Cliffhanger (UK - BD RB)
Our Scott McKenzie takes a look at this 1993 action movie on high definition BD
After the death of his best friend's partner high up in the Rockies, park ranger Gabe Walker (Sylvester Stallone) disappears and returns a year later a shadow of the man he used to be. At the same time, a mid-air heist goes wrong and three cases fall into the mountains, containing a total of $100 million. Led by Eric Qualen (John Lithgow), the team of thieves trick Walker and his old best friend (Michael Rooker) into helping them find the money. Knowing they will be killed as soon as the bad guys get the money, the rangers are faced with a race to get there first and stop them before they can make their escape.
After Rocky V, Oscar and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, Sylvester Stallone needed to get a hit movie under his belt at some point in the 90s. Going back to the action movies that he did (and still does) best, Cliffhanger was a hit at the box office and is still a very enjoyable movie fifteen years later. Filmed in Italy, the landscapes are more impressive than you might expect from an action movie and from a visual perspective, I'm sure you won't find many people who don't agree that this is Renny Harlin's best-looking movie, even with his use of some rather unnecessary slow motion at times.
Sylvester Stallone does what we expect of him—a little brooding, a few wisecracks but most of all lots of running, jumping and beating up bad guys. The only problem here is that other than John Lithgow, the bad guys are no more than your typical caricatures that Eric Qualen may well have ordered from a mail-order henchmen catalogue. Lithgow, on the other hand, hams it up with great abandon, no doubt over-compensating for the fact that Sly could wipe the floor with him with both hands tied behind his back. Only at the end do they square up to one another but the scene is over quickly enough so as to not expect the audience to believe that he has a chance of coming out on top.
One thing that has always bothered me is the fact that, while the external shots of the actors in the mountains look amazing, some supposedly external scenes are so obviously shot in a studio that it takes me out of the movie. I'll go into more detail about the video quality of this release further down, but the added detail allowed by Blu-ray does nothing to stop these scenes looking fake. That said, the great work that went into the external shots was worth it because some of the practical stunts are impressive and had this movie been made now, it would have been too easy to replace the effects with CGI.
Upon its initial release, the BBFC cut Cliffhanger by just over a minute to achieve a 15 certificate, but according to their website all cuts were waived when this version was re-submitted this year. I noticed that two of the fights were longer and more brutal so this is definitely worth looking at for completists in the UK who haven't sampled the uncut version. Overall, it may not make as much sense as it should, especially if you keep asking yourself how certain characters could get from one point to another in the mountains so quickly, but Cliffhanger has stood the test of time surprisingly well and is still worthy of your time after all these years.
Cliffhanger was released during an odd period now that we're revisiting movies from the 90s. We expect movies from the last few years to look amazing in high definition and we're a little more forgiving of movies made from the 80s and further into the past. However, movies from the 90s are still relatively fresh in the mind and it's always a shame when they don't look as perfect as we might expect. Cliffhanger is a good example of this. The picture is relatively clean but is not quite as bright as I'd hoped.
Also, the detail offered by a 1080p picture drew my attention to certain things that had gone unnoticed to me in the past. The blood used by the filmmakers looks incredibly fake, even orange at times, and some of the back-projection effects have a lost a little of the 'magic of cinema'. I noticed slight edge enhancement during a few scenes and the opening studio logos are a little wobbly but overall the detail in the picture is good and there is a distinct lack of damage to this fifteen-year-old picture.
There are two audio options available—Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS-HD MA 5.1, which I chose for this review. Even as the movie opens there is good use of the surround channels, with helicopter effects moving from speaker to speaker and events like this impress throughout the movie. Something that sets Cliffhanger apart from other action movies of the time is Trevor Jones' grand score, which sounds very good on this track. Gunshots, explosions and other effects are suitably powerful without drowning out the dialogue, which is clear and free from any obvious interference. This is generally quite a loud track so for that full action movie experience, sit back, crank up the volume and annoy the hell out of your neighbours.
This Blu-ray disc comes with a good selection of extras, but unfortunately it's the same selection of extras that appears on a number of previous DVD releases, so while there may not be any exclusives or new features, what's here is worth a look. First up we've got a commentary with (an edited together) Renny Harlin and Sylvester Stallone. The making of Cliffhanger was an arduous process and Renny Harlin has a lot to say about the problems they faced and the stunts the actors did themselves, like how Michael Rooker and Michelle Joyner got to the top of the peak in the opening sequence. Stallone is always a pleasure to listen to on audio commentaries and here he doesn't disappoint, offering anecdotes to lighten the mood of Harlin's more technical discussions.
There is an introduction to the movie, where Renny Harlin discusses the premise and the basics of making the film. It's five minutes long and is a good teaser, so it amazes me that the disc producers rarely ever set up these introductions to play before the movie itself. At twenty minutes long, the first ‘Making of’ featurette is the longest of the rest of the extras, showing behind the scenes footage of Stallone and Harlin preparing themselves for action scenes by checking the storyboards. There are also interviews with the cast, including some moments with Stallone in his Demolition Man gear. There is an additional ‘Making of’ featurette, but it's pretty much an edited version of the longer one so it's only worth watching if you've just got seven minutes in your life spare rather than twenty. An additional set of interviews offers the main actors and the director a chance to talk more about their characters and the stunts.
The deleted scenes come with an introduction by Renny Harlin, where he discusses the reasons for leaving them out of the final cut, which is mainly due to the fact that they make Stallone's character out to be more like a superhero than a regular guy. Another featurette shows us how certain effects shots were completed, including a behind the scenes look at the scale models used for the helicopter stunts. The storyboard comparisons show us three scenes from the film and the storyboards used to prepare for them at the same time. I found it interesting to see where the changes were made and how accurate certain shots are. The theatrical trailer is actually worth a watch because it contains shots from the deleted scenes, which shows that they weren't cut until late in the editing process. Finally we have a compilation of eight TV spots.
Cliffhanger is an exciting movie and most of the stunts still look good in this digital age. This release is well-timed, coming when Stallone is enjoying another career renaissance and there is talk of a follow-up to this movie. The quality of the presentation is slightly better than I was expecting and while the extras might not offer anything new, those of you with high definition capabilities who don't own the movie on DVD should think about picking up this release.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.
Review by Scott McKenzie
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 4th August 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Extras: Audio Commentary, Introduction by Renny Harlin, 'Stallone on the Edge: The Making of Cliffhanger', Additional Making Of Featurette, Interviews with the Cast and Crew, Deleted Scenes, Special Effects, Storyboard Comparisons, Theatrical Trailer, TV Spots
Easter Egg: No
Director: Renny Harlin
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, John Lithgow, Michael Rooker, Janine Turner
Length: 108 minutes
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