Controversial Blus: Predator, With and Without Grain (DVD/ Blu-ray/ UHD Comparison)

You know it was only a matter of time before I covered Predator on here, considering it's one of, if not the very most, infamous blu-rays in the history of the medium, regarding botched transfers.  Happily, however, I may have waited long enough to be able to report happier news of Fox finally fixing this fiasco.  Thanks to the latest sequel (itself a huge, dumb mess; but thanks possibly to the return of Fred Dekker, it at least has it moments, which is more than I could say for the previous two or three), there's a host of new releases of the Predator films out there on store shelves.  So unless Fox has really double-down on there mistakes, we should finally have our true "ultimate Predator."
If you're not already familiar with 1987's Predator, then uh, I'm surprised you found your way to this site, but welcome.  I mean, if this early summer blockbuster vehicle didn't embed itself deeply enough into American culture in its own right, then certainly the endless series of sequels, reboots, comic books, toys and video games should have secured its status as perfectly indelible.  But a question more of you might genuinely have is: does it hold up to your childhood memories of the super bad-ass sci-fi/ horror/ action hybrid that once rocked all of our worlds?
And I'd say the answer to that is, well, mostly.  When it kicks in, the atmosphere mostly holds up, but it does sink a bit deep into the cheese at times.  And fans will rightly argue that the over-the-top machismo is meant to be exaggerated, a commentary on both the foibles of that part of ourselves and the popular films of its day.  But I don't imagine the eye-rolling one-liners, like pushing into a quick close-up of Schwarzenegger quipping "stick around" after throwing his oversized knife into an enemy soldier, is meant to steer that far into what feels like Saturday Night Live parody today.  And the celebrity of a couple of its stars, wouldn't have been so distracting at that stage in their careers as it is now.  Like, I remember Jesse Ventura striking me as just a big, intimidating dude, not a cartoonish pop culture icon. And sure, while 90% percent of the special effects still look ideal, there are a few patchy rubbery predator fingers and chintzy cloaking opticals.
But it still draws you in.  And I have to say, seeing it in its latest iteration really makes a difference in grounding it in its original, dark side.  Because the HD transfer we've been living with for over a decade really lets the film down.  Most of you guys are probably familiar and way ahead of where I'm going with this, but the original blu-ray, released in early 2008, and all subsequent releases prior to this year, are drenched in DNR.  That's Digital Noise Reduction - software designed to scrub grain and noise from an image - and I there's been debate over how much, if any, is acceptable.  I'd tend to say none at all; it's revisionist, but admittedly very mild amounts and subtle usage aren't too destructive.  And unfortunately, many casual viewers have a visceral negative reaction to film grain like they do to "black bars" on letterboxed film.  But no matter where you stand on whether a little or how much is okay; I think just about everybody can agree, Fox went way too far.  The HD print they released everywhere (not just the blus, but streaming, etc) looks like somebody set an "Oil Painting" filter over their Instagram photos.

And thank goodness, Fox has done away with that disaster for their new 4k Ultra HD release.  Grain is back in full effect; the film is literally gritty again, and that really does affect the entire mood of the picture.  And now, if you're like me, your next question is whether the blu-ray included in the combo-pack has the new scan or the old DNR version, and nope, it's the same old disc.  That's good for me, though, because I always held onto my 2004 special edition DVD (itself an upgrade over the original, non-anamorphic 1999 DVD) when I saw reviews of the messed up blu.  But I was about to go back and buy an old blu if I had to just for the sake of this article.  But nope, I got it right here in my new 2018 set.  It's the same old transfer because it's exactly the same old 2010 disc.  Yes, 2010, because technically there are two Fox blu-rays, a barebones 2008 edition and the special "Ultimate Hunter" edition, which had the special features.  But they both feature the same waxy transfer.  Anyway, that's bad news for fans who can't play 4k discs; there's no upgraded 1080p blu-ray for them.  But before I go any further, let's see what we're talking about.
1) 2004 US Fox DVD; 2) 2008/ 2018 US Fox blu; 3) 2018 US Fox UHD.
Other reviews love using the scene with that red shirt, and I couldn't help it either.  It really stands out like an oddly smooth, neon swath on the DNR's transfer.  But as you can see in the second set of shots, of course, the problem plagues every single frame of this film.  Yes, the colors pop more (even a bit too bright, if you ask me) and it's at least free of the messy compression of the DVD, but click through and look at those shots fullscreen if you're not convinced.  It's a disaster!  Honestly, the DVD was better.  This new UHD is darker, which is probably more accurate and definitely fits the tone of the film and much grainier.  Like, even compared to other non-DNR'd films of its day, it's pretty grainy.  Otherwise, not a whole lot has changed... the 1.84:1 framing of the DVD (which is also ever so slightly horizontally stretched) shifts just a smidgen to a more correct (and un-stretched) 1.85:1 on the blu and UHD.  The DVD was basically missing a sliver on the right-hand side that would've been lost to the overscan area anyway back in its time, but that's restored on both HD versions.  There's just a nearly infinitesimal vertical shift between the blu and UHD's framing, like a few pixels high.  And of course, the UHD naturally benefits from the extra resolution.  Even with all its edges smoothed away, the blu breaks down into blocks when you upconvert it to the size of the more natural 4k.  But the key, ultra-important distinction is the restoration of the natural film grain and the fine detail along with it.

So, the original DVD gave you the fairly similar options of either 5.1 DTS or 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks, plus French and Spanish dubs and English and Spanish subs.  The blu bumps those up to lossless 5.1 DTS-HD and Dolby Digital 4.0, with Dutch, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Castilian dubs and English, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Castilian and Swedish subs.  Whew.  Then the UHD carries over basically all the same audio (no new fancy Atmos track or anything) and language options as the blu, except it also adds Japanese dubs and subtitles.
In terms of special features, things are pretty straight forward.  The 2004 DVD was actually a 2-disc set packed full of some really good stuff.  Director John McTiernan does an audio commentary, and there's a solid half hour 'making of' doc that talks to just about all the major players.  Then there's a bunch of featurettes, like eight, mostly featuring on stuff like the effects and predator design.  There's four deleted scenes and outtakes, a photo gallery, some bonus trailers, and a collection of four, fun easter eggs of additional interview clips.

And that's pretty much the definitive special features package that's lived with the film ever since.  The 2008 blu-ray was had nothing but the trailer, but the 2010 one had everything, even the easter eggs, which are now just listed openly on the menu.  It also added one new featurette, which is more a promo for the latest sequel at the time, Predators, interviewing its director and some other crew members.  They do talk at first about the original Predator, but surprise surprise, they wind up turning that into how excited they are for their follow-up.  Hey, I'll take it.  And it also has the trailer, oddly absent from the DVD, plus trailers for two of the sequels.

What's new for the 4k?  Nothin'.  The 4k disc itself just has the commentary; but because the 2010 blu is in the package, you get the full collection of oldies.  Something new would've been fun, but then there's not much that feels lacking.  We don't need it to turn into one of those discs where the same people are interviewed and re-interviewed, saying the same things each time, so alright.  It also comes in a cool slipcover.
So yeah, this is a very satisfying release on its own terms.  And due to the fact that the original blu-rays are so borked, it's downright essential.  This is the first real upgrade since the DVD and the first worthwhile HD presentation.  And it's a really appealing transfer.  It would be somewhat recommended, depending how big a fan you were of the film, on its own terms.  But given the quality of the previous blu-rays, it's a must upgrade.  Though, if you've never seen it, it's kind of fun that they give you the waxy DNR version, too, just for the novelty.

No comments:

Post a Comment