Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Cliffhanger (Superbit) (1993)
Sarah: Gabe, please don't let me fall! Please! I don't want to die!
Gabe: You're not gonna die!
Sarah: I'm slipping!
Gabe: Sarah, I've got you! Just reach up!
Sarah: I can't! I'm trying!
Hal: Gabe, man, don't you lose her! Don't you let her go!- Michelle Joyner, Sylvester Stallone, Michael Rooker
Stars: Sylvester Stallone, John Lithgow, Michael Rooker, Janine Turner, Leon, Paul Winfield, Ralph Waite
Director: Renny Harlin
MPAA Rating: R for violence and language
Run Time: 01h:52m:33s
Release Date: 2004-10-26
DVD ReviewI'm not a Sylvester Stallone fan, but I love Cliffhanger. Chicken soup for an action movie lover's soul, this mindless, edge-of-your-seat thrill ride packs itself with all the genre staples fans adore—implausible story, reluctant hero, cute and spunky love interest, death-defying stunts, dozens of narrow escapes, a sadistically suave villain, high-octane explosions, chase scenes galore. You name it, Cliffhanger squeezes it into its 112-minute running time. And in perhaps his best effort to date, director Renny Harlin effortlessly juggles all the elements and dresses them up with spectacular alpine scenery, a first-rate cast, and a majestic music score by Trevor Jones. Comparisons to another high-altitude adventure, Vertical Limit, are unavoidable, but Cliffhanger came first and stands on its own a decade after its release as a top-notch action entry.
Anyone who's ever seen the film's opening sequence will never forget it. In a nameless national park somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, two stranded climbers signal for help from atop a craggy peak. But what begins as a run-of-the-mill mission for ranger Gabe Walker (Sylvester Stallone) takes a harrowing turn when equipment failure leaves a frantic young woman (Michelle Joyner) dangling from a loosening harness strap above a 4,000-foot canyon. For an agonizing few minutes, Gabe struggles to pull her to safety, but her hand slips through his grasp, and as she plummets to her death, her piercing screams echo in Gabe's ears.
Eight months pass. An AWOL, guilt-ridden Gabe returns to the park to mend fences with his co-worker/girlfriend, Jessie Deighan (Janine Turner), whom he abandoned (along with his job) immediately after the tragedy. Hurt and resentful, Jessie spurns him, yet an emergency rescue mission sucks Gabe back into the fold and into her life. A private plane has crash-landed on a mountaintop, and the remote terrain requires an experienced climber. Gabe, of course, is the only man for the job, but little does he know a band of ruthless thieves lie in wait, and plan to use his extensive park knowledge to recover three suitcases—lost during a botched mid-air transfer—filled with $100 million of stolen cash.
John Lithgow portrays criminal mastermind Eric Qualen, and like Alan Rickman in Die Hard, creates one of the screen's classic villains. Elegant, refined, yet rotten to his very core, Qualen pits his brains against Gabe's brawn, and smoothly manipulates both his henchmen and captive guides. Initially, Lithgow seems like an anomaly in a Stallone film, but he quickly settles in and seems to savor every evil smirk and vicious remark. He adopts a British accent, which adds extra venom to his campy dialogue, but don't let his impeccable elocution fool you. Lithgow can also kick butt, and proves himself one of Stallone's most formidable adversaries. Their climactic confrontation on an overturned helicopter clinging to the face of a cliff is a fierce fight-to-the-finish, and though the outcome is never in doubt, both men put on a thrilling physical show.
The lovely Janine Turner of Northern Exposure fame (what ever happened to her?) shows plenty of pluck, while such old-timers as Papa Walton (a.k.a. Ralph Waite) and Paul Winfield lend the picture a dash of prestige. Yet Cliffhanger is Stallone's show from start to finish, and the film—albeit briefly—jumpstarted his faltering career. At age 47, Sly proves time and again he can still cut the action mustard, whether he's duking it out with thugs or outrunning a raging avalanche. And while it's refreshing to see the actor (who also co-wrote the screenplay) portray a hero other than Rocky or Rambo, we're lucky the movie's extreme setting and breathless pacing distract us from his ever bulging biceps and marble-mouthed line deliveries.
The depth of Cliffhanger doesn't go beyond its "crime doesn't pay" message, and the film would only be half as much fun if it did. Instead, this tense thriller wears its clichés like honor badges, never takes itself too seriously, and, like most action fantasies, isn't afraid to go over the top—way over the top—to keep us entertained. So grab a blanket, tighten that harness, and get ready for one exciting ride. And, oh yeah—don't look down.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B-
|Aspect Ratio||1.85:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Cliffhanger is more than a decade old, but the Superbit transfer makes it seem years younger. Some faint, sporadic speckling betrays the film's age, but no other imperfections mar the silky smooth presentation. Lines are as sharp as the jagged mountain peaks, and the breathtaking scenery looks lush and vibrant. Colors are vivid (so much so that blood looks horrendously artificial), while whites and blacks remain solid and stable. Natural fleshtones and excellent contrast also contribute to the high marks of this stellar Superbit effort.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The DTS track outperforms its DD 5.1 cousin once again, with exceptional attention to detail and marvelous channel separation. The rear speakers come alive during gun battles and a number of aerial sequences involving the rescue helicopter. The subwoofer shines, too, nicely rendering a few potent explosions and a particularly memorable avalanche. Dialogue is always clear and comprehendible (even when spoken by Stallone) and Trevor Jones' melodic music score enjoys terrific presence and depth of tone.
The DD track is also active and dynamic, but requires a bigger volume boost to achieve comparable results.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
Extras Review: Typical of the Superbit line, no extras are included, as disc space is designated solely for video and audio quality.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsA nonstop action orgy from beginning to end, Cliffhanger never aspires to be anything else. This Sylvester Stallone blockbuster possesses far more brawn than brains, but the taut plot and rugged visuals keep us riveted throughout. And with sparkling Superbit clarity and a brand-new DTS track, it's easy to recommend this exciting cat-and-mouse adventure.
David Krauss 2004-12-01