Cobra Blu-ray Review
Don’t expect miracles from this one, folks. Cobra has always had a very gritty and very cheapskate look about it … and this VC-1 transfer from Warner isn’t going to alter that grubby 80’s palette one iota. The aspect is 1.85:1, which really accentuates those occasional goldfish bowl lens distortions and MTV angles that DOP Ric Waite incorporates. Waite had done great work for Walter Hill on the Long Riders and 48 Hrs, and then for John Milius on Red Dawn, but he seemed to show a certain raw and immediate flair with urban thrillers, and would go on to lens many more such action-oriented spectacles for the likes of Seagal and even Brandon Lee. The print does show some signs of age-related wear and tear but, besides some frame-edge vertical discolouring at one stage, this is easily dismissable stuff. The grain structure looks to be reasonably authentic and shows no signs of having been scrubbed with DNR. It fluctuates in texture but it always seems faithful. The resulting picture isn’t as sharp, or as detailed as some will have hoped, but it remains film-like and still noticeably improved, if quite rough and ready. Finite detail is nowhere to be seen, but backgrounds do not appear to forsake resolution.
The image does boast some strong black levels that go some way to lending it a solid sense of depth and vitality, making the film look sometimes quite intense. Shadows are pretty deep and well maintained without losing definition or becoming compromised by the filtering fingers of grey. Contrast, by and large, is fine, with nice, clean whites that don't bloom. However, the film, itself, likes things to be darker, somewhat smudged and bruised, and the transfer adheres well to this aesthetic. Skin tones are okay and don’t exhibit the ruddiness or anaemia that could have stricken the image. Some colours possess more life than others, with the primaries and the burnished glow of the fires during the climactic sequences providing some punched eye-candy in what is, otherwise, an overcast picture-palette. Explosions aren’t all that bright or aggressive – in fact, some of them look “dirty” - but nor should they disappoint.
On the digital front, the transfer shouldn’t disappoint either. I didn’t spot any overt aliasing, artefacts, noise or smearing going on. Banding is not an issue. Cobra looks like a film of its time – gaudy yet grubby, indistinct yet immediate. It doesn’t shine on Blu but it remains agreeably authentic. There’s been no restoration affected here though, arguably, we shouldn’t have anticipated one.
Cobra does come slightly more to life with the new DTS-HD MA 5.1 track adding in a little bit of wraparound sonics and bolstering the punch and weight of the bullets and the grinding metal, but this is a mix that has been culled unmistakably from the source of the times. In other words, it now sounds comparatively hollow and weak.
There isn’t a great deal of clout to the explosions, though what there is can still sound reasonable enough. Gunfire rips about the joint and bullets blast all right, but the sound is relatively contained and very tame by today’s standards. To be fair, I wouldn’t have expected anything more without the action coming across as too bogus and artificially created for the sake of it. As it stands right now, this is perfectly acceptable without getting to the point of sounding fake.
Whilst there is some agreeable detail within the action, there is little genuine heft or punch to the track. The clashing of axes sounds insipid and downmixed. Ferocious body blows, such a favourite of Stallone’s, lack the exaggerated solidity – though this is not necessarily a bad thing – and bullet-hits, be they tearing into a person or punching through the walls and windows of the motel room or the cherished metalwork on the Cobra-mobile don’t have too much in the way of violent power. The sub does not have much to do here, and bass, as a whole, only manages to provide some vague foundation for the bombast.
Sadly the dialogue is neither muffled nor swamped – which means that you will have the sorry misfortune of being able to hear every lamentable line. “Hot item …” indeed. Give me a break. The score from Sylvester Levay, which is a low-rent urban rumble inspired by James Horner’s Commando, has some bite to it, but nothing to get worked up over. The various songs that populate the soundtrack - Miami Sound Machine, Robert Tepper, John Cafferty - have limited range but still come across without any problems. The soundtrack has a quite a legion of fans – and I’m a massive devotee of 80’s music (so long as its British) – but I’m afraid it’s a clunker of huge proportions.
However, I was a little bit more impressed by how the mix conveyed various effects from around the soundscape. Directionality is reasonably well maintained and the experience is certainly bolstered by the lean, yet effective use of surrounds. To be fair, this is just about as good as we could justifiably expect Cobra to sound.
We don’t get much here, folks. This has been ported-over from the DVD.
All we get is a rather dull, sparse and boring commentary from Cosmatos, that only manages to describe the onscreen action and provides very little in the way of actual production trivia or the thoughts that went into the creative process. In all honesty, when the film was cobbled together purely to grease the Sly-mobile, there wouldn’t be a great deal for him to discuss. What would have been better, obviously, would have been to hear Stallone delivering his verdict on this ill-thought-out exercise in box office smash ‘n’ grab. He’s great with chat-tracks and he’s very self-deprecating, so to have heard his opinions on Marion Cobretti’s limp-wristed one-man crusade would have been both quite humorous and illuminating.
The 8-minute vintage “making of” isn’t up to much either. Just a few minutes of pop promo interviews with the likes of Stallone and Cosmatos. There’s nothing critical or poignant or even all that interesting.
We get the film's theatrical trailer, although this is the full US one and not the punchier and more exciting UK one that was better edited and far more enticing.
I’ve done the film down something rotten throughout this entire review and, even though I stand by all that I’ve said, I still wish that more could have been added to it in terms of special features. Having Stallone looking back on it could have been worth its weight in gold.
Well, I wanted this as part of my Stallone BD collection, and I’m pretty sure that there will be many others out there with similar intentions. To those people it simply won’t matter a jot what I’ve said about Cobra and its myriad and downright embarrassing failings. But to anyone coming fresh to Sly’s idiotic and really rather boring cop-thriller, I would advise they approach with the lowest expectations possible. Even as a braindead actioner, this completely stinks. The mayhem isn’t exciting, the story is atrociously mishandled which isn’t surprising considering how lousy the screenplay is, the characters, even for such deliberately one-note ciphers, are terrible … and the big man, himself, has rarely been worse, nor so horribly self-conscious. And he wrote it, for God’s sake!
Warner’s transfer isn’t too bad, but this doesn’t have any of the hi-def qualities that you crave. The image is old and beaten – though, to be fair, it looked old and beaten even when it first came out at the flicks – and the audio struggles to provide any meaningful impetus despite a few cursory surround effects pitching-in. The extras aren’t worth your time either.
So I’m afraid that Cobra is only for the die-hard Sly-fans … unless you gain pleasure from watching the worst and most imbecilic of 80’s comic-book caricatures on the rampage. We can’t blame the film for its shameless celebration of the sounds and styles of the era, but the fact that it ran with such choices and was still an embarrassment on its own terms is unforgivable. This is incredibly shoddy filmmaking in every department from conception right through to execution. Stallone is an Action God, better, by far, than all of his rivals and contemporaries … but that doesn’t stop this thrill-less thriller from being a disgrace to his name.
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