Shadow Of the Hawk, Now With More Nightwing (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Of course, ideally every movie we're interested in will have an loaded, 2-disc blu-ray special edition. But we don't live in that world. In our world, some pretty cool movies are only available on MOD (Made On Demand... official releases put out on invariably single-layer burned DVD-R discs). But hey, at least we have that! After all, plenty of stuff has never been released on any format at all. And so today's cool MOD is Shadow Of the Hawk, a highly entertaining made-for-television American Indian-themed horror film from 1976. It originally aired on ABC [or not, see the comments!], and is being bought to us now on disc by Sony and Columbia Pictures.

Update 7/9/15 - 10/27/18: We can forget all about MOD DVD-Rs now; it's out on blu!  And it even comes paired with the 70's vampire bat thriller Nightwing as a double-feature.  But can Mill Creek deliver the quality we've come to expect from the major and cult labels?
Shadow stars Jan Michael Vincent as a half-Indian; and if you can wrap your suspension of disbelief around that, you'll have no problem with the ghost and witch doctor stuff coming up. He lives in the city, but his medicine man grandfather (Chief Dan George) leaves his reservation to come find him, and just in time, because Vincent is getting violent visitations from an evil ghost in a white mask. Apparently an evil sorceress is using her powers to wipe out the two of them and all of their remaining people, and George is too weak to fight her on his own. So somehow a freelance reporter lady gets caught up in all of this, and the three of them set off on a road trip back to their village. Vincent has to learn to both accept and master his ancestral powers before the witch becomes too strong.
If you're looking for authentic lore that respects real Native American history and even teaches you a thing or two about another culture, forget it. This just feels like the writers wrote every spooky or wild Indian-themed supernatural concept they could come up with on note-cards, spilled them onto a table, and that was their script. Chief Dan George is the only true Native American involved in this film, but that's okay. This movie isn't trying to educate, just entertain, and that it does. There are genuinely effective ghost moments and campy magic attacks. There's a really impressive effect where a car crashes into an invisible wall, and a pretty fake looking snake that bursts into flames. Jan Michael Vincent wrestles a bear in this movie! Someone turns into a wolf (of course), a black ghost car chases our heroes (which tribe had those in their legends again?), and there's an evil snake dance ritual with lesbians making out... Yeah, this movie does have that made-for-TV feel at times, and that also restricts the amount of sex and blood they can play with, but if you can't find something to enjoy in this picture, you ain't lookin'!
Sony/ Columbia 2011 MOD DVD-R top; Mill Creek 2018 blu bottom.
The made-for-TV look is reduced considerably thanks to the fact that this film has been remastered in widescreen and looks great even on the DVD. It's a bit fuzzy and soft, but you're going to get that with the compressed MODs. Shadow was shot on 35mm, and for the first time ever (including, I'm sure, its original broadcast), looks the part. It's nice and anamorphic, with no interlacing issues or anything like that. The picture's in a much nicer state better than I ever expected to see it. They even slightly letterboxed it to 1.85, rather than leaving it at 1.78. Somebody involved cared. And the Dolby 2.0 audio is pretty clear and robust, too.

