparent in soft-focus backgrounds, especially. But just as atmospheric shots remind that it’s still a film, the close-ups make you remember that this is 1080p HD, and the AVC-MPEG-4 (28mbps) transfer seems to be a good one. Though this can be a dark and murky film, with many scenes shot at night, there’s still plenty of detail. And in the jungle light? Everything is paradise green, which makes for a nice contrast to the hellish goings on. “Predators” is presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratio, though lists the original ratio at 2.39:1. I’ll leave it to others to speculate why or whether it makes a difference.

The audio is a bass-rumbling English DTS-HD MA 5.1 that really fills the room with sound. It’s all action, and so the 5.1 channels work constantly. I have an active sub-woofer and it never powered off. Even ambient sounds of the jungle get picked up, and the dialogue is nicely prioritized. What’s more, the sound gap between the dialogue and action sequences isn’t so huge that you have to adjust the volume up or down as you watch.

In addition to the Digital Copy there’s a decent array of bonus features for fans, starting with the commentary track that featured Antal and Rodriguez. They cover all the usual bases and explain what they were trying to do with this film in relation to others in the franchise, and it’s clear that both men were proud of what they did–especially Rodriguez, who does most of the talking.

Rodriguez also presents “Motion Comics: Exclusive Prequel Vignettes,” two comics of roughly 10 minutes combined running time, one of which provides back stories for the characters and the other of which explains how a predator came to be hung like a trophy in their camp.

But the big bonus feature is “Evolution of the Species: Predators Reborn,” a 40-minute extra that delves into all aspects of pre-production, production, and post-production, including the usual combination of behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with cast and crew. There are six “chapters,” but thankfully there’s also the option to “play all.”

Fans of deleted scenes get nine of them, which run for a total of 11 minutes or so. And then there are three throwaways: a brief profile of the humans that overlaps the comic presentation which runs five minutes, a seven-minute Fox Movie Channel promo with clips, and the theatrical trailer. Other than that, there are just a handful of sneak peeks for other Fox films, none of which are upcoming theatrical releases.

Bottom Line:
If you don’t mind a script that feels a little too similar to the original, half the time, and you can buy into the casting, “Predators” is a solid action film that’s going to please. But for me, I couldn’t get past Brody as an action hero, and I didn’t jump from my seat once. I wanted at least that much from a film that spent so much money on bullets and blasters and bombs and bombast.