Ralph Potts reviews Cliffhanger, from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, which is making its debut on Ultra HD Blu-ray and stars Sylvester Stallone in one of the most heart-pounding, gravity-defying action spectaculars of the 1990s.
The Review at a Glance:
(max score: 5 )
Audio/UHD Video total rating:
( Max score: 100 )
Studio and Year: Sony Pictures – 1993
MPAA Rating: R
Feature running time: 112 minutes
Disc Format: BD-66
Video Aspect: 2.40:1
Audio Format(s): English Dolby Atmos/TrueHD 7.1, English DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio, French Dolby Digital 5.1, French/Spanish Dolby Surround
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, John Lithgow, Janine Turner, Michael Rooker, Leon, Ralph Waite, Pail Winfield, Rex Linn, Caroline Goodall
Directed by: Renny Harlin
Music by: Trevor Jones
Written by: Michael France & Sylvester Stallone
Region Code: A,B,C
Release Date: January 15, 2019
“Sylvester Stallone, John Lithgow, Michael Rooker, Janine Turner and Ralph Waite star in this high-altitude avalanche of action: a nonstop adventure peaked with suspense and capped with heart-quaking terror. For Rocky Mountain Rescue, the mission is almost routine: locate five climbers. With the woman he loves (Turner) and his best friend (Rooker), Gabe Walker (Stallone) braves the icy peaks only to discover that the distress call is really a trap set by merciless international terrorist Eric Qualen (Lithgow). Now millions of dollars and their own lives hang in the balance. Against explosive firepower, bitter cold and dizzying heights, Walker must outwit Qualen in a deadly game of hide-and-seek.” – Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
I reviewed Cliffhanger when it released on Blu-ray in 2010 and have included comments from that review here. The rating for the film and bonus features is the same as they are identical to the original release. New ratings for the Ultra HD video and Dolby Atmos mix are contained below.
Admittedly I am an action film junkie that truly enjoys kicking back, letting go and, being taken on a mindless thrill ride. Of course, in exchange for the mindless aspects of it there better be plenty of explosions, adrenaline and, excitement to keep me preoccupied. Sylvester Stallone has certainly made the most of his attributes as a writer, director and actor. He isn’t a gifted actor but, he knows where his strengths lie and he predominantly sticks to what works.
There is no denying his quality as a big-ticket box office draw and films like Cliffhanger are a prime example of his success. I have been a fan since 1976 when I saw him in Rocky and always appreciated his tenacity, dedication to his craft and sense of style. Just prior to Cliffhanger he had done a few films that took him away from his tough guy persona/action roots (not in a good way either). Cliffhanger brought him back and, the results while typical, still made for an exhilarating, action packed film which is a personal favorite. The opening sequence is a memorable one that truly works as an attention grabber. It appropriately sets the tone for the film’s inherent and unforgiving danger which is every bit as threatening as the menace presented by Qualen and his cohorts. Director Renny Harlin knows how to direct an action film and, once things get rolling it keeps moving right through to the end.
From a thematic standpoint Cliffhanger measures up with a good balance of action and suspense while keeping the drama appropriately limited. If you want to know what I mean by that watch the scene between Gabe and Jessie when he returns after being gone for eight months. John Lithgow is perfectly sinister and cold as Eric Qualen and, I thought Rex Linn was just as unlikable as the crooked (and foul mouthed) Treasury Agent Travers. The mix of expendables versus luminaries among Qualen’s henchman provides ample room for dissention as well as targets for the hero.
I think that Cliffhanger has more going for it than just mindless action/adventure. The script and characters have enough depth to propel the story without the need for sole reliance upon one’s imagination but, of course checking your brain at the door will probably make the experience more invigorating just the same. I have owned it on home video since its release and enjoy coming back to it when I get the urge. I was thrilled when the Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc arrived on my doorstep the other day and, am happy to retire my well-played Blu-ray Collector’s Edition.
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.**
UHD Presentation: 94
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
- HDR: Dark Highlights:
- HDR: Bright Highlights:
- HDR: Expanded Color:
- Visual Impact:
Dolby Atmos Rating: 94
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
- Level of immersion:
- Soundstage integration:
- Audio object placement:
- Effectiveness of Atmos platform:
- Entertainment factor:
Cliffhanger comes to Ultra HD Blu-ray from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment featuring 2160pHEVC encoded video and lossless Dolby Atmos/TrueHD 7.1 channel sound.
Sony remastered Cliffhanger from the original 35mm film elements. Its presentation in Ultra HD is derived from that 4K image, and the results are impressive.