But things get even better this October with the new blu.  For those skeptical of Mill Creek, I'm happy to start out by reporting that this is a pressed, dual-layered disc and the audio is lossless (LPCM).  Of course, it's the same exact 1.85:1 master being used here, but that's just fine as it seems to be a genuinely high quality Sony scan, and it makes a genuine difference getting it in HD.  Instead of compression artifacts, we see real film grain.  And yes, small detail lost in the SD transfer are restored on the blu.  You might be worried about squeezing two films onto one disc, but again it's dual-layered, and there are no features (disappointing but expected) weighing it down.  So in the end, it's just a little over three hours on a 50 GB disc, which is better than plenty of single movie blus.
So like I said, and as is usually the case (though not always!) with MOD releases, there are no special features included with this film, not even a trailer.  And the same goes for the blu.  A trailer does exist - it was featured on one of Synapse's 42nd St. Forever compilations - but you don't get anything here.  At least Mill Creek's blu has a menu screen, which I guess is technically a step forward. And that's disappointing, because I'm sure there are some interesting stories to go along with this movie, from shooting all this wild stuff out on location to selling ABC on a Native American-themed horror film in the first place. And if you look Shadow up on the imdb, they list a second, uncredited director - I'd love to know what the deal is there.  Another label would've surely given us something, plus probably subtitles which are also MIA on both versions, but you can't argue with Mill Creek's pricing (less than half of what Sony wanted for their burned DVD!), especially since it comes with a whole, second feature.
Nightwing is a good choice for the double-bill, because both films have a lot in common.  It's a late 70s PG horror, which also used to only be available as a Sony DVD-R.  But more than that, it's another film about Native Americans dealing with mystical dark forces rooted loosely in their folklore.  And yes, we've got another white man in the lead role as the son of a powerful shaman, this time not even trying to play it off as "half Indian."  Nick Mancuso, star of the NBC series Stingray, is supposedly a full-blooded Native sheriff living on a reservation, which is also populated by a couple other white actors in the lead roles and authentic Native Americans in the older and supporting roles.  So they do kind of feel like sister movies.
And this one has a lot of strong points to draw you in.  Henry Mancini gives it a first class, stylish score, and the cast is rather interesting, with notables like David Warner and Modern Romance's Kathryn Harrold.  The acting is quite strong all around and they're delivering fairly respectable material, as the script is based on a novel by Martin Cruz Smith.  The locations and special effects are often quite good, though there are some very dated and even messy for the time composites thrown in the mix, too.  Really, the only major drawback is that it's so damn boring.  This is a movie I saw as a kid at least a dozen times on TV.  Because it's PG, they could play it in the afternoon.  And every time I'd revisit it, I'd think there have to be more bat attacks than I'd remembered.  But nope.  There's really just one midway through the film that really delivers the goods, and then the heroes deal with the bat horde at the end.  Otherwise, it's just an endless stream of exposition.
You've got two stories, basically, that wind up dovetailing at the end.  Mancuso's the reservation's sheriff who's shaman father, uncle or whatever has decided to end the world by casting one last spell.  And this spell is either just superstition or the cause of a rash of mysterious vampire bat attacks (most of which we don't see).  He battles with a big business owner on the reservation who wants to hush it all up so he can bring in some big business deals, a la the mayor in Jaws.  Then, on the other hand, you've got David Warner as a cross between Richard Dreyfuss' character in Jaws and Donald Pleasance's in Halloween.  He's devoted his life to hunting and killing vampire bats ("I kill them because they're the quintessence of evil!"), and followed them to this community.  So, basically, Warner represents the scientific explanation, and Mancuso represents the spiritual, with Harrold kinda floating in the middle.  Hope you find this talk fascinating, because that's what you get in lieu of bat action.  But then again, I have to say, the brief bat moments they have made a pretty big impression on me as a kid that were just as I remembered them with this recent rewatch as an adult.  The thrills are effective, there's just so damned few of them, and the movie isn't that short.
Mill Creek 2018 blu-ray.
Once again, it's another great scan, very filmic.  Grain is natural and crisp in HD, and it's a trip seeing this in widescreen (slightly matted to 1.85:1) after having grown up with terrible fullscreen television broadcasts.  The cinematography's a little on the flat side, but the landscapes definitely benefit from the proper composition.  Even the dark night skies look great.  No blocks, the colors look natural and authentic.  The audio is another lossless LPCM stereo track, and again there are no subtitles or features of any kind.  You just pick the movie you want to watch on the menu screen and off you go.
This is definitely the version to own for both films.  Of course, that's obvious given this is each film's debut in HD.  But this is more than just a bare minimum incremental upgrade, this is a surprisingly high quality release, to a downright surprising degree for a budget disc.  Certainly some "frills" would have been nice, like subtitles and special features.  We can only imagine what the Scream Factory treatment would've looked like here.  But if you're in it for "just the movie," this is a pleasant surprise.

Bad Ronald As You've Never Seen Him Before (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

