Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: The Delta Force (1986)
Studio Line: MGM - They don't negotiate with terrorists... they blow them away!

Political extremists have taken innocent people hostage…and only super-soldiers Chuck Norris and Lee Marvin can rescue them in this "astounding mix of fact, fantasy and heavy-duty adventure" (Variety). Co-starring Martin Balsam and Shelley Winters, The Delta Force is 130 non-stop minutes of explosive, wall-to-wall action!

When a U.S. passenger plane is seized by vicious hijackers and taken to Beirut, the President calls in "The Delta Force" -- a crack team of commandos led by Colonel Nick Alexander (Marvin) and Major Scott McCoy (Norris). Against all odds, the men blast into the compound and -- taking no prisoners -- rescue the hostages. But the mission is not yet over. A few remaining passengers are being "escorted" to Teheran, initiating a desperate race against time as Alexander and McCoy try to save them -- and avenge America's honor -- before it's too late.

Director: Menahem Golan
Cast: Chuck Norris, Lee Marvin, Martin Balsam, Joey Bishop, Robert Forster, Lainie Kazan
DVD: Standard 1.33:1; audio English Dolby Surround; subtitles Spanish, French; closed-captioned; single sided - single layered; 24 chapters; rated R; 128 min.; $19.98; street date 9/19/00.
Supplements: Original Theatrical Trialers.
Purchase: DVD

Picture/Sound/Extras: C-/B+/D-

Chuck Norris' 1986 action piece The Delta Force belongs in a time capsule. If you ever want a reminder of the atmosphere in the USA during the mid-Eighties, TDF will show you this aura effectively. The movie comes from the Rambo school of jingoism and presents a very enthusiastically "rah-rah" endorsement of US might.

Back in that period, middle Eastern sorts were our favorite enemies. After all, Libya's Qaddafi was loudly rattling his saber and the sting of the Iranian hostages remained fresh. In fact, the disastrous attempted rescue of those captives starts TDF; we're introduced to our main characters as they suffer this defeat.

By God, that's not going to happen again! Not with tough guy major Scott McCoy (Chuck Norris) back in action! McCoy retired after the Iranian debacle, but when some of those evil Arabs hijack a plane filled with - gasp! - American tourists, you can be sure he won't be caught on the sidelines!

The story follows an insanely predictable path. Everything that happens is easily anticipated and executed with minimal flair. The entire hijacking plot seems to exist simply to give our heroes an excuse to kick some butt, and I really thought the tie-in to the true disaster in Iran felt tacky; it' s one thing to place characters vaguely as Vietnam vets but it's another to directly insert them in a particular action, especially one that ended so poorly.

One possibly positive aspect of TDF stems from its surprisingly solid cast. The film is chock full of second-tier actors, by which I mean that we have a lot of semi-famous talent but no concrete stars. We find folks like Lee Marvin, Shelley Winters, Lainie Kazan, George Kennedy, Martin Balsam, Joey Bishop, Susan Strasberg, and Robert Vaughn. Again, there aren't any huge stars in that roster, but it's a fairly impressive list of known-names nonetheless.

And they're all entirely wasted. Virtually none of them are givens roles that transcend weak stereotypes, and they are asked to do little of substance. Most play hostages and they each get their obligatory moment of pseudo-dignity as they "stand up to" their captors, but it's all pretty silly.

Pity poor Robert Forster most of all. He's stuck playing "Abdul", the film' s main villain. Actually, he makes a credible Arab, I suppose; he gets the voice down pretty well. Still, it seems like a sad state of affairs that he had to take such a crummy role in a weak movie.

The most negative result of all this decent talent is that it makes Norris' lack of acting chops all the more apparent. The man offers a tremendously stiff and bland performance as McCoy; he's about as exciting and charismatic as a puddle of day-old beer. Granted, Norris could handle the action scenes fairly well, so he ultimately earns his pay, but it was painful to watch him at any other time.

Overall, The Delta Force isn't a horrible movie, but it's a silly one that hasn't aged well over the last 14 years. It presents an accurate snapshot of the general American mindset from 1986 but doesn't look very pretty today. The film's action scenes are mildly effective but the plot and characters are thin at best. Jingoistic Arab-haters might enjoy this stuff but I didn't.

