Hitcher: Special Edition, The (UK - DVD R2)
There's a finger in your French Fries, and Gabe gave it a gander. R1 fans take note
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That's what the other guy said.
What other guy?
That guy back there, the one we just passed. The guy who picked me up before you did.
That was him in there?
Sure it was. He couldn't have walked very far.
Because I cut off his legs... and his arms... and his head.
And I'm going to do the same to you.
The eighties were the era of videotape and cable TV. The days of theatrical releases dictating a film's value, monetarily or otherwise, were disappearing. Nihilistic thrillers, horror movies, and sci-fi flicks fell through the cracks during their theatrical runs, garnering critical bashings for their ‘immoral’ apathy, and flopping at the box office after refusing to placate to audience expectations. With the introduction of affordable home video versions of all films, great and small, these forgotten gems could be rented, watched in the safety of the viewer's home, and after some kind rewinding, returned to the store to spread positive word of mouth. Young people with access to a rental card or a television set with a little black box resting on its top, could watch what they wanted, and unlike their parents, not be swayed by the opinions of the critical elite.
The greatest examples of this initial rejection, conclusive redemption was John Carpenter's The Thing, and Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, two challenging artistic endeavours which, twenty-plus years later, are referred to as classics. The later (arguably) made an international star out one Rutger Hauer, a daring Dutchman, made famous in his homeland for a series of films directed by another Hollywood icon of the eighties, Paul Verhoven. But most members of the video and cable generation don't remember Hauer most for his role as malevolent Roy Batty, but for his even more vicious portrayal of hitchhiker John Ryder in Robert Harmon's The Hitcher, another film that owes its cult status to VHS and cable television.
The Hitcher runs on the octane of a impossibly simple premise. Young and naive Jim Halsey (played by a very young and naive C. Thomas Howell) is driving across the unforgiving desert landscape of South-western America. When he begins to fall asleep behind the wheel he chooses to pick up a hitchhiker for companionship and to help him stay awake. The Hitcher, one John Ryder, is quiet at first, not returning Jim's small talk, and not revealing his destination. After several tense moments Rider reveals himself to be a murderer, and makes clear his intentions towards Jim.
When Jim finds the courage to force Ryder out of the vehicle, he revels in his victorious aversion of death, assuming he's overcome the worst of it. But Ryder is intrigued and begins to stalk Jim, attacking the people around him and framing him for brutal murder. Every time Jim thinks he's found a way out of his increasing terror, Ryder appears and makes matters worse.
The Hitcher is relentless. Part horror movie, part chase movie, part drama, all thriller, no event ends happily, but never is the picture not entertaining. I can easily understand why 1986 theatrical audiences rejected the film, it's downbeat, very downbeat. Though the final reel can be seen as a redemption of sorts, the film basically ends with everyone losing. I'd actually risk some of my fan cred by saying the film might have been a better one without the ending heroics. Maybe.
Despite what star C. Thomas Howell has said in the years since the film's resurgence, The Hitcher does have a distinct homoerotic undertone, and a tender one at that. Though Ryder's obsession with Jim isn't necessarily a sexual one, there is a sense of affection in Hauer's genius performance. This is perhaps better seen as an abusive paternal relationship, especially to all those tough guys that think that enjoying a film with gay undertones somehow makes them gay, but it is this open interpretation of such a simple concept that makes The Hitcher a memorable film, rather than just another psycho-thriller.
I'm really writing this review to fans of the film living outside of the U.K., where I'm sure this title is available in just about every decent shop across the country. Here in The States the only readily available version of The Hitcher is a barebones, dingy, dirty, grimy release that most fans assumed was simply a place mark for the release of a better version. That better version never came. In another of a long line of reasons to get in on the whole multi-region player thing, I present you with this U.K. release of The Hitcher.
Though not absolutely, one hundred percent perfect, this transfer is a rather vast improvement on the region one disc. Colours are richer, dirt and grain are minimal, and contrast is greatly enhanced. This better version actually presents a bit of a problem, in that the film's opening now contains pretty obvious continuity errors I'd never noticed before. While inside the car with Jim, the outside appears almost black with darkness, this and the character's constant state of near sleep leads the viewer to assume that the scene is taking place at night. But when we cut to an outdoor wide shot, suddenly it appears to be late afternoon. Perhaps some adjustments in contrast were needed, rather than simply improving the general brightness of the whole film.
The transfer still shows the films humble budget and age, but this is probably the nicest The Hitcher will, or should, ever look. Slight edge enhancement and the occasional artefact are forgivable offences. The grain can be heavy at times, but is in fitting with the film, so not too objectionable.
