Ol’ Painless Is Waitin’ – Predator (1987) 4K Ultra HD

Having subjected myself to one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s very worst movies, the only sensible course of action would be to revisit one of his very best. Although greeted with mixed reviews upon release, Predator was a sizable box office hit in the summer of 1987 and has grown substantially in critical appreciation over the years. These days, it’s regarded as one of the best action movies of the 1980s, if not of all time – a reputation that is entirely well-earned.

Like all too many successful action flicks, however, Predator has also spawned a number of sequels and spin-offs, none of which has quite lived up to it. Remarkably, in this case, not even the miserable failures of the worst of them has ever tainted the original. Even if some of its follow-ups may have their charms (others much less so), Predator probably never needed to be franchised. It continues to work just as well as a standalone film and remains the rare sort of movie that can hold up to innumerable repeat viewings without ever wearing out its welcome.

Predator (1987) - Mega testosterone!
Year of Release: 1987
Director: John McTiernan
Watched On: 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Also Available On: HBO Max
Various VOD rental and purchase platforms

I’ll be honest here; I doubt I have any particular insight into Predator that hasn’t been written about endlessly by other fans over the years, or that isn’t evident just by watching it. The film takes a lean, efficient B-movie premise and elevates it significantly through the masterful direction by John McTiernan, making only his second feature after the schlocky, low-budget Nomads (1986). That McTiernan could go from something like that to this, then to Die Hard (1988) and The Hunt for Red October (1990) over the course of barely four years, skyrocketing to the top of Hollywood’s A-List as one of the greatest living action movie directors, is one of the most remarkable career ascensions in modern filmmaking history. Sadly, his fall from grace and eventual exile from the industry would be just as dramatic.

As anyone reading this is certainly aware, Schwarzenegger stars as Dutch, the leader of a team of elite military badasses sent deep into the jungles of South America on what they’re told is a mission to rescue a kidnapped diplomat from local guerilla forces. Once in the thick of the op, they discover that it’s much stranger and more complicated than they were led to believe. These highly-skilled and seasoned warriors find themselves stalked through the jungle by an alien hunter visiting Earth to claim trophies from the planet’s most difficult and dangerous game – namely, them.

You know the rest. I probably didn’t need to recap even that much of the plot. One of the fun things about Predator is that the film is practically the ne plus ultra of 1980s macho action movie nonsense while, simultaneously, it can also work as a parody of that sort of thing. The amount of testosterone dripping from every frame is exaggerated to near camp proportions, and the constant stream of deeply misogynistic “jokes” spewed by the Hawkins character can be read as a critique of toxic masculinity, if you want to look at it that way. (After all, he is the first member of the team to get killed off, and brutally so.) Some viewers will accept the movie totally straight, exactly what it says it is, while others will see it as a subversive critique and undermining of genre clichés.

The movie works both ways, equally well, however you choose to engage with it. In either case, the way McTiernan expertly layers in suspense and excitement wins out in the end. Above all else, Predator is an impeccably-crafted, thrilling piece of popcorn entertainment, one of the finest examples of its kind.

Film nerds and trivia hounds will note that, in addition to Schwarzenegger and fellow beefcake co-stars Carl Weathers and Jesse Ventura, the supporting cast is rounded out by two notable filmmakers. Bill Duke (who plays Mac) is a prolific TV director who has also helmed a few features including Deep Cover (1992) and Sister Act 2 (1993). The same year Predator came out, Shane Black (Hawkins) was also screenwriter of the blockbuster Lethal Weapon; he’d later go on to direct movies like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) and Iron Man 3 (2013), and would even return to this franchise in charge of 2018’s The Predator.

Predator (1987) - Dutch & Billy

The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray

Predator has had a less than stellar history on home video. To be fair, the movie’s very grainy photography, shot mostly on location under dim natural lighting and hazy environmental conditions, looked rough on cinema screens back in the day and has been a challenge to transfer to video. The first high-definition Blu-ray release in 2007 was a serviceable effort, but was quite soft and grainy, not helped much by a low bit-rate encoding on a single-layer BD-25 disc.

Three years later, Fox Home Entertainment attempted to fix some of those problems with a remastered Blu-ray called the Ultimate Hunter Edition that smothered the entire movie in disgusting amounts of Digital Noise Reduction and artificial sharpening, while also boosting the brightness and colors. Although this gave the movie a cleaner and superficially sharper appearance, it also wiped away almost any trace of natural texture in the image, which caused the actors to look like wax mannequins wearing clothes made out of plastic. Among discerning viewers, that disc was notorious as one of the worst Blu-ray releases of all time.

