Cliffhanger appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although the picture displayed some problems, it generally looked pretty good.
Sharpness seemed mostly positive. Mild softness crept into the image at times, but those instances were rare and minor. Most of the time, the picture appeared clear and crisp. No real instances of moiré effects and jagged edges appeared, but some moderate edge enhancement popped up at times. The print seemed slightly gritty at times, with periodic instances of speckles and marks, but it generally looked clean.
Colors appeared natural and bright, with no evidence of bleeding or noise. The film stuck to a realistic appearance for hues and they seemed clear and clean. Black levels looked fairly deep and dark, and shadow detail generally was good. Some scenes made Leon overly difficult to see, however. Still, as an overall package, the image of Cliffhanger looked fine, with only a smattering of issues to bring my grade down to a “B”.
Virtually no problems affected the excellent Dolby Digital 5.1 audio of Cliffhanger. The mix provided a tremendously broad and involving soundfield. At virtually all times, discrete audio engulfed the viewer and makes the experience much more exciting than it otherwise would be. The sound designers really had a field day with this one, as they integrated the sounds well. Everything seemed appropriately placed and the entire mix blended together smoothly. It's a simply fantastic example of audio design, with active surrounds that contributed a lot to the presentation.
The quality of the sound seemed equally strong. Although much of it clearly must have been dubbed, dialogue appeared warm and natural, with no edginess or problems with intelligibility. Music was bold and strong and it displayed excellent dynamic range. The effects were the real stars of the show, however, as one might expect. All of the sounds came across as clean and realistic, with virtually no distortion. The track packed a serious punch and bass response seemed excellent. Cliffhanger presented an auditory experience that any listener should find very satisfying.
This is the second appearance of Cliffhanger on DVD. The first version came out back in the early days of DVD before some studios fully committed themselves to making all of their discs as good as they could be. Happily, Columbia-Tristar (CTS) have gone back and reissued a few of their older titles with new features. Jumanji, Little Women and now Cliffhanger all add to their old "movie-only" versions.
Actually, the revised Cliffhanger DVD mixes some new features with others that were created for a 1995 laserdisc boxed set. Two audio commentaries appear, one of them new, one of them old. The old one comes from director Renny Harlan and actor Sylvester Stallone. For all intents and purposes, though, it's just from Harlin. The men were recorded separately and the results edited together later. Stallone pops up on rare occasions and offers some interesting comments - especially in regard to his fear of heights and other acting challenges - but Harlin's remarks dominate the proceedings.
For the most part, the director provides some interesting information. He tends to stick mainly to the technical side of the coin, but he makes his discussion engaging, with only a few dull spots. Harlin even attempts to defend his gratuitous violence.
Even more interesting is the second commentary. This is a newly created track and it features editor Frank Urioste, visual effects supervisors Neil Krepela and John Bruno, and production designer John Vallone. At least Bruno and Krepela were recorded together, but I think the other two were taped on their own. In any event, the results have clearly been edited into a tauter package. Although the focus here also sticks mainly to the effects and other technical facets of the production, I found the track to be quite stimulating and entertaining. Some technically-oriented commentaries can be very dry and overly stiff, but that's not the case here. Each of the participants relates a lot of good information about the project and about the nature of filmmaking in general. I liked the Harlin/Stallone track, but this commentary is stronger.
A variety of other supplemental features appear on this DVD as well. First up is A Personal Introduction from Renny Harlin. This four-minute and 50-second video piece mainly contributes a taped discussion of the film from Harlin, as he explains why he did it and what he wanted to do with the material. We also see brief video interview excerpts of Stallone and actress Janine Turner, plus there's a little footage of Harlin from the set. Most interesting is the clip in which he apparently tries to show Stallone that he can survive the intimidating heights.
Next is a "making-of" featurette called Stallone On the Edge. This 20-minute program offers a very glossy look at the film. It tries far too hard to be cute and witty - and fails in those regards - but it provides some good footage from the set that's interspersed with fairly inane interview snippets, mainly from Stallone. The featurette was created around the time of Cliffhanger's release, which is why Stallone appears in Demolition Man garb for his narration shots.
Another section includes some deleted scenes. This area runs for a little more than nine minutes total, though most of that doesn't come from actual cut footage; introductory and additional videotaped discussions from Harlin fill most of the nine minutes. Two deleted scenes appear, both of which are mildly interesting. Harlin completely explains why he excised them. One annoyance: although the segments were clearly intended to run as a continuous piece, there's no option to watch them that way here. Each of the three parts - including the "Introduction" - must be selected manually.
Special Effects: How It Was Done offers video examinations of two different scenes, "Helicopter Explosion" and "Sarah's Fall". The first shows film clips and some good rough footage of the shoot plus some narration and interviews, while the second presents the finished product accompanied by Harlin's narration. These segments do a nice job of letting us know how the parts were made. In total, these pieces last for about seven minutes and 20 seconds.
Storyboard Comparisons provides a split-screen presentation for three different scenes: "Helicopter Explosion", "Air-to-air Transfer", and "Sarah's Fall". It's pretty standard stuff, and will interest those who like that sort of material. The running time for all three combined is nearly 12 minutes.
Two photo galleries appear. There's the "On Location Gallery", with 42 shots of the actors on the sets, plus the "Special Effects Gallery", with 22 pictures of the technical work in various stages of completion. These are mildly interesting, but I continue to find it annoying that CTS insists on presenting stillframe pictures in small boxes. Usually this is done for “creative" reasons - little touches such as making the photos look like they're in an album - but on Cliffhanger, the presentation remains dull and has no spark. Plus, the images are at least 30 percent smaller than they could have been.
The DVD includes the original theatrical trailer which also tosses in a three minute and 25 second introduction from Harlin. He discusses what inspired him to make that particular clip and explains his general thought processes in regard to promotion. The trailer itself is decent - though my memories of the actual movie prevent me from finding it too compelling – but I really liked Harlin's bit. After all, when was the last time you heard a director discuss a trailer?
Finally, the DVD ends with Talent Files for four of the actors (Stallone, Lithgow, Rooker and Turner) plus Harlin. As usual, these are the standard CTS non-entries that appear on most of their DVDs; they provide almost no interesting information about the participants. The DVD's booklet also includes two pages of decent production notes.
This would be a hell of a DVD if only the movie itself didn't bore me. The picture and sound are both strong, and the collection of supplements is thorough and engaging. Unfortunately, Cliffhanger itself is a dog; it's a dull, uncompelling attempt at an action film. If you disagree and know you like the film, then you'll want to buy this DVD; it's a solid package. However, if you're not sure, be more cautious and rent it first or just skip it altogether.
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