A New Player in Town – Predator 2 (1990) 4K Ultra HD

I have a soft spot for Predator 2, even if the movie may fail pretty badly at its intended purpose as the sequel to a bona fide action masterpiece. Taken on its own, as a schlocky B-movie about a grizzled urban cop fighting a superhuman hunter from outer space, the picture has a lot of fun to offer.

Admittedly, some of my fondness for it may be colored by the way I was introduced to the movie. I saw Predator 2 in the theater in 1990, but arrived to the screening 20 minutes late. As I walked into the auditorium, the very first image I saw on the giant cinema screen was a fully nude woman having sex in a skyscraper apartment, thrashing and screaming in exaggerated ecstasy as her buxom breasts bounced around in front of an open window. That’s a very minor moment in the film, but it made a hell of an impression on a 16-year-old boy. Immediately afterwards, the same scene served up heaping servings of chaotic violence, gunfire, and gore. It was basically everything I wanted out of a movie at that age.

Predator 2 (1990) - Danny Glover, Rubén Blades, & Maria Conchita Alonso
Title:Predator 2
Year of Release: 1990
Director: Stephen Hopkins
Watched On: 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Also Available On: Blu-ray
Various VOD rental and purchase platforms

The year is 1997 – the future, seven years down the road. The world has gone totally to shit. As if an oppressive heat wave weren’t unbearable enough, the city of Los Angeles is torn apart by open warfare waged in the streets between rival drug gangs. The cops are helpless to stop it, and the government has completely checked out. Into this hellscape arrives an alien hunter drawn toward heat and conflict. No, not the same alien hunter from the first movie. That one blew himself up at the end, remember? It turns out, however, that he was part of a whole species of extraterrestrial poachers who regularly visit Earth to make sport of killing the most dangerous game of all, mankind. What a bummer for humanity.

Arnold Schwarzenegger declined to return for Predator 2 in order to star in Total Recall instead. It’s fair to say he made the right call there. In his place we have Danny Glover, the sidekick from the Lethal Weapon franchise moving into his first (and only) action hero leading role. He’s not very well suited to it. Even aside from the inevitable “too old for this shit” jokes his casting would inspire, Glover frequently looks unconvincing in the physical action scenes and waves around guns in an awkward manner that suggests he was never taught how to hold them properly.

Glover plays LAPD supercop Mike Harrigan, up till now the apex predator of his urban jungle. Backing him up are supporting turns from Rubén Blades, Maria Conchita Alonso, and Bill Paxton as fellow cops, plus Gary Busey as a secretive federal agent who knows more about the bloody kill-spree tearing through the city than he lets on.

Filmmaker John McTiernan was also tied up doing a little movie called The Hunt for Red October (another good call). Stepping into his shoes is Stephen Hopkins, whose only notable prior credit was directing A Nightmare on Elm Street 5. Hopkins is nowhere near McTiernan’s class as a director, but he’s competent enough to throw an action scene together and would go on to bigger projects later (especially on television, as Executive Producer of Fox’s 24).

The smartest decision Hopkins, with the help of returning screenwriters Jim and John Thomas, made was to take the sequel in a new direction as its own movie, rather than a rote retread of the first Predator (which is sadly what we’d get with the next installment, 2010’s Predators). Predator 2 genuinely attempts to do something different and expand the franchise.

Is it entirely successful at that? Honestly, no. The film is mostly schlock. It’s very broad and cartoonish and unapologetically dumb. Hopkins treats its as a big exploitation movie, filled with blood, boobs, and copious profanity. As I’m sure you gathered from my introductory paragraphs, it suffers from some strong sexism that (unlike the original Predator) cannot be read as any sort of commentary on toxic masculinity. Despite having a Black lead at a time that was incredibly rare for a major studio action movie, it’s also kind of casually racist in its stereotypical depiction of the warring Jamaican and Colombian gangs. Those aspects may not play as well for many audiences today.

