The Killer Elite Blu-ray ReviewMike Locken is a top operative employed by a clandestine organisation whose private contractors do the jobs so dirty even the C.I.A. want to outsource them. On his latest assignment – to facilitate an East European defection – his partner and best friend, George Hansen betrays him, kills the client, and shoots out Locken’s elbow and knee. His bosses tell him that his career is over, but Locken spends months in rehabilitation and, with the assistance of a leg and arm brace, and dedicated martial arts training, he wants back in. Which is fine by the organisation, as they have the perfect new assignment – a visiting Chinese dignitary is the target of a ruthless Japanese crime syndicate, and the C.I.A. doesn’t want the hit to take place on U.S. soil; also, the Japanese assassins just so happen to have approached Locken’s old colleague Hansen to lead the operation.
Despite a lot of close calls throughout his career, The Killer Elite was definitely the start of the actual end for Peckinpah, and watching his once-great talents become ever more diluted over his last couple of features was just painful. He made some all-time classics in his time, not just his best-known The Wild Bunch, but also the less-well known Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, with the likes of The Getaway, Straw Dogs, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, and Cross of Iron all defining features in his film history. The Killer Elite was not his worst feature – that credit should go to either the remarkably dull and un-Peckinpah-like Convoy, or his extremely muddled final film, The Osterman Weekend – but it was still the start of the very end. Watchable but weak, this one’s for completists only.
The Killer Elite Blu-ray Picture Quality
This French Region B-locked release of The Killer Elite sports both the Original Theatrical Cut – as the default option – and the longer Director’s Cut, the latter, oddly, merely as an extra feature. The two do not appear to have been integrated via seamless branching (although the chapter stops are the same), but the image quality remains largely very good nonetheless, certainly identical between the pair.
Presented in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 widescreen, the 1080p/AVC encoded transfer is a sizable step up from any of the previous DVD incarnations, many of which weren’t even Anamorphic. Detail is generally very good indeed, boasting clarity with relatively little softness, although some scenes do betray the light edge enhancement that has been used, albeit not in an overtly distracting manner. DNR, on the other hand, never becomes an issue, and, aside from a few minor print scuffs, the transfer is predominantly in pristine condition, with a stable level of suitably filmic grain pervading the piece. The colour scheme is pretty good as well, offering up strong and realistic tones, albeit within the confines of the understandably dated 80s veneer. Blacks are surprisingly rich and deep, with an unprecedented amount of shadow detail when compared with the previous SD-DVD counterparts. Overall, flaws notwithstanding, this is a quality remaster which will likely be used for any future UK and US releases. Indeed, fans of the film, who've suffered with the DVD for too long, will be utterly gobsmacked by the step up in quality.
The Killer Elite Blu-ray Sound QualityBoth versions of the movie come sporting English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 tracks (only the Theatrical Version has a French dub), which do the job nicely, and, although they are inherently limited by the original source material, it should be remembered that the problem is with the source and not with the representation here.
Effects are occasionally unstable, with car screeches and engine noises threatening to overwhelm the piece whilst the score plays distinct second fiddle. At other times, the effects are the ones to feel drowned out and muted, although it should be noted that this is only sporadic – noticeable, but sporadic – and the majority of the track still remains stable, promoting some dynamic breadth and a few more boisterous flourishes. Dialogue dominates the frontal channels when required, and remaining largely prevalent even during the more action-based sequences, but it is certainly not clear and coherent throughout, with Caan’s mumbled slurs in particular getting lost in the chaos. His lines, particularly towards the end of the piece, were always ones that I had to stop and use subtitles for to understand, and it’s a shame there aren’t any on offer with this release.
This is a hard track to rate. On the one hand, the problems it has are source related; on the other, it can’t exactly be rated highly. This is basically an accurate representation of problematic material.
The Killer Elite Blu-ray ExtrasAside from sporting two different versions of the movie (oddly, the Director’s Cut, which most of us are already well familiar with as it’s the only version that made UK/US DVD release, is listed as an ‘extra’ on this release), the Extras are almost exclusively promotional material, apart from the now-requisite, required-viewing Passion & Poetry excerpt from Mike Siegel’s Documentary, The Ballad of Sam Peckinpah. That said, if you flip it around and view the Original Theatrical Cut as the extra, then it makes for a welcome curio which many will have never come across.
Passion & Poetry – Sam’s Killer Elite runs at just shy of 30 minutes in length and offers up pieces of the puzzle that was this flawed film’s flawed production history. We get contributions from many of the usual Peckinpah associates – Ernest Borgnine, James Coburn, Kris Kristofferson and Isela Vega – with only one of them, Bo Hopkins, actually being a participant from this movie. It’s understandable that Caan couldn’t have been involved, for obvious reasons, but it would have been nice to hear from Duvall. Still, the reflections of these stars, along with stunt co-ordinator Whitey Hughes, Peckinpah associate Katy Haber, and Peckinpah’s own sister, all go some way towards further bolstering the Documentary, particularly when they start dipping into the subject of his cocaine issues. Plenty of behind the scenes and b-roll footage, combined with these honest reflections on this production make it yet another must-watch extra, although I suspect many Peckinpah fans will have already bought the complete documentary.
Aside from the Documentary, the rest of the extras amount to the movie’s Original Theatrical Trailer (which has a few extra lines / alternate scenes in it), some TV and Radio Spots and a Gallery of poster art and lobby cards.
Is The Killer Elite Blu-ray Worth BuyingThis was the start of the end for equal-parts-legendary-and-notorious filmmaker Sam Peckinpah. His greatest works were all behind him, and, between increased Studio interference – this time a catastrophic PG rating – and a newfound cocaine habit (reputedly courtesy of leading man, James Caan), things would start to fall apart. Integrating the surge of martial arts fever into what was otherwise a fairly interesting espionage affair was an ambitious manoeuvre which ended up landing on the somewhat ridiculous side of the spectrum, but that arguably only gives The Killer Elite further curiosity value, besides the solid cast of largely familiar Peckinpah faces (and what is essentially a glorified cameo from the ever-reliable Robert Duvall) and sporadically engaging action. It’s certainly likely the only place you’ll ever find action sequences featuring ninjas fighting C.I.A.-commissioned private contractors and rogue assassins aboard a decommissioned naval vessel. In slow motion.
Integrating the surge of martial arts fever into what was otherwise a fairly interesting espionage affair was an ambitious manoeuvre
Currently available only on Region B-locked French Blu-ray, the release is thankfully very English friendly, both in terms of the tracks available, the optional French subtitles, and the similar treatment of the Extras (i.e. English language, optional French subtitles). The video presentation is very good indeed – particularly if all you’re used to is the old non-anamorphic DVD predecessor – and the audio track is solid, notwithstanding the inherent limitations of the material. A nice documentary anchors the extras, although having the relatively rare Original Theatrical Cut and the more commonly known Director’s Cut (which, for clarification, does NOT include any extra violence) both available is a nice option. Peckinpah devotees will find it hard to resist, and it’s got plenty of curiosity value and offbeat charm, even if it is one of his weaker features.
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