The cult 1971 film that was more about the Dodge Challenger than it was about the humans, Vanishing Point revs its way into the high-definition format for the first time, packed with all-new extras. While the film finally saw a long-awaited DVD release in 2004, the release wasn’t very loaded in terms of extras, sporting only a commentary and trailer and TV spot. Now the cult classic can be enjoyed not only in 1080p and 5.1 DTS-HD surround sound, but fans can also check out the releases six new bonus features.
Thrills, spills and a handful of pills. It all adds up to one of the most spectacular car chases in motion picture history! Barry Newman stars as Kowalski, the last American hero, who set out to prove that he can drive from Denver to San Francisco in just fifteen hours. Along the way, he meets an old prospector (Dean Jagger), a snake worshipper, a nude woman on a motorcycle, and a blind D.J. (Cleavon Little) who “sees” danger ahead in this super-charged, action-packed adventure!
Vanishing Point is the type of film you watch with no intent of really processing what’s going on the screen. We’re never really given a reason for Kowalksi’s daredevil run across the U.S. and the individuals he encounters wander in and out of the picture with little regard or impact. Honestly there isn’t a whole lot of plot here, but this is the type of cheap film that’s really just fun to watch as the Challenger is tossed around and beaten up (though it doesn’t show its battle scars in the film much, production went through seven of them). Then, of course, it’s peppered with the usual cavalcade of naked women that are almost required to appear in films of this type, even if their appearance is completely random and without provocation.
Whenever the film did attempt to toss in some kind of plot device, it was so incredibly random that I didn’t even bother to try to dissect it. What exactly did the winter flashback and the woman surfing have to do with anything? What exactly was with the women who popped up? And what in blazes was the point of the additional sequence in the UK version, as it had absolutely zero impact on the story. It’s a frustrating movie when you try to dissect its plot, as there’s so little there it’s like trying to unfold a receipt that was stuffed in your jean pocket and went through the wash. Try as you might, you’ll just end up tearing that receipt into little shreds and even if you do get it unwrapped, the prints so faded you can’t make jack out anyway.
So that’s what Vanishing Point is. It’s a mess if you try to think about it, but if you just sit back, watch it, and enjoy the mindless adventure for what it is, then it’s really not so bad. That’s part of why the film is such a cult classic now; it doesn’t have a lot going for it, but for the Mopar nuts this film is quite the entertaining affair. Fox attempted to re-capture the uniqueness of this film down the line in a made-for-TV film (starring Viggo Mortensen) that gave the Kowalksi character a reason for dashing across the U.S., but it was ultimately less exciting (probably because it didn’t have the main character popping pills, pushing police off the road and daydreaming about naked women) and didn’t have quite the same staying power that this film has.
Honestly I could fault the film for having no resemblance of a plot at all, but that’s what makes the film as entertaining as it is. There is no reason for a plot; we really only want to see the Challenger rush across the open roads anyway, so why attempt to clog up the works with dialogue and the like when we, as the viewer, don’t even want that?
This is far from a perfect film and if you’ve no love of Mopar muscle, then you can safely skip this film without any worry. But if you’re the least bit intrigued by classic cars, then this film is Recommended. Pure, mindless fun…but recommended nonetheless.
Fox brings Vanishing Point to Blu-ray with the same cover art as the 2004 DVD release, but with a few new extras. The disc itself sports the same art as the cover and menus are simple and easy to navigate (complete with a cool little odometer that ticks up and down according to your selections).
Video is a bit of a mixed bag. There’s certainly a lot of detail to be had at times, but the clarity of the AVC (@23mbps) encoded transfer can become a bit hazy at times. Of course there are also the obvious cutting of takes together (and the opening segment where the Challenger “vanishes” is marred by a big ugly smear down the center), but really it doesn’t look too bad. Mediocre definitely, but it’s certainly nothing that will ruin your viewing of it (and it’s definitely step above those VHS copies you may have laying round). Sadly the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is barely present in the surrounds. The Challenger doesn’t once rumble the subwoofer channel, despite there being a deep guttural growl from the engine, we never actually feel it. Surrounds are only kicked up when the car goes zooming by, which I only noticed them really taking advantage of once. A great surround mix really could’ve helped make this film be more enjoyable, but alas it’s quite tinny sounding. But that’s to be expected when the alternate audio tracks are all in mono (Spanish and French, as well as English, Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, and Korean subtitles).
In the extras department we have the aforementioned Branched UK version boasting nearly ten minutes of additional footage, which is footage that is really not worth watching, but it’s there if you want it. There’s also a Commentary by director Richard Sarafian that returns from the 2004 release. Trailers and TV spots round up the old extras, while a fun little Interactive 1970 Dodge Challenger starts off the new. This piece is really just like a 3-D model of the car (that actually looks like a drawing of the car rather than an actual image of it…kind of strange), but it’s fun to play around with, especially if you’re contemplating purchasing the new 2009 Challenger like I am.
Moving on we have “Built for Speed: A Look Back at Vanishing Point” a making-of featurette that throws a retrospective look onto things. “OA-5599” focuses on the Challenger itself, and a pair of trivia tracks, “Cars, Cops , and Culture 70’s Trivia Track” and Vanishing Point Trivia Challenge, are available for playing along with the film. Also included is “Super Soul Me”, a BonusVIEW extra that “goes behind the scenes of one of the first all-rock film soundtracks. Includes interviews with many of the original artists who recorded the soundtrack like Leslie West of “Mountain,” Kim Carnes, Laura Creamer of the all girl group “Eve,” Jimmy Walker, Delaney Bramlett of “Delaney & Bonnie & Friends” as well as legendary DJ Jim Ladd.” For those that have it, the film is also D-Box compatible.
Overall Vanishing Point is a film for motor heads only, but if you’re into them then you’ll enjoy this film. The video isn’t the greatest and the audio is weak, but the new extras are well worth checking out. A definite upgrade from the 2004 release and one that’s Recommended.
Vanishing Point is now available on Blu-ray.