Cliffhanger (1993)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Michael Rooker, John Lithgow
Extras: 2 Commentary Tracks, Documentary, Deleted Scenes, Special Effects Featurettes, Storyboard Comparisons and more

After having rather unsuccessfully tried to wet his feet in more comedic roles, in 1993, actor Sylvester Stallone decided to return to the action roots that made him a Hollywood superstar. The vehicle that should take him back into the throne he had held firmly for so long was "Cliffhanger, " a film directed by Finish director Renny Harlin that would feature not only heart-pounding action, but also staggeringly beautiful naturescapes. Although firmly rooted in the action genre, "Cliffhanger" still allowed Stallone to stretch his acting skills a little and show us a maturing character that has depth, believability and vulnerability – a far cry from the Rambo image he used to have.

After a terrible accident that cost the life of a young woman, Gabe Walker (Sylvester Stallone) is never the same again. Being a mountain rescuer he holds himself responsible for her deadly fall and decides to leave the Rescue mission for a job in the town. Then an distress call comes in. Five men are stranded on top of a mountain and a storm is approaching. The Rocky Mountain Rescue mission sends out Hal Tucker (Michael Rooker) to locate and rescue the missing climbers and on his way to the mountain top, he is joined by Gabe, who has decided to take on the job to make sure the climbers get to safety before he leaves town.
When they finally find the men they were searching for, the situation changes drastically. These are no climbers but criminals whose plane has crashed into the mountainside. During the maneuver they lost their valuable cargo, three suitcases filled with money. $100 million in total, and they need the experienced rescue climbers to locate and retrieve the money for them – at gun point. In a daring attempt, Gabe manages to escape the group and tries to counter their plans, while Hal is still held hostage by the men and their leader Eric Qualen (John Lithgow). Soon the race is on. Gabe has to find the missing suitcases before the others so that he can use it in exchange for his friend Hal, before his life becomes worthless to the ruthless killers.

"Cliffhanger" is certainly not your usual action film. Although it contains some explosive scenes and furious chases, the movie also makes a very dramatic impact on the viewer. Superbly delivered parts by Sylvester Stallone, Michael Rooker and most importantly a superb performance by John Lithgow as the despicable antagonist, the viewer gets pulled into the maelstrom of events, feverishly rooting for the characters. One is never sure what will happen next or what will happen to these characters as they daringly climb along steep rock sides in the Italian Alps. Another aspect that makes "Cliffhanger" quite unique, are the breathtaking vistas. Shot on location in the Dolomites, which simply look better than the real Rocky Mountains, the film offers many aerial shots that are panoramic and simply mesmerizing. They underscore the majestic presence of the mountains and are a constant reminder to the risks they bear. They add a very unique signature to the film that sets it apart from practically all other American action movies.

Columbia TriStar Home Video presents "Cliffhanger" in a great special edition on this release in a <$16x9,16x9 enhanced> <$PS,widescreen> transfer in the movie’s original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The image is spectacular and breathtaking, featuring a transfer that boasts of detail. Virtually free of defects from the film print, the movie is staggeringly clean and clear without any signs of noise and grain. Color delineation of the film is beautifully rendered, keeping even the most subtle changes in the hues and tinges intact. Blacks are deep and solid without breaking up and without losing any detail in the image. Highlights are well-balanced and give the picture pleasing highlights that are never harsh or overemphasized. The image on this DVD is always sharp looking, but there are no signs of edge-enhancement that would give the picture an artificially sharpened quality. As we have come to expect from Columbia TriStar releases, the compression on "Cliffhanger" is flawless without a trace of any compression artifacting.

The disc contains a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio track that has been nicely transferred onto this DVD. With a wide frequency response the track is very dynamic and makes good use of the discrete surround channels the format has to offer. Especially during the action scenes the surrounds are sued rather aggressively, while at other times they are used to create spacious ambiance that increases the majestic views of the mountain sides. The soundtrack has a very natural quality and good bass extension. The LFE is engaged frequently and rounds the track up well in the bottom, while the high ends are always clear and finely defined. Dialogues are well integrated in the mix and always understandable. <$DS,Dolby Surround> tracks in English, Spanish and Portuguese are also part of the release.

Columbia TriStar’s Special Editions have become quite remarkable over the past year or so, offering a wealth of supplemental material that is usually well presented and also adds to the overall experience of the movie. "Cliffhanger" is no exception. It contains a <$commentary,commentary track> that features director Renny Harlin and Sylvester Stallone. Exciting, enlightening and entertaining, the track is a great addition to the film as it takes you behind the scenes and lets viewers relive the production of the film through the eyes of two very different entities. While Harlin is very technically oriented, Stallone takes a much more relaxed, joking and anecdotal approach to the track. Together they create a very enjoyable and entertaining track that is fun to listen to.
A second <$commentary,commentary track> features film editor Frank J. Urioste, visual effects supervisors Neil Krepela and John Bruno, and production designer John Vallone. Given the number of commentators, the track is interesting and informative at all times, highlighting many different aspects of the movie’s production.

A featurette called "Stallone On The Edge" is also part of the release. It is a small behind-the-scenes documentary that has been well produced with quite some wit and makes for great entertainment. Other gems of the release are some selected deleted scenes that are introduced by director Renny Harlin. Not only does he explain how the scene fits in the context of the movie, but also why he decided to cut it out.

Especially for those interested in the creation of the special effects of the movie, a segment called "How It Was Done" will be of interest. Renny Harlin takes the time to explain in detail how to of the film’s key scenes were created. In minute detail he explains the procedure that took him from the storyboards to the final result in the film. Down those same lines you will also three scenes dissected in a storyboard-comparison, where you can directly wee how the scenes were initially visualized and how they finally turned out in the movie. It is nicely presented and the screen layout is very well chosen, giving you a look at the storyboard sketches and the running film at the same time without distractions.
The release is rounded out with a Photo Gallery, Trailers and Production Notes, as well as selected cast and crew Biographies.

"Cliffhanger" is great popcorn movie that even has some emotional impact. Especially in the opening minutes, the film makes it clear that we get to see some dramatic action that keeps us involved with the characters rather than the rather unattached view we get to see in many action spectacles. Columbia TriStar is once again delivering a solid package that pleases the senses. Featuring a great version of the film and filled with entertaining and informative supplements, this DVD is a sure winner and you can rest assured that this "Cliffhanger" won’t fall through the cracks.