Sniper Blu-ray Review
One Shot. One Kill.
Luis Llosa's thriller Sniper is a flawed 90s gem with the odd-couple pairing of then-star Tom Berenger and then-rising star Billy Zane providing muted psychological drama to flavour the jungle action.Llosa - whose most famous film credits include Stallone's The Specialist and Anaconda, with Jennifer Lopez and Jon Voight - had little on his resume before taking on Sniper. The story of a badly paired sniper unit - seasoned veteran and a green new recruit (here backed by the National Security Council) - tasked with a black ops mission that soon gets messy is straightforward enough, but must have been made more interesting for those involved due to the added psychological dimension it allowed for, as Berenger's experienced-but-damaged Master Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Beckett finds increasingly hostile resistance from his young and distrusting ward, Billy Zane's Richard Miller.Between the impressively atmospheric setting (Queensland substituting for Panama) and the measured but effective action beats enhanced by attention to detail on the military front, Sniper is quite an entertaining little 90s thriller, despite the fact that it ultimately fails to capitalise on its psychological promise. Whether it's Llosa's inexperience or indeed Zane's (who randomly drifts into Dead Calm psychosis for a spell, which is ironically why he got this gig), this added, deeper, dimension to Sniper doesn't quite coalesce, although Berenger (a shade off his Platoon persona) still drive's the piece; the heart and soul and damaged psyche behind this flawed but engaging military thriller.
Picture QualityNSM Records' German release of Sniper pretty-much marks the first widely available release of the 1993 film on Blu-ray, and it's certainly surprising that, with no less than six sequels (the last of which has been given a Blu-ray release), the original - and easily best - of the films is still not out in either the UK or US. Nevertheless this German Region B-locked Blu-ray will more than suffice for those waiting - at least those in the UK or with Region Free capabilities - offering up what looks to be a remastered video presentation that delivers the film in the best shape it's been seen in for almost a quarter of a century.
This is the best shape the film has been in for almost a quarter of a century
Although there's no official information about a 2K remaster, it wouldn't be surprising to hear that that's exactly what's on offer here, with the image cleaned up and polished but left textured and visually impressive. Detail is striking, picking up on six o'clock shadow even beneath the heavy camouflage, and revealing every little nuance of the jungle setting. Weathered clothing weaves and weapons details are evident, with only some of the more stylised shots (the through-the-scope images and bullet-path shots) dropping off a fraction, and even then it looks pretty good. The vibrant lush greens of the jungle impress, and black levels remain solid, only fluctuating a little and even standing up to variable levels of smoke and haze in the environment. It's a very good looking video presentation indeed, and there's little point in waiting for - and even less hope of getting - anything better than this.
Sound QualityThe German release offers up dubbed German DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio as well as, of course, the original English language track in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 too. It's a strong, superior offering, delivering the goods with punch and presence that's limited but still offers a largely previously unknown level of quality for this film.
The film sounds better on this Blu-ray than ever before
Dialogue remains firmly prioritised across the frontal array, dominating the proceedings where necessary and remaining clear and coherent above the rest of the aural salvo. The score was done by the same composer who did Under Siege the previous year (Gary Chang) and the beats are often identical, although there's a more melancholy underlying theme used to try and reflect the haunted mind of the lead character. It's an effective enough affair, given decent prominence across the speaker array. Effects are oftentimes distinctly 80s in style (reminiscent of the jungle warfare in Predator a few years earlier) but do offer up some more punchy, diverting surround activity and even a little LFE input, with penetrating sniper rounds delivered across the soundstage, and even the raking thunder of mounted heavy machine guns and the concussive boom of a few grenades. The whup-whup of Huey transport helicopters further expands the sound design although ultimately it's still a nominally restricted offering, sounding better here than ever before, but unlikely to ever attract attention as a demo track.
ExtrasAlthough the German Limited Edition Mediabook release is disappointingly minimalist in terms of the majority of its extras - there are trailers and text-based actor filmographies, as well as a nice little booklet which has some good stills but whose text (in German) doesn't exactly offer up anything that revealing beyond film bios of the director and stars. However, there's one extra that almost makes up for it, an alternate copy of the film which resembles the version of the film that many UK viewers will be familiar with from back in the days of VHS and early DVD, but will have (hopefully) forgotten about since. Available in fullscreen SD, it's not a great looking presentation - and suffers from slightly jarring frame-skipping issues - but, then again, it's not far off the kind of presentation most fans were used to for the film before this Blu-ray came along.
The alternate cut is in many ways very similar to, and in many ways very different from, the final cut. Whilst the majority of scenes remain intact, shots are slightly different across the duration, whilst four key sequences are lost or replaced almost in their entirety - the opening post-titles jungle sequence with the boat; the introduction to Richard Miller (with completely different actors in a different location); the killing of the rebel sniper (losing the elaborate through-the-lens shot); and the final handgun kill. The end result is strangely muted in this alternate version, perhaps to limit the violence for UK audiences (the torture sequence has been trimmed too) but also perhaps to change the stylised tone of some of the action, and leave it slightly more realistic (both the through-the-lens shot and the final handgun shot are a little Hollywood). Nevertheless, without them it's a far less entertaining viewing of Sniper, so this alternate version is little more than a nice curio which fans should be at least happy to find included in this set.
The alternate cut is a nice little curio which fans should be happy to find included in this set
In terms of actual packaging, the German label NSM Records have gone for a trio of Limited Edition covers (each with a rather odd 444 copies available), which will be quite hard for fans to pick between - each with a hardboard Mediabook style cover, with english text on the front cover (mainly because they're based on the original US posters) even if there's printed German text on the rear. They are all nice designs, with the minimalist, largely black and white Cover C option probably the most stylish and least dated or cluttered.
Blu-ray VerdictSniper is another 90s gem which has yet to make it to Blu-ray in the UK or US, and was unavailable at all until 2017, with this tail end German release marking easily the best way for UK fans to finally pick it up.
Easily the best way for UK fans to pick this 90s gem up
The Region B-locked 2-disc package sports what easily looks good enough to be remastered picture quality as well as a strong English audio track on the Blu-ray disc, complete with a rough cut that resembles the shorter, less violent and and less stylishly entertaining UK cut of the film available as an extra. There's also a Region 2 DVD copy of the film, and the discs are housed in one of three limited edition Mediabook packages complete with a glossy booklet and different artwork on the covers. Worth hunting down if you're a fan.
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