It’s important to note that the ultimate goal for any release on home video is to present a film in the highest possible quality based upon its original elements. A film like Cliffhanger has an aesthetic that incorporates film grain and the use of optics that won’t result in the type of high gloss, tack-like sharpness of a film shot using digital cameras. This isn’t a problem and shouldn’t be seen as such.
This is a solid Ultra HD presentation that looks great on my large screen. What struck me from the onset is the lifelike reproduction of the textures captured by the camera’s lens. Whether it be the finest minutia in physical features or the abounding textures on the surfaces of the snow-covered landscapes, caves, and interiors of the Rocky Mountain Rescue office, Jessie’s house or the rescue helicopter, the imagery is gorgeous. The long range/wide-angle shots of the mountainous regions and forest featured in the film have never looked better.
The benefits of high dynamic range and wide color gamut are on display as earth toned colors have an added dimension that enlivens shots where they would normally have blended in, being seen as a less provocative background element that would generally go unnoticed. The film’s color base and variants of sepia are beautifully rendered, offering eye catching depth, that compliments the thematic tone. Whites are emboldened, detailed and bright, especially during low level transitions viewed in a darkened environment. Contrast abounds, lending an authenticity that underscores the subject matter, bringing it to a visually rewarding level. The nighttime sequence where Jessie and Gabe encounter Qualen’s men with the night vision giggles and flashlights is a prime example. Some of the effects laden shots soften resulting in noticeable fluctuations but, they are innate to the source and few and far between.
Shot on film, this rendering makes the most of its original elements, which are excellent. Sony has consistently yielded strong Ultra HD presentations from their catalog releases and Cliffhanger is no exception. This Ultra HD rendering stands well above any previous version on home video and is a must have for discerning fans.
In listening to the Dolby Atmos soundtrack, I was reminded of several recent catalog titles that I have reviewed which received new Dolby Atmos mixes. Cliffhanger already had a solid 5.1 channel surround mix so I wondered what the application of object placed sounds would add. I was very pleased with how active the mix is. The use of overhead sound objects elevates proportional correlation. When compared to the original 5.1 track the Atmos mix offers a noticeable improvement by opening up the soundstage, elevating the perception of low-level detail and seemingly offering broader dynamic range.
The film is loaded with atmospherics, off screen cues and discrete sound effects that when applied using the freedom of object-based placement adds an enriching layer to the soundtrack. This is noticeable right from the opening sequence with noteworthy examples being found throughout. I also felt that the new track added another layer to low frequency effects providing improved depth that sounded terrific.
As good as the original lossless mix sounds, the Atmos mix adds a definable element that brings the listening experience up a notch.
For those not familiar with the details regarding Ultra HD Blu-ray you can refer to my article that includes some pertinent data on the subject. Here is the link:
- Disc 1: Cliffhanger Ultra HD Blu-ray
- Disc 2: Cliffhanger Blu-ray
- Legacy Bonus Features
Cliffhanger is a fun, action packed thriller that may not represent the best that cinema has to offer but it gives genre fans a well-orchestrated and exhilarating film that features star Sylvester Stallone near the top of his game. I am happy to report that it has never looked better on home video. This is another strong catalog title release on Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. It features beautifully restored Ultra HD video, an entertaining and complimentary Dolby Atmos immersive sound mix, and legacy bonus material. If you’re a fan and are equipped to take advantage of the Ultra HD/Dolby Atmos upgrades, this Ultra HD release is highly recommended.
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Reference Review System:
JVC DLA-RS500 3D/4K Ready High Definition Front Projector
(Calibrated with Calman 5 & C6-HDR Meter from Spectracal)
Stewart Filmscreen – Studiotek 130 G3 100” 16×9 Screen
Carada Masquerade Electronic Horizontal Masking System
Marantz AV7704 Audio/Video Processor
Emotiva XPA-7 Gen 3 Seven Channel Amplifier
Emotiva XPA-11 Gen 3 Amplifier
Panasonic DP-UB820 Ultra HD Blu-ray Player
System Controller: Apple iPad/iRule Pro HD Universal Remote Control
Canton “Ergo” and Canton In-Ceiling Series Speakers
SVS Ultra Surrounds (Gloss Finish in Bipolar Configuration)
Dual SVS PC4000 Cylinder Subwoofers
Panamax M5400-PM Power Conditioner/Surge Protector
Wireworld, Better Cables (Silver Serpent) – Audio/Video/Speaker Cabling
AC Infinity Aircom T8 Component Cooling Systems