Cliffhanger (Blu-ray)

“Compliments of Delmar.”

There are some who dismiss Cliffhanger as a half-assed retread of Die Hard set in the mountains. These people are communists.

When it comes to traitorous military intelligence specialists with high IQs and sneering geographically-ambiguous accents, there is none more fearsome than Eric Qualen (John Lithgow, Shrek). He’s put together a crew of terrorist spare parts to pull off a daring heist — a mid-air pilfering of $100 million. But something goes wrong, the money drops into the Rocky Mountains, and his jet crashes.

A pair of rescue rangers respond to the distress call and Qualen forces them to hunt down his money under pain of death. Little does he know, one of his captives is Gabe Walker (Sylvester Stallone, Rambo), an accomplished climber and a man capable of impaling dudes on stalactites.

I don’t care what the critics say: Cliffhanger is primo entertainment. Made in the heyday of early ’90s hard-R action shenanigans, Renny Harlin’s terrorist-killing opus sports so many memorable aspects it’s a wonder the Smithsonian hasn’t created a Cliffhanger exhibit yet. Well, it’s a wonder to me.

What more do you need from your red-blooded, high-octane entertainment? You’ve got a cool hero, who’s lovably dumb (hey genius, what was the point of wasting all that time to build a snowman?) but ripped enough to dangle precariously from ledges and slap around evildoers; a female protagonist who does astonishingly little throughout her screen time except conveniently give herself over to the main bad guy (who’s pointing a gun at her from inside a helicopter no less) and set up the requisite climactic trade-off and showdown; a sidekick who’s given all the best lines; an exemplary cast of cannon fodder, from the icy-cold and sexy blonde femme fatale to the hard-ass ghetto smasher to the sleazy Eastern European dickhead who loves soccer so much he gets himself killed over it; and, finally, Mr. Eric Qualen himself, a towering cartoon of a bad guy, acted with the subtlety of a deranged killer whale.

Then there are the bad guy death scenes, a solid selection of kills that unravel when thought about rationally, but sure are fun to watch: mowed down by an avalanche, face friction-burned off during a downhill body sled sequence, shotgunned and tossed off a cliff edge, ventilated with a bolt gun, exploded in a helicopter, and the center-piece, the aforementioned stalactite penetration. That’s some quality mayhem, there, all of it transmitted in glorious R-rated detail.

Finally, the mountains. Say what you will about the goofy dialogue (“Too late, you missed him. He decided to take a swim to Arizona!”), the breakdowns in basic geography (how in the world did Travers cover five miles of arctic hiking in just over three minutes, the length of the Delmar/Hal fight?), and the gratuitous violence aimed at woodland creatures, Cliffhanger has mountaintops. The Alps are pinch-hitting for the Rockies, but they look no less majestic and Renny Harlin is unafraid to take his helicopter for a spin to get some genuinely awesome angles of the big ranges. The fact that the dangerous outcroppings and treacherous altitudes make for some easy death scenes are a bonus.

And now here is one of my favorite action guilty pleasure on Blu-ray. The verdict? Mixed. The video quality (2.40:1) is decent, certainly an improvement over standard-def, but far from the gold standard of catalog releases (which, ironically, still belongs to the Rambo movies). The scenery and more intimate character sequences pop with detail. The archaic effects work, however, suffers much with the bump in resolution. A 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is good and loud and serves the action well.

Extras have been recycled from the DVD special edition: commentaries with Harlin and Stallone (sporadically), and the technical crew; an introduction from Harlin; a cheesy montage of deleted scenes; featurettes on the special effects; and a making-of documentary. BD-Live offers the text-powered movieIQ in-film pop-up.

“Not Guilty a — hole!!”


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