Arrow's Cruising Blu-ray Review

So are we saying that if you get seduced into the gay BDSM underworld you might end becoming a serial killer?

by Casimir Harlow
Movies & TV Review

11

Arrow's Cruising Blu-ray Review
SRP: £14.99

Cruising Film Review

Almost four decades later and Pacino's Cruising doesn't really work as either a taut thriller or a heady immersion into an authentic subculture.

Back in the late 70s all the then-big directors were vying to make this script, with Brian De Palma desperate to take a shot at adapting the 1970 novel about a serial killer targeting the gay community in NYC, whilst even Steven Spielberg was approached, although neither ended up getting the Studio backing to make it happen, with William Friedkin instead contacted by his French Connection producers and persuaded to take it on, despite initially having little interest.

Similarly, Pacino was far from Friedkin's first choice in the role, with Richard Gere (who would make the supremely underrated American Gigolo that very year) being eyed for the lead, a choice that might have worked better given the approach to character development - Pacino really struggles to convince as a man seduced into this world - but still one which would not necessarily have saved the film given its other fatal flaws.

Perhaps most damning of all is the fact that, even stripping away the controversy and judging it on its merits as a thriller, Cruising is pretty... tedious

Immediately handicapped by its somewhat questionable premise - it's an idea which would have been very hard to get right, even in the right hands - Friedkin unfortunately ends up, whether as a result of rampant MPAA cuts, or his own out-of-control ideas, with a finished product which is controversial for all the wrong reasons. Whilst there's a lot here that shows the filmmaker researched his subject matter well, that doesn't help him justify the unwritten suggestion which the story is making - highlighting an undercover cop's slow slip into a gay subculture which is being unquestionably portrayed as depraved, and the further suggestion that this may have ultimately turned him into a vicious murderer.

On paper, there are some interesting ideas here - after all we have seen cinematic examples of undercover male cops getting seduced into the criminal world they live in, and even female vice cops corrupted too, as well as criminologists who cross the lines getting close to the serial killers they are tracking (Manhunter) - so why not put that all into one big mix and pour it out into the 80s NYC BDSM scene? Unfortunately, it's Friedkin's serial killer angle which ultimately obfuscates things - with a desire to keep the story ambiguous (a decision made in the editing suite, much to Pacino's chagrin) that ironically muddies the water to the point where it looks all very unpalatable, even if it's not supposed to be.

Perhaps most damning of all, however, is the fact that even stripping away all the controversy and judging it purely on its merits as a serial killer thriller, Cruising is pretty... tedious, never really getting under the skin of its protagonist, let alone its pantomime antagonist (supposedly given daddy issues but unfortunately played, in action, as if he's a villain in Stallone's Cobra) and barely upping your heartbeat until the final few frames of uncharacteristic open-endedness. Maybe it would have helped if the lead actor had known what character he was playing from the start, but, then again, that would have required the director knowing what story he wanted to tell before he entered the editing suite.

Cruising Blu-ray Picture

Cruising Blu-ray
Arrow's UK Region B-locked Blu-ray release of Cruising is a surprisingly mixed bag, despite clearly coming from a brand new 4K scan of the negative which has reportedly been supervised by director William Friedkin himself. The 1080p/AVC-encoded high definition video presentation promotes the movie in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen.

Initially, Cruising looks pretty impressive (swallowing Friedkin's tinkered-with new credits sequence), with gorgeous shots of the NY skyline, some vibrant colours, and strong detail on the faces of the men on the boat, but it doesn't take long before warning bells start going off. For starters, there's almost no grain (other than of the frozen variety) whilst the nail in the coffin comes from some really odd colour choices. If this is what Friedkin supervised, then perhaps the once-acclaimed director needs some professional calibration on his eyes.

If this is what Friedkin supervised, then perhaps the once-acclaimed director needs some professional calibration on his eyes

There's no doubt that detail is better than ever before, with close-ups consistently excellent, showcasing strong facial textures, lines and pock-marks, light unshaven hair growth, beads of sweat and textured hair. Unfortunately, many mid-range shots start to waver, as clearly a hell of a lot of DNR has been applied here. Forget the recent 4K Iron Man rendition, where it was implemented without any noticeable loss of detail, nor any noticeable application of edge enhancement, or even the more controversial T2 4K release, this is an example of everything wrong with DNR application. Not only has any natural grain been utterly obliterated, but sharpening tools have been over-applied, to at-times very frustrating effect, replete with scenes of that horrible frozen grain loitering around the peripherals.

