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CLIFFHANGER
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Sylvester Stallone, John Lithgow, Michael Rooker, Janine Turner, Leon, Paul Winfield, Ralph Waite
Director: Renny Harlin
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Sony
Features: See Review
Length: 113 Minutes
Release Date: January 12, 2010

ďRemember, sh*thead! Keep your arms and legs in the vehicle at all times!Ē 

Film ***1/2

Cliffhanger holds a special place in my heart for a couple reasons, the first being that itís one of director Renny Harlinís finest pieces of action filmmaking to date, meaning itís pretty damn spectacular in scope. Secondly, I got to see this movie in the theater as part of my reward for making it through middle school. And itís the movie that marked Sylvester Stalloneís return to the action genre after a series of misguided failures, most notably Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.

Harlin had just demonstrated his extravagant action chops with Die Hard 2, and with much success. In terms of filmmaking scope, Cliffhanger definitely represents a huge evolution for Harlin. Though the movie is set in the Colorado Rockies, Harlin went all out and shot the film in mountains of Italy. When you have a director like him shooting in such an amazing landscape, the scenery very much becomes a character in itself.

And the movie itself couldnít be more appropriately titled, as it is one of the most fast-paced white-knuckle thrill rides you will ever experience. Iíd be lying if I said this wasnít something of a Die Hard clone, but it hardly matters. Harlin has gone to great lengths to see to it that the movieís setting, its pacing, and intense action sequences do their part in making this movie stand on its own, which it certainly does.

It also contains one of the most brilliant openings Iíve ever seen in any action movie. I remember being shocked the first time I saw it, as few movies Iíd seen by this point had never gone so far in the first ten minutes. And the effect is still potent in repeat viewings.

Without giving away what happens in the opening, because any explanation will ruin the jolting effect, letís just say that it definitely sets up the story. Gabe Walker (Stallone) is a former Rocky Mountain Rescue worker who quit his job following a certain incident. After spending some time at a new job in Denver, heís come back to pick up possessions and patch things up with his co-workers.

Meanwhile, a group of international thieves are attempting to track and steal from a U.S. Treasury jet carrying a hundred million in cash. The plot doesnít go as smoothly as intended, as the cases containing the money end up falling down and landing in the middle of the Rockies. Once their plane crash lands, the groupís leader, Qualen (John Lithgow), fakes a radio distress call, luring a couple of rescue workers to help guide them through the area to find the money.

Alas, Gabe reluctantly suits back up alongside fellow rescuer climber Hal (Michael Rooker) for what they think is another rescue mission. Once they realize they been tricked and have become hostages, this already tension-filled movie takes off even further. What you end up with is the very definition of a popcorn adventure movie that isnít just a rollercoaster ride, but rather the entire theme park!

If there was ever a lifetime achievement award for best stunt work in a movie, it would have to go to this movie. Itís rare to find a movie where each stunt sequence is excellently choreographed, and itís even more rare when every day causes one to react with sheer awe. Credit Mr. Harlin with accomplishing both tasks, in addition to incorporating amazing shots of the stunts as well of invigorating use of slow motion during many suspenseful moments.

Whatís more, the actors each give more than a hundred percent, most notably Stallone. You can tell just by watching him in this movie that he couldnít have been happier to be doing what he does best after such a long time away. He carries a strong physical presence in the film as well as that of a supercharged quick wit.

And credit John Lithgow for bringing an equal balance of menace and charm to his most memorable villainous role to date. I remember thinking on my first viewing that no other villain in an action movie had made me laugh so much, other than say Alan Rickman in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Itís so easy to see that Lithgow was having the time of his life playing such a slime ball.

When all is said and done, Cliffhanger will go down as a career highlight for both Sylvester Stallone and Renny Harlin. You couldnít have picked a better collaboration of star and director for such a project. Itís a fantastic piece of action filmmaking that definitely holds up 16 years following its initial release, while at the same time illustrating the unbeatable quality of old school action cinema.

Video ****

Hereís a movie that has managed to receive a grand treatment in its DVD inception, but yet somehow looks more fantastic than ever in the upgrade to Blu-ray. A point worth mentioning because early 90s films seem to get lackluster conversions to HD. Sony has done a most remarkable job in fine tuning this visually engrossing action flick in Blu-ray format. Never before have I noticed so much image detail and clarity during a single viewing. The 1080p does a magnificent job in making its rocky mountain setting look so completely authentic. Not a single flaw detected in both day and nighttime set pieces!

Audio ****

I was most eager to see what the DTS HD mix was going to bring to a movie Iíve seen so many times, and I was blown away by the results. Spectacular is indeed the appropriate word to describe the lossless audio mix. Itís an action movie that never stops to breathe, and the same can be said of awesome sound as it never stops either. The music score by Trevor Jones, which I must say is quite epic, has never sounded more effective. And every bit of action is captured in true magnificent form. Itís a sound presentation that really does help in making you feel engulfed in a most insane theme park attraction.

Features ***1/2

All the extras have been ported over from the Collectorís Edition DVD release, which include two commentary tracks; the first one is with Director Renny Harlin and Sylvester Stallone, the second is with various members of the Technical Crew. Thereís also a Personal Introduction from Director Renny Harlin, two behind the scenes extras including ďStallone on the Edge: The Making of CliffhangerĒ and a Special Effects featurette. Rounding out the features are Storyboard Comparisons, a Theatrical Trailer (one of the best ones youíll ever see!) which features an optional introduction with Renny Harlin, Bonus Previews for additional Sony releases and one Blu-ray exclusive extra with is Sonyís MovieIQ trivia track.

Summary:

A pure action spectacle if there ever was one, Cliffhanger is a movie that still rocks the house big time! It showcases Sylvester Stallone and Renny Harlin at the peak of their powers, and looks and sounds better than ever on Blu-ray. Definitely worth upgrading if you already own the DVD!

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