Hard Target looks fantastic on Blu-ray. It’s twenty years on, and the film wasn’t exactly big budget even back in 1993, but this Region Free disc from Universal delivers Woo’s actioner in easily the best condition that it has ever been presented in. The 1080p High Definition rendition in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen does not betray the film’s age or budget for a second, and has probably given it a new lease of life, maybe even for a new generation. Detail is impressive from start to finish – sure there are a couple of softer touches; Woo was never abashed about his romantic notions, (ill-conceived jazz cues are the only bits that date the film’s score) and softer focus on Yancy Butler’s heroine reflects that fact, but it’s otherwise superb.
The close ups on Van Damme and Henriksen in particular show up a great deal of details, taking in every hint of damage, sweat, facial hair, and wear and tear. Background detail, clothing weaves and set textures are all very good, although not quite achieving the standard set by the best close-ups. Still, all of Woo’s trademark reflection shots are far clearer this time around (as, unfortunately, is Van Damme’s stunt-double, particularly in the bike sequences) and the major set-pieces arguably look more spectacular than they have ever done. The colour scheme is obviously indicative of the time and style of the piece, but tones appear to have been revitalised, with stronger vibrant primaries, but at no expense to the suitably hot and humid Bayou setting. Black levels are strong – although there aren’t any particularly dark moments, as even the darker indoor sequences are simply ignited by fire and explosions. Digital defects are all-but non-existent; there’s enough natural grain and underlying detail to make you realise that the DNR guy wasn’t having an extreme day, and there’s no overt edge enhancement or other digital anomalies to get frustrated about.
If this had been given a ‘20th Anniversary Edition’ label we’d have still been extremely happy with this video presentation; as it is, this is a small scale back-catalogue title whose excellence is going to get totally overlooked by the majority, which is a crying shame.
Perhaps even more surprising than the excellent video presentation is the aural accompaniment; the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track similarly edging its way into demo quality territory which, for a 20 year-old film of this modest budget, is very impressive indeed. Universal have once again not let us down.
Dialogue comes across clearly and coherently throughout, largely emanating from the fronts and centre channels – as you would only expect. It’s the treatment of the effects and score that really makes the audio track stand out, however. Revell’s score is, for the most part, simply perfect for the feature, heightening the tension during the hunts, whilst also enhancing every single action beat and slo-mo shot; it gets fine treatment from across the surrounds, and gives the LFE channel a surprising input into the proceedings.
The atmospherics are also pretty effective, from the buzzing motorbike noises to the bustle of traffic, picketing cops on strike, or a helicopter whipping across the screen, and showcasing the dynamics of your array in a very impressive fashion. The Bayou sequences are alive with creature noises – and that rattlesnake – and Woo’s trademark birds flap around your living room on more than one occasion.
Of course it’s the action sequences that truly stand out, with the myriad weaponry on offer all given distinct voice and prioritisation across the array; the pistol, shotgun and assault rifle shots ringing out with according thunder, and pulling in the LFE channel at every stage – something which is even utilised during the early Van Damme intro fight scene, where every single body blow hits home. Explosions shake your sofa, shootouts will have you in duck-and-cover mode, and the final Mardi Gras graveyard sequence may even have you reaching for the remote. Excellent.
Where’s the workprint? Whatever the shape it might be in, it would have made for a fantastic extra. Or some Deleted Scenes. Or even a short Featurette. Or, heaven forbid, an actual Commentary by one of the many cast and crew members involved – any of whom we’d love to hear from?! This is the movie’s 20th Anniversary. Guess we’ll have to wait another 5 years and get our hopes up again then.
Don't hunt what you can't kill.
Woo may not have made his best film here - perhaps not even his best US feature, as Face/Off just about has that edge - but he still worked wonders, making Jean-Claude Van Damme into an eminently cool action icon and certainly delivering his best flick. Seeping with style; just the right measure of slo-mo and the expected over-abundance of explosives in his effects, Hard Target is a bona fide action classic, retaining its pure visceral entertainment factor even two decades on since its creation.
On Region Free UK Blu-ray Universal have pulled off a stunning sleeper AV presentation; few would have expected Hard Target could – or would – ever look or sound this good, but it does. Although the complete lack of extras does come as a massive disappointment, especially given that it’s the 20th Anniversary of the film, but at least they haven’t given it a terribly misleading “20th Anniversary” label. And at least the video and audio are absolutely tremendous.
If you haven't seen Hard Target - or just haven't seen it in a while - then I strongly recommend you hunt it down now.
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