The release of catalogue or older titles is always a mixed bag of anticipation and fear: depending on how many versions of a film were already released, studios may only pour so much money into a re-release, even for an upgrade, and that's assuming there is room for improvement over the content and bonus materials on earlier discs or even in box sets. Meanwhile, of course, there's the whole question of how much you'll still like something that you haven't seen in a year or five, which prompts a little bit of that fear once you pop in a movie again and find the viewing experience different than you remember. (Which is also the reason for my "Shelf Life" column.)
Cliffhanger is a film I remember best as Sylvester Stallone's first major comeback after floundering through a series of mediocre sequels, crappy comedies and stillborn franchise-launchers (gloriously homoerotic though Tango & Cash remains). Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released the film on Blu-ray last week, and although I was curious how well it held up as a film -- notwithstanding its awesome opening sequence -- I elected to choose 8 ½ as this week's "Shelf Life" subject, instead picking Cliffhanger as my "Making the (Up) Grade" target.
What's Already Available: Sony first released Cliffhanger on DVD in 1997 in a bare-bones edition with no extras, but followed up with a Collector's Edition disc in June of 2000 that featured two commentary tracks, the making-of featurette "Stallone on the Edge," a personal introduction by director Renny Harlin, three deleted scenes with an introduction and commentary by Harlin, storyboard comparisons and two photo galleries. Additionally, in October 2004, Sony also released a Superbit edition of Cliffhanger which offered superior picture and sound quality, but no extras.
What's In The New Set: Released on January 12, 2010, the Cliffhanger Blu-ray features all of the same bonus materials as the 2000 Collector's Edition, and, presumably, the presentation of the 2004 Superbit edition.
What's The Difference In The Movie Itself: The presentation is good -- certainly a significant improvement over regular standard definition -- but it's not shocking: backgrounds in the opening credits flicker, and the title cards themselves are not as crystal-clear as one might expect. The rest of the film looks pretty damn good, though, offering a satisfying depth and clarity that enhances the precipitation and wintry set design. The sound is also solid but unexceptional, offering loud and mostly clear channel separation between dialogue, sound effects, and Trevor Jones' Michael Kamen-lite score, which means that this won't soon be used as reference-quality material even if it fulfills the demands of the action on screen.
What's The Difference In Everything Else: Nothing. The bonus materials look not only primitive even for DVD, but seem to have the ambitious fumbling of laserdisc content: Harlin's atrocious hairstyle notwithstanding, his introductions are shot on stretched 4:3 video, which makes their presentation now look like a home movie somebody thought would look good upgraded from consumer-level 8mm to HD. In terms of the content, most of this information is either completely clichéd "physical challenge" revelations, or descriptions of processes that have long since been chronicled and deconstructed (like, say, the reason for removing extra scenes) on other DVDs. The point being that nothing here is truly terrible -- the commentary by Harlin and Stallone is fairly self-congratulatory but entertaining -- but it's not going to inspire reconsideration of the film or its merits by anyone not already in love with it.
What's The Final Grade: C-. I can't imagine this being a first-day purchase for anyone except truly diehard action junkies or maybe Stallone fans, but as other than a future impulse buy on the $10 rack next to those Fox Blu-rays for Predator and Point Break (two better films, it should be noted), Cliffhanger isn't a must have either for cinephiles or home video collectors. Thankfully, it at least collects all of the existing content and offers it via the best presentation possible, but if one were measuring the disc's success on the basis of the film's title, suffice it to say that this set won't have you on the edge of your seat.