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Nighthawks – Collector’s Edition (Blu-ray Review)

NighthawksAnother wishlist item granted!  I specifically wanted a US release of Nighthawks on Blu-ray.  Previously, this was only available in German.  Now its coming via the Shout Select Collector’s Edition line from Shout! Factory.  They’ve only been around since August, but they’ve been pretty much killing it as expected so far.  They are basically taking what they’ve done with their highly praised and heralded Scream Factory line and branching it off to other genres or just everything else that isn’t horror.  Today’s title actually fell into the horror category when featured in 1981’s compilation film Terror In The Aisles.  Only fitting that Shout! Factory snuck this one into the October release slate.  This highly underrated and forgotten film in the Sylvester Stallone canon makes its way to Blu-ray in the states on October 18th.

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Film 

When Europe’s most feared terrorist explosively announces his presence in Manhattan, two elite undercover cops are assigned to stop him before he strikes again. But the ruthless terrorist has other plans for the city – and the detectives.  Sylvester Stallone and Rutger Hauer star in this riveting story of suspense and intrigue that starts in London, continues in Paris and reaches its chilling conclusion on the streets of New York.

Between Rocky and First Blood, Sylvester Stallone had gone from a break out sensation to struggling to maintain or follow up his first success.  In the midst of that are some films that seemingly didn’t go over well at the time but prove more interesting now.  One film that I think was just fine back then, but was sort of “chalk up another miss” was Nighthawks.  This serial killer/bomber cop thriller was a pairing between he and Billy Dee Williams and was the big debut of Rutger Hauer.  It was a script that spun out of originally being The French Connection 3 after Gene Hackman declined it.

In the filmography of Sly Stallone, Nighthawks is a personal favorite of mine.  It has elements of being a terrific thriller, a good copy film, a good serial killer film but also throws out a good amount of cheese, camp and some crazy moments.  All the while, the film seems to know what it is the whole time.  It features a dark aesthetic suiting of a horror film and is very ahead of its time and unique to its era.

One of the ridiculous things I love about this movie is the ridiculous look of Stallone in it.  You’ll never get him looking like this again.  He looks like he’s trying to ape Pacino’s Serpico look.  The legend features a huge mane of hair to go with a beard and huge tinted glasses and a brown leather jacket.  Its fitting of the times, but man does it almost look like its a bit overdone.  The costume designer almost has him looking like he’s in some modern movie parodying the era.

Stallone and Billy Dee Williams make for a good pair.  They have a double alpha male persona going and it clashes with some big shouting matches.  In fact, everyone at the police stations seems to think shouting matches are a way to deal with conflict.  Whoever is loudest will win the argument.  This is where some of that camp and cheese comes into play.  This wasn’t the stereotype for the time either, as we were a few many years away from Lethal Weapon dropping on the cinema conscience.

Other performers are a treat to watch as well.  Rutger Hauer is awesome in this movie and that’s a good launching point.  This would lead to Blade Runner the following year.  He’s a real bastard here and slightly off the hinges, but commanding and pretty scary when need be.  It almost reminds me of a character that would come later, in that of a Jerry Dandrich from Fright Night.  His character is ruthless and really “goes there” if the story necessitates it.  Lindsay Wagner, whom I loved on The Bionic Woman, shows up in one of her few notable film roles.  She’s fine, but not given a whole lot.  In a very small role, we get a young Catherine Mary Stewart too.  And of course, I’m a huge Joe Spinell fan, and any sort of New York-based, street level film needs to have him in it.  This also reunites him with Stallone as they worked on Rocky together.

Nighthawks features a pretty great score and soundtrack.  This was still disco era, so you’ll see some songs leading the way.  But, you also get some Rolling Stones.  The main strength for me though?  You guessed it; the synth!  This movie is fueled with a creepy synth that at times will find a little orchestral accompaniment.  Not the strongest synth score of the era, but one with some really notable moments and parts.

