Cliffhanger: Special Edition

January 28, 2012 8 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

After the 80’s were over, thus ended the “Rambo” movies as well as the Rocky movies (though there’s talk of a Part VI, if you can believe that). Sylvester Stallone had the image of an action star and had been in somewhat of a lull, what with movies like “Stop or My Mom Will Shoot” and “Oscar”. So, he teamed with Director Renny Harlin, who is hit and miss as a director, though I personally like all of his stuff, and set out to make an adventure movie set in the mountains. Stallone, a very talented writer (he wrote the book for Rocky, which is how he landed the part) helped write the screenplay and what we’re left with was one of the bigger hits of the 90’s…for Sylvester Stallone. Cliffhanger comined the talents of Harlin, Stallone along with another talented actor John Lithgow, whose over the top performance in this movie is one of his best. So it’s good to see that Cliffhanger, origially one of the first Columbia/Tristar releases, has been given the Special Edition treatment.

Gabe (Sylvester Stallone) is a very talented Rocky Mountain Rescue worker. As the movie opens, his 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 Cliffhanger…the bad guys. We meet 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)? 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 to Hawaii? 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 prisioner and forced to help locate the missing suitcases full of money, but they both know that once found, both Gabe and Hal are dead.

In one of his better roles, John Lithgow plays a very convincing terrorist. Sporting a Eurpoean accent and with his natural aloofness, Lithgow nearly steals the show. Throughout the movie, Gabe and Hal are at odds with each other, but something about life-threatening situations brings people together. With a supporting cast that included Janine Turner (then of Northern Exposure fame) and Ralph Waite, Cliffhanger delivers. It’s good to see Sylvester Stallone as the everyday man instead of some special forces indestructable man and Rocky for a change. While Cliffhanger isn’t the best movie out there, it’s a nice two hour escape from some of the movies out there. At the very least, it’s worth a look and Columbia has done this Special Edition right.

Video: How does it look?

I remember watching Cliffhanger for the first time on DVD (nearly three years ago) and was very impressed by the image quality. I had owned the previous LaserDisc version and remembered that the picture wasn’t that great. Amazing that on DVD, Columbia titles are among the best, but the LD’s were awful. The 2.35:1 image looks great, even though it’s the same transfer that was used for the original feature. Colors are bright and vivid and I saw no loss of compression and no digital artifacting whatsoever. Clearly, no pun intended, this is one of the best DVD’s out there in terms of picture quality. The Rockies never looked so good!

Audio: How does it sound?

To compliment the outstanding video, the audio has just as much kick to it. Again, this is the same soundtrack that was used for the original disc, but it sounds just as good. The original 70mm 6 track sound mix sounds perfect on DVD, and every time that helicopter is fired up (and it’s used a lot), all five channels radiate the blades moving. More prevelant on this soundtrack is the surround effects, and that is what makes a soundtrack stand out in my mind. Dialogue is always clear in movies 10 years young, but the use of the surround effects makes this movie really come alive. I can’t guraantee too many things, but I can guarantee that this soundtrack rocks!

Supplements: What are the extras?

Ok *deep breath*, in addition to the Dual-layered version of the film, we are treated to not one but two audio commentary tracks. The first features Sylvester Stallone and Director Renny Harlin, 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, and I wish Stallone would do one for his upcoming Rocky: Special Edition (he may, who knows). 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. We also get a personal introduction from Renny Harlin, some DVD-ROM material, storyboard comparisons, photo galleries, and the usual talent files (cast bios) and production notes. What was also interesting is the featurette “Stallone on the Edge” and the deleted scenes. You may remember from the original trailer (also included) that “unbeliveable” jump that Stallone did, well they have the original scene here and it’s clear why it was taken out. All in all, this is one feature packed disc. The movie is good, and it’s hard to believe that it’s now 7 years old! Great picture and great sound make this one a keeper! Top notch!

Disc Scores