Plot: What’s it about?
It occurred to me how good a year 1993 was for movies. The critically-acclaimed like Schindler’s List, The Fugitive and Philadelphia; but also, the ones that were just fun to watch like Dazed and Confused, Jurassic Park and Groundhog Day. That’s not to say that other years didn’t have their share of hits, but to me 1993 was a diamond in the rough. And with the 80’s over, Stallone’s Rocky and Rambo franchises ensured that he’d never have to worry about money again, let alone look for any more acting parts. He produced and co-wrote the script based “off an idea” from a few other writers and so, Cliffhanger was born.
Gabe (Sylvester Stallone) is a very talented Rocky Mountain Rescue worker. He and partner Hal (Michael Rooker) and Hal’s girlfriend get stranded a top the “tower” and need rescued. A seemingly routine rescue becomes deadly as Gabe drops Hal’s girlfriend to her death, in an attempt to save her life. Not knowing how to deal with the grief, he leaves town for nearly a year, only to return to gather his things and get caught up in a little adventure along the way. This leads us to the other half of the film – the bad guys. Treasury agent Travers (Rex Linn), a dedicated agent who has come to the decision that this shipment of $100 million dollars was just a little too tempting to pass up (can we blame him?).d Travers has teamed with Eric Qualen (John Lithgow) who has the international connections to move the sort of currency that happens to be on this particular shipment. So, it’s all set…hijack the plane, take out anyone not with them, split the cash and retire? Wrong, as usual something goes wrong and the suitcases, hi tech ones at that, are scattered across a 30 mile radius of the Rocky Mountains. Feigning help, the surviving members of the plane crash call for help. Gabe and Hal come to the rescue. But what the terrorists really want is a helicopter so they can get out of there. Because they know the turf so well, Gabe and Hal are taken prisoner and forced to help locate the missing suitcases full of money, but they both know that once found, both Gabe and Hal are dead.
It’d been a while since I sat down and watched this film and ironically this was the first movie I saw as a “screener.” I worked in a video store (logically) and was amazed that I could see this film long before it hit VHS. Yes, VHS. My college life aside, I have always enjoyed this film and while it might be considered “Die Hard on a mountain”, it’s fun to watch. Ironically, director Renny Harlin directed Die Hard‘s sequel. Small world. The stunt work and choreography are all top notch as was the opening place sequence in which two planes were hooked together with a stunt man sliding from one to the other. The stunt was so dangerous that it took a $1 million dollar insurance policy to film. Stallone deducted that from his salary to pay for it. Wasn’t that nice? Yes, there are some tired clichés, but I found the film enjoyable and always have.
Video: How does it look?
Sony has been doing and I would assume will continue to do a great job with their 4K catalog. Cliffhanger was a title that was in need of some TLC and it got it. I’d forgotten how beautiful some of the shots in this film are. Filmed in the Cortina d’Ampezzo-Dolomites mountains, because of their spectacular similarities to the Colorado Rockies, there are some truly breathtaking visuals. The 2.39:1 HEVC 4K image has really given new life to some of these majestic, sweeping scenes. While a fine layer of grain does persist, the entire film itself seems to be a bit brighter and sport a cleaner image. Flesh tones are even, not red or washed out. The addition of HDR really gives some more depth and dimension to a lot of the shots as well. Detail is stunning. This really is a beautiful film and it looks positively stunning on 4K.
Audio: How does it sound?
The addition of a new Dolby Atmos track really makes this one work. From the opening scene in which a helicopter flies across the mountains, the rear and rear surrounds are engaged. This creates a dizzying atmospheric effect that’s exactly what the Atmos track was designed for. I’d also forgotten how many things blow up in this film, be it a helicopter, a plane crash or anything in between. Vocals are superb as well, lacking any distortion. The score by Trevor Jones has never sounded better. This was one of the better catalog Atmos remixes I’ve heard in a long time and hopefully its an indicator of things to come. Those wanting the best soundtrack out of this film will not be disappointed.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The new 4K disc doesn’t have any new features. The included Blu-ray pulls in all of the supplements from the previously-released disc.
- Audio Commentary – Director Renny Harlin and Actor Sylvester Stallone are featured and it’s not that bad either. No two people would really know more about the movie than the director and lead actor (who also helped write the screenplay), so it’s very informative with a lot of information about the production, the shoot and some of the stunts therein.
- Audio Commentary – The second is a technical commentary, and it’s interesting as well, though I couldn’t sit through the movie one more time to listen to the techs talk about everything, put it this way…it’s nice to have there if that’s your thing.
- A Personal Introduction from Renny Harlin – Director Renny Harlin gives us an intro. to the film.
- Deleted Scenes – Two are included: King’s Leap and Ice Climb, both with an optional introduction from Harlin.
- Stallone on the Edge: The Making of Cliffhanger – A vintage piece complete with interviews with Stallone (on the set of Demolition Man) and the basic concepts for the film are explored. Some of the stunts, including the unbelievable jump that was cut from the film (but still in the trailers) as well as some behind the scenes footage.
- Special Effects – Two key sequences are explored: Sarah’s Fall and Helicopter Explosion. We get a look at the semantics as to how these were achieved.
- Storyboard Comparisons – Pretty explanatory, some rough designs are shown translated to the final product.
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- Previews – Some other Sony, now very dated, titles are included.
The Bottom Line
Unlike a lot of Stallone’s films, I think Cliffhanger has aged pretty well. Taking into consideration the audio and video quality and if they could remove some of the dated technology in the film, this could be passed off as a modern release. Sony’s new 4K image is simply glorious and really showcases how beautiful some of the shots in this movie really are. The lack of any new features is a bit disappointing, but for those that wanted this to look and sound its best – the wait is over.