You can't argue with this, folks. Lionsgate bang Lock Up on to Blu-ray with a digitally unmolested transfer that retains its cinematic grain, all of its texture and provides a faithful and properly film-like experience. Sounds good, eh?
And, rest assured, it is. The 1.85:1 image (encoded via AVC MPEG-4) is sharp without having been artificially emboldened, edges are fine and natural. What occurrences of haloing you may see - guards on the walls or in the tower - are a product of the photography, itself, and not some tinkered enhancement. Colours appear brighter and stronger than before, with some primaries - such as the woolly hats, hoods and bandannas on some of the inmates (bright red, green or yellow) - coming across a lot more vividly than seen previously. Lock Up is not an especially colourful film, though. The exteriors are parched and bleak, the interiors sweaty and dirt-caked. But the picture delivers this banged-up aesthetic to a tee. Print damage is virtually non-existent and the grain never appears to degenerate into noise in the darker elements, say.
The added resolution isn't going to make this image pop from the screen, but it helps tp provide an image that is smooth and far more detailed than any previous version that I've seen. The picture is naturally a bit soft when compared to more recent material, but there is an appreciable depth that brings the film to life. Crowded scenes are more striking and the level of three-dimensionality is quite pleasing, although not exactly overt. Shots such as Leone first moving through the “population”, and the later shot when Chink has a steel blade bearing down upon his face, are terrific.
Contrast is fine and blacks are as strong as I think they could be without crushing any detail within. The film features some deeply shadow-engulfed scenes - such as Frank partially illuminated in his cell as Drumgoole taps on the bars, or when First Base is cornered in the gym - and these look absolutely fine to me. If you want Stygian blacks, though, then you need to look at the hair on some people, elsewhere the film is intentionally diffused, with the shadows appearing purposely warm and grubby. Hazy light filters through the gloom effectively and naturally, and the dust-moats in the air come across with a clarity that I haven't noticed before. Other fine details, such as snowflakes, the edging on a bullet-hole in the bodywork of the car, or engine parts that Leone and his chums take such a pride in installing also come over well. Facial detail is more revealing than on any previous home video version, too - just look at Sonny Landham's leathery visage during the big brawl, and Sutherland's lucid, pale blue eyes.
Plus, I had no problems with the disc handling fast action, the various skirmishes all well tracked and background detail of the inmates scattering during the “muddy-drive” smooth and unclouded. And I saw no aliasing or troublesome blockiness and no banding going on, either. This represents a very rewarding upgrade. So, all in all, Lionsgate get a big thumbs up for this faithful transfer of Lock Up.
Again, if the video transfer is faithful, then you can't really complain if the audio side of things maintains the status quo, can you? But this also means the DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix is almost completely frontal-based, with little to nothing extended around the rears which, given that the film has lots of clanging pipes and hissing steam, alarms going off and running footsteps across gangways and down tunnels, does inevitably mean that the film sounds a touch flat and limited.
However, this is how Lock Up should without any mixing tomfoolery taking place. The stereo spread is fairly wide and active, with steerage pretty nicely arranged. The soundfield is lively and atmospheric during the film's many high-points. The impacts of fists and feet and, in a couple of cases, free-weights and a dropped barbell, have grungy depth and vigour to them. The metallic “shinking” noise of a shank is finely wrought too, as is the distorted slo-mo groaning of agony that follows it. Somehow, though, I always thought that the emphatic clang of the door as Leone slams it open just before getting even with Chink, would be better in a lossless mix. Well, louder, deeper, more indomitable - you know what I mean. But, to be fair, it still sounds okay. Bodies crunching to the frozen deck and the pummelling that a riot shield and visor get sound pretty good, too.
Dialogue is very well presented, which is quite a feat when you consider that Donald Sutherland whispers most of his lines, MaCrae rolls his speech around his jowls, Sizemore yabbers non-stop, Landham sounds like he is chewing a brick and, not forgetting our favourite, Sly customarily mangles some of his more outraged lines, flips out and mumbles his way through a “telling it like it is” speech. Indeed, the very name “Drumgoole” seems to have been created just for his mouth to try to wrap itself around. But, as I say, there is no problem with the dialogue at all, even the shouting from the various amassed gatherings - “Crush his face!” etc - comes over clearly and authentically.
The best element of the mix, as is so often the case with films from this period, is Bill Conti's score, which surges in all the right places and is treated to a fairly warm presentation. It is also here that we get some of the slight surround use, as the music is occasionally allowed to push out from the rears during the more rousing moments or when the heat is suddenly turned up.
If I am honest, I sort of expected a little more from this track but, at the end of the day, it performs respectably and doesn't make any stupid remixed mistakes.
It was perhaps too much to hope that Stallone would supply us with a new commentary track, I suppose, but something beyond the measly selection that adorned the old SD disc would have been nice. However, this is all we get ... and a paltry range of material it is too.
Besides the rather naff 6-minute promo-piece from the time of the film's release, which merely gives the actors a chance to “big up” the story and the theme of unjust persecution and to discuss their roles, we get some reasonable location footage from the prison in an 8-minute Behind The Scenes piece that also shows some scenes being prepped and then shot, as well as some B-roll material. There is a so-called Stallone Profile which is just three minutes of more behind-the-scenes footage and some familiar sound-bites from the star. We can also see a series of very flimsy interviews that take place on the set with Sly, Sutherland, Sonny Landham, John Amos and Darlanne Fluegel - but these are often the same material just repeated from elsewhere, or just so short (just a few seconds in some cases) that they really aren't worth your time.
Oh, and the film's trailer.
Very poor show indeed - just prison-slops, you could say.
Lock-Up is a strong contender in Stallone's intimidating arsenal of celluloid testosterone. The character of Frank Leone may be a con, but he is Sly's cinematic alter-ego, through and through. This is Johnny Rambo, safe and reliable, until pushed. This is Rocky Balboa, forced to take some knocks but never one to stay down for long. The film may may put Stallone behind bars, but he still on very familiar turf. As an underdog fighting for his life against all the odds, there are few who come close. And if the unjustly persecuted Frank Leone is too damn righteous to be suffering quite this badly, just take comfort from the fact that, when it comes down to it, he can fight just as dirty as the iron-fisted oppressors. John Flynn directs with hard-hitting aplomb. The prison setting becomes remarkably versatile once we get to know the geography of the place, and the set-pieces have a desperate edge of pent-up ferocity. Donald Sutherland, at first, seems a touch out of place, but his ripe - yet remarkably subdued - performance becomes itchingly villainous, despite being patently preposterous. The build-up to pushing Leone's button is taut and, thankfully, the payback he unleashes kicks the requisite amount of ass.
This is no work of art, but there is an enormous dose of high satisfaction to be had come the finale. Daft, irrepressible and devoutly irresponsible to boot, Lock Up is prime brain-dead entertainment that uses the establishment as a whipping-post and treats the US judicial system like a rabid dog. Stallone is awesome and, dismissing the comedy-action of Tango & Cash, this was his last great movie until Cliffhanger.
The film makes parole courtesy of Lionsgate and the former DVD inmate tastes the freedom of Blu-ray ... with honours. No frills but a fine and faithful transfer ensure that Sly's fans will be happier than a lifer granted with five minutes of conjugal rights - well almost. I'm not particularly surprised that the film has arrived with no new extras, but it still seems a shame that nothing could have been dug out and a commentary or a retrospective couldn't have been put together. Still, it's the film that counts, and Lionsgate have done Sly's jail-sentence proud.
Lock Up ... imprison it in your collection - now!
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