The DVD:

The Delta Force appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although much of The Delta Force looked quite good, it suffered from a few serious flaws that made the entire product no better than average.

Sharpness seemed consistently strong, with a picture that was almost always clear and well-defined. A few scenes showed mildly soft tendencies, but these were rare and most of the movie looked crisp and concise. Moiré effects and jagged edges presented no significant concerns, but print flaws caused some problems. The film displayed moderate amounts of grit, speckles and grain, and I also detected a few nicks.

Colors generally looked solid and accurate, but at times the hues came across as excessively heavy. These tones weren't badly thick, but they seemed more dense than they should. Black levels appeared fairly deep but could be a bit murky, and shadow detail occasionally seemed too opaque, with some low-light situations that were difficult to discern.

On their own, those problems would have reduced my grade to a "B-", as The Delta Force generally looked pretty good. However, I dropped the grade to a "C" for two reasons. First related to the aspect ratio. Apparently TDF appeared in a 1.85:1 ratio during its theatrical run, and I have no idea why MGM failed to present it in those dimensions. This decision seems especially odd since there was enough room to include both fullscreen and letterboxed versions if they'd so desired.

I could not clearly decide if the movie used an open matte transfer or if it was panned and scanned, but I'm leaning toward the latter. Many scenes presented what seemed to be ample headroom, usually a sign of an open matter film. However, the sides of the frame often appeared awfully cramped, which led to me think the entire original frame was not being presented. In any case, I think the original framing should have been used.

More problematic is an omission that also affected the first run of MGM's This Is Spinal Tap DVD. TDF used lots of "burned-in" subtitles; much of the film featured spoken languages other than English and the on-screen text told us what the characters said. Unfortunately, these subtitles have been left out so we have no idea what is being said during significant portions of the film.

When this occurred on Spinal Tap, a loud outcry happened and MGM quickly rectified the problem. Since TDF is a much more obscure title, no such cry has been heard; indeed, it's possible that no one ever notified MGM about the mistake. Well, my review will let them know about it, but I hope fans of TDF won't hold their breath that a recall and reissue of the DVD will occur; frankly, I think it's unlikely, though I hope MGM will do the right thing and fix this error. In any case, it's a significant problem that strongly affected my judgment of the DVD.

The Delta Force used a surprisingly strong Dolby Surround soundtrack. The forward soundfield sounded very broad and engaging, with some excellent stereo separation. The front three channels often displayed discrete audio that opened up the spectrum nicely and brought the action to life.

The rear speakers also contributed a lot of audio - perhaps too much. Most of the time effects and music added to the impact of the track and made it involving and lively. However, on a few occasions I thought we heard too much effect activity from the surrounds; for example, early in the movie, sounds of motorcycles and cars come from the rears for no apparent reason. It can be a little distracting, but I still found the soundtrack to seem nicely involving, especially for a mix of this vintage.

Audio quality also seemed solid. Dialogue could appear slightly wan but usually appeared natural and distinct, with no issues related to intelligibility. Music sounded clear and bright. Though the score was poor, it came across pretty nicely with clean highs and some mildly deep bass. Low end shined relatively brightly during some of the louder effects like explosions and flying planes; these examples were dynamic and impressive. All of the effects worked well, as they displayed no signs of distortion and were quite crisp. This mix doesn't match up with more modern affairs, but I thought it worked very well for its age.

The Delta Force includes almost no supplements. We find the movie's original theatrical trailer but nothing else.

A typically jingoistic piece of hooey from the Eighties, The Delta Force features a few fairly well-executed action scenes but lacks much redeeming value. The film hasn't aged gracefully and seems pretty silly at this point. The DVD presents a generally solid picture that suffers from lack of original aspect ratio reproduction and some omitted material. The sound appears active and clear, but the DVD features virtually no extras. Those who aren't fans of Chuck Norris clearly can pass on this title, but even if you like his style of action, The Delta Force is a DVD to skip because of the mastering errors.

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