When the mind wanders to 1990 action films, rarely does it stumble upon Cliffhanger for any real amount of time. The film, while making quite a bit of money ($255 million worldwide…not bad for a $70 million film), didn’t leave a lasting impression on those who saw it as it was really quite generic as far as action films go. No doubt hindered by the countless edits done to the film to get an R rating (not for nudity or anything, mind you, just for violence), the final product just wasn’t as exciting as trailers or movie posters lead one to believe. While it was easy to have a good time watching the film, it wasn’t something stuck with you in the least either.
Sarah was an inexperienced climber. She trusted Gabe to rescue her. But something went wrong high above the valley floor…Sylvester Stallone, John Lithgow, Michael Rooker, Janine Turner and Ralph Waite star in this high-altitude avalanche of action: a non-stop adventure peak with suspense and capped with heart-quaking terror. For Rocky Mountain Rescue, the mission is almost routine: locate five climbers. With the woman he loves (Turner) and his best friend (Rooker), Gabe Walker (Stallone) braves the icy peaks only to discover that the distress call is really a trap set by merciless international terrorist Eric Qualen (Lithgow). Now millions of dollars and their own lives hang in the balance. Against explosive firepower, bitter cold, and dizzying heights, Walker must outwit Qualen in a deadly game of hide-and-seek.
First things first: this movie still looks quite spectacular for its age. The on-set locations are fantastic and the aerial plane jump at 15,000 feet is not only the costliest stunt in the Guinness Book of World Records, it’s also one of the coolest. So the action is still definitely worth checking out simply based on the fantastic settings and the quality of the stunts. Some of the work is questionable, sure, but overall it’s a very jaw dropping movie at times.
As far as the plot goes…eh. It’s akin to watching Rambo, as Stallone’s character here was once fantastic at his job before he failed at rescuing the girlfriend of a friend and after that he just went into a deep depression of sorts. Then he’s snapped out of it when he and his friends are once again put in trouble and he then proceeds to kick some ass. It’s a very simple and, at times, juvenile plot and not something that requires a lot of brain power to enjoy. Its action packed, violent, and very exciting to watch at times…yet by the end you just feel that it was missing something.
I’m not sure what it was missing exactly; the violence was there but knowing there was, at one time, a more violent cut (that was supposedly NC-17…which I find hard to believe this film pushed harder than a Tarantino flick), it seems almost diminished somehow. I’m not a bloodthirsty guy, but I don’t like seeing edited versions of things when I know there’s a better, and more importantly director preferred, cut out there. This Blu-ray would’ve been a solid opportunity to release it as such…but, alas, we get the theatrical R-rated cut. Which, again, is still enjoyable…just not as good as it probably could have been.
It probably has to do with its overly generic story and pacing, but there’s rarely a moment where tension is felt that isn’t caused by some precarious mountainside. Which is obviously the films hook, but the bad guys weren’t exactly intimidating…although Lithgow is a little more believable now as a villain after watching him in the most recent season of Dexter. But aside from Stallone there’s really no real reason to check this film out…but, then again, that’s how it was back in 1993 when this originally released as well. As unexciting and 90s cheesy as the cover art to this film is (“Hey, it’s freezing outside…but look at my muscles!”), it really is a Recommended viewing if you’re an action or Stallone fan. It’s simple, sure…but it’s also a really easy film to get into. Kind of like Die Hard, but with a little less humor.
The disc arrives in a standard Elite Blu-ray case and boasts the usual inserts on the inside. Menus are simple and easy to navigate and all the previous extras from the DVD edition have been ported over to this release. In essence the only reason to jump onto this Blu-ray release is if you’re not satisfied with the DVD you have currently or you don’t yet own the film and want to.
Video is an AVC encoded effort and since it’s a 17 year old movie, it’s not going to look immaculate. The color palette is, obviously, predominantly white. This creates a rather washed out and dreary approach to the whole film, although there are some nice earthly browns and greens thrown in. For the most part you’re going to wish it wasn’t blown up huge on your set as some shots just look terrible; as great as the stunts are in this film, when they switch to backdrop plates or something like that…it really just looks like a different movie jumped into frame. It’s ridiculous how obvious it is, but, again…that’s the problem with older films (and hell…plenty of new ones suffer from the same thing, things are just so clear now that even pristine looking plates look obvious). It’s not a huge detractor, as for the most part the film performs admirably on Blu-ray. Grain is pretty much non-existent and whenever colors do drop on screen they tend to pop off. There’s even a solid amount of detail to grab off of clothing, environmental (for the on-set shots, at least) and faces as well. Overall it won’t look spectacular and it’s passable for the most part; but when things turn ugly, they really fill the screen up.
If you expected the audio to match the video, however, you’d be very, very wrong. The DTS-HD 5.1 mix is sonic in every form, with the film starting out with the noise almost immediately. There’s a bit of a quiet down after that, but for the remainder of the film it’s a very rambunctious and wild track. Surround use is frequent and subwoofer output is also quite noisy. I was surprised that this film had so much life in it, considering its age. Definitely a highlight to watching this film on Blu-ray!
Personal Introduction from Renny Harlin (4:53, SD)
Deleted Scenes (5:15, SD) w/ Optional Intro (3:03, SD)
Commentary with Director Renny Harlin and Sylvester Stallone
Technical Crew Commentary
Stallone on the Edge: The Making of Cliffhanger (20:03, SD)
Special Effects Featurettes (7:24, SD)
Storyboard Comparisons (12:00, SD)
Theatrical Trailer (1:57, 1080p) w/ Optional Intro (3:26, SD)
All of these extras are ported over from the previous DVD release as previously stated so nothing is going to be new here for fans of the film. The dual commentaries are a very nice touch and overall I was quite impressed with the extras roster, especially given the date of the last DVD release. There’s also some movieIQ and BD-Live “access real-time information on the cast, music, trivia and more while watching the movie,” but most of the good trivia is all in the extras already.
Overall Cliffhanger is a great action flick, albeit with predictable outcomes. Recommended still if you have yet to see it and while this release is pretty unexciting for previous owners, it’s worth the upgrade to Blu if you’re a die-hard fan of the flick. It’s just exciting to hear more than anything and the DTS-HD track here is certainly loud enough to bolster your enjoyment of the film.
Cliffhanger is now available on Blu-ray.