Tag Archives: Horror

“Predator” on Blu-Ray – Hi-Def Halloween Horror

If it’s reference quality video you want…look elsewhere?

It’s a fact little disputed amongst serious scholars of bone-crunching, gore-spattered, pectoral-pumping, 1980’s cinema that John McTiernan‘s action/sci-fi/horror mash-up “Predator” is a pivotal movie of the decade and ranks as some of iconic star Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s best on-screen work.

Shorn of many of the reactionary politics which accompanied many action-thrillers of the decade and focussing instead on creating one of the best variations on “The Most Dangerous Game” that we’ve seen on-screen, “Predator” doesn’t waste a second of its 107 minute running time and lives longer in the memory because of it – it would take a real bonehead to mess up this premise and the taut script by Jim and John Thomas thankfully provides director McTiernan with an opportunity to stage tense, violent and genuinely thrilling set-pieces which still resonate 25 years later.

25 years since this film opened?  Oy vey.

The set-up is simplicity itself – an elite team of covert military extraction specialists led by Major Dutch Schaefer (Alan Alda…Schwarzenegger) take on the job of entering a South American conflict zone to retrieve lost government personnel and instead find themselves on the wrong end of a terrifying big game hunt waged by an alien big game hunter whose dental bills must be crippling.

METAL!

It’s to the Thomas’ credit that they find ways to subvert expectations and misdirect the audience until the runaway train of the main plot kicks in and never lets up for the remainder of the running time.  Sparing as it is, there is at least some attempt to lend Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers and the various tree-trunk necked cast passing character development amidst the shoot-outs, last-gasp escapes and deliriously homoerotic bro-bonding elsewhere in the film.

Things that McTiernan’s direction gets abundantly right are demonstrated by the action sequences – each one is shot in what would come to be recognized as the director’s signature style, which marries frenetic bouts of mayhem with always easy to understand spatial staging and razor-sharp editing.  The tension is always palpable and the gore is done with something approaching restraint – limbs are lopped, unfortunate soldiers are skinned and somehow none of it seems aggressively horrible or leeringly adolescent.

“Take that, nature!”

What’s honestly pleasing about this film is the way that it gets to have its cake and consume it greedily – whilst we get to enjoy early scenes of Dutch and crew laying waste to all comers with an array of absurdly fetishized military hardware (culminating in the scene captured above), it rapidly becomes clear that all of the mini-guns, grenade launcher attachments and over-developed biceps in the world are precisely no use whatsoever against the alien protagonist of the title when it starts hunting them in earnest.  There is always, as Uncle George Lucas would later remind us in Star Wars: Episode One – The Phantom Menace“, a bigger fish.

The mano-a-alien showdown at the end still thrills, wisely devoting a significant amount of on-screen time to beating the living crap out of the otherwise impervious Austrian Oak and making the certainty of his ultimate triumph rather more of a contest than it had been to this point – it’s also fun to see Dutch’s character pushed to rely less on his undisputed muscles and more on his adaptive, intellectual abilities to best the universe’s premier big-game hunter, deploying a valley’s worth of improvised traps and tricks to slow down old crab-face before the two can finally face each other down.

You can see why the sequels, spin-offs and remakes resulted from this utterly enjoyable original flick – but it’s telling that few of them (arguably Nimrod Antal‘s “Predators” being the best) have ever approached the seamless blend of horror beats, action gags and sci-fi coolness that McTiernan’s film has to spare.

The Blu-Ray, by the way, is fine – save for some utterly misguided digital makeover techniques being applied to the print, which result in all the cast’s craggy faces being uniformly de-lined and as feature-free as a Vogue cover model – and has much to recommend it.  If you can get past the layer of virtual polyfilla being applied to the actors, the picture itself is fine if devoid of the kind of film grain which you would expect to see in a film of this vintage.

The sound mix is pretty good – guns boom, explosions shake your subwoofer and Alan Silvestri‘s magnificent score jockey for aural position betwixt your speakers and don’t step on each other’s shoes too often.   Extras are reasonably generous – there’s a making-of, some deleted scenes and trailers, a McTiernan commentary and a text commentary by a film historian (it’s a living, I guess…).

