Hard Target


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Details At A Glance

General
Extras
Category Action Theatrical Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - 1.85:1, Non-16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0 (1:53)
Rating Other Trailer(s) None
Year Released 1993 Commentary Tracks None
Running Time 95:28 Minutes  Other Extras Production Notes
Cast & Crew Biographies
RSDL/Flipper RSDL (51:26)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Movie
Region 2,4 Director John Woo
Studio
Distributor

Columbia Tristar Home Video
Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme
Lance Henriksen
Yancy Butler
Wilford Brimley
Case Transparent Amaray
RRP $39.95 Music Graeme Revell

 
Video
Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Dolby Digital 5.1
16x9 Enhancement
Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 5.1, 448 Kb/s)
German (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192 Kb/s) 
French (Dolby Digital 5.1, 448 Kb/s)
Italian (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192 Kb/s) 
Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192 Kb/s) 
Czech (Dolby Digital 2.0, 192 Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
Miscellaneous
Macrovision Yes Smoking Yes
Subtitles English
French
Portuguese
Danish
Finnish
Swedish
Norwegian
German
Dutch
Polish
French
German
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    Before I begin, I would just like to say that it is truly disturbing to see that Jean-Claude Van Damme, the worst actor on Earth besides a certain stick figure who should just do the world a favour and really go drown, is the most heavily-represented star in the number of DVDs available to us in this country. Yes, you heard me right: Van Damme's loathsome visage occupies the highest percentage of DVD space available in this country. It sort of makes you want to grab each and every studio executive or whomever else is in charge of release schedule decisions and belt their head against a wall, doesn't it?

    The Devil's Advocate saw the use of an interesting technique to hide the woeful acting ability of Keanu Reeves: simply put a much better actor such as Al Pacino in the film with him. Hard Target sees director John Woo attempting to use the same technique some years earlier with Jean-Claude Van Damme, and it is mostly successful. Although Van Damme is a far worse actor than Reeves, I vastly prefer Lance Henriksen to Al Pacino simply because I identify with him more. Anyway, as the rating might give away, us DVD enthusiasts have been blessed with the uncensored R-rated version of this film, which adds about five minutes of footage in which various men do lots of nasty things to each other. This is in contrast to the theatrical and VHS versions of this film, which are about ninety minutes in length and were deemed worthy of the slightly less restrictive MA-rating. Personally, I prefer seeing films as the director intended them to be cut, even if the excised scenes do not add anything to the film, as is the case here. While we're on the subject of extra details that do not add anything to the whole they are part of, it is time for me to bitch about something. I had just finished reviewing Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story when I began viewing this DVD, and I have to repeat my objection to the forty-dollar price point. While forty dollars is unreasonable for a film that is 16x9 Enhanced, it is utterly ridiculous for a film that is not 16x9 Enhanced and only has the trailer and some notes in the extras department.

    The film begins with an unnamed homeless man being chased across town by men on motorbikes, as well as various hunters. He makes a valiant effort to get to a jetty sitting there on a beach, but is killed before he can make it. As it turns out, this man had a daughter (Yancy Butler), who is now curious to find out exactly what happened to her father since she hadn't heard from him in a distressingly long time. After trying to find someone who will help her discover the truth of the situation, she is accosted by some not-so-nice guys from the local bar (can you see where this is leading?). After being rescued from the attackers by Chance Boudreaux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) in one of the better sequences of this kind I have seen, she hires him to help her find out what happened to her father. As it turns out, there is a group of rather nasty people in the town, led by Emil Fouchon (Lance Henriksen), who pay homeless people to participate in a game where rich clients hunt them down and attempt to kill them. Needless to say, nobody has ever survived playing this game, and normally the prey is carefully checked out to make sure that there are no family members who might come knocking and asking questions. Okay, what did you honestly expect from a film that is a) directed by John Woo and b) a film that proudly proclaims Jean-Claude Van Damme as the primary acting talent?

