The Driver - Exclusive Limited Edition Blu-ray Review
“Gonna’ catch me the cowboy who’s never been caught.
PictureTwilight Time get their hands on another one of 20th Century Fox’s masters, and deliver up this Region Free Limited Edition (which, with only 3000 units produced, you’ll likely only find on Ebay now) Blu-ray that presents the movie with a surprisingly impressive 1080p/AVC-encoded video transfer in the film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen. The image boasts both a satisfying wealth of detail and also a reassuringly thick level of grain, promoting the film in a strikingly good fashion, easily the best it has ever looked. From the facial and fine object detail to the clothing weaves and background textures, this 35-year-old feature feels like it’s had a completely new lease of life in High Definition. Sure, the black levels aren’t quite right, but you have to consider that this may have been intentional on the part of the filmmakers, with plenty of the darker scenes still retaining a surprisingly amount of shadow detail and depth. Indeed it’s only a couple of moments – one daytime interior suffers worse, when The Detective talks to his men outside their van – where the excessive blacks can really be criticised; The Detective’s dark black suit almost blending into the shadows. The colour scheme too is slightly skewed with a green-blue twinge; we’re not talking The French Connection here, but it throws off a couple of the tones, including the distinctive orange Mercedes. Still, it is, as far as I recall, faithful to the manner in which the film has always been presented. I’m merely raising your awareness to these elements; the reality is that this is an excellent video presentation and, notwithstanding a couple of slips, it presents the material better than you’d likely have ever seen it before. Just shy of demo quality, it’s still very good indeed.
SoundRather than go for a full-blown 5.1 re-mix, instead The Driver’s original mono track is rendered by a solid DTS-HD Master Audio mono presentation that does its best to handle the distinctly limited material. 35 years on and the film may still look superb, but it was never recorded in a particularly expansive, dynamic fashion, so what more could you expect here? Thankfully the core elements remain well presented; with clear and coherent dialogue throughout, as well as a capable rendition of the cleverly understated score, which shimmers and shines in the background. The effects are actually pretty impressive – engine roars that exceed what you might expect from the vehicles you’re watching, and the kind of throaty car chases thrum that you would hope for – but, when things accelerate into a crashing, police-siren-screaming fury, the end result can threaten to overwhelm the limitations of the mono presentation. Still, there’s no denying that this is a solid, respectful treatment of the material; one which should certainly please fans of the film with its authentic reproduction.
ExtrasAlthough not packed with extras, we do get a nice little trio – certainly more than you might expect for this kind of cult classic – as well as an informative booklet with plenty of trivia and photos from the film.
Isolated Score Track, presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, makes for a welcome addition, allowing you a better opportunity to enjoy the understated score.
Alternate Opening runs at over 3 minutes in length and basically sets up the characters more clearly at the beginning, rather than starting at the getaway point and leaving the motivations more mysterious. It’s easy to see why it was removed – the film plays better with that veil of deception and, of course, we cut straight to the action – but it’s nice to have the extra footage here, including a few more memorable lines from Bruce Dern’s Detective.
Original Theatrical Traileris two-and-a-half minutes long and is particularly interesting to watch because you can spot a great many alternate versions of key scenes, added dialogue, and completely new scenes. Almost all of The Driver’s dialogue-less moments now have him spit pithy, clever lines; whether it’s in his confrontation with The Detective, or when he faces off against Teeth. I think the removal of these lines has left the character more enigmatically aloof and iconically cool, but it’s interesting to hear some of the lines that may have been uttered, had they gone down that route. Pity we didn’t get more deleted / alternate scenes to fully flesh out these moments.
VerdictOne of the coolest films of all time, yet, chances are you might not have even heard of Walter Hill's highly-stylised noir-infused 1978 thriller, The Driver, let alone actually seen it. Indeed, even when it comes to the greatest car chases captured on film, where the likes of Bullitt, The French Connection and To Live and Die in LA often make the top ten list, The Driver - which doesn't just include some great car stunts, but is actually defined by them - frequently goes overlooked.
Beyond A-game car chases, Hill offers up that dark, gritty flavour that all of his best films thrive on, creating a thick and heady atmosphere, seething with tension; primed to explode. The Driver was a true tribute to all things noir, and it’s a testament to Hill’s undeniable style that the end result survives any slight criticisms to remain a classically cool whole.
If you love Drive, or love Bullitt; love car chases, or love super-cool anti-heroes and eccentric adversaries; or love all of the above, then you may well find that The Driver is that undiscovered gem that you’ve overlooked all these years.
On Region Free US Blu-ray, we get impressive video and solid audio, both more than enough to warrant an upgrade over the limited DVD predecessors. The trio of extras further provoke interest, and fans of the film will find this a blind buy; indeed the only difficulty will come with the relative scarcity of the title – it’s an Exclusive Limited Edition release, limited to just 3000 copies, and picking it up now will be considerably harder since it’s already sold out. Still, if you can find it, it’s well worth the undoubtedly aggrandised price. Highly recommended.
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