PictureFinally arriving on Blu-ray (after a delay of over half a year) To Live and Die in L.A. looks considerably better than its Standard Definition counterpart. The High Definition image, presented in the movie's original Theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, marks a significant improvement, even if it does not really stand up against many recent movies released on the format. Detail is good throughout, with no noticeable digital defects, although the occasional seemingly intentional softness of the image often betrays its age, and often leaves the backgrounds feeling a little hazy. The colour scheme is also quite muted, although this is definitely intentional, as you can see how vibrant some of the inner sets can be - if they were designed as such. Black levels vary but generally hold true to the material and there is a suitably gritty thin layer of grain pervading the film. Unless you're actively scrutinising the video, this really is a presentation that enhances much more than it detracts from your viewing pleasure, and if you slap in the original SD-DVD (which they have conveniently included in this 2-disc release) for comparison, you can see just how much better the High Definition image is.
SoundConsidering the material that they had to work with, the DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track that accompanies the movie is remarkably good. It's a decent lossless audio track that brings out the best in the dated product of the 80s. Dialogue comes across clearly and coherently throughout, from the shouts to the more hush-hush bar-room conversations, dominating the fronts and centre channel wherever appropriate. The surrounds give us a keen sense of directionality in all of the more bustling moments - particularly those that involve vehicles, although not limited to that spectacular, stand-out chase sequence. The gunshots ring in your ears, the airport scene has a lot of commotion and the track provides an immersive, involving experience that easily surpasses the standard track we got for the DVD. The Wang Chun-dominated score may be easily the most dated aspect of the movie, but it is also one of the most endearing, and the song tracks (and suitably punchy score) perfectly suit the material, in a Grand Theft Auto - Vice City kind of way. Bass is lacking, and this is not the most dynamic track on the markets - it will not stand up against any more recently made, bigger budgeted affairs - but this is still the best aural presentation that we have ever had for this classic crime thriller.
ExtrasUnfortunately the Studios really haven't bothered to go to any lengths to package up the Extras nicely on the same disc as the restored 1080p version of the film. Instead they have just included the exact original disc that fans will have picked up on Region 1 anytime over the last decade. Literally, this is the exact DVD that you will have in your collection - identical to the point that when I put it in my Blu-ray player, it remembered exactly where I was in the movie, and resumed playback from there. This really is lazy packaging, and means - by implication - that every extra included on the disc is not only in Standard Definition, but also identical to those we have come across before. On the plus side, at least you're not missing anything and can definitively replace that only To Live and Die in L.A. DVD copy in your collection. (It should be noted that the extras mark does not reflect my annoyance with the Studios for not packaging the extras better)
Audio Commentary with the Director William Friedkin
The Director, 'Bill' Friedkin, offers us a full-length Audio Commentary which, whilst expressly not scene-specific, is rather enlightening. He talks about the inspiration behind the story - a book that goes by the same name as the movie, based on the life of a former Secret Service Agent - which showed the duality of the agent's life: playing cards with the President on one day, running down credit-card thieves in the slums of LA the next, also discussing the contemporary setting of the movie, the heavy use of the 80s band Wang Chung, the sequence in which he shot the film (the thrilling opening scene was shot as an afterthought), the meticulous detail he put into the depicting the world of counterfeiting, and the pivotal scenes in the movie. Although he is quite dry in his delivery, the information is thoroughly engaging, particularly for fans of the movie, it's just a shame that they have to watch the movie in SD whilst listening to this worthy offering.
Counterfeit World: The Making of To Live and Die in L.A.
This is a half-hour look at the production of this film, with plenty of final film footage to pad things out. Made relatively recently (well, for the DVD release, rather than the release of the original movie in the cinemas) the modern interviews come from the likes of William Petersen, William Friedkin and Willem Dafoe (who all must get a bit confused with their almost identical first names). Petersen's contributions are particularly interesting, talking from his CSI era-days about his experiences on the film and the fun he had playing the anti-hero lead. We also get archive footage of the camera-crew at work filming some of the scenes, and engaging b-roll footage of the cast off-camera, as well as discussions on how the Director's spontaneity often meant that the final film footage included scenes that were shot as rehearsals, or against the permission of officials etc. (they could have been arrested for printing 'real' counterfeit money). The section dedicated to the car chase is particularly good, with Petersen talking about enjoying doing much of the driving, Friedkin prompting the staff to make a sequence better than the chase in the French Connection and b-roll clips from the filming of the stunt-laden scene. A thoroughly engaging, comprehensive companion piece, arguably better than the Commentary itself.
Deleted Scene and Alternate Ending
We not only get a couple of Additional Scenes, but we also get short Featurettes dedicated to each one of them, which is a nice touch. The Alternate Ending is your happy alternative. If you watch the movie and feel a little down on the world at the end of it, this ending at least shows you how clichéd it could have been had the Studios successfully managed to get the ending changed. The Deleted Scene included is just an extra moment going further into the backstory of the Bukovich character, and his crumbling marriage. The Featurettes for both scenes have the Director on board to talk about why he did not use them and the alternate ideas they presented.
We also get a Stills Gallery and the original Theatrical Trailers.
VerdictTo Live and Die in L.A. is a vastly underrated 80s thriller which, whilst it may seem somewhat clichéd by today's standards, should really be remembered as the fresh, somewhat dark, and standard-setting original that it was at the time. So, much like the Director William Friedkin's earlier classic The French Connection, this one deserves a place in anybody's collection of classic movies, an underappreciated gem which features some taut action, a twist-ridden gutsy story, a standout car chase, and some great performances. It marks one of William 'CSI' Petersen's two noteworthy '80s crime thrillers, and I have no idea why the guy wasn't more successful off the back of this and the equally underrated Manhunter.
Finally hitting Blu-ray after many an unnecessary delay, this US High Definition release sports superior video and audio to its previous incarnation on DVD (even if it does not stand up to post-Millennium blockbuster standards), but is a bit of an insult when it comes to the packaging of the extras. Rather than bother to actually put them (or anything new) on the main Blu-ray, instead the Studios have just included the exact original DVD release of the movie, which means that you have to sit through the entire movie in standard definition just to listen to the audio commentary, and also endure all of the visual extras in a limited standard definition format. Still, it is a good collection of extras, and having them all here certainly makes things more clear when it comes to upgrading, as you can guarantee you're not going to lose out on anything. And with the fairly reasonable retail price you should have no reservations about picking this classic up and adding it to your collection. Highly recommended.
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