As a Stallone enthusiast, Nighthawks goes as probably his most underrated film.  This goes for both serious and camp rating.  I honestly think its one of his all time best.  I would love to see this one paired with the masterpiece Cobra as a double feature.  They both kinda cover a similar type of story/genre.  Nighthawks was a film in danger of being forgotten to time when it came to format jumps, but luckily it has been found to be worthy of the Blu-ray format and stays alive!

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Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail:  I may be one of the reviewers that rates this Blu-ray of Nighthawks higher than others, but I’m coming from my experience and comparison with the German Blu-ray.  That one was basically just having Nighthawks on Blu-ray to own Nighthawks on Blu-ray.  It was an ugly picture that made me just think my DVD was something I should have been fine with.  This Blu-ray is LEAPS AN BOUNDS above it and an impressive transfer for just about any 80s movie.  Grain is pretty much left intact (A little heavier than most Shout releases), and that allows for some strong detail.  Stuff like rust and damage to construction equipment, wrinkles, bends, scuffs and the like on Stallone’s leather jacket, cuts on characters faces and more.  You can even read graffiti on subway cars and station tiles.  Bricks show dampness, and windows show smudges and fingerprints.  The image is crisp enough and just very clear and cinematic looking.  Its a bit dark of a picture in nature, but it provides a spookier and haunting look to the film.  Fans, we are spoiled by this transfer.

Depth:  This transfer brings on some really impressive depth with its dimensional work having foreground characters and backgrounds in environments really feeling some good distance and separation.  Movements are smooth and cinematic.  Background detail is pretty strong when focus even decently allows you to clearly see what’s going on.  There’s a scene in a subway tunnel and some of the ground police chases that take to high places are areas that impress.

Black Levels:  Blacks are pretty deep and can bring much more grain in some really dark scenes.  During a confessional scene with Rutger Hauer, there are burned in subtitles that appear very soft and glow because of the large amount of grain.  Details can be hidden in darkness, but decently lit scenes still are able to bring about some good detail on hair follicles, clothing patterns and surface textures.  No crushing was witnessed during the viewing for this review.

Color Reproduction:  Disco scenes bring about some of the best vivid moments in this transfer.  Colors on clothes pop a little more, but its mainly the lights that get strong with out becoming overly vibrant and bleeding.  There was a woman’s hat in one that was yellow but glitter that stuck out well.  Most of the time clothing and such takes a dimmer, natural, worn route.  There are many shades of browns, grays and blacks here that all feel quite bold an unique.  A chase down some tunnels later in the film reveals some of the strongest moments of color with blues, yellows and oranges coming through due to some sparking, ultraviolet light bulbs and uniforms of construction workers.  In early London scenes, red on a phone booth and double decker bus really pop and come off strong with many shades and tints.

Flesh Tones:  Skin tones are natural and maintain a consistency from start to finish as the film runs on.  Details are very impressive in medium and close up shots.  You can see where beard hairs connect higher up on Stallone’s cheek.  There is also a moment in a telephone booth where you can see acne scars on Rutger Hauer’s face as well as count nostril hairs.  Other common details like wrinkles, stubble, moles, lip texture and make-up really make themselves apparent.

Noise/Artifacts:  Grain is a little heavy on the picture, but its welcome as it shows off the detail with a true sense to it.  Dirt and specs are very minimal.

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Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English SDH

Dynamics:  Nighthawks has a pretty solid audio track.  Low frequency sounds aren’t really too strong, and that’s about the weakest point for it (Not completely, some musical moments do have some good parts).  Sound effects, score and vocals are sound loose in this mix and each one bringing a good crisp display.  There is an airy freeness to everything here and nothing sounds smooshed or dated.  According to Shout! Factory, all of the original songs in the score have been restored, unlike the DVD edition which had to replace them due to some copyright issues.  This mono mix, likely the original theatrical audio, more than does the trick for Nighthawks.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension:  N/A

Surround Sound Presentation:  N/A

Dialogue Reproduction:  Vocals are probably the strongest piece of this audio mix.  Dialogue is full, loud and clear the entire way.  The audio is clean and sounds natural in any environment the characters are having their scene in.

