The Review at a Glance: (max score: 5 )
Audio/Video total rating:
( Max score: 100 )
Studio and Year: Columbia Pictures - 1978
MPAA Rating: R
Feature running time: 121 Minutes
Disc Format: BD-50
Video Aspect: 1.85:1
Audio Format(s): English/French/Portuguese Dolby TrueHD 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, English Mono
Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish, Portuguese, French
Starring: Brad Davis, John Hurt, Randy Quaid, Irene Miracle, Bo Hopkins, Paolo Bonacelli
Directed by: Alan Parker
Music by: Giorgio Moroder
Written by: Oliver Stone
Region Code: A,B,C
Blu-ray Disc release Date: July 21, 2009
"It’s about never giving up hope"
Brad Davis (The Player, Chariots of Fire) and John Hurt (Contact, Alien) star in this riveting truestory of a young American's nightmarish experiences in a Turkish prison and his unforgettable journey to freedom. Busted for attempting to smuggle hashish out of Istanbul, American college student Billy Hayes (Davis) is thrown into the city's most brutal jail. After suffering through four years of sadistic torture and inhuman conditions, Billy is about to be released when his parole is denied. Only his inner courage and the support of a fellow inmate (Hurt) give him the strength to catch the MIDNIGHT EXPRESS ... and escape his living hell.
On October 6, 1970, after a stay in Istanbul, US citizen Billy Hayes is arrested by Turkish police after being found with twp kilos of hashish taped to his body. He is sentenced to four years and two months' imprisonment after being convicted of drug possession rather than smuggling which carries a much higher penalty. He is sent to Sağmalcılar prison to serve out his sentence. While there he meets and becomes friends with three other Western prisoners, Erich, Max and Jimmy. In 1974 with less than two months left of his term, his original sentence of possession is overturned by the Turkish High Court in Ankara, and he is sentenced to serve a 30-year term for smuggling. In October 1975 Billy successfully escapes and documents his harrowing tale in his book Midnight Express.
What a gripping and powerful film. I haven’t seen it in years but I recall the buzz that surrounded it when it was released. It was interesting to watch its depiction of Billy’s transformation during his 5 year prison stay. It was evident that Billy initially thought that his father would be able to get him out of it. When he found out that was not the case reality set in big time. The prison seemed almost like a commune but there was no question that it was ruled with an iron fist. Billy learned quickly that insubordinate behavior would not be tolerated and that punishment would be swift, unjust, and brutal. The central figures in his life at the time were his father and girlfriend Susan. Once he was imprisoned Jimmy (Quaid), and Max (Hurt), became his close friends and confidants. All were in prison for drug related offenses with Billy’s being the most significant in terms of quantity. The film depicts the struggles experienced by all three as they coped not only with being locked up in a foreign country but oft dealing with the treacherous behavior of Rifki (Bonacelli) a prisoner/trustee who was allowed to profit on the inside in exchange for keeping tabs of the other inmates and reporting any infractions etc. There were several poignant scenes in the film. Most featured Davis but both Hurt and Quaid provided them as well. Billy’s address to the court after his re-sentencing, and the sequence in chapter 13, involving Rifki, where Billy goes ballistic are incredible. Max’s reaction during the scene where he discovers his cat and Jimmy being carted away after Rifki rats them out are also wonderfully enacted. The story is passionately recounted through these strong performances and a direct narrative style that is rarely ambiguous and notably engaging. I found myself truly involved in Billy’s plight as he is transmogrified from a vivacious, ambitious young man into a downtrodden, emaciated and mentally reduced shell of his former self. I thought the director’s decision not to use subtitles an interesting one as it did help to enhance the sense of alienation Billy must have experienced (especially early on). Oliver Stone’s Academy Award winning script has been the topic of debate because of the film’s seemingly one sided portrayal of the Turks, political based commentary and finally for the artistic license taken with the story. Regardless, as a cinematic work, this is a superb film that truly seems to capture the essence of Billy Hayes’ five year ordeal and his constant struggle to survive.
The rating is for language, sexual content, brief nudity, scenes of torture and violence.
AUDIO/VIDEO - By The Numbers:
REFERENCE = 92-100 / EXCELLENT = 83-91 / GOOD = 74-82 / AVERAGE = 65-73 / BELOW AVERAGE = under 65
**My audio/video ratings are based upon a comparative made against other high definition media/blu-ray disc.**
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
- Low frequency extension:
- Surround Sound presentation:
- Dialogue Reproduction:
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
- Black level/Shadow detail:
- Color reproduction:
Midnight express comes to Blu-ray from Columbia/Sony Pictures featuring 1080p AVC encoded video that has an average bitrate of 23 mbps and lossless Dolby TrueHd 5.1 channel audio that has an average bitrate of 1.2 mbps.
This is a solid presentation for an older catalog release title and it appears to remain faithful to the film’s original elements. By design colors have a muted level of saturation and those used are rarely bright which keeps the palette limited. I would say that overall they are naturally rendered and appear to fall within the visual range intended. Fleshtones have complexional distinction but in some cases look drab, a little flat and lacking in texture. Blacks offer fair depth and above average delineation. Shadow detail is quite good which enhances visual perception and dimensionality during the scenes shot at night or in limited lighting (such as those that take place in the bowels of the prison). Resolution is adequate so that varying degrees of detail can be seen in close ups but the video isn’t razor sharp or dimensionally strong. It also isn’t very bright which when coupled along with the drab colors gives it a dull finish. I think that this coincides with the creative decisions of the filmmakers which results in stable imagery that lacks the eye popping high definition that some may expect going from Blu-ray. Grain is preserved and appears naturally rendered. There is also some innate softening but I didn’t find either to be obtrusive. There is both a mono and lossless multi-channel audio option included. I utilized the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack during my evaluation. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack delivered crisp, full bodied dialogue in a mostly front oriented presentation that offered a few splashes of light ambience through the surround channels. There was some low frequency detail mixed to the subwoofer but its effects never reached authoritative levels (in this film there little call for it). The blend of music, voices and sound effects through the front channel speakers was rendered with excellent clarity, limited but fair dimensional perspective and average depth. It never sounded thin or dynamically starved and based upon the elements in the recording sounded just fine.
- Commentary with Director Alan Parker
- (HD) The Producers – 26 minute featurette
- (HD) The Production – 24 minute featurette
- (HD) The finished film – 23 minute featurette
- The making of Midnight express – “I’m healthy, I’m alive and I’m free” original documentary – 7 minutes
- Photo gallery
- (HD) Trailers – 6 BD previews
- 32 page graphic booklet with original essay based upon Director Alan Parker’s onset experiences
- BD-Live enabled
Midnight express is a powerful and gripping film that portrays the real life experiences of Billy Hayes after he is arrested and sent to a Turkish prison in 1970 for being in possession of two kilograms of hashish. Brad Davis gives the performance of a lifetime in the starring role and the supporting cast, particularly John Hurt, Paolo Bonacelli, and Randy Quaid, were equally impressive. Alan Parker’s staunch direction and attention to detail along with Oliver Stone’s award winning script cap off an incredible cinematic experience that deservedly garnered 6 Oscar nominations (winning two). It comes to Blu-ray Disc from Sony featuring a pleasing and apparently faithful 1080p high definition video transfer. The bonus supplements offer some great insights from the filmmakers which includes the 32 page graphic booklet/disc case. This is an excellent Blu-ray disc package that film fans are sure to appreciate. Recommend.
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