    To be fair, however, I have to tell you that this is honestly the best film Jean-Claude Van Damme has ever appeared in, although that is very faint praise. It was also nice to see Lance Henriksen play a character with a little bit more grunt in him, after having gotten used to seeing him in so many passive roles, as in Aliens and the like. This was an excellent casting choice, as there is a moderate amount of intelligent dialogue to be rendered in this film, and the rest of the cast except for Wilford Brimley is just not up to the task. If I had to be really picky, I'd say that this is one of the ten best action movies ever made, in spite of a typically pathetic display of acting from the man who received top billing.

Transfer Quality

Video

    Well, while Universal have certainly improved the quality of their non-16x9 Enhanced transfers lately, the sad fact remains that this film could and should have looked better. The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and it is not 16x9 Enhanced. While it does not suffer as much as Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (which I started reviewing on the same day) as a result of this, it does suffer from loss of detail. The transfer was as sharp as you can reasonably expect from a transfer that has been limited in this criminal manner, although it is a vast improvement upon the VHS version by virtue of being in widescreen. Shadow detail was surprisingly good, although it was a little lacking in the hunting sequence that opens the film. No low-level noise was found in this transfer. The saving grace with this transfer is that the data rate is consistently hovering around 8 Mb/s, and it frequently jumps up to 10 Mb/s during the feature presentation.

    The colours were consistently rendered, although they demonstrated a slight tendency to blend together during shots of explosions, and I am not just referring to explosions of the petrochemical variety (you know you're watching a hard-boiled action film when you get different types of explosion). Some shots tended to be slightly oversaturated with skin tones, but this was more of an artefact of the original photography rather than any fault of the mastering process. MPEG artefacts were absent from the presentation, although there were occasions when I thought that background objects had been pixellated by the compression (a look at the VHS version confirmed that this was not the case). Film-to-video artefacts were not noticed at all, which either means they were absent or in such small quantities as to make no odds. Film artefacts consisted of the very occasional black spot on the film, and this is where the transfer really defeated my expectations.

    Again, I want to commend Universal for the fact that the subtitles on their DVDs actually match the spoken dialogue on a word-for-word basis ninety-nine percent of the time. It makes a wonderful contrast from the fact that every other studio in this market produces DVDs with subtitles that are wildly variant from the words being spoken by the actors.

    This disc is presented in the RSDL format, which is where Universal deserve to be commended for giving the film a lot of space to breathe. During each and every shot in the feature presentation, you can tell that the compression was loosened up in order to preserve the quality of the feature. The layer change comes in at 51:26, just before the end of chapter six and after Randal is killed (a sequence which has been made more graphic in this version of the film). While this is a noticeable layer change, it does not cause any real interruption to the flow of the film. I've certainly seen far worse layer changes on discs made by studios that have far better reputations.

Audio

    Although the video transfer is slightly hobbled by the absence of an essential feature, there is nothing to hold back the audio transfer. To put it quite simply, this is a brilliant disc to demonstrate the superiority of DVD sound quality with. Once again, we are presented with a wide range of soundtracks to choose from, with three different configurations of sound channels represented. In the Dolby Digital 5.1 corner, we have a choice between the original English soundtrack, and a soundtrack dubbed in French. In the Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround corner, we have a choice between soundtracks dubbed in German, Italian, and Spanish. Finally, we have a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo soundtrack dubbed in Czech. For the purposes of this review, I listened to the original English soundtrack, and the Spanish dub just to see how much more interesting the dialogue would sound. I've briefly sampled all of the soundtracks, but for our purposes, I will only be referring to the original English soundtrack.

    Dialogue was consistently clear and audible, although there was a limit set by Jean-Claude Van Damme's tendency to mumble. His dialogue was rendered at its usual standard, while everyone else's was clear and easy to understand. Well, everyone except Wilford Brimley, who for some inexplicable reason was made to speak with a heavy and obviously fake French accent. Still, his dialogue was perfectly reasonable as far as such complications allow. Audio sync was spot-on from start to finish, with no discernable problems occurring even in the moments when dialogue takes a back seat to the visuals. Still, it would have been nice to see a sequence in which Van Damme meows like a cat while nothing comes out. Maybe if someone gets off their butt and does some work to bring Bloodsport out on DVD, we'll be presented with this opportunity (an audio delay option would be a nice thing to implement in cases like this).

