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Cliffhanger (1993)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 1/12/2010

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/22/2010

The late 80s and early 90s were a heyday for action films. Movies starring Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Sylvester Stallone filled cinemas with explosions and gunfights. While these movies often became the focus of jokes, some classics such as Die Hard and Terminator 2 came from this period. Even as the trend began to die out, the movies continued to get bigger and bigger. The 1993 Stallone vehicle Cliffhanger serves as a perfect example of the latter part of this trend.

Stallone stars in Cliffhanger as Gabe Walker who works on the Rocky Mountain Rescue Team along with Hal Tucker (Michael Rooker), Jessie Deighan (Janine Turner) and Frank (Ralph Waite). A tragic event leads Hal to lose trust in Gabe and for Gabe to lose faith in himself, so he leaves the team. Eight months later, a group of thieves, lead by international criminal Qualen (John Lithgow), attempt to hijack a U.S. treasury transport plane. When the heist goes awry, the money lands in the mountains. Qualen and his team place a fake distress signal, planning to use the rangers to find the money. At this same time, Gabe has returned to the area to see Jessie. She convinces him to help with the rescue, and soon Hal and Gabe find themselves working together again, not only to find the money, but to save their own lives.

Didn't I say earlier that this movie was a perfect example of the genre? Simply put, this movie is big, big, big. The opening title sequence looks very good on this Blu-ray Disc, but all is could think is, "This is begging to be watched on the big screen." Although set in Colorado, the movie was shot in the Italian Alps, and Director Renny Harlin never misses a chance to show off the rolling mountains. Many scenes take place on the mountains, given the film a sense of scope. The action scenes are very big as well, be it the two planes which are tethered together, or Stallone leaping across a chasm. While Stallone plays Gabe a little more humble than most action heroes, he still has that wildly unrealistic invulnerability, whether he be falling down a mountain or trapped in an icy river, who come away without a scratch. (The same can't be said for Michael Rooker, however, who is very bloody at the end.) As the villain, John Lithgow is over-the-top and ruthless, bearing some indeterminate accent and wearing a not so intimidating scarf.

The most famous scene from Cliffhanger is the opening scene. In the audio commentary, Editor Frank Urioste says something to the effect that people may not remember the rest of the movie, but they remember the opening. (The scene was spoofed, never shot-for-shot in Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls.) And to the film's credit, the scene is very effective and emotional. However, about half-way through the film, we realize that this bombastic scene ultimately meant nothing. Hal forgives Gabe. Surprisingly, Gabe has no fear of climbing again. In essence, the movie could have existed without that exciting scene.

And this brings us to the crux of what is wrong with Cliffhanger. Despite the fact that it's big and loud and hits all of the action movie cliches, it's also very hollow and unmoving. At no point did I feel any excitement, suspense or sense of danger. There are some cool stunts and explosions, but nothing that I haven't seen before. I got the feeling that Stallone and Harlin put their hearts into the projects, but in many scenes, it feels as if they're merely going through the motions. And while Stallone has been the butt of many jokes, there isn't any real camp value here either. Cliffhanger is a solid action film, no doubt about that, but for its big name stars, foreign locations, and big stunts, it's no more exciting than any other standard action film...and this probably explains why that genre faded away.

Cliffhanger falls thousands of feet on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing only very mild grain and defects from the source material. Considering that the film is nearly 20 years old, this is a great transfer, as the image has a definite sharpness to it and the colors look great. The image is never overly dark or bright. The landscape shots have a great depth which goes on forever. The only drawback here is that the clarity of the image makes some of the projection-screen effects obvious and the sets really clash with the real-life locations. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is a great track and kudos to whoever re-mastered and mixed this. The stereo effects are very good and nicely detailed, showing good separation. The surround sound effects are fantastic, as we are encased in helicopter sounds, whipping winds, and explosions. The subwoofer effects are very nicely done, as they are ground-shaking, but not overwhelming.

The Cliffhanger Blu-ray Disc contains several extras (which were presumably ported over from a previous DVD release). We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY with Director Renny Harlin and Sylvester Stallone. Next is a TECHNICAL CREW COMMENTARY which features Editor Frank Urioste, Visual Effects Supervisors Neil Krepela and John Bruno, and Production Designer John Vallone. In "A Personal Introduction from Renny Harlin" (5 minutes) the director talks about his involvement and work on the film. The piece also contains comments from Stallone. The Disc contains two DELETED SCENES plus an introduction from Harlin which run about 8 minutes. This includes a ludicrous long-distance jump which appeared in the original trailer, but was cut from the film. "Stallone on the Edge: The Making of Cliffhanger" (20 minutes) is the standard "old-fashioned" featurette which contains a number of clips, a nice amount of on-set footage and comments from cast and crew. And, as usual, there are some unintentional spoilers here. The piece looks at the characters, the cast, and the production. "Special Effects" (7 minutes) simply shows two scenes which commentary by Harlin explaining how the effects were done. "Storyboard Comparisons" (12 minutes) allows us to compare three key scenes to the artist's preview of the scene. The final extra is the ORIGINAL THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.

Review Copyright 2010 by Mike Long