For all that, I still enjoy it. I make no excuses for my teenage self, but I have to be honest that some of the base thrills that excited me at the time still amuse me. Predator 2 may not be art, or transcend its genre formula the way the first film did, but I had a good time watching it, and expect to do so again in the future.

Predator 2 (1990) - The Predator unmasked

The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray

Predator 2 was released on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray twice in 2018, first as part of a 3-Movie Collection with Predator (1987) and Predators (2010), then again a few months later in a 4-Movie Collection adding that year’s The Predator. Both contained the same disc for Predator 2, just repackaged. At the time of this writing, no standalone copy is available. If you want either of the middle sequels, the only way to get them is in a box set.

The standard Blu-ray disc in the package is a copy of the original Blu-ray edition from 2009. It has not been remastered. However, when I redeemed the included Digital Copy code, I found that the streaming option on Movies Anywhere has been updated to the same source as the 4K edition, even for 1080p streaming. On the other hand, when I checked on Vudu, that service is still using the master from the old Blu-ray.

Predator 2 was very much in need of remastering. To be honest, it still may be. The 2009 Blu-ray was heavily processed with Digital Noise Reduction that smeared away both grain and textural detail. If not quite as bad as the abhorrent Ultimate Hunter Edition Blu-ray of the original Predator, it also looked very underwhelming. The good news is that the 4K Ultra HD version almost totally undoes the DNR issue. The movie is grainy as hell now, which some viewers may find unappealing but has a decidedly more film-like appearance with facial features that look much less smoothed-over or rubbery. In my book, the lack of DNR is a huge improvement and makes the Ultra HD by far the preferred way to watch.

Unfortunately, I’m less impressed with the new color grading or HDR. At my projector’s normal calibrated settings, the 1.85:1 image is much too bright and washed-out, with notable clipping in bright highlights. It looks better if I turn the tone-mapping down, but then darker scenes (which would include most interiors) are too dim. I struggled to find a good compromise between the two. At either setting, colors are flatter and drabber than the old Blu-ray.

Because I’m not yet equipped to make 4K or HDR screenshots, the following 2018 comparison image was taken from the 1080p streaming copy. You’ll note that the framing is slightly different, as the Blu-ray was mildly zoomed-in. If the Blu-ray also appears sharper at first glance, that’s only because it was also processed with a lot of artificial edge enhancement. The remaster may be softer, but is more accurate in that regard and has no edge ringing. I doubt this movie ever had anywhere near 4K worth of detail in its photography to start.

Ideally, what I’d like to see someday is a transfer of Predator 2 with brightness, contrast, and colors similar to the old Blu-ray, but no DNR. Sadly, I don’t think the movie is popular enough to justify another run at it. This 4K master, while still compromised, is probably as good as it’s going to get. On balance, it’ll do.

Predator 2 (1990) Comparison - Blu-rayPredator 2 (1990) Comparison - Remaster

The default audio for the movie is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. When I reviewed the old Blu-ray back in 2009, I expressed a lot of disappointment with its mediocre audio quality. It hasn’t gotten any better with time. While the 5.1 mix has some zinging surround activity during the opening firefight, the rest of the movie is much less aggressive. Dynamic range is extremely weak, with next to no bass. Gunshots lack punch. That’s a big failing for an action movie.

Exclusive to the Ultra HD is an alternate 2.0 soundtrack in lossy Dolby Digital. I imagine that’s meant to represent the film’s original theatrical sound mix, but it offers no improvement in dynamics and actually sounds a lot worse overall. I see no point in it.

The UHD disc has two audio commentaries, one by director Stephen Hopkins and another by writers Jim and John Thomas. For the rest of the supplements, you’ll need to switch over to the Blu-ray disc, but don’t get your hopes up for anything exciting. Extras consist of a handful of featurettes and trailers copied over from an even older DVD in standard-definition video. They’re all very superficial and promotional in nature.

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

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.


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