Midnight Express Blu-ray Review
PictureBrought back to our screens at a widescreen 1.85:1, 1080p using the MPEG-4/AVC codec, Midnight Express serves up a picture far better than any other previous variant. That's not to say that this presentation will make you sit up and take notice because there are other better discs out there, but for a film now some 30 years old it's not looking bad at all for its age.
The print is in excellent condition with no dirt or specks to speak of. There are some very minor brightness fluctuations in some very light swathes of colour (the prison walls for instance) but they are pretty fleeting and don't really affect your viewing to any great degree. There is some grain evident throughout and although there is less than I thought there would be I'm still trying to ascertain if some light DNR has been applied. Facial and skin tones look fresh and vibrant with good pore and hair structure so I'm verging in the no DNR camp. Other detail is exemplary especially the decay which has set in in most of Turkey's institutions, the court, the cells, the actual prison itself all seem to be crumbling to nothing. The image shows this from the cracks and holes in the walls to the flaking paint.
The inside of Billy's prison is dark, dank and damp. Blacks are deep enough to highlight some of the shadowy prison areas but not as inky as other more premium releases. Whites seem stable enough and although particularly bright on occasion never really bloom. Colours are flat, suiting the nature of the film... there's no technicolour behind these bars. A limited pallette is used with toned down browns and stained khaki or yellows being the order of the day.
The transfer is good, some enhancement in most scenes but no blocking, banding or smears on show in some of the few faster moving scenes. The image is a tad soft and not really what we are used to on pin sharp 1080p displays. This is not a product of the transfer but more the mechanisms used at the time of filming. There is a very short depth of field in a lot of scenes with tight focusing which occasionally goes astray.
SoundFor us English speakers we have the option of a full 5.1 Dolby TrueHD or original mono track to choose from. It is good that the studio have opted to include the original track for the purists but in reality the 5.1 does win out in the end. It's a little clearer than the mono variety with the dialogue certainly much better defined. In saying that there were still one or two instances where I did strain to hear what a character was saying and had to rewind a little. The track itself is a little low, nowhere near reference and I had to crank it a few notches just to get the best from it. Once that's been done you can sit back and relax.
Originating from a mono source as you would expect all of the action is up front. I did count two occasions where the surrounds did kick in, one a motorcycle and secondly some birds... both set in the bustling Turkish markets and streets. Both worth mentioning only because they did seem a little out of place, a little forced.
Everything else is straight up front and mainly rooted in the centre channel. There is some width added to the mix by the left and right speakers. Unlike the surround use they appear natural but somewhat subdued. A slightly better mix for this premium Blu-ray release would not have gone amiss, especially for the thumping Moroder soundtrack. This track covers what it needs to but it could have been so much better had a little thought and work gone into it.
- Commentary with Director Alan Parker.
Parker going solo on this rather informative if somewhat monotonous chat track. Most of the information is covered in the later featurettes or indeed the Parker penned essay which accompanies the digi-book packaging. Locations, casting, filming and editing are all discussed as is the reaction which the film received on its release. The reaction to the way Turkey and her people were seemingly portrayed is mentioned and, like some of the featurettes later, Parker almost makes an apology for how these people are presented.
- The Producers. - 0:25:54 - 1080i/MPEG-2
Peter Gruber indicating how he read the snippets of Billy Haynes story tracked him down and how he searched for screen writers to take the book to the big screen. David Puttnam mentions how he felt that the deal he was offered by Gruber was too good to turn down and so took it on those grounds. He liked Stone's writing and energy, he knew he would take Parker with him to direct, and he also mentions who went through the casting process before Davis took the lead part. There are conflicts which came about due to the casting of Gere and these are briefly touched upon. Alan Marshall chips in with his view on events essentially backing up what Gruber and Puttnam have already discussed.
- The Production. - 0:24:28 - 1080i/MPEG-2
Alan Parker essentially recounting the article which is included in the digi-book packaging. Puttnam, and Stone also have some say on the pre-production process. William Hayes is there mentioning the fact that he enjoyed Stone's energy and enthusiasm. Puttnam, Marshall and Parker all admit that the initial draft of Stone's script was excellent even though it was set like the book in multiple prisons rather than the one we're used to in the final screen version. Like the earlier featurette casting is discussed as are locations, crew and shooting.
- The Finished Film. - 0:23:48 - 1080i/MPEG-2
What is really a continuation of the previous two featurettes, discussing the cast with Brad Davis coming in for some high praise from both Parker and Hurt alike. They admire his dedication and acting skills. Parker discusses the use of the heartbeat throughout the film and how it added to the tension the viewer felt. Of all the small featurettes this one discusses the music by Moroder, how Parker chose him over his initial thoughts of Vangelis, how Moroder composed and conducted and how his style of music, initially rejected by the studios, won not only the studio heads over but also the academy award for that year.
- The Making of Midnight Express. - 0:07:27 - 480i/MPEG-2
The original EPK which would accompanied Midnight Express. A young looking Billy Hayes is on screen comparing what's in the film to what actually happened and his thoughts at the time. He's shown visiting the set, reflecting on what he had seen and what he had survived. A good enough look back not necessarily on the making of the film but on Billy Hayes' own thoughts.
- Photo Gallery. - 0:12:40 1080i/MPEG-2
A collection of photos from the film and production put to some music inspired by Giorgio Moroder. This runs like a slide show with no user interaction on offer.
Trailers for The DaVinci Code, A River Runs Through It, Casino Royal, Damages: Season One, Obsessed and Not Easily Broken.
A good set of extras for the film and the commentary is certainly worth a listen even if it is a little monotonous at times. The short essay by Alan Parker, included in the digi-book packaging, is a great little read, detailing some of the history behind the film, its inception, casting, filming and the reaction when finally released. There is some repetition between the featurettes and the included essay but on the whole all of these additional extras are worth a watch. BD-Live is included but that proved to be yet another frustrating experience and one I quickly came out of when it was more than apparent that there was nothing there of note which wasn't just hanging my BD-35 machine.
VerdictAlan Parker is a director who has produced some consistently good films throughout his career and Midnight Express is just one of that collection. There's excellent tension in the chase scenes, in the way the prison officers raid the cells and abuse the inmates. The viewer feels an affinity for the protagonist and that's something of an eye opener because the man in question is a drug smuggler. Let's face it 2 kilos is not for personal use.
Superb direction backed up with some solid performances from Davis, Hurt and Randy Quaid ends up giving us a film which you're engaged with and needing to watch to the bitter end to see how these poor souls fare. Stone has produced an excellent screenplay and even still manages to get a little political kick in there with his walking circle; you can't keep a good man down. A film which had so much political fallout though that Holland tried to ban the film; and Turkish/American relations were strained a little resulting in additional negotiations after the film. Those negotiations in turn ended in a prisoner exchange between the two countries.
On Blu-ray this is a step up from previous incarnations with better video and audio than before but still not the cream of the crop. If you're a lover of the film then I can certainly recommend this as a purchase otherwise perhaps just give this one a rental. Well presented in the digi-book format with an excellent article by Parker, I'm glad to have this updated version in my collection; I am sure you will too.
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- Commentary with Director Alan Parker.