The Ultimate Hunter master was later used as the basis for a rather pointless 3D conversion in 2013. During all this time, the oldest Blu-ray remained the only copy of the movie at all watchable on a large home theater screen.

Fortunately, the film was remastered again for a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release in August of 2018, available either separately or in a 3-Movie Collection with Predator 2 (1990) and Predators (2010), timed to promote the theatrical release of that year’s The Predator. That set was then supplanted by an updated 4-Movie Collection just four months later, in December 2018.

Note that while the 1987 and 2018 films can be purchased individually, 4K editions of the two middle sequels can only be found in the bundle packages. Fox also neglected to issue any standard Blu-rays sourced from the new 4K masters for the first three movies. For the original Predator, this means that the terrible Ultimate Hunter disc is still in print with no better Blu-ray alternative. However, when I redeemed the Digital Copy code included with this 4K set, I discovered that the streaming copy on Movies Anywhere has been updated to the new master, even for 1080p resolution. (Because I’m not yet equipped to make 4K or HDR screenshots, the following 2018 comparison image was taken from the 1080p streaming copy, with much heavier compression than the Ultra HD Blu-ray. Even so, you can see how the grainier image looks much less processed and disconcertingly artificial than the 2010 Blu-ray.)

Predator comparison - 2010 Blu-rayPredator comparison - 2018 Remaster

The 4K master for the 1987 Predator thankfully undoes most of the damage from the Ultimate Hunter transfer. The 1.85:1 image is no longer plastered in DNR. In fact, it’s downright grainy as hell. This is a good thing and appropriate to the style and tone of the movie. I can’t say with certainty that it’s all natural film grain rather than a digital simulation; regardless, the movie looks more like it’s supposed to. The picture is also reasonably sharp, more so than the 2007 Blu-ray at least, but I doubt the film ever had 4K worth of detail on the camera negative. Some scenes have always had notably weak focus, and that continues to be the case here.

Colors are mostly muted, but the deep greens of the jungle come across nicely. The movie has some continuity issues with the time of day or amount of lighting in some scenes, especially those shot day-for-night, but that’s always been the case. The HDR grade is perhaps a little dark at times, but has some effective highlights, including bright orange flames and the glowing green alien blood.

Sadly, a few scenes still look very scrubbed and video-ish. The worst are probably a small patch of jungle footage at the 39-minute mark, and one particular shot of Schwarzenegger at time code 1:01:21 (just a couple seconds before the iconic “If it bleeds, we can kill it” line) that looks extremely weird in motion, almost as if the actor’s face were erased and then Deepfaked back on afterwards. That said, I checked the scene on the older discs and it looks a little strange even on the 2007 Blu-ray, though less distractingly so due to the softer picture. The issue may be difficult to see in a screencap, but something is decidedly off about this shot.

Predator comparison - 2007 Blu-rayPredator comparison - 2018 Remaster

The movie’s soundtrack is provided in 5.1 and 4.0 sound options, both encoded in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio format. I defaulted to the 5.1 track. The Alan Silvestri score is broad and robust, with plenty of musical separation across the front soundstage. Sound effects are crisp, but dynamic range is just OK. Explosions are weak, though gunfire has some nice thump.

I expect that the 4.0 track is meant to represent the original Dolby Surround theatrical mix, with only a mono surround channel. In my limited scene comparisons, the two tracks were more similar than not. The movie has never had a particulary aggressive surround presence. To my ear, the 5.1 seemed a little sharper and better defined, so that’s the one I stuck with.

Be warned that the accompanying Blu-ray disc in the package is a copy of the 2010 Ultimate Hunter Edition with the wretched DNR-heavy transfer. Fox has not provided a remastered copy on regular Blu-ray. The only reason to keep this disc on hand is that it contains most of the bonus features, including a documentary and several featurettes, some deleted scenes, and a still gallery. The 4K UHD disc itself copies over just the audio commentary by director John McTiernan and a text trivia subtitle track.

Predator 4-Movie Collection 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray

It’s also worth noting that the thick keepcase for the 4-Movie Collection is poorly designed and can barely hold the eight discs it’s burdened with. Many of mine keep popping off their spindles to float loosely in the case.

Note: All screenshots on this page were taken from either a 1080p SDR streaming edition or a standard Blu-ray of the film and are used for illustration purposes only.


2 thoughts on “Ol’ Painless Is Waitin’ – Predator (1987) 4K Ultra HD

    1. It’s a long established Hollywood tradition that “foreign” actors are interchangeable and can play any ethnicity or nationality – Chinese playing Japanese and vice versa, British playing Greek or Roman, Scottish playing Russian, etc. So, by that standard, casting an Austrian bodybuilder as a character called Dutch makes total sense.


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