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Extras 

Lights, Camera, Action! (HD, 16:10) – An audio interview with producer Herb Nanas.  Herb was originally Stallone’s manager.  He also claims credit for finding Rutger Hauer for this movie as well.  A lot of this is him talking about how each person (cast, crew) came to be onto the project.  Its kind of a braggart interview and he fluffs Stallone a lot.  He also talks about cuts made to the film from the studio that perturbed him, mainly a lot of Lindsay Wagner scenes.

We Gotta Shoot This (HD, 24:37) – Interview with director of photography James A. Contner.  He discusses the early production of the project, working with the original director and then a period where Stallone may have been the director.  Contner is very detailed with his work, the images he’s trying to capture and the lighting situations he structured.  He also goes over some color correcting detail and how he tried to leave the city of New York to be itself in the final product.

A Sign Of The Times (HD, 10:29) – Interview with actress Lindsay Wagner.  She discusses wanting to go back to singing after Bionic Woman and taking this film.  She goes over her original arc and scenes with Stallone that were excised of their “tortured relationship” (She didn’t find out how much was cut until she recorded her ADR).  She goes over the psychology and make-up of his character in the film and what made it a better film with those scenes left in.  There is also a comparison between shooting television and film.

Not The Other Girls (HD, 4:24) – Interview with actress Catherine Mary Stewart. This was after The Apple finished for her.  She goes over her audition (Where she was surprised how short Stallone was) and how Stallone looked at her and not the other girls.  She says that Rutger Hauer was really into her character and frightened her, making her feel inadequate in her scene.  And, its not her voice in the film, she ended up being looped at her British accent didn’t cut it with the production team.

Nighthawks: The First Draft (HD, 9:49) – An interview with the original writer Paul Sylbert.  He boasts about hows this is (to some people) the best Stallone movie they’ve ever seen.  His talk goes into his research about real life terrorism and how he was pushed to base Hauer’s character off of Carlos The Jackal. He anecdotes that one of his original ideas for the film, Carlos actually did years later.  Sylbert also goes into butting heads with studio heads and how his script and bounced around for years, being rewritten and becoming not much with what it was before.  Only one scene remained and he swears that his original script was a much better movie.

It Was Hell (HD, 10:50) – Interview with Technical Supervisor Randy Jurgensen.  Like everyone else, he goes over his thoughts on Stallone and how he got to meet him as well as what it was like to work with him.  His relationship with Joe Spinell is a briefly touched upon.  His side of the director situation is given, though he didn’t think much of it at the time.  He ended up leaving when this happened as well.  No real badmouthing about it, though he infers that Stallone was pretty much running the show on this, not the director. He gives a big spiel about the film’s surprise at the end and how he was against it the whole time and had some discussions and arguments with Stallone and crew about it.

Theatrical Trailer (SD, 1:43) 

Radio Spots (HD, 1:35) 

Still Gallery (HD, 6:42) 

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Summary 

Nighthawks is a pretty unique and awesome film that really didn’t get the appreciation it deserved at the time.  Luckily time has passed and people like Shout! Factory are giving it the appreciation it deserves.  The film features a terrific video transfer and a solid audio track.  Those who aren’t amazed at what this Blu-ray looks like should have a peak at the German release to see the massive leap in quality.  Extras features some great interviews as well.  I’m sure there will be complainers about stuff that was left on the table.  For one, Shout! Factory tried to get Rutger Hauer and Sly to sit down for interviews but both wound up declining.  And then there’s the deleted scenes or alternate cut of the film.  Those have most likely been lost to time and mishandling.  If those things were available, Shout! would have used them.  Don’t let that kind of “What if” cloud your judgement of “What is”, which is an awesome release and the best you could’ve hoped for as a fan of Nighthawks.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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