Sony and Tri-star bring Cliffhanger down from the mountains and on to Blu-ray with a very impressive AVC transfer, in its raw and primal 2.40:1 original aspect.
Initially, I was a little surprised that this transfer didn't look more vibrant than I've seen it before, but this is only because the colours have not been boosted. Perhaps I'm still reeling from the recent hi-def transfer of Suspiria, though. The red of the rescue chopper was always something that really stood out, and it still does, though possibly not as absurdly as I've seen it look before. Flames have fine variance and hues. Blood is nice and splashy with livid reds against the show. The various attire, from badge and patch-festooned smocks and parkas to ice and sweat-drenched grey tee-shirts, from the garish MTV designs of the rock-nerds to the neat blacks and greens of the bad guys, this covers the gamut and delivers shades without a glitch and provides a very assured natural quality throughout.The print is strong and stable, with no damage to speak of. Grain is there, both unmolested and unobtrusive and digital noise is at an absolute minimum. Edges have been sharpened in some cases, but you will notice the composite lines of a lot of the visual effects much more readily. However, the miniature work and painted backdrops still look surprisingly effective.
Contrast is fine throughout and we don't get any whites over-blooming, or any unwanted dazzle from the massive banks of snow that engulf the frame. Black levels are deep and well-balanced. I saw no evidence of details being crushed within them. Shadow-play is also consistent, with a couple of night-time scenes and, of course, the bat-cave duel providing plenty of dark swathes for the characters and the highlights to pick their way through. That noise I mentioned earlier does make a slight appearance in some of the shadows, though, but check out the depth of the blacks as opposed to the clarity and vividness of the falling snow when one unlucky hitman hurtles off safe ground and out into the endless night - excellent use of well-balanced contrast.
Detail is certainly better. From facial texture - hairs, freckles, teeth and eyes - to costumes with all those little metal clasps and clips, this is an image that scrubs up well. The ripped-up face on the guy sliding down the ice-slop with Sly now looks far more effective - with greater reds and a lot more definition. Rock faces and icicles, stalactites and stalagmites are sharper and more textured, although some of the fake stuff is also a little bit more apparent now, as well. But look at the writing on the arm of the mike that Qualen is wearing in the chopper - you can now read all of that, should you want to. Distant objectivity is very good, but obviously lacking when held up against much more recent material. But you should find that the appearance of rocks, ropes, figures struggling against the snow on windswept ridges, cloud patterns and valley floors when seen from high up, and mountain peaks when seen from far below all look considerably better delineated than on any home video version that you have seen before, adding up to a very rewarding image, overall. Depth can be astonishing at times, but a lot flatter at others, particularly when the visual composite shots come into play. But for sure-fire three-dimensionality, look no further than when Hal holds Gabe over the edge of a cliff upon their somewhat tense reunion.
Robust and clean, this image is still a little soft round the edges, though it is doubtful that a more faithful and reliable picture could be obtained without it having been excessively tinkered with first. Great stuff, folks, and a rock-steady 8 out of 10.
Cliffhanger doesn't do subtlety. Not in the least.
This is a movie of explosions, gunfire, avalanches, sickeningly brutal body-blows, all manner of high-intensity impacts ... and one helluva lot of helicopter whupp-whuppings. And the glorious DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix works wonders with them all. In fact, this is a severely exciting aural experience that not only brings all this delightful chaos to life but whips up a storm (literally) with the natural sounds of the environment, as well. Jeez, what is not to love about this?
As some of you will already know, the UK Region B-locked version of Cliffhanger that came out some time ago, had a few problems with its audio mixing, with some channels being reversed. Now, I have not actually heard what that disc unleashed, but I can safely say that this region-free disc from Lionsgate does not make any such errors. Your first test of how dynamic, clear and precisely steered it is comes the very second the movie starts, with the rescue chopper making its presence felt before we even get to see it. The rotors thunder out of the rear left speaker, travel over to the rear right and then journey over to the front right with absolutely impeccable weight, panning and volume. And this only sets the tone for the mixture of mayhem and machismo to come.
Revel in the brilliant sweeping pans, front to back, back to front and from one side to the other. Reel from the shattering gunfire and rock-spewing explosions that tumble from every corner of the room. Shudder from the sadistic rib-kickings and skin-shredding slides down stony surfaces and icy slopes. Cower from the shock-waves of erupting planes, avalanches and landslides. Try and count the spent bullet casings ejected from Travers' gun as unloads at the poor bunny that mocks him. And sit back and enjoy the enveloping sweep of Trevor Jones' score. Listen to the rich stereo image when the brass kicks in as Kynette commences his execution of the two “snow-dudes”, for example. Really, folks, this is grand stuff indeed. The dynamics are both smooth and blistering, when each extreme is called for. The steerage pretty much faultless. Dialogue is never lost, swamped or allowed to drift in the elements - but then again, much of it screamed, yelled, snarled or growled and, considering that so much of it is a blurted obscenity, you may have to warn granny in the next room.
You want the sub to have some fun as well? Oh boy, in that case both of you will not be disappointed. The mid-air set-piece packs a full-throttle bass wallop, and just about every act of on-screen geographical alteration threatens to have any seismographs in the vicinity getting RSI. Depth, room-swelling circumference and massive shock-value - that's what you get with Cliffhanger's rampaging .LFE.
