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Last Action Hero (1993)

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

All Ratings out of
Extras: No Extras

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/14/2010

There have been many, many incidences in the past where I reviewed a movie which was a huge box-office or critical hit and I simply didn't like the film. Of course, as we all know everyone has a different opinion, but it still feels odd at times, to be on the outside looking in. When this happens, I always think, "Maybe I didn't understand the movie...", but I obviously don't like thinking that. But now, the tables are turned. Here is a film which I love which I guarantee has been misunderstood by audiences since it was released nearly 20 years ago. I give you Last Action Hero.

Last Action Hero introduces us to Danny Madigan (Austin O'Brien), a young man who loves action movies. He even skips school to watch movies. His favorite franchise are the Jack Slater (Arnold Schwarzenegger) films, which feature a renegade cop who is also getting into stick situations. The projectionist at Danny's favorite theater, Nick (Robert Prosky), invites him to watch Jack Slater IV before it opens to the public. Before entering the theater, Nick gives Danny a golden ticket, which was given to him by Harry Houdini. Danny settles in to watch the film and is enthralled by the action. Soon, the ticket begins to glow and Danny is suddenly sucked into the movie. Danny finds himself riding along with Jack Slater fighting bad guys. Danny attempts to explain to Jack that this world is a movie, but despite the fact that the kid knows a lot more about the world than he should, Jack doesn't believe him. When the magic ticket comes to life again and the movie world and the real world collide, Jack's views are suddenly changed.

Arriving in the summer of 1993, Last Action Hero looked like the latest action film from Schwarzenegger, who had scored huge hits in the preceding years with Total Recall, Kindergarten Cop, and, of course, Terminator 2. The movie was directed by John McTiernan, who had helped to change the face of action films with 1988's Die Hard. So, audiences went in expecting a straight-forward action film, and many left perplexed and disappointed. The movie only grossed a little over half of its original budget and it was the first non-hit for Schwarzenegger in years.

So, what is Last Action Hero exactly? It's the kind of movie which Hollywood shouldn't be afraid to make, but because of the failure of this film and others like it, producers won't go near this kind of project. The late 80s and early 90s saw a rise in the number of action films hitting cinemas and video stores, and each one was more violent than the last. As the films became more over the top and cartoony, it became harder to take them seriously. Last Action Hero is a reaction to this trend.

The movie isn't a spoof, not in the sense that we think of today a la Scary Movie and its imitators. That same year also saw Loaded Weapon 1, which was an Airplane!-like spoof of action films. Last Action Hero simply takes the standard action-movie formula and turns it on its head, adding an absurdist tone. All of the trademarks of an action movie are here, and the stunts and special effects are top-notch. But, they are played for laughs, as the film lampoons the genre by including every action cliche that there is. And as the movie is taking place inside of a movie, Last Action Hero makes sure to point out just how unrealistic action movies had become.

I think that if the movie had simply been a satire, then a mainstream audience would have stuck with it. However, Last Action Hero gets very meta and becomes much more of a philosophical film. There were probably people who had trouble wrapping their heads around the fact that Danny went into the movie, but when the movie spills out into our reality and there is both a Jack Slater (as played by Schwarzenegger) and the actor Arnold Schwarzenegger in the film, I'm sure that things became really confusing. The movie also takes a somewhat serious look at the nature of violence in cinema and in the real world. It shows that we react more to violence in a movie than to someone getting hurt right in front of us. In a move which is ironic even for a film like this, the movie questions Danny's love of movie. (What kind of movie tells you that it's not OK to be obsessed with movies?)

Those who stuck with the film found a very clever and funny movie. While the average action-film fan seemed to be turned off by the movie, Last Action Hero is actually a love-letter to the movies. It celebrates the magic and whimsy of films, while also warning us to not take them too seriously. Given the persona which he presents, it's interesting to look back at this movie and see that Schwarzenegger was able to make fun of himself like this. Given that Arnold isn't in a new action film every year like he was back then, I don't know if a younger audience will appreciate this movie. However, perhaps this new Blu-ray Disc release will be a way for those who initially dismissed the movie to give it a second chance.

Last Action Hero makes a big mistake 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 no defects from the source material. However, there is some grain present, but it's not overly distracting. This is a colorful movie (in the movie world) and the colors look fantastic here. The image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is good and the transfer avoids the "flat" look which can plague older films when brought to Blu-ray. The Disc offers a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.0 Mbps. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Listening to this track, one would have no idea that this movie was nearly 20 years old, as the sound is fantastic. The stereo effects are very good and show great detail. The surround effects are nearly constant and really pull one into the action scenes. Likewise the subwoofer effects are well-timed and give the track a nice sense of power. The track is quite dynamic and shows that great care was placed in the mix.

There are no extras on the Last Action Hero Blu-ray Disc.

Review Copyright 2010 by Mike Long