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Breakdown – Paramount Presents (Blu-ray Review)

Paramount Presents continues to do good on bringing out films that haven’t been on Blu-ray before in such exciting and classy fashion. And they bounce around all different eras, genres and decades in their historic catalog. While not the first time on Blu-ray, the United States is getting treated to its first release of Jonathan Mostow’s Breakdown starring Kurt Russell. This rather loved cult film (though it was #1 opening weekend) arrives with a brand new 4K restoration of the film. There is also a nice list of new bonus features that include interviews (Jonathan Mostow, Kathleen Quinlan, Martha De Laurentis), an alternate opening and Kurt Russell on a commentary track. Its a very exciting package for this film to have, making the wait on it well worth it. The film arrived on Blu-ray on September 21st, and you may order it using the paid Amazon Associates link that follows the review.

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Film

Jeff Taylor (Russell) and his wife Amy (Kathleen Quinlan) are headed toward a new life in California when their car’s engine dies on a remote highway. Amy accepts a ride from a helpful trucker (J.T. Walsh) while Jeff waits with the car. But when Jeff shows up at the agreed rendezvous, he finds his wife’s not there. The locals aren’t talking; the police aren’t much help. With no one to turn to, Jeff battles his worst fears and begins a desperate, danger-ridden search to find Amy – before it’s too late!

When the trailer arrived for 1997’s Breakdown, it sold one hell of a hook. I’m not sure in terms of trailers if it was some sort of all timer, but it sure sold a premise and sold it extremely well. While showing a lot, it didn’t feel like it gave up too much of this Kurt Russell-led thriller about a man who’s wife disappears after their car breaks down on the side of the road in the desert. Sure, not the first movie to have this sort of concept, but rather it was the way they made it effective that went a long way.

At its core, Breakdown really feels like a grindhouse thriller from the 1970s made modern and with an A-level production team. There are all the hallmarks of a road chase film and one with crazy, scary and dangerous hillbillies out to destroy a perfectly well to do, average couple’s normal trip out on the road. The thriller adds some elements of Hitchcock into play, the screenplay having a genesis in Mostow’s love for the 1930s film The Lady Vanishes. With some pulp, some excellent action directing/editing and a surefire star to drive the narrative, Breakdown just operates at a very high level.

Russell is great as to be expected, but much of the rest of the cast is filled out with character actors and help continue to keep this movie a load of fun to keep chugging along. Kathleen Quinlan absolutely works wonders in just the few scenes she has before vanishing in the open to make you want more and really get behind Russell to find her and hope she is still alive. On the other side of the coin, JT Walsh was one of the greatest character actors of all time and his presence in film is truly miss. He’s absolutely dynamite in this role and its one of the best he’s ever been in a more blockbuster film.

Jonathan Mostow’s Breakdown isn’t his first film, but its surely his breakout that really shows off what he would be capable of. Kurt Russell really commands and is able to drive and carry the film at any given point. While a #1 film when it came out in theaters, it feels somewhat forgotten. Especially considering its just now hitting Blu-ray in 2021. Perhaps this will be a nice one to be rediscovered with this release and many others can go back and remember just how great it really is.

Video

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: Breakdown arrives in the US on Blu-ray for the first time with a brand new 4K remaster approved by director Jonathan Mostow. And it looks pretty awesome. A lot of films from the 1990s have a sort of tough time rolling out to Blu-ray, but with a 4K restoration, many of them have been finally able to be lookers once more. Breakdown is very much in that case. It really breathes and sings in this new image. Details are quite strong to go along with well displayed color saturation. For a film that is mostly all just desert, it sure now is able to be a looker.

Depth:  Depth of field is quite solid and really showcases in a lot of the travel scenes and interiors. The sequence of Russell under the truck provides a decent example with camera movements and a lot of parts in different places in the frame. Movements in the film are smooth and filmic with no issues regarding jitter or motion distortions.

Black Levels: Blacks are deep, rich and very close to a natural appearance. Nighttime scenes look excellent and the shadows presented are top notch. Information and texture seeps out no matter how dark a fabric, surface or head of hair is. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction: Colors are pretty solid, those this isn’t one offering a lot of pop. Much of this is a bolder look at rustic and ordinary colors. Many of the ones with more zest appear on aged objects with a a lot of fading or being dirty. There is a great saturation on display to give is such a nice, real life appeal.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and consistent from start to finish of the film. Facial information and texture is quite impressive as you get a clean look at pores, stubble, sweat, dried dirt/blood, make-up strokes and more from any reasonable camera distance for the shot of the frame.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean.

Audio

Audio Format(s): English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, French 5.1 Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English, English SDH, French

Dynamics: Breakdown comes with a rather rocking and loud 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track. This thing can pound and shake the room at its very best. There’s a good balance here in the mix between the vocals, effects and score but also some playfulness when it comes to volume to provide a jump or increase the intensity on a scene. Even the quieter desert moments provide some good ambiance to successfully build a lifelike environment.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: There is a great boom and pound that comes from big engines roaring, explosions, gun blasts, crashing and more.

Surround Sound Presentation: The 5 channel mix really does play around the room, given a lot of the desert doesn’t offer a whole lot of options. There’s great attention to travel and offscreen action like traffic, wind, debris, gunfire and other things that may not be up front. Sound travel moves with some good force as well.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp, always present and part of its environment no matter how loud or how quiet the scene is.

Extras

Breakdown  in first pressing, comes with a slip cover that folds open to reveal the original poster art for the film. It also comes with a redeemable digital copy.

Audio Commentary

  • By Director Jonathan Mostow and Kurt Russell

Isolated Score

Filmmaker Focus: Director Jonathan Mostow on Breakdown (HD, 10:46) – He opens with sharing the fact that they were already working on a Stephen King movie set with trucks in the desert and King then relinquished their ability to make the movie so they had to pivot on what they already had. Kurt Russell was his first choice and they went out of their way to accommodate him rather than wait a year to shoot the film.

Victory Is Hers: Kathleen Quinlan On Breakdown (HD, 4:22) – Quinlan discusses her enjoyment in making the film and how Dino De Laurentis wanted her to dress in Armani which she disagreed with. She loved working with Kurt Russell and shares a story about catching him asleep in a director chair on set. Mostow she considered a very quiet and technical filmmaker.

A Brilliant Partnership: Martha De Laurentis On Breakdown (HD, 8:18) – “We made a Kurt Russell movie!” De Laurentis talks about them making Stephen King’s Trucks with Mostow and having to swap it to what became Breakdown. She also talks the Kurt Russell arrangement. A lot of her interview shares her relationship with Dino and how he worked and anecdotes on how he was making Breakdown.

Alternate Opening (HD, 11:40) – Includes an introduction from Jonathan Mostow.

Alternate Opening with Commentary By Director Jonathan Mostow (HD, 11:54)

Trailers (HD, 6:51) – Breakdown, Kiss The Girls, Hard Rain

Summary

Breakdown is one of the finest star driven thrillers of the 1990s and still works like gangbusters today. Paramount Presents has one of their finest releases in their Blu-ray debut for the film in the United States. The presentation in both video and audio are absolutely terrific, providing some excellent home theater engagement. The new extras are outstanding in being very tight and informative and bringing in the important players to reflect on the film via the commentary or an interview. Breakdown is a fine movie and one of the very best releases in the Paramount Presents catalog.

This is a paid Amazon Associates link

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Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a 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. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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