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Based on the true story of Billy Hayes' (Brad Davis) imprisonment in a Turkish prison for trying to smuggle drugs out of the country, Midnight Express delves into the horrific conditions prisoners had to live with and the corrupt legal system that could potentially leave anyone found guilty incarcerated for life.

 Midnight Express
Midnight Express along with The Deer Hunter was one of the first movies that introduced me to the darker side of movie dramas, other than the obligatory war movies I watched at school. However, having not seen the movie for many years, I have to say that I didn’t find it half as effective as I’d remembered it.

The majority of the inhumane treatment of the prisoners is pretty tame by today’s more horrific movie depictions and to be honest the majority of the guard attacks are merely hinted at. However where Midnight Express excels is leaving it up to the audience to make the decision about when this is more than Hayes actually deserved. From the get go it’s hard to feel sorry for a guy who not only tries to smuggle a large amount of drugs a out of the country, but who tries to escape from his captors even when he’s offered the chance to go free if he helped them out. It’s very easy to go with the ‘what did he think would happen?’ attitude, even up the point where he’d been in prison for a few years and in a final attempt to woo the courtroom over breaks down and calls the entire country a nation of pigs. That was never going to end well.

 Midnight Express
After that, you begin to feel just how harsh this punishment is and just how bad the conditions are within the prison walls and when Hayes is driven insane, sent to Section 13 and has the big scene when his girlfriend comes to visit him (you know the one), your feelings of ‘he got what he deserved’ are a distant memory.

Midnight Express still works now, even if it's not quite as effective in the more modern movie climate. It still has a simple charm to it, with quite a unique prison setting despite having a fairly generic group of main characters residing within it. As a lead performance, Davis genuinely feels quite honest, despite a few over the top reactions and John Hurt as Max is a fantastic supporting role in a career that's already hard to pick favourites from.

Video


Despite a presence of grain, Midnight Express looks surprisignly good. It still looks and feels like a movie made in 1978, but with the restoration doing it a great justice Midnight Express stands proudly on the HD format.

 Midnight Express
Colours rarely call attention to themselves outside of one red t-shirt Hayes wears, but this is obviously intentionally to keep with the bleak setting. Also due to the style here, the use of natural or subtle lighting as well as a lot of dark interiors, skin tones looks natural and well presented without the HD upgrade giving everyone a healthy glow.

The transfer can get a bit hazy in the Section 13 segments of the film, but again this is part of the style as opposed to a disc downfall because generally speaking, outside of a few scratches and artefacts, Midnight Express looks pretty damn impressive without feeling too tweaked with to fit into the HD catalogue.

Audio


The score—which won an Oscar yet feels woefully inappropriate in the movie—is strong and spread well throughout the mix. The horrible electronic/synth mood setting music can fill the room with some real power and really cannot be faulted beyond the fact it doesn’t feel right in the movie itself.

 Midnight Express
As for atmospherics, once again the TrueHD track works wonders. Scenes where items are being searched and articles are scattering around tables and falling on floors sound fantastic and the constant dripping in some of the prison areas seem to be everywhere in the room and widen the range of the track nicely.

Dialogue holds up well, even if it has moments of feeling a little confined but overall I found this to be a strong track with very little to fault.

Extras


Beyond BD-Live, we actually have quite a great batch of features on offer here. The commentary with Alan Parker is detailed and rich with stories about the entire process of getting this movie made. The only parts that did pull the rug away from my enjoyment of the film a little is Parker informing us of the changes made in the screenplay. Such as it being set in one prison as opposed to the multiple locations in Hayes' real experience and deciding whether to have Hayes murder the prison warden, accidentally kill him or just escape swimming across the river. This raised the question, what the hell actually happened to Hayes and how much of this is based on fact?

 Midnight Express
Moving onto the featurettes, ‘The Producers’ (25:54 HD), ‘The Production’ (24:28 HD) and ‘The Finished Film’ (23:48 HD) all of which could really have been edited into one long documentary. These all prove to be thoroughly enjoyable, interesting and packed with lots of detail and insight from pretty much all involved. Producers, Puttnam, Guber and Marshall all bring plenty of stories about getting the film made, while Alan Parker gives plenty of insight into who didn’t get cast (Richard Gere and Dennis Quaid) as well as plenty about the actual shoot. Screenwriter Oliver Stone gives us his usual well told tales of his experiences and William Hurt brings plenty of chuckles to his stories. All in all these were great featurettes and felt specially made rather than just thrown on the disc.

Lastly there’s a photo gallery (set to that Oscar winning score) and the original making of (0 7:27 SD), which focuses mainly on Billy Hayes (and his killer seventies perm and moustache combo).

 Midnight Express

Overall


Midnight Express was nowhere near as effective as it was when I watched it in my youth, but it’s still a great drama about a man’s horrible ordeal in a foreign prison and just how screwed he was in their legal system.

A/V wise, Midnight Express was a treat and a nice example of how to treat an older movie respectfully in HD without just trying to compete with the HD savvy modern crowd. Fans of the movie should be impressed across the board because what with the A/V and features doing such a solid job it’s hard not to be.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.


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