I've been planning to tackle the central and most infamous in the rather demented trilogy of psychological horror films of the underrated young actor Scott Jacoby for a while now.  But when Warner Archives announced their intention to reissue the film on blu, I decided to wait.  And boy am I glad I did, because this new version, released just in time for the Halloween film, opens up a whole new chapter in Bad Ronald's life.
For those who don't know, which is surely most of the film-going world, the trilogy starts with Rivals and ends with The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane.  Of course, these aren't Jacoby's only forays into the horror genre - he's pretty good in the To Die For movies - but these three are joined together by a common theme of taboo-twisting murder.  They'd actually be more aptly described as dark cult films rather than horror.  And what makes Bad Ronald all the more infamous is that it was filmed and released as a made for network TV movie of the week.  What a weird thing to throw in front of mainstream viewers, but hey, it was the 70s; filmmakers were bold back then.
Bad Ronald's actually based on a book, of the same title, written by Jack Vance, which is even darker.  It tells the story of a boy who accidentally (purposefully in the novel) kills a young neighborhood girl, so his mother keeps him hidden when the police come for him.  She builds a secret room for him so he can live at home without anyone finding out, and it's just the two of them for years until one day she goes out and never comes home again.  So he lives alone, inventing a fantasy world he calls Atranta, and hiding from reality in a home everyone comes to believe is abandoned.  Until one day the property is sold and a new family moves in, replete with three young daughters, none of whom have any idea that they're surrounded by concealed doorways, tunnels, peep holes and a very lonely, homicidal occupant.
If you're looking for high production values, thrilling set pieces or glossy gore, this isn't the film for you.  There are at least as many horror aficionados baffled by the appeal of this film as enamored with it.  For one thing, this is an old TV movie, which means no R-rated sequences or bad language and a boxy, fullscreen aesthetic.  And as great as Dabney Coleman always is, he and much of the rest of the supporting cast feel out of place here, like they've accidentally wandered off their sitcom set for the day.  But on the other hand, casting couldn't get much more perfect than Jacoby and Kim Hunter as his mother.  And the girls do have a bit of classic Texas Chainsaw Massacre victim vibe to them.  Just know that this isn't about being suspenseful and scary so much as creepy and unsettling.

By the way, apparently this film was remade about twenty years later in France under the title Méchant Garçon.  As far as I know, that film's never even been translated into English; but I'd sure love to see it some day.
Anyway, unsurprisingly, this film was unavailable on home video for a long time.  It was the just the kind of neglected, off-beat flick fans traded memories and VHS bootlegs of on news boards and conventions.  So it was a very welcome surprise when Warner Archives included it in their series of MOD DVDs in 2009.  It was completely no frills, of course (just look at their zero effort DVD menu, pictured right!); but just to have an official copy was a major win for fans.  But now, presumably in recognition of Bad Ronald's immortal cult status, Warners have taken another stab at it, this time in HD, and oh man, they really got it right!
2009 US Warner Bros DVD top; 2018 US Warner Bros blu-ray bottom.
Warner's DVD was clearly taken from an old tape master; though admittedly, it's not like it would've looked much better when it first aired in '74.  But clearly, for the blu, they were able to locate some original film elements and give them an entirely fresh scan.  Where to even begin?  The DVD is dreadfully interlaced.  We're not even talking intermittent frames like most interlaced DVDs we come across... every single frame is interlaced.  Thankfully, that's completely fixed.  And the drained, sapped colors have been fully restored and brought back to full vibrancy.  The weird aspect ratio of 1.28:1 has been corrected, too, to 1.33:1, adding picture to the sides and especially the previously cramped bottom, which had been giving the DVD an odd, misframed look to it.  There's still some headroom on the blu, suggesting perhaps that the filmmakers were keeping the possibility of a widescreen transfer open, but now we've finally got a correct 1.33:1.  Film grain is soft and hard to discern, but it's a real HD image, and compared to what we had before, practically a whole new movie.
The DVD's audio was surprisingly clear given the picture, but the blu still improves things by restoring the original mono tracks in lossless 2.0 DTS-HD.  Neither edition has any special features at all (there wouldn't have even been a theatrical trailer, after all), but you can still see the extra care put into this release.  I mean, they actually bothered to make a menu this time, and chapter stops are thoughtfully placed at key scenes and commercial break fade-outs rather than arbitrary ten minute increments.  Even better, they've created English SDH subtitles, another feature the DVD sorely lacked.
I wasn't expecting much from this release... I figured I'd be getting the same old video transfer just without the SD compression.  And I only bothered because crazy little film has such cut out its only little niche in my heart.  So I was delighted to pop it in and discover Warners had done this total restoration job on it.  So if you had similar thoughts, like why bother replacing a barebones DVD with a barebones blu-ray, well, now you see why.  This one gets a huge DVDExotica stamp of approval!