If you’ve ever thought about buying the movie, this is fairly definitive stuff and it looks and sounds as good as it ever will, shy of what a hypothetical director-supervised edition for the thirtieth anniversary edition might offer up.  Not one for purists, but certainly a disc that fans should enjoy.

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A literary update…

As detailed in previous posts, I have been devoting much of my leisure time to reading of late – games and films have taken a back seat (although I did play through the “Mass Effect 3” demo on 360 and loved it).

To bring you entirely up to date, this week I have somehow found time to read…

“Triumff – Her Majesty’s Hero” by Dan Abnett (Angry Robot books), “Nekropolis” by Tim Waggoner (Angry Robot) and “Changeless” by Gail Carriger (Orbit books).

Triumff - a swiss army knife of a book...

“Triumff” is best described as a ‘Blackadder’-like, alternate history swashbuckler with the titular hero inadvertently and grudgingly fighting a conspiracy to kill the Queen in a Britain where the Empire never quite ended, magic is very real and puns are as lethal as a good blade.

Dan Abnett knows swashbuckling and is – I would argue – without peer when it comes to large-scale action sequences.  He’s also genuinely funny and possessed of a gift for the pun which staggers the mind and emboldens the heart.  This is a great romp – in the very best sense of the word – and is highly recommended to you if you enjoy adventure, invention (there’s a prodigious hit rate of ideas and some very cool world building in this novel), comedy and character.

My limbs are falling off - your argument is invalid.

Tim Waggoner’s “Nekropolis” is the first in his series of supernatural detective novels featuring former human cop and reluctant zombie P.I., Matt Richter.

This is a book where the cover directed me to take a punt with it and I’m glad that I did – this is a really enjoyable tale of mystery, murder, drugs and mayhem in a world of the dead so off-kilter and matter-of-factly strange that it makes Tim Burton’s films look like an episode of “EastEnders”.

Richter inhabits the titular city of Nekropolis, where the dead, the undead, the uncanny and the archetypal creatures of the horror genre exist in an uneasy détente – everybody wants to rule the place, be it vampires, werewolves, ghosts or the otherwise living-impaired, but no one creature can gain full control.

If you like your horror fiction scary but not gross, your detective hard-boiled but essentially decent with it and your romantic lead to be steadily decomposing, you should think about giving this book a try.

If you have engineer's goggles, prepare to don them...

Finally this week, I read Gail Carriger‘s second instalment of her ‘Parasol Protectorate‘ series, “Changeless”.

When talking about the first novel in the series, “Soulless”, I did raise some minor misgivings that I had regarding the contemporary idioms used in the book, which I felt took me out of the otherwise delightful world that Ms Carriger has created.  Those issues still remain in the second book – would it kill the editors of the UK edition to replace the word ‘stoop’ with the word ‘step’ when a scene depicts somebody waiting outside a house? – but I was able to put them firmly to one side and concentrate on enjoying the second steampunk romantic adventure for Alexia Tarrabotti, the now Lady Maccon and erstwhile preternatural at large for Queen Victoria.

Some reviews of this book took issue with storytelling decisions which separate characters for large sections of the narrative and with an ending which left me feeling oddly bereft and exclaiming to the delightful Mrs Rolling Eyeballs “You can’t end a book like that!  That’s like the climax of  “The Empire Strikes Back”, that is!”.

I know why people feel like that – by this point, you don’t want anything too terrible to happen to Alexia, Ivy, Lord Maccon and the cast – but I feel that the decisions that Carriger made with her second novel were very much for the best and ultimately made it a far more compelling tale than the first book was.

Partly this could be because a large part of the action is set in Scotland, which I love dearly.  Partly it could be due to the fact that the steampunk elements in this book are really well-balanced and cleverly integrated into the story – there are gadgets and stylistic inclusions which add to the sense of the world being drawn before you and don’t detract from the story moving along.

And move along it does – this is a book which is pacy but never breathless and leaves you absolutely needing to start the next book in the series as soon as you put “Changeless” down.  I venture that for some folks this will absolutely be a ‘one-sitting’ read and no higher recommendation can I give it than that.

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