Midnight Express

20th Anniversary Edition

This review is sponsored by

Details At A Glance

Category Drama Theatrical Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - 1.33:1, Dolby Digital 2.0 (mono)
Other Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - DVD Teaser #2
Year Released 1978 Commentary Tracks None
Running Time 116:06 minutes Other Extras Featurette - I'm Healthy, I'm Alive and I'm Free (7 mins)
Filmographies - Cast & Crew
RSDL/Flipper No/No
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 4 Director Alan Parker

Columbia TriStar
Starring Brad Davis
Randy Quaid
John Hurt
Bo Hopkins
Paul Smith
RRP $34.95 Music Giorgio Moroder

Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Dolby Digital 2.0 (mono)
16x9 Enhancement Yes Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 2.0 (mono), 192 Kb/s)
French (Dolby Digital 2.0 (mono), 192 Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking Yes
Subtitles English
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    This is the true story of William Hayes (Brad Davis), caught at Istanbul Airport in 1970 with 2 kilograms of hashish taped to his body. What follows is a powerful story of the living hell that is jail in Turkey, and other places, initially for a five year term, but just short of release a term that was increased to 30 years. Along the way we meet the assorted characters that populate jails, such as Jimmy Booth (Randy Quaid), Max (John Hurt), Tex (Bo Hopkins) and the sadistic chief guard Hamidou (Paul Smith), that filled Billy Hayes life for five years of that hell, before he finally escaped to Greece and home to New York in 1975.

    Based upon Billy Hayes book of the same name, and written to recoup the $30,000 his father had spent trying to get him out of jail in Turkey, this was adapted for the screen by Oliver Stone. In all, the quality of the film resulted in six Oscar nominations in 1979, including best picture, winning two - best screenplay adaptation for Oliver Stone and best original score for Giorgio Moroder. But even more than that, this film created a controversy at the 1978 Cannes Film Festival (the Turkish Government attempted to prevent its release) that led within weeks to talks between the US and Turkish governments for prisoner exchanges.

    Made for a relatively paltry $2.3 million, this has been a big winner for Columbia Pictures and even watching it twenty one years later, its power has not diminished. Brad Davis is superb as Billy Hayes, but the star here is John Hurt: a superbly idiomatic performance that garnered him an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor.

Transfer Quality


    Twenty years old, so some allowances have to be made, right? Not too damn many, believe me, and Columbia TriStar have done a superb job of remastering this. That is not to say it is perfect, but there is nothing too awry here at all.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced.

     The transfer is reasonably sharp throughout, with only a few lapses which are more to do with the age of the print rather than a mastering problem. For a film of this age, the shadow detail is very good, although it cannot compete with more recent films in that regard. It has to be said that at times the video transfer did border on superb.

    The colours were uniformly rendered, although they were a little muted. This is a combination of both the way the film was made and the age of the print. You soon adjust to the slight paleness however and it is not a distraction at all. There are no problems with over saturation here.

   There were no MPEG artefacts nor video artefacts noted. Film artefacts were a bit of a problem, which is to be expected in a print of this vintage, which were noticeable but overall were not especially distracting.


    Overall, the audio transfer was decent, bearing in mind that this is a mono soundtrack and very dialogue driven.

    There are two audio tracks on the DVD, the default being an English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. There is also a French Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. I listened to the English default and sampled the French soundtrack. The French soundtrack seems to be transferred at a slightly higher level than the English soundtrack.

    The dialogue was reasonably clear and easy to understand most of the time, but the original film does have some quite quiet portions of dialogue which some will have difficulty with.

   Audio sync did not appear to be a problem with the transfer at all.

    The Oscar winning score from Giorgio Moroder is quite unusual. Very much an electronic music score of the seventies, very ethereal at times, dissonant at others, it nonetheless complements the stark and brutal nature of the film superbly. Since I first heard it in 1978, I have always considered this to be one of the best film soundtracks that I have ever heard.

    Okay, it is a mono soundtrack so nothing gets used except the centre speaker. I for one am pleased that Columbia TriStar resisted the temptation to do a 5.1 remaster, as the mono sound suits the style of the film so well.


    A nice if small package of extras to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the film. A choice of either Full Frame or Widescreen versions of the film is still unusual in Region 4.


    A slightly better than usual menu, although lacking any enhancement whatsoever.

Theatrical Trailer

    The video quality is very average, but you do get a choice of subtitles in English, French and Dutch.

Featurette - I'm Healthy, I'm Alive and I'm Free

    Again the video quality is quite poor, although you do get the same subtitle options. Not especially memorable.


    An unusual passport style presentation of these which is very effective.

R4 vs R1

    The Region 1 and Region 4 issues are essentially identical - the only difference is the cover and cover notes (which include a small booklet in Region 1), therefore there is no compelling reason to prefer one over the other. The video quality is very similar for both after reviewing my Region 1 copy.


    Midnight Express is to my mind one of the great films of the seventies and its power has not diminished greatly over the ensuing twenty years. Columbia TriStar have done a good job remastering what was never a particularly great print (some of the VHS tapes I had over the years have been real shockers). I would thoroughly recommend this to anyone, and the overall rating indicates that this is more than the sum of its parts.

    The overall video quality is very good given the age of the film.

    The audio quality is decent enough and suits the film well.

    The extras are acceptable for a film of this age, although I lament the lack of a music only soundtrack - but what we got must have pushed the single layer disc capacity to its limit.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris
11th September 1999

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 84cm
Audio Decoder Built in
Amplification Yamaha RXV-795
Speakers Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL