Gone in 60 Seconds (1974) (US - BD RA)
Gabe revisits H.B. Halicki's original ridiculously destructive car crash movie...
Remember when Dominic Sena remade H. B. Halicki’s Gone in 60 Seconds for Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer, starring Nicolas Cage, Angelina Jolie, and Robert Duvall for a reported budget of $90 million (not including advertising expenses)? No? Do you even remember who Dominic Sena is? No? Yeah, I don’t blame you. I’m not necessarily implying everyone remembers the original 1974 film, but it's pretty synonymous with lo-fi vehicular mayhem thoughout the film-knowledge zeitgeist. Even people who haven’t seen it have probably heard rumours of its reputation. Attempting to recreate Halicki’s film with a sizable budget and recognizable stars is kind of like trying to recreate a Ramones album with a full symphony orchestra – the melodies may be similar, but the entire point of the exercise is lost in the process. Gone in 60 Seconds (and we’re talking about the original now) isn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, a properly ‘good’ movie. It’s silly, content vapid, and not particularly professionally made. But it is one of a select few independent exploitation productions from the pre-digital era that fits the auteur theory. Halicki wrote, directed, produced, starred in, and acted as stunt driver for the film, even putting up his own cars. The only filmmaker with a bigger influence over his production I can think of is Melvin Van Peebles, who has Halicki beat by also acting as editor and composer of his 1971 debut, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. Halicki’s DIY method, high ambition, and palpable energy override Gone in 60 Seconds’ clear-cut shortcomings at almost every turn. Gone in 60 Seconds is a movie you root for. You want it to pick itself up and brush itself off every time it stumbles.
Halicki is clearly a stunt driver and car lover above a filmmaker (and a first-time filmmaker to boot), but he shoots and cuts Gone in 60 Seconds with a dash of pizzazz and plenty of efficiency. He spends a little too much energy on slow zooms and places his camera too close to his actors without taking focus into account, but also captures the important bits of his wild stunts in a natural manner that adds to the authentic touch required to set the film apart. The first act (if you can even divide such a back-heavy film into acts) gets a lot of work done without pausing for unimportant additions, like plotting and characterizations (the film was shot, unsurprisingly, without a script). I’m not being sarcastic here, either; there really is no need for anything other than car chases and scenes of guys with sideburns and black gloves, prepping for said car chases. In fact, the lack of story and entirely unprofessional performances serve the dual purpose of reminding us of the film’s humble origins and ensuring we are unable to care about anything outside of the car chases.
The film is specifically famous for what is marked as a nearly 40-minute long car chase. This chase, which fills most of the film’s third act, doesn’t match the punchy cadence of Peter Yates’ Bullitt, the intensity of William Friedkin’s The French Connection, and isn’t as funny as the similarly destructive chase that closes out John Landis’ The Blues Brothers, but, as gimmicks go, it tends to deliver the goods. There are some appropriately fist-pumpingly badass moments, all of which tap into that deep-seeded and otherwise unexplainable human need to salivate over excessive vehicular mayhem. Eventually, the lack of dynamic range in the chase is a bit exhausting (no pun intended) and the effect develops into something approaching boring, further proof that you really can have too much of a good thing. The multi-angle, super slo-mo, famed ‘big jump’ towards the end of the film is definitively artistic and an imposing, enduring image, however, arriving just in time to give the faltering flick a kick in the pants. What I find most interesting about this elongated sequence is that Halicki takes a few moments to reveal the pain his character has wrought via shots of injured, possibly dead pedestrians and drivers. Even more socially aware car chase movies tend to glaze over the impact of their hero’s actions on the innocent people that get in their way. I also suspect Halicki and editor Warner E. Leighton (who had previously made a living cutting Hannah Barbera cartoons) saw seminal car chase classic Vanishing Point before making the film. Gone in 60 Seconds borrows much of its rhythm and storytelling structure from Richard C. Sarafian’s superiorly constructed film.
Note: Tarantino fans might want to keep their eyes peeled for an early shot of sunglasses spread over a dashboard. He recycled the shot in Kill Bill when introducing Sheriff Earl McGraw.
This rough and tumble independent production has been re-mastered from original elements and is presented for the first time in 1080p HD video (previous releases weren’t even anamorphically enhanced). The film shows its age, but this new transfer is, at times, a very impressive effort, equaling even major studio catalogue releases. At best, the image is naturally grainy with higher detail levels, brighter colours, and more overall clarity than a standard definition could likely manage. The grain levels and amount of shutter effects change quite a bit throughout the film, but there’s little sign of DNR enhancement or grain ‘averaging’ effects. Flecks of minor print damage flicker throughout the presentation without anything smothering the general clarity. Most of the film is shot with an eye for texture, but there are a handful of sequences that are shot incredibly softly for effect. The colour quality is a bit strange, but mostly in keeping with what we’ve come to expect from cheap, ‘70s Blu-ray re-releases. Purist may raise their eyebrows at the oversaturation of the basic hues, but I’m pretty fond of the pure hyper-vibrancy of the largely primary, acrylic-looking colours as they are presented here. It gives the film some flavour and flesh tones, though a bit too uniform, appear generally natural. The bigger issues are the extremely harsh contrast levels, which create super-deep, super-crushed blacks. I don’t own the original DVD release, so I’m only able to compare this re-master to the previous restoration by watching this disc’s extras, but, even with only brief glimpses I can see that this contrast increase was not part of Halicki’s original compositions. The gamma ‘correction’ tends to eat up a lot of detail real estate, especially in the night shots, which, being shot on location, do not benefit even the slightly theatrical lighting schemes of the indoor and daylight sequences. It’s often entirely impossible to tell what the hell is going on in these dark scenes.