As for the colour scheme, Friedkin was clearly embracing the deeper, dark blue tones on offer here, and this frequently gives the film a wonderfully rich look, complete with inky blacks and moody, stylish sequences. Unfortunately, it also results in some overpowering reds which outright bleed - evident from the opening shot of the boat, but really shocking in the nightclub scene with Pacino dancing the night away furiously, where it positively looks like he's wearing such bright makeup that it leaves a smudgy imprint on your screen. Yes, these colours bleed.

It's such a shame because plenty of the movie looks outright excellent. Sure, it's strange that there's no grain, but that doesn't stop a flurry of near-reference scenes. When it's bad, though, it's really bad, with shots that have no place being in a brand new director-approved 4K restoration.

Cruising Blu-ray Sound

Cruising Blu-ray
Curiously Arrow's Cruising release sports two audio tracks, neither of which is the original mono, which may also come as something of a disappointment to fans. It's unsurprising (Arrow have had intermittent trouble with 5.1 'remixes' ever since the days of King of New York), but less forgivable given the lack of original mono as an alternative.

Here, the curse is Friedkin's tinkering again, with the director not only involved in the new colour timing, and the new shots, but also new sound effects which supposedly give the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track more of an immersive quality, but which are also present on the LPCM 2.0 Stereo counterpart, suggesting that this is merely a down mix of the new track, rather than an alternative 'original' audio track.

The biggest issue, however, is the lack of choice - the simple provision of the original mono as an alternative may have left the rest of the criticisms much of a moot point

Dialogue remains well-prioritised but has a little of that age-old noise reduction feel to it, which hollows out the vocals and makes you feel like they were all re-recorded as ADR and dubbed over. It's not universal, but several sequences between Pacino and Sorvino, in particular, boast this unnatural quality. The score appears to have been fatally flawed too, largely as a result of the editing process, with the themes on offer - whether in the intimate moments between the cop and his girlfriend, or when the serial killer strikes - cut and pasted inorganically into the proceedings, and seldom really given a moment to shine on the audio track. Effects are well-observed, but also curiously enhanced, with some manner of immersion afforded to the club sequences but other elements (wind randomly blowing through the park despite the fact that none of the leaves are moving) feeling more a case of Friedkin on a bit of a Lucas mission. The biggest issue, however, is the lack of choice - the simple provision of the original mono as an alternative may have left the rest of the criticisms much of a moot point.

Cruising Blu-ray Extras

Cruising Blu-ray
Arrow's extras package has a number of supplements mostly driven by archival features with the new material a little bit limited - mainly taking the form of a new Audio Commentary from Friedkin who is joined by Mark Kermode.

Arrow's extras package has a number of supplements

The old material includes a solo Commentary from Friedkin and a couple of Featurettes into the making of the production, The History of Cruising and Exorcising Cruising, and the package is rounded out by a Trailer.

Cruising Blu-ray Verdict

6
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Arrow's Cruising Blu-ray Review

Cruising Blu-ray
A finished product which is controversial for all the wrong reasons

William Friedkin has made several all-time classics (The Exorcist, The French Connection), as well as some highly underrated gems (To Live and Die in LA, Sorcerer), but Cruising doesn't really fall into either category, instead something of a fatally flawed outing whose intentions became distinctly obfuscated on the editing floor.

Arrow, having previously done stellar work with To Live and Die in LA, has unfortunately released an equally flawed UK package for Cruising, with a brand new 4K-restored video presentation that is ruined by over-zealous DNR and sharpening filters, the lack of the original audio track, and only a few nice extras to take the bad taste out of your mouth. Fans should still consider this a replacement for the old DVD, but be prepared for plenty of shots that leave you wondering whether this is the worst 4K restoration Arrow has delivered in years.

Scores

Movie

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6

Picture Quality

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6

Sound Quality

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7

Extras

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.
8

Overall

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6
6
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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