( Max score: 100 )
Sarah was an inexperienced climber. She trusted Gabe to rescue her. But something went wrong high above the valley floor...Sylvester Stallone, John Lithgow, Michael Rooker, Janine Turner and Ralph Waite star in this high-altitude avalanche of action: a non-stop adventure peak with suspense and capped with heart-quaking terror. For Rocky Mountain Rescue, the mission is almost routine: locate five climbers. With the woman he loves (Turner) and his best friend (Rooker), Gabe Walker (Stallone) braves the icy peaks only to discover that the distress call is really a trap set by merciless international terrorist Eric Qualen (Lithgow). Now millions of dollars and their own lives hang in the balance. Against explosive firepower, bitter cold, and dizzying heights, Walker must outwit Qualen in a deadly game of hide-and-seek.
Admittedly I am an action film junkie that truly enjoys kicking back, letting go and being taken on a mindless thrill ride. Of course in exchange for the mindless aspects of it there better be plenty of explosions, adrenaline and excitement to keep me preoccupied. Sylvester Stallone has certainly made the most of his attributes as a writer, director and actor. He isn't a gifted actor but he knows where his strengths lie and he predominantly sticks to what works. There is no denying his quality as a big ticket box office draw and films like 1993's Cliffhanger are a prime example of his success. I have been a fan since 1976 when I saw him in Rocky and always appreciated his tenacity, dedication to his craft and sense of style. Just prior to Cliffhanger he had done a few films that took him away from his tough guy persona/action roots (not in a good way either). Cliffhanger brought him back and the results while typical still made for an exhilarating, action packed film which is a personal favorite. The opening sequence is a memorable one that truly works as an attention grabber. It appropriately sets the tone for the film's inherent and unforgiving danger which is every bit as threatening as the menace presented by Qualen and his cohorts. Director Renny Harlin knows how to direct an action film and once things get rolling it keeps moving right through to the end. From a thematic standpoint Cliffhanger measures up with a good balance of action and suspense while keeping the drama appropriately limited. If you want to know what I mean by that watch the scene between Gabe and Jessie when he returns after being gone for eight months. John Lithgow is perfectly sinister and cold as Eric Qualen and I thought Rex Linn was just as unlikable as the crooked (and foul mouthed) Treasury Agent Travers. The mix of expendables versus luminaries among Qualen's henchman provides ample room for dissention as well as targets for the hero. I think that Cliffhanger has more going for it than just mindless action/adventure. The script and characters have enough depth to propel the story without the need for sole reliance upon one's imagination but of course checking your brain at the door will probably make the experience more invigorating just the same. I have owned it on DVD since its release and enjoy coming back to it when I get the urge. I was thrilled when the Blu-ray Disc arrived on my doorstep the other day and am happy to retire my well played special edition DVD.
The rating is for violence and language.
Cliffhanger comes to Blu-ray Disc from Sony/Tristar featuring 1080p AVC encoded video that has an average bitrate of 31 mbps and lossless DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio sound that has an average bitrate of 4.3 mbps.
I always thought that this film looked pretty good but not perfect on DVD. In looking at it in high definition it appears to retain its standard definition attributes but with a marked improvement in depth, shadow detail and definition. It lacks the high gloss and razor sharp delineation of the better high definition releases I have seen on Blu-ray but I suspect that this is innate to its original photography. That shouldn't be construed to mean that it doesn't look good in high definition because at times I thought it looked striking. The scenic locations and long range vista views of the Italian Alps where the movie was filmed look gorgeous in 1080p. Resolution is quite good as images are well resolved with discernible refinement during close ups and most mid level panning shots. Bright exterior sequences tend to look the best as contrast and brightness achieve an excellent balance that when coupled with the video's high resolution has a resplendent quality that can be eye catching. Blacks are deep and gradationally satisfying which enhances the perception of depth in low light. This is notable during the dark sequence where Gabe struggles with the henchman as they slide down the hill (which ends with the henchman plummeting into the dark abyss) shows off how well mixed light/dark elements appear onscreen. As the bad guy falls into the black background there are flecks of white snow that slide off of the cliff and float down around him. They are bright white and punchy while the background appears a solid shade of deep black with the coloring in his clothing offsetting each. During that same scene there is a shot of the group of villains standing shoulder to shoulder at the peak of that hill with bright lighting illuminating them from behind. I was able to make out shadow detail in their faces along with the various shapes and ruffles in their clothing. The same was true of the rough surface/texture of the walls in the dank, unevenly lit, and tight, bat filled crevice. The variety of the film's earth tones and primary colors are naturally rendered with appreciable tonal separation and pleasing quality. I did notice that reds appeared to lean a little toward orange which made blood look less realistic. Fleshtones are beautifully reproduced with excellent complexional nuance and lifelike coloring. Sharpness can fluctuate with some scenes appearing less resolute and revealing of fine detail. I didn't find this to be an egregious break from the quality of the remainder of the video but its presence is worthy of note. Grain is present but not consistently rendered over the course of the presentation. I don't believe this is the result of digital manipulation as the film's original elements appear to be intact. This is the best that this film has looked on home video in my opinion.
The original lossy Dolby/DTS soundtracks on the DVD always sounded great. Like the video presentation this high bitrate, lossless DTS-HD Master Audio sound mix has similar attributes but offers an improved experience. Trevor Jones' rousing music score sounds superlative as the orchestrated elements are smooth, refined and dynamically strong. The music is spread throughout the entire soundstage with excellent channel separation and imaging. The times when the music takes center stage it achieves a full bodied and immersive quality that is enriching. This film has an active and well integrated surround mix that makes frequent use of the entire platform. There are a plethora of panning effects that use the sidewalls and rear of the room to convey flybys, flyovers and side to side near field effects. The Jet Star plane crash sequence shakes things up nicely as the soundfield brims with shattering glass, crunching metal, immersive atmospherics and room shaking frequencies. Dynamic range is quite good which provides the action based elements and music with palpable energy and concussive impact. Dialogue is intelligible, with crystal clear intonation and excellent room penetration. Similar to the DVD the audio mixed to surrounds has prominent presence that borders on being a bit forward. Front and rear channel balance is maintained which keeps pans tightly focused and on point. I found this lossless audio presentation to be a definitive improvement that enhanced the experience.
This title includes Sony's Movie IQ features which requires a BD-Live connection and allows fans the option of viewing continuously updated details on the cast and crew and to explore relevant trivia such as production facts, music, and soundtrack information which are tied into scenes in the movie. This can be turned on or off and is activated by the press of a button on your player's remote.
Cliffhanger is a fun, action packed thriller that may not represent the best that cinema has to offer but it gives genre fans a well orchestrated and exhilarating film that features star Sylvester Stallone near the top of his game. I am happy to report that it has never looked better on home video. This Blu-ray Disc release from Sony features rewarding high definition video quality, awesome DTS-HD Master Audio surround sound and the same supplement package found on special edition DVD release. If you're a fan this makes for a worthy and recommended upgrade. If you have never seen Cliffhanger this is definitely the way to experience it for the first time. Enjoy!