This new 5.1 remix, which is apparently the same one presented on the previous 2000 DVD release, is a hit and miss affair. The surround remix has been heavily altered to the point of sounding intrusive and artificial. There’s a huge disconnect between the rough, ‘70s image and clear, state-of-the-art sound design, one I never got over. Yet, I can’t find anything not related to the context of the film to complain about, besides the fact that neither the DTS 5.1 or Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks are lossless. The dialogue tracks have been pretty well-maintained with only minor tinny qualities that set-shot dialogue probably should have. Only on a few occasions does the unnecessary multi-channel representation grab a sliver of the otherwise centered performances. The real problems here start with the fact that, unlike most revamped mono tracks, almost everything but the dialogue is entirely new (or at least was in 2000), from the sound effects to the music. I’m used to distributors filling out the stereo and surround channels with digital catalogue effects that weren’t part of the original material, but I’m not sure I’ve ever heard something this reproduced. It’s arguable that Gone in 60 Seconds’ original soundtrack would’ve been rejected by modern listeners that didn’t know any better, but an original dub is almost always preferable, even if only in the form of an alternative track.
Because I only have a passing ‘general exploitation fan’ interest in the film, I was only made aware after watching the film that this and the previous DVD release features a new musical score. Apparently fans were hoping this release would feature at least the option of an alternate original score by Ronald Halicki and Philip Kachaturian, but no such luck. Having only seen the film on digital release, I have absolutely zero comparative knowledge of the original music and even I think this newer soundtrack sounds completely wrong for the material. This relentless music sounds much more ‘80s than ‘70s (if you close your eyes you might think you were watching Miami Vice) and it’s way too loud on the track, although I suppose this could be taken as a plus, considering the heavy LFE bounce.
The extras, which appear to be a mix of the extras available on both the Brentwood collector’s edition release and the Venture 25th Anniversary release, begin with a brief introduction from Halicki’s widow, Denice (2:40, SD). This is followed by a commentary track with head cameraman Jack Vacek and editor Warner E. Leighton. Vacek and Leighton, who sound like they’re being recorded in a Rubbermaid trashcan, discuss the production with real affection, including the obvious technical discussions and plenty of behind the scenes anecdotes. The bulk of the attention is placed on Halicki himself, who is painted as a loveable, yet almost legendary man. There are moments where the commentators get caught up in watching the movie or trying to remember the names of background players, but, even at their least informative, they’re still quite charming.
Next up is a made-for-TV featurette entitled Shoestring Showman: The Life & High Times of H.B. Halicki (45:00, SD). This look at the director/star’s life and the making of the film features interviews with Denice Halicki, president of Agajanian Promotions J.C. Agajanian Jr., chairman of Consolidated Film Industries Jerry Virnig, head cameraman Jack Vackek, remake director Dominic Sena, remake stunt coordinators Chuck Picerni Jr. and Johnny Martin, remake star Nicolas Cage, lead re-mixer Dennis Kirk, and restoration colorist Blake Norelius. It comes off as an elongated showreel/ad at times (partly because it includes behind the scenes showreel footage from The Junkman and Gone in 60 Seconds 2), but it’s still pretty charming and informative, including awesome little stories concerning the ‘stealing’ of certain shots. The remixing staff loses huge points for telling fans they just have to ‘deal’ with being disappointed by the loss of the original soundtrack. Up next is a series of abridged, ‘Cut to the Chases’ samples of Halicki’s other films, The Junkman (16:50, SD), Deadline Auto Theft (10:20, SD), and Gone in 60 Seconds 2 (11:00, SD). The disc ends with two interview segments, one with Denice Halicki for E! Entertainment Television (9:10, SD) and the other with Lee Iacocca (9:10, SD), and trailers.
I was very excited to revisit the original Gone in 60 Seconds in high definition, but have come away with mixed emotions. The new 1080p image is occasionally great and a definite upgrade over previous non-anamorphic releases, but it’s also overwhelmed with crushed blacks during the nighttime sequences. The bigger issue is the soundtrack. Even without any initial knowledge of the film’s sordid DVD history, I noticed that this 5.1 remix (available in dual compressed DTS and Dolby Digital) was positively dripping with post-production tampering, from effects to the score. The people behind this release have their hearts in the right place and it’s great to see an independent release get a full-bodied treatment, but not including the original audio when it has been altered this greatly is not the right way to approach the process.
* Note: The images on this page have been taken from the included DVD copy and are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality. They are, however, a good indication of the HD transfer's black levels.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may not be suitable for children
Release Date: 16th October 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Extras: Camera Man and Editor Commentary, Shoestring Showman: The Life & High Times of H.B. Halicki, Cut to the Chases, Denice Halicki Interview, Denice Halicki Intro, Lee Iacocca Interview, Trailers, DVD Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: H.B. Halicki
Cast: H.B. Halicki, Elanore, Marion Busia, George Cole, James McIntyre
Length: 98 minutes
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