Release Date(s)2022 (October 3, 2023)
Studio(s)20th Century Studios/Davis Entertainment/Lawrence Gordon/Hulu (20th Century/Buena Vista Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: C+
The year is 1719 on the Great Plains of North America. Naru (Amber Midthunder, Legion, Hell or High Water) is a young Comanche woman who yearns to take the challenge and become a hunter and warrior like her older brother Taabe (newcomer Dakota Beavers). While Taabe knows Naru’s worth, and certainly values her tracking stills, no one in their tribe takes her ambitions seriously. But one afternoon, while practicing her skills in the forest with her dog Sarii, Naru hears booming sounds and sees a strange vision in the sky—a vision that appears to make the clouds to boil. She believes this to be a mythical Thunderbird, and a sign that she’s ready to begin her challenge. Little does she know, it’s actually an alien spacecraft, come to Earth to deploy a Predator on a hunt of its own.
A short time later, after a member of their tribe goes missing, Taabe and his friends set out to find him. Naru joins them without permission and eventually leads them to their wounded friend, who’s been attacked by a mountain lion. When Taabe, Naru, and the others attempt to kill it that night, Naru falls and is knocked unconscious, but not before seeing strange lights in the trees nearby, as well as tracks in the dirt unlike any she’s ever encountered. When she comes to in their village, it seems that her brother has already killed the lion, which the tribe quickly celebrates. But Naru knows there’s something else out there now that’s far more deadly than any lion. So with Sarii at her side, Naru sets out on her own, determined to hunt and kill this creature to prove her worth as a warrior.
Directed by Dan Trachtenberg (The Boys, 10 Cloverfield Lane), Prey must be acknowledged for what it is: The best Predator film since John McTiernan’s original in 1987. Written by Patrick Aison (Kingdom, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan) and filmed in Alberta, Canada on Nakoda First Nation land, the film features a cast and crew filled with Indigenous actors, technicians, and consultants. Despite the fact that only Midthunder has significant screen credits, the performances are all quite good and authentic across the board. Prey is also handsomely shot by cinematographer Jeff Cutter (The Boys, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Daisy Jones & The Six) using mostly natural lighting to give the film a period look that captures the natural landscapes beautifully. But when the close-in fighting erupts, the action feels genuinely dangerous. And while some of the digital animals are a little bit janke, the practical Predator effects are terrific thanks to the work of veteran creature designer Alec Gillis. (Dane DiLiegro, the so-called “man in the suit,” delivers a great performance as well). The bottom line is that while almost no one involved in this production is a household name, everyone brought their A-game, elevating this film way beyond expectations.
Prey was captured by Cutter in the ARRIRAW codec (in 4.5K open gate) using Arri Alexa Mini LF cameras with Cooke Anamorphic/i 1.8x Full Frame Plus lenses, and it was finished as a native 4K Digital Intermediate at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio. For its release on Ultra HD, Fox and Buena Vista have graded that 4K source for high dynamic range (in HDR10). And though they’ve delivered the film on a UHD-66 disc, only the film itself is included, so video data rates average between 60-70 Mbps (and occasionally push into the 80s). Image clarity is excellent, with impressive detail visible in skin, foliage, grass, bark, and the rocky/forested textures of distant mountains. The depth of field is remarkable too, lending the image a lovely dimensionality. The HDR grade renders pleasing gradations of green, brown, and gray that bring the film’s landscapes to life. The wider gamut also lends pop to the Predator’s glowing blood, targeting lasers, and “thermal” vision. And the overall contrast is exceptional, with deep blacks that exhibit good detail even in nighttime scenes—in which the actors’ faces are illuminated by torch light alone—as well as naturally-bold highlights. The latter are especially pleasing in daytime sky vistas that are filled with luminous backlit clouds. On the whole, this is a gorgeous 4K image that’s fun to look at, striking, and uniquely effective for the storytelling all at once.
Primary audio on the 4K disc is available in a terrific English Dolby Atmos mix that delights in unexpected ways. It isn’t what one might call blustery in the sense of a traditional action film, but it’s highly atmospheric and aggressive when necessary. Dialogue is sparing, though always clear and easily discernible. But the forest atmospherics are wonderful—think wind, bird and insect noises, rushing water, and the rustle of leaves in the tree canopy. Bass is surprisingly robust, and you can hear it almost immediately when Naru is practicing with her tomahawk—every impact has punchy weight. The height channels engage regularly for immersion and overhead completion, especially impressive when the Predator’s spacecraft rumbles through the sky above. But the real delights arrive as the creature stalks its prey, and you begin to hear strange little alien sounds that seem to bounce and echo around the soundfield, changing position subtly as the scene unfolds. As the action heats up, the directional play and movement are smooth and engaging. What’s more, composer Sarah Schachner’s score combines tribal drums with strings and pulsing electronic sounds that build into compositions both intimate and epic at once, and that take full advantage of the muscular LFE. This is a fun Atmos mix. Additional options include English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, as well French, Spanish, and Comanche-dubbed tracks in 5.1 Dolby Digital. Optional subtitles are available in English for the Hearing Impaired, French, and Spanish.
There are no special features on the actual 4K UHD disc, however the package also includes the film in 1080p HD on Blu-ray. That disc adds:
- Audio Commentary by Dan Trachtenberg, Amber Midthunder, Jeff Cutter, and Angela M. Catanzaro
- The Making of Prey (HD – 12:17)
- Prey FYC Panel with Cast & Crew (HD – 29:01)
- Deleted Scenes with Commentary by Trachtenberg
- Alternative Opening Scene (HD – 1:58)
- Big Warrior, Little Warrior (HD – 1:01)
- Treetop Chase (Pre-Vis) (HD – 1:57)
The commentary features the film’s director, star, cinematographer, and editor—it’s the best of the extras. The dialogue is lively and interesting as they share production stories, discuss alternate ideas, scenes that were shot but not used, and even the film’s videogame influences. From time to time, they fall silent for a bit, but the discussion remains illuminating throughout. The behind-the-scenes featurette is interesting, highlighting the involvement of Indigenous participants, the training the actors endured, and the film’s creature effects. The panel Q&A discussion was shot after a “For Your Consideration” screening of the film. In addition to the commentary team, producer Jhane Myers and creature effects designer Alec Gillis appear as well. The group discusses the origins of the project, the editorial pace, the unique and more primitive look of the Predator, etc. There’s also a trio of deleted/alternate scenes that are nice to see, but strangely don’t include the original audio—just the director’s comments. No trailer is available here sadly, nor do you get a Digital copy code. But there is a paper slip advertising NECA Predator action figures in the packaging, which is a traditional black Amaray case with a cardboard slipcover.
Any way you slice it, Prey is a remarkable achievement. After so many bad Alien vs. Predator spin-offs, did anyone believe this franchise could be good again? Certainly not me. But not only was I engaged by this film from start to finish, I found myself invested in its characters too. Prey is simply better than it has any damn right to be, and it’s truly lovely to see a 20th Century Studios, made-for-streaming film being released on 4K Ultra HD in such high quality. More please—streaming films and 4K discs! Recommended.
- Bill Hunt