Editor’s Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on September 2, 2004, and we’re proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.


Alien vs. Predator has probably already faded from the memory of many people who saw it, but the original Predator lives on. Fox’s two-DVD special edition has been a long time coming in the U.S.—its documentary features are copyrighted 2001, and this package was issued in Britain the following year—and the timing of its release to coincide with AVP’s theatrical play can be seen as somewhat detrimental to the latter film. That combo sequel (which is previewed on the first disc) squanders its possibilities with a storyline that feels disappointingly thin, while the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger-starrer takes a basic plot that is equally simplistic and transforms it into an effectively primal survival-of-the-fittest thriller.

As the text commentary that runs throughout the feature on disc one points out, Predator differs from most modern action fare in that, once the story narrows down to Schwarzenegger’s “Dutch” Schaeffer and his titular alien opponent, there’s nothing at stake beyond whether Dutch himself will live or die. What gives the final act—and the film as a whole—its excitement and tension is the way director John McTiernan uses cinematic technique to complement the action rather than overwhelm it, and to create a plausible and coherent sense of the jungle environment. This was no easy task considering that the film was shot in two different locations—first in Puerto Vallarta and then, after a production shutdown, in Mexico.

That jungle looks a tad less lush than it might in Fox’s 1.85:1 transfer, though it would seem that McTiernan and cinematographer Donald McAlpine’s goal was to make it seem more foreboding than inviting. In any case, the colors overall are fine and the image largely free of flaws, with an especially pleasing look during Arnold’s nighttime battle with his extraterrestrial nemesis. Both DTS and 5.1 Surround audio tracks are included, with directional effects that help create the atmosphere of a dense, teeming forest where anything might be lurking in the trees over to one side, ready to leap out and attack.

McTiernan contributes an audio commentary recounting the production and all the problems he faced, and containing a good share of nicely candid moments. He dryly admits that, having never helmed a studio feature before, he hired the same lawyer as Schwarzenegger to help him land this job, and recalls that co-star Sonny Landham required a bodyguard—not to protect him, but to protect others from him and keep him out of trouble! As informative as his monologue is, some genre fans might be a little put off by the puritanical streak that occasionally comes through McTiernan’s talk. He says that he nixed a scripted climactic scene in which trophies are seen on a Predator ship for being “too yucky,” and in discussing his efforts to avoid making his gunfire scenes too alluring, he makes a gratuitous, specious reference to the connection between Hollywood violence and the Columbine High School massacre.

The text commentary, composed by Eric Lichtenfeld, strikes a solid balance between appreciative notes on the movie and quotes from a number of its contributors. The stunts and sound work are explored in depth, as is the development of the script by Jim and John Thomas and John F. Link and Mark Helfrich’s editing. (There’s an appreciated moment when, in pointing up the unemphatic nature of McTiernan’s style, Link takes a jab at the in-your-face approach of Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay.) Very little duplication occurs between this feature and McTiernan’s talk; the only time they literally intersect is when both discuss the problem of shooting “heat-vision” scenes in an environment where the outdoor temperature matched that of the actors’ bodies.

Disc two leads off with a solid half-hour documentary titled “If It Bleeds, We Can Kill It.” All the actors get their say here in interviews both old and new, though Jesse Ventura steals the show with his tough-guy attitude; there’s a particularly fun bit of one-upmanship when he and Schwarzenegger recall their “who’s got the bigger biceps” contest. (Ventura is also featured in an amusing Easter egg on this disc.) We get a look at the creation of the original Predator suit that was (understandably, based on what’s shown here) scrapped, with Stan Winston later hired to redesign the monster, though those we see putting that first outfit together are—perhaps mercifully—unidentified.

A group of “Inside the Predator” featurettes examine specific elements of the production, from the actors’ camouflage makeups to Ventura’s huge handheld Gatling gun; indeed, a segment devoted to defining the characters goes into more detail about their weapons than anything else. The best is a tribute to the towering late actor Kevin Peter Hall, who suited up as the Predator itself, complete with brief on-set comments from Hall. There’s also a still gallery, Predator design/weapons photos and a deleted scenes/outtakes section that doesn’t add up to much. The best bit that didn’t make it to the final feature is actually contained in a special-FX supplement: a shot (also referenced in the text commentary) in which a moth lands on a tree branch, then flits away—leaving its image behind on what proves to actually be the Predator’s camouflaged arm.

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