The sound of rolling thunder in the distant peaks high above Gabe and Jessie during their reunion after the tragic events in the sphincter-tightening intro is terrific. Once again, there is genuine weight and movement to the deep rumbling that echoes over the top and growls from the rears. I said at the start that this is a film that doesn't do subtleties - but I lied. This track most definitely caters for the subtleties of birdsong, the rattle of steel crates in the hold of the Treasury airliner, the crisp jangle of crampons, hooks and clips, the soft crunch of fresh snow underfoot, the flapping of bad-wings, the sinuous curving of the wind and the rustle of leaves - oh, it's all here, all right. But Cliffhanger's lossless audio is not going to be remembered for any of that, no matter how precise and natural any of it sounds. No, you are going to thrust this disc's soundtrack at people to show off its bombast, pure and simple. And they will be impressed.
This is an excellent track, folks, that threatens to bring the roof down. A very strong 8 out of 10, possibly an unofficial 9. Enjoy!
Cliffhanger climbs all the way to hi-def glory with the same set of features that adorned its previous SD special edition, but adds BD-Live and Movie-IQ, so that you can access facts and trivia about the film and the cast etc.
Two commentary tracks grace the disc, with star and director tackling the first one and the production crew helming the second. Sadly, though, Stallone hardly figures at all in this chat-track. Both and Harlin are recorded separately with the director covering as many angles as he can, from the various locations, the weather, the stunts and the safety techniques, why he cast certain people, how the effects were achieved etc, and he does a fine, if slightly dry job of it. He gives away a lot of the secrets that made Sly look like a real mountain climber, except for how he achieved the famous long-shot, one-take pull-back of Gabe against a monolithic sheer wall. But, by now, and if you look closely enough, I think you can tell. Harlin also talks about the fine line in depicting onscreen violence, especially with regards to the final beating that Delmar delivers on Hal. Sly, for his meagre part, at least offers us a very amusing and detailed account of the opening tragedy, how to get that really cold look and how to deal with chopper-rotors whirling just above your head. Over the end credits he even manages to confess how this was the film that set him back on the right path after the ill-fated “branching out” that he'd done just prior.
Then there is the other commentary track on offer, but it is billed as a technical one and, to be perfectly honest, I just couldn't face it. Harlin has supplied plenty of the ins and outs of the logistical and technical side of the production already. So, hey, if this chat is any good, please let me know.
Alongside a Personal Introduction to the film, that is pure pop-jazz material, but dealt with in an entertaining fashion, Renny Harlin stamps his authority all over the two Deleted Scenes with lengthy intros addressing the reasons why they were cut. The first is the original version of the “human fly” shot which, as the director accurately and honestly points out, is patently too outrageous for anyone to have found credible. The second, and a scene that I quite like, although, for the same reasons as the massive leap we've just seen just wasn't feasible, details how Gabe, chilled to the bone, still manages to climb up a frozen waterfall. Good piece of unused score from Trevor Jones for this snippet too.
Stallone On The Edge: The Making Of Cliffhanger is a fun 20-minute pop-rock PR featurette from the time of the film's release. Stallone introduces it whilst sitting in a chair on the set of the enjoyable Demolition Man that cropped up just after this outing. The emphasis is strictly for a light, easygoing “gee, shucks, we all love one another on this production” type of attitude. Lots of location footage and some cast and crew comments, but this really is just superficial and by the numbers.
Special Effects looks at two scenes - Sarah's Fall and the Helicopter Crash from the finale - and, with Harlin talking over footage of both, we learn of green screens and miniatures.
Storyboard Comparisons offers us a glimpse of the original sketched directions for a couple of action sequences, with Sarah's Fall in there once again. The film footage plays in the bottom corner of the screen, whilst the storyboards fill the rest.
We get the film's original theatrical trailer, plus a few previews to round things out. All in all, not a bad little assortment, but a proper full-on retrospective from all concerned would have been the better option.
Seemingly more enjoyable each time that I see it, Renny Harlin's Cliffhanger reaffirms its status as a rollicking hard adventure. Some of the visual FX shots haven't aged all that well, but the pulverising action sequences and the dogged, ice-encrusted derring-do of Sly's rock-jock remain endlessly rewatchable. 1993 was when Stallone blasted back with a vengeance, and finally managed to successfully combine warmth with aggression to create a more rounded and likeable character, essentially humanising his otherwise indestructible warrior template. Cliffhanger was the perfect vehicle for him to achieve that and, forgetting his more famous icons for a moment, founded one of his most intense and exhilarating on-screen workouts ever.
And fans can't go wrong with the AV of this hi-def release. The picture is fine and broad and well-detailed and, crucially, does not appear to have been messed-around with. The audio is simply terrific and guarantees a spectacularly bombastic marathon both for your system and for your ears. Nothing really new in the extras department, but there is a bit of entertainment value added to the pot with the commentaries and the deleted scenes offering the most substantial and interesting of bonuses.
But this is definitely worth picking up. Tough action, daft machismo, explosive derring-do all the way, this packs more set-piece mayhem into its running time than you may remember, and genuinely leaves you happily knackered by the end of it!
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