    The musical score by Graeme Revell was interesting, but secondary to the action onscreen, rather than complimentary to it. Still, it's a passable effort given that the story and character development of this film are also secondary to the action. The credits refer to the score music as featuring Kodo, which, from what I have been told, is a traditional form of percussive Japanese music. These pieces of music accompany the many action sequences in the film, and are probably the best parts of the score. Overall, this is a good score, but not a great one.

    The surround presence of this film is a very aggressive one, as you would expect from an action film directed by a man like John Woo. The sounds of arrows flying through the air are particularly well-supported by the surround mix, and the music gets a fair amount of support from the surround channels as well. While this film is mostly front-and-centre with its sound effects, the soundtrack is quite immersive. Unlike the vast majority of action films, the surround channels are used quite effectively throughout the entire film, even during the more tender moments of the film. The subwoofer was frequently called upon to support the action and bass-heavy surround effects, and it was well integrated into the overall mix.

Extras

Menu

    The menu is themed around the film, complete with stills relating to the options selected. It is not 16x9 Enhanced, and like a lot of Universal menus, it is hard to navigate although it doesn't suffer from this difficulty as much as others such as Darkman.

Cast & Crew Biographies

    One thing I have always admired about Universal biographies is that they are much easier to read than those provided by any other studio. Biographies of Jean-Claude Van Damme, Lance Henriksen, Yancy Butler, Wilford Brimley, and John Woo are provided. Most of them are moderately interesting.

Theatrical Trailer (1:53)

    This is the standard two-minute (well, almost) trailer for the film. It is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, without 16x9 Enhancement. It is presented with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. The video quality leaves something to be desired in spite of the high bitrate, but it is worth a look.

Censorship

    The R4 version of Hard Target has been mastered from the print that was submitted in R2 for classification. While this normally would equal a bad thing where censorship is concerned, the truth is that the R2 and R4 versions of the disc both contain a total of four minutes more footage, which in turn means hundreds more gunshots and other such instances of violence, than the MPAA-approved R1 version of the disc.

R4 vs R1

    This is a rather interesting case for reasons which I will get into shortly.

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;

    The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;     Although the Region 1 version has the essential ingredient of 16x9 Enhancement, reports indicate that the picture is quite noisy with a fair amount of film grain, and this can fairly and squarely be blamed on the lack of RSDL formatting. In contrast, the Region 4 version is very smooth and clear in spite of the limitations on the vertical resolution, and this is because the extra layer allows a much higher bit-rate. Although the Region 1 disc wins as far as technicalities are concerned, I am holding off on my opinion until I get some confirmation on the video quality of the Region 1 release. A bad picture is still a bad picture even if it has been enhanced to take full advantage of DVD's video capabilities, after all.

Summary

    Hard Target is a surprisingly good action film, presented on a good DVD. In spite of the lack of 16x9 Enhancement, it appears our version may be the version of choice because of the RSDL formatting.

    The video quality is excellent in spite of the obvious limitations. Still, enhancement would have made the video quality reference material.

    The audio quality is reference material.

    The extras are limited, but well-presented.

    I've said it before, and I will say it again: the lack of 16x9 Enhancement is now a complete insult because of the price point. I urge Columbia Tristar to put their foot down and insist that Universal 16x9 Enhance their titles or look elsewhere for distribution.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall
© Dean McIntosh (my bio sucks... read it anyway)
March 18, 2000.
Review Equipment
   
DVD Toshiba SD-2109, using S-video output
Display Samsung CS-823AMF (80 cm), 4:3 mode, using S-video input
Audio Decoder Built In (Amplifier)
Amplification Sony STR-DE835
Speakers Panasonic S-J1500D Front Speakers, Sharp CP-303A Back Speakers, Philips FB206WC Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Subwoofer