The Total Creepshow Experience Just Got Totaller (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Creepshow has always been released barebones in the USA. But in the UK, it had a sweet 2-disc DVD special edition. When it was time for blu-ray, Creepshow stayed barebones in the US, but the UK blu got even more extras! But finally, the director of the Creepshow documentary Just Desserts from the UK releases, Redshirt's Michael Felshner, put together an indiegogo campaign to release just his doc in the USA, even if it had to be by itself, as opposed to paired with Warner Bros' Creepshow discs. Well, that happened, and Synapse picked it up, including a bunch more special features. Just what's carried over from one special edition to another - and what isn't - can be a little confusing, so let's break it all down.

Update 10/14/18: And suddenly there's a lot more to the Creepshow story!  Scream Factory has restored the film in 4k from the original camera negative, and they've issued it in a fancy new special edition, with even more all new special features.  Has it rendered every other release obsolete?
First of all, Creepshow is a blast. It's one of those movies I loved as a kid and still get just as much out of today. You know, usually movies fall on one side of that line or the other, but this is one of those treats that fills both spaces. It's an anthology film directed by George Romero, written by (and co-starring) Stephen King, based on the old E.C. horror comics of the 1950s. That's already some top of the line talent, bolstered by the fact that they have a respectable (for a horror movie) budget and a big studio behind them. But then add to that the effects-work of Tom Savini and a terrific all-star cast, all delightfully shot and dramatically framed over-the-top, capturing the style of the original comic books perhaps better than any other, with the possible exceptions of much later entries like Sin City or Ang Lee's The Hulk. But unlike The Hulk, this doesn't suck, so it's really the best of both worlds.  ;)
Every story is great. You have a wrap-around segment where a young boy is forbidden to read his trashy comic books by his father, Tom Atkins. But he reads anyway, and each story is is one of our anthology's segments, starting with Father's Day, starring Ed Harris. He marries into a wealthy family who owe all their spoils to their deceased patriarch, but their lack of respect has him not just rolling in his grave, but crawling up out of it. Next, King himself stars as an over-the-top hillbilly hick who thinks his luck has turned when a meteorite lands in his backyard, but we all know things can't go as well as he hopes. Next, Leslie Neilsen exacts some morbidly fatal revenge on his wife and the man she cheats on him with (Ted Danson), but it winds up backfiring on him. And speaking of murderous solutions to marital problems, Hal Holbrook thinks he may have figured out a way to finally rid himself of his delightfully shrewish wife, Adrienne Barbeau, when he finds a mysterious crate in the basement of his university. And finally E.G. Marshall is a rich man who takes germophobia to new extremes in his futuristically designed penthouse apartment, but unfortunately for him, nature always finds a way.
Creepshow was originally released on DVD in 1999. I unfortunately sold it off long ago, so I don't have it for today's comparison, but it at least an anamorphic widescreen presentation. I got rid of it, though, because in 2007 Second Sight put out their loaded 2007 special edition 2-disc DVD set, which I do still have and am including here. Back in the USA, Warner Bros gave this film its HD debut with their 2009 blu-ray, but it was barebones.  Eventually in 2013, Second Sight gave us the best of both worlds: special edition blu-ray. At the time, it was the champ.  But now in 2018, Scream Factory (and Warner Bros) has raised the stakes, with an all new 4k restoration from the original camera negative.
2007 Second Sight DVD on first; 2009 Warner Bros blu second;
2013 Second Sight blu third; 2018 Scream Factory blu fourth.
So, by and large, it's the same root transfer on the DVD bumped up to HD on the original blus. It's got the same occasional flecks and dirt (look at the white speck at the top left of all three Halbrook shots), roughly the same colors etc. I say roughly, because the DVD's a teensy bit darker, but only so's you'd notice in a direct comparison like this. One more notable difference, however, is the framing. Second Sight matted it to 1.85:1 on the DVD, but Warner Bros left it open to 1.78:1 on the blu-ray, and so did they. Apart from that, though, they're pretty similar. What was a great looking DVD becomes an okay looking blu. It is a bit cleaner and more clear without the DVD compression, but it's still soft and generally feels like the older master that it is. A mild upgrade from the already pretty strong DVD.

But now the new blu!  First, to start off, the proper 1.85:1 aspect ratio is back.  And that white speck in the Halbrook shot is gone, along with plenty of others like it (though I did still catch a few specks).  The film's a bit darker, with more naturalistic colors, except in key shots where the impressionistic, comic book-influenced coloring comes in, and it actually goes a bit further in that direction.  Detail is improved and grain is definitely more distinct and natural by a wide margin.  The older blus didn't have any problems per se, crying out for correction; they're just older.  And Scream's edition brings Creepshow to the higher standards of quality on par with today's tech.