The old region one release didn't have the worst audio mix (at least, if memory serves correctly), but this region two 5.1 Dolby Digital track is, again, an improvement. The Hitcher isn't the kind of film that begs a 5.1 upgrade, but the haunting electronic score and more explosive action scenes lend themselves pretty well to the format. There isn't a great deal of surround effects, and spatially everything feels a little tight, but so far as remixed tracks go, you could do worse. There is a problem with reverb on some of the vocals towards the film's finale, which corrects itself, and leads me to believe there was some kind of irreversible source damage at some point.
The original Mono track really should've been included in English for the completests out there, but the 5.1 isn't so dynamic that the original experience is ruined.
The real reason all you region one Hitcher fans really want to update to this edition is because of the special features. They aren't the best extras you'll ever find, but they're about one hundred times better than those found on the featureless US release. I suppose zero times one hundred is still zero, but math be damned. Disc one houses some commentary tracks, the first is a feature length one with director Rob Harmon and writer Eric Red (who some of you may know also wrote the vampire road flick, Near Dark). These guys seem at a loss for words, and there are some long stretches of silence. It's not the worst track I've ever heard, but I've come to expect to hear commentary with my commentary tracks. The other track is scene specific with large sections of the cast and crew, which understandably, as it's call 'scene specific', is also a bit on the sparse side. Though I usually disapprove of edited commentary tracks, this is a case where it could've been a lucrative proposition.
The core of this special edition is it's documentary, entitled How Do These Films Get Made?, after a magazine write up that came out just before the film that cast it in a very unsavory light. The doc is pretty straight on, and covers all the bases, from development through release and controversy. It's great to see the material treated with such respect by all the doc's participants, including Hauer, who seems proud of his performance in this little film. C. Thomas Howell, whose career has not seen the resurgence Hauer's has over the last 4 or 5 years, is very protective of the material, bringing up the homoerotic angle in a semi-angry fashion, but this is the kind of thing that makes retrospective docs so interesting. Harmon and Red are both pretty monotone, but really delve into the genesis of the film. All around, this is the reason to get this set over the crummy R1 version.
Also included on the second disc are two short films, one by Harmon and one by Hauer. Harmon's short, China Lake is accompanied by a informative, but again, sparse commentary. Harmon made the film as proof of his narrative skills, and though the piece is essentially a video resume, somehow the director managed to nab a handful of B-movie icons, who act their little hearts out all in the name of helping out a friend. The film is presented in non-anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen, and looks like its seen better days, but who really cares, as long as its there for some kind of prosperity. The ironic thing is that this was the film Harmon showed to executives behind The Hitcher, and in a way, the two movies are very similar in plot and filming structure.
Hauer's short, which I'd never dream of calling irrelevant or uninteresting, is not exactly the most exciting work ever put to film, but its brevity makes it palatable. The Room is beautifully shot in black and white, and presented in non-anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen. Like other art-shorts I've seen over the years, the film doesn't have a typical or palpable plot, but is more of a succession of images and ideas. Hauer's commentary track is loving, detailed, and appropriately humble. He likes the film, but never refers to it as a classic or anything. A nice effort for a first time director (actually co-director), and a short that shows signs of narrative skill. Maybe someday Hauer will get to make a full-length feature.
Things are finished off with a couple of trailers, cast and crew bios, and a few script pages. Text based extras aren't usually too impressive, but seeing segments of script as they were originally written, including a few deleted scenes, is a plus.
The perfect double feature with Spielberg’s first, a little TV movie you may've heard of called Duel, The Hitcher is a paranoid little thriller. It’s earned its place in the hearts of cult film lovers the world over, and with good reason. This UK DVD is a must have for fans of all regions, complete with a cleaner transfer and a nice collection of extras.
You can purchase this, and many other euro imports from Xploitedcinema.com.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 14th July 2003
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Italian, Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo German, Dolby Digital Mono Spanish
Subtitles: Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, German, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish
Extras: Audio Commentary with Director Robert Harmon and Writer Eric Red, Scene Specific Audio Commentary with Director Robert Harmon, Writer Eric Red, Executive Producer Edward S. Feldman, Composer Mark Isham, Cinematographer John Seale and Actors Rutger Hauer and C. Thomas Howell, 'The Hitcher: How Do These Movies Get Made?' Featurette, Seven Screenplay Samples, 'China Lake' by Director Robert Harmon (with Written Introduction and Optional Audio Commentary), 'The Room' by Actor Rutger Hauer (with Optional Audio Commentary), Teaser Trailer, Theatrical Trailer, Cast and Crew Biographies, 'Introducing The Hitcher' Twelve-Page Booklet
Easter Egg: No
Director: Robert Harmon
Cast: Rutger Hauer, C. Thomas Howell, Jennifer Jason Leigh
Length: 93 minutes
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