After the 80’s were over, thus ended the “Rambo” movies as well as the Rocky movies (though there’s talk of a Part VI, if you can believe that). Sylvester Stallone had the image of an action star and had been in somewhat of a lull, what with movies like “Stop or My Mom Will Shoot” and “Oscar”. So, he teamed with Director Renny Harlin, who is hit and miss as a director, though I personally like all of his stuff, and set out to make an adventure movie set in the mountains. Stallone, a very talented writer (he wrote the book for Rocky, which is how he landed the part) helped write the screenplay and what we’re left with was one of the bigger hits of the 90’s…for Sylvester Stallone. Cliffhanger comined the talents of Harlin, Stallone along with another talented actor John Lithgow, whose over the top performance in this movie is one of his best. So it’s good to see that Cliffhanger, origially one of the first Columbia/Tristar releases, has been given the Special Edition treatment.
Gabe (Sylvester Stallone) is a very talented Rocky Mountain Rescue worker. As the movie opens, his partner Hal (Michael Rooker) and Hal’s girlfriend get stranded a top the “tower” and need rescued. A seemingly routine rescue becomes deadly as Gabe drops Hal’s girlfriend to her death, in an attempt to save her life. Not knowing how to deal with the grief, he leaves town for nearly a year, only to return to gather his things and get caught up in a little adventure along the way. This leads us to the other half of Cliffhanger…the bad guys. We meet Treasury agent Travers (Rex Linn), a dedicated agent who has come to the decision that this shipment of $100 million dollars was just a little too tempting to pass up (can we blame him)? Travers has teamed with Eric Qualen (John Lithgow) who has the international connections to move the sort of currency that happens to be on this particular shipment. So, it’s all set…hijack the plane, take out anyone not with them, split the cash and retire to Hawaii? Wrong, as usual something goes wrong and the suitcases, hi tech ones at that, are scattered across a 30 mile radius of the Rocky Mountains. Feigning help, the surviving members of the plane crash call for help…Gabe and Hal come to the rescue. But what the terrorists really want is a helicopter so they can get out of there. Because they know the turf so well, Gabe and Hal are taken prisioner and forced to help locate the missing suitcases full of money, but they both know that once found, both Gabe and Hal are dead.
In one of his better roles, John Lithgow plays a very convincing terrorist. Sporting a Eurpoean accent and with his natural aloofness, Lithgow nearly steals the show. Throughout the movie, Gabe and Hal are at odds with each other, but something about life-threatening situations brings people together. With a supporting cast that included Janine Turner (then of Northern Exposure fame) and Ralph Waite, Cliffhanger delivers. It’s good to see Sylvester Stallone as the everyday man instead of some special forces indestructable man and Rocky for a change. While Cliffhanger isn’t the best movie out there, it’s a nice two hour escape from some of the movies out there.
Video: How does it look?
Admittedly it’s been a few years since I last popped in my copy of “Cliffhanger” into my player, well that wait is now over as this title has made it to Blu-ray and I was excited to see how it looked on a HD format. As it turns out, it looks good but there were a few things that I noticed right off the bat. First of all, there’s a bit of grain on the print. Now this isn’t too terribly distracting but it was noticeable for me. I wasn’t that shocked as a movie with this much white in the picture is bound to have some sort of artifacting and the age of the film doesn’t help things. Contrast was right on target as were black levels, though the actors seemed a bit burned in a few scenes. I suppose that’s par for the course when you have such a stark picture. On the whole this 2.40:1 AVC HD transfer has help up fairly well, but it’s not up to the same standards that some newer films are.
Audio: How does it sound?
I always remember “Cliffhanger” having a great soundtrack and on Blu-ray it sounds as good as it ever has. The DTS HD Master Audio takes the original 70mm 6 track sound mix and in an uncompressed format it sounds terrific. Every time that helicopter is fired up (and it’s used a lot), all five channels radiate the blades moving. More prevelant on this soundtrack is the surround effects, and that is what makes a soundtrack stand out in my mind. Dialogue is clean and crisp with no hint of distortion. Say what you want about Harlin as a filmmaker, his movies often sound simply amazing.
Supplements: What are the extras?
“Cliffhanger” has had a few incarnations on standard DVD and thankfully with the added space of Blu-ray, they were able to fit all of the supplements from the Special Edition onto this disc. We start out with two audio commentary tracks. The first features Sylvester Stallone and Director Renny Harlin, and it’s not that bad either. No two people would really know more about the movie than the director and lead actor (who also helped write the screenplay), so it’s very informative, and I wish Stallone would do one for his upcoming Rocky: Special Edition (he may, who knows). The second is a technical commentary, and it’s interesting as well, though I couldn’t sit through the movie one more time to listen to the techs talk about everything, put it this way…it’s nice to have there if that’s your thing. We also get a personal introduction from Renny Harlin, storyboard comparisons, photo galleries, and the usual talent files (cast bios) and production notes. What was also interesting is the featurette “Stallone on the Edge” and the deleted scenes. You may remember from the original trailer (also included) that “unbeliveable” jump that Stallone did, well they have the original scene here and it’s clear why it was taken out. All in all, this is one feature packed disc. And is the case with pretty much every new Sony title, the film contains the “Movie IQ” in which little facts about the film pop up from time to time. This feature can be turned off if you like, but I found it rather interesting after watching the film.