Red Heat (US - BD)
Gabe giggles at Schwarzenegger's Russian accent in DTS-HD 5.1 sound...
Notoriously vigilant Soviet Police Captain Ivan Danko (Arnold Schwarzenegger) sets an ambush for a notoriously vicious Georgian drug dealer named Viktor Rostavili (Ed O'Ross). Viktor escapes the trap, and in the scuffle murders Danko’s partner. The vengeful Danko follows his prey to the United States, where he joins forces with Chicago Art Ridžić (James Belushi), a sloppy but effective police detective investigating Viktor’s gang’s local shootouts. The unlikely duo bickers throughout the investigation, but eventually finds a common ground, and take down the Georgian drug dealing menace. Oh, spoiler alert.
I swore up and down that I’d seen every ‘classic era’ Schwarzenegger flick ever made, but about ten minutes into Red Heat I realized I had never seen this film. One can hardly blame me; the box art features James Belushi after all. Who wants to watch a James Belushi movie? But I should’ve looked closer; I would’ve noticed that just above the title is the name Walter Hill. Hill is best known for his writing and directing work on hit tough guy movies like 48 Hours, and cult classics like The Warriors. Besides writing for the Alien series, and Sam Peckinpah’s The Getaway, I personally love Hill for his work co-creating Deadwood, and for two of his more underappreciated films— The Long Riders and Southern Comfort. These two films, which I highly recommend to any readers with an affinity for macho men acting macho, are enough to make the rest of the writer/director’s career worth a look. James Belushi, or no James Belushi.
Red Heat opens with a flesh show that practically defines the era—homoerotic, tough guy posturing set to the creepiest electronic score this side of a John Carpenter flick. Unfortunately, the rest of the film isn’t nearly as over-the-top in its depiction of sex and violence, it’s mostly a less funny replay of the buddy action movie conventions Hill created with 48 Hours. The film features a much more common mid-‘80s action style than Hill’s best work, which often recalls Sam Peckinpah’s balletic violence (and predates John Woo’s most famous work). In this respect Hill fails to separate himself from the rather generic ‘80s studio action pack like John McTiernan or Paul Verhoven. Hill is effective and efficient, but he’s done better, and he loses points for somehow finding a way to make Gina Gershon look unattractive. The surprise element is Schwarzenegger, who’s eternally amusing without even trying. The script demands Arnold speaks with a Russian accent, and his inability to do so with any consistency is an utter joy, as are his deadpan responses to Belushi’s inane jokes.
Lionsgate, like Paramount and Universal, releases perfect new release Blu-ray’s, but their catalogue releases run a pretty rough gamut. For every First Blood there’s a Total Recall. Red Heat hits somewhere near Terminator 2—effective, and worth the upgrade, but not an unbelievable shock of 1080p quality. This is, as I said, my first time watching the film, so I don’t have much to compare it to outside of expectations planted by similar films on Blu-ray. The film is shot using rather broad lighting schemes, so there aren’t many opportunities for high contrast blacks or super sharp details, but things are definitely sharper than standard definition could muster (sweat is always a good indicator). More impressive is the detail consistency. The wide shots are just as sharp as the close-ups, sharp enough to make a handful of stock shots stick out like soar thumbs. Red Heat isn’t all that colourful either, but there are a few moments of good old ‘80s neon, specifically the hotel where Danko sleeps. The bright reds here show signs of minor compression noise and bleeding, otherwise, the natural hues are pretty well separated and relatively pure. The whole print is pretty grainy, but not overwhelmingly so, and edge-enhancement is only a minor issue.
The frame often feels cramped, and some of the camera movements are similar to those created by the pan-and-scan process. The official specs state that the film should be framed at 1.85:1, and this disc is 1.78:1. That’s not a big enough discrepancy to really make a difference, but my gut tells me this transfer is zoomed slightly beyond the difference between these two framing standards. Readers are welcome to tell me if I’m right or wrong in this assumption.
Red Heat features some of the goofiest punching effects heard outside of a ‘60s chop-socky flick. The hits all make the same, flat noise, and lack any real LFE support. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 remix does not go to waste just because of some dumb choices made during the film’s original sound mixing process. At the very least James Horner’s contrasting score gives the system a good work out from every angle. The front channels feature the more traditional music, while the rear channels feature the more ghostly electronic sounds. The score can be a bit obnoxious at times, but shows genuine creativity on Horner’s part. The general soundscape is pretty minimalistic, and the majority of incidental sound effects come directly from the centre channel. Crowd and street scenes feature lively ambience in the stereo channels, and occasionally in the rears, though discrepancy between the two rear channels is rare, save a few deflecting bullets. The dialogue is well centred and clear, but there are distinct moments where the sound quality of the voices and their volumes change.
This Blu-ray release comes fitted with the same extras as the special edition DVD Lionsgate released a little while ago. ‘East Meets West’ (09:40, SD) is a brief look behind the scenes of the production, which was financed by Carolco Studios. Carolco heads Andrew Vajna and Mario Kassar recall their studio’s early success, developing Walter Hill’s vision, casting the film, filming in a real prison, the film’s modest success. ‘A Stuntman for All Seasons’ (12:30, HD) is a tribute and glance at the career of Benny Dobbins, a stuntman/coordinator who died of a heart attack during the filming of Red Heat. ‘I’m Not a Russian, But I Play One on TV’ (05:10, SD) is a brief interview with actor Ed O’Ross, who played the viciously villainous Victor. O’Ross apparently based his performance on Stalin, and wrote quite a back story for his character. Things end with a made for TV EPK (16:00, SD), four TV spots, and a trailer.
Red Heat is far from writer/director Walter Hill or star Arnold Schwarzenegger’s best work, but it surely ain’t either man’s worst (those would be Super Nova and Eraser, arguably). This Blu-ray release features no additional extras, and the audio track isn’t exactly overwhelming, but the high definition video quality is worth the upgrade for fans, especially those with larger sets. Lionsgate’s catalogue Blu-ray’s are hit and miss, but the prices are always right, and this particular transfer sits somewhere in the middle of their usual quality spectrum.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 10th November 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround French
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: East Meets West, A Stuntman for All Seasons, I'm Not a Russian, but I Play One on TV, Original EPK, Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Walter Hill
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Belushi, Peter Boyle, and Ed O'Ross
Length: 104 minutes
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