The DVD gave us a choice between a 5.1 remix or the original Dolby 2.0 stereo track, plus English subtitles. The Second Sight blu gives us the same audio options, but bumps them up to DTS-HD and LPCM respectively. However, unfortunately, this time around they neglected the subs.  On the other hand, Warner Bros remembered the subtitles (and French ones as well), but left off the 5.1 option, leaving us with just the TrueHD stereo 2.0.  So between the two older blus, it's a bit of a trade-off, which is a pity, because Second Sight had set itself up to be the otherwise superior release, and they already had a subtitle track on their DVD.  And Scream?  Well, it claims "DTS-HD Master Audio Mono" on the back of the case, but that's incorrect.  Instead they offer us the choice of a 5.1 Surround mix or the 2.0 Stereo track, both in DTS-HD.  And yes, it has English subtitles.
And by definitive, I mean look at these special features!  Now, like I said, the US Warner Bros release is barebones except for the trailer and a lame ad for Warner Bros releases in general.  So just forget about that and let's start with the DVD, which provides all the key staples. First, there's a very cool audio commentary by Romero and Savini, who provide a lot of great backstory to this film. But topping that is the feature length documentary Just Desserts, making its debut here. This is a great, very upbeat retrospective which talks to all the key players. It's very well made, in Red Shirt's usual, top notch fashion. And besides those two key features, there's also fifteen minutes of deleted scenes, a featurette compiling almost half an hour of Tom Savini's behind-the-scenes footage, the trailer and a stills gallery. The DVD also came in a cool slip-sleeve box.

Again, the US blu-ray didn't pick up any of that and remained barebones. Well, except for the trailer. But Second Sight's blu-ray carried over everything from their excellent DVD set, right down to the stills gallery, even bumping Just Desserts up to HD. Then, they added an all new audio commentary. This one, isn't really a proper audio commentary, though. It's more a collection of audio interviews that are laid over the film, but not commenting directly on it. They talk to director of photography Michael Gornick, actor John Amplas (the father in Father's Day), property master Bruce Alan Miller, make-up effects assistant Darryl Ferrucci and Bernie Wrightson, the artist who did the poster and the awesome oversized Creepshow comic book that my best friend and I used to borrow from the library like every other week for years.  Plus, they added an additional vintage TV spot.

And then we come to Synapse's brand new blu-ray release of just Just Desserts.
2007 Second Sight DVD on top; 2013 Second Sight blu-ray middle; Synapse's 2016 blu-ray bottom.
So, not much has changed apart from what you'd expect. The DVD looks a little more compressed, naturally, being in standard def. All three are framed at 1.78:1, but the 2013 blu-ray looks a little bit lighter than the other two, and the DVD is a little heavier saturated. I think I like Synapse's middle-of-the-road look the best. But oh no, wait - there is a big difference here: the whole lower third label is missing from the DVD shot! Well, watching the doc through, that label is on the DVD version, too; it just fades out a little earlier. So I guess they did a little tinkering with the edit for the blu-ray reissue? I didn't notice any substantial changes between the two versions, though, but there might be more subtle alterations and flourishes for the particularly curious to discover.
So, you might think getting Just Desserts is great for the Region A locked who've been stuck with entirely featureless Creepshow releases, and it is. But Synapse has packed their release with additional features which might just tempt owners of the Second Sight special editions. First, though, let me cover the other stuff they included from the Second Sight blu, because they did do some of that. You remember that collection of Savini's behind-the-scenes footage I mentioned before? That's been ported over to here, as has the not-quite-an-audio commentary with Gornick, Amplas, Miller, Ferrucci and Wrightson, which now plays as a commentary over the documentary (again, they're not commenting on anything in particular, so it's the same difference). They also carried over the stills gallery.
Scream Greats: Volume One
But Syanpse's blu also has a bunch of new stuff. There's an audio commentary (for the documentary, not Creepshow) by Felsher, an on-camera interview with Michael Gornick (which is actually the same interview heard on that second audio commentary, except slightly re-edited and now we get to see him), extended interview clips from the doc with Romero, Savini and Wrightson (the last of which, like the Gornick interview, is the same as on the audio commentary). There's also a Creepshow episode of Horror's Hallowed Grounds (these are always a blast), and a vintage segment of the Pittsburgh public access show Evening Magazine that interviews Romero and shows some behind-the-scenes footage of the filming of the movie. Finally, but perhaps most excitingly, is Fangoria's old Scream Greats: Volume One documentary that they released on VHS way back in the day, interviewing Tom Savini in his studio. It's presented here, along with its own audio commentary track by Savini. I imagine some fans will find this release worth the purchase price for this alone.

Also, if you supported the indiegogo campaign, you got an exclusive booklet and poster.  Good on ya.
The original cell animations.
And what about Scream Factory's new blu?  They have an interesting mix of new features and older stuff they carried over.  So let's start with the old.  The two commentaries, deleted scenes, trailers, galleries and half hour of Savini footage from the UK blu-ray are here.  In other words, everything except the Just Desserts doc.  And the Horror's Hallowed Grounds from the Synapse Just Desserts disc is here.

So the new stuff?  It's mostly also by Red Shirt Pictures, and basically feels like a collection of every other little thing they missed with their Synapse disc.  There are great new interviews with the costume designer Barbara Anderson and animator Rick Catizone.  There's a round-table discussion with Felshner, Amplas, Atkins, Savini and Marty Schiff which manages to cough up a few anecdotes which I don't think were in the previous extras.  And there's a couple interviews where it really begins to feel like they're stretching it, including one with a guy who collects Creepshow props, and another with two guys who commission new posters for older films, including Creepshow, though none of them compared to the classic original posters.  There's also two new audio commentaries.  One by Michael Gornick, which was good but repeated stuff from some of his other interviews, and another with composer/ assistant director John Harrison and construction coordinator Ed Fountain, which was fairly low energy and frankly boring.  More interesting for me, though possibly not for more casual viewers just interested in the film rather than the technical stuff, were new interviews with Gornick and sound designer Chris Jenkins, who talked about the finer points of the new 4k restoration.  However, fair warning: purists may wince at some of the changes Gornick made that border on the revisionist.

Scream Factory's disc comes in a thick hardbox, with reversible artwork for the inner case, and a glossy, 40 page book by Michael Gingold.  Also, if you pre-ordered early enough, you got a limited edition poster and lithograph.
So, together, Scream's disc and Synapse's Just Desserts disc nets you everything.  If you have those, there's nothing left exclusive on the Second Sight blu, or any of the other past releases.  If you don't have Just Desserts, though, Scream's disc feels a little bit off in terms of extras.  Like you've got a lot of odds and ends, but they never talk to the major cast members or anything.  I feel like Felshner specifically designed this set of extras to work as a companion piece, in conjunction with the Synapse blu, rather than something meant to stand alone.  And that's fine if you're happy to get both, but could be a little annoying to fans who think just shelling out the hefty price for Scream's Collector's Edition should be pretty definitive on its own, and feel stuck watching a couple of hipsters showing off their drawings instead of Adrienne Barbeau and Ed Harris.  In the end it's certainly worth it, though, with a smashing new transfer of the film and - again, if you get both releases - an incredibly comprehensive and enjoyable set of features documenting what's still one of the most fun horror movies going.

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."

Update 10/11/18 - 11/1/18: As was pointed out in the comments below, the difference between the main two Predator blu-ray releases come down to more than just the special features and language options.  There's a distinct difference in PQ.  Crazily, the 2010 blu actually got worse.  So I decided to stop being lazy and actually throw a copy of the 2008 blu into the comparisons.
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.  And that later 2010 edition actually features a distinctly worse 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 US Fox blu-ray;
3) 2010/ 2018 US Fox blu-ray; 4) 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, frustratingly worse than the previous blu-ray edition, which looks to be the same master but with film grain still retained!  So the special edition was a distinct step backwards.  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 blus bump those up to lossless 5.1 DTS-HD and Dolby Digital 4.0, though the foreign language options differ between them.  The 2008 blu has French and Spanish dubs with English, Chinese, Spanish and Korean subs, while the 2010 blu has all of those plus with Dutch, Italian, Portuguese and Castilian dubs and Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Castilian and Swedish subs (but losing the Chinese and Korean ones).  Whew.  Then the UHD carries over basically all the same audio (no new fancy Atmos track or anything) and language options as the 2010 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.  Admittedly, I suppose, the 2008 blu isn't so terrible if you're willing to live with a completely barebones edition.  But this is the first real upgrade that manages to improve one thing without screwing up another.  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 issues with 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.