Paramount release 48 HRS in its original 1.85:1 aspect and via AVC. For a catalogue title, I have definitely seen much better than this. The age of the film is worn proudly upon its speckled image, flecks and pops not obtrusive but a sheer testament to a complete absence of any sort of restoration having taken place. Arguably, a thematically gritty thriller like this wouldn't warrant a gleaming scrub-up, and may even look all the better for retaining such a dour, overcast, and grimy feel. But, even so, those who are familiar with the movie on DVD will have to look hard to find the benefits of the visual upgrade. There are a great many times when this picture looks just plain ugly. The grit, grain (aye, no DNR at all here) and muzzy aesthetic of low-grade source material comes to the foreground right the way through.
Detail is better, but I'll be damned if I'm going to sit here and tell you that, all of a sudden, we can see the texture on Jack Cates' dishevelled suit, or the individual teeth on the collar-zip of Luthor's M65 combat jacket … because the upgrade in visual information simply does not allow for anything like such differences. Definition is not tight or appreciably resolved, and the picture is unapologetically soft. Even close-ups have little extra clarity to boast of. Colours are muted and dry, and most certainly not boosted in any way. Skin tones are muddy and the overall palette as dirty as Reggie's old car, the image lent a swarthy sheen that never clears. Black levels are merely average, and there are times when the grain spikes a little within the darker shadows. There is, however, a slightly three-dimensional aspect to the image, which is a welcome addition to the deeper location shots, such as down on the road-gang, or in the subway, or just about any of the scenes along the city streets. This is tempered, though, by some distinctly flat-looking interiors, such as in the clubs or the cop-shop.
But won't you don't get is any untoward edge enhancement. There's no unnecessary noise, and no aliasing. Colours aren't smeared or over-saturated, and there's no trace of any banding. Contrast is consistent and whites don't bloom, and yellows don't look sickly during the dusty opening sequence. This image won't impress some people … at all. But, no matter how slight the improvements made in resolution, they are there. They are just not worth praising all that much.
We've gone lossless with Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and, for my money, the improvements in the sound quality are worth the upgrade on their own. Retaining that front-heavy attitude that you would expect, 48 HRS stretches its width with more accuracy and presence than we have previously heard. Voices and activities are described nicely and clearly across the front, with lots of little examples of car doors slamming, desk drawers being opened and closed, phones ringing and receivers thumped down. Little things, maybe, but important elements that help to place you within the film – something that was lacking from the previous DVD. Dialogue is always happily discernible, and there is much to enjoy. Nolte's grumbling drawl can make things tough, but the track is more than up to the task.
I wish that I could pat the back of the .LFE levels, though. For a film that was always fond of artillery-like gunshots, this is a bit disappointing in terms of deep impact. We do get violent bass thuds and splintering woodwork, and there is a little bit of a wallop to the smacks and body-blows, but I had expected something more guttural and powerful than this.
But, to make amends, the surround speakers carry a surprising amount of ambience. We get hubbub from the road-gang, bustle in the cop-shop, laughters, voices and chinking glasses in Torchy's. When Cates first goes to meet Reggie in the slammer, we hear the big steel door being slammed from somewhere off behind us, and then Nolte comes into view. There are plenty of other examples of off-camera rear support … nothing too fancy, just little elements that help make the film come more to life. The trains down in the subway move realistically about the soundfield, low rumbles trundling beneath us as we stand with Luthor on the bridge, and whistling roll-bys as the carriage whisking Ganz to safety chunders past us from front to back. So, despite some ferocious shoot-outs, Hill's film isn't the most bombastic of his oeuvre, but this presentation does the best that it can with limited resources and certainly throws a bit of weight around when the time comes.
The soundtrack kicks in with Horner's percussive themes, and there is a lot of clarity to his use of steel drums and sax soprano. But we can't dismiss the ebullient honky-tonk R&B fusion of The Busboys either … and their contributions are belted-out by the audio track with plenty of top-tapping oomph.
Overall, this is quite an enjoyable track. It doesn't wave a magic wand, but it works well with admittedly limited source material.
Just a trailer for the film, I'm afraid. Can you imagine how cool it would have been to listen to Nolte and Murphy reminisce on a chat-track, though? Man, that would have been something.
One of the great early 80's actioners, 48 HRS remains an extremely efficient and highly rare example of how to successfully mingle two genres together. It helped cement Walter Hill as Hollywood's most hard-edged and macho directors of the new breed. His material wasn't as clean-cut or as jingoistic as the Stallone vehicles of the times, and even his Arnie outing in Red Heat was quite a grungy affair.
But this cult-adored urban Western took the “Peterbilt” of screen stars and placed him right alongside Tinseltown's most unpredictable motormouth, and both made a meal out of Walter Hill's proto-buddy/buddy actioner. The two-fisted double-act of weather-beaten machismo was born in earnest and, without it, it is unlikely that we would have seen Lethal Weapon taken out of its holster, or Point Break … or countless other mismatched hero outings.
Paramount's BD release has taken a long time to surface, and though we can applaud the fact that the transfer has not been digitally molested, the visual rewards are actually quite few and far between. The audio side of things, however, should put a smile on fans' faces, even if this isn't the most aggressive track around. We get just a theatrical trailer as an extra, and this is a definite disappointment. The legacy of the era's testosterone-fuelled thrillers is hardly deemed worthy of critical debate by some people (though not me, I hasten to add), but this was a hugely influential movie and surely something could have been done to add some respectful value to the deal.
Still, this is one of those films that can be termed as a guilty pleasure … but is actually a helluva lot more. And I can't help but recommend it, even if this disc lacks extra value and the image looks like it has been driven over a couple of times.
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