Running on Empty (1988) (NTSC)

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Released 30-Sep-2002

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama None
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1988
Running Time 116:11
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 1,4 Directed By Sidney Lumet

Warner Home Video
Starring Christine Lahti
Judd Hirsch
River Phoenix
Martha Plimpton
Steven Hill
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $24.95 Music Tony Mottola

Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Pan & Scan English Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Why do you have to carry the burden of someone else's life?

    Long since retired anti-Vietnam war activists Annie and Arthur Pope (Christine Lahti and Judd Hirsch) have been on the run from the law ever since they blew up a napalm laboratory in 1971. Wanted across the country they have been changing names and homes frequently, whenever they deem that the authorities are getting just a little too close to their tails. Taking the utmost care to maintain a low profile wherever they deem a suitable place to live, they are finding this more and more difficult to achieve now that their oldest son Danny (River Phoenix) is approaching the last year of high school. Danny has never known any other sort of life other than one on the run, but he is reaching the age where he needs to makes decisions about his future. Things get even more complicated when he falls in love with Lorna Phillips (Martha Plimpton), the daughter of his school music teacher. Annie and Arthur are also having trouble with the knowledge that they may lose their son should he decide to move on with his own life. Perhaps the burden of carrying around a crime for over fifteen years is just becoming too much to handle.

    Made in 1988, this film, if nothing else shows just what a loss to the acting world it was when River Phoenix died. This is really his film, and he shows a certain awkwardness and naivety that you will find quite captivating. This is not a huge budget offering, but a simple study of character, compromise and choices that everyday people sometimes need to make.

    Unfortunately, the same low budget style of the film has been carried across to the DVD transfer.

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Transfer Quality


    I could keep this description incredibly brief and still provide you with all the information you need to know exactly what this transfer looks like. In a nutshell  - Region 4 NTSC, Pan & Scan. Do I need to offer any more? If you're still interested, here's the rundown.

    Unlike the original and intended aspect ratio, this transfer is presented in 1.33:1 Pan & Scan only. This is significantly different from the original aspect of 1.85:1 and some scenes are rendered quite laughably with halves of bodies and faces shown with startling regularity. It is not 16x9 enhanced.

    The transfer is not really all that sharp. It is passable, but only just. Shadow detail is average and grain is only obvious in a couple of scenes. There is no low level noise.

    Colours are quite miserable really, looking quite washed out most of the time. There are few problems in terms of bleeding or oversaturation, but the colours certainly aren't a highlight.

    I noticed no MPEG artefacts. There are a couple of minor instances of aliasing, though not really any of any magnitude to get worried about. 3:2 pulldown is obvious on occasion - the more you watch these NTSC transfers the easier it is to spot it. There are plenty of film artefacts throughout, some really quite large in the form of white blotches. The usual scattering of spots and nicks throughout make up the rest. From about the 103:00 minute mark onwards, the print takes on quite a dirty appearance not helped by some distinct coloured bands across the screen. This artefact looks purely like film stock fading due to incorrect storage rather than anything happening during the transfer process. It is really quite noticeable and continues right through to when the end credits start to roll.

    Strangely, there are no subtitles on this disc.

    This is a single layered disc so there is no layer change to navigate.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    What's worse than a mono 2.0 soundtrack? A mono 1.0 soundtrack, that's what.

    There are two mono soundtracks on this disc. Both are Dolby Digital 1.0 tracks utilising the centre channel only. They are in English and French.

    As expected, this is a fairly uninspiring soundtrack. There is little range and plenty of background noise and the like. It is really nothing to get too excited over. Dialogue is prominent enough that it doesn't get lost and there are no apparent audio sync problems.

    There are not much in the way of musical offerings. either. There are a couple of songs - Lucky Star by Madonna pops up and a key scene features James Taylor's Fire and Rain. The score is also not that memorable.

    There is obviously no surround nor subwoofer use.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    Not a single one

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    It's pretty obvious that the Region 4 disc is identical to the Region 1 version. The NTSC formatting and English/French combination of soundtracks is a dead giveaway. There is therefore no reason to favour either copy over the other.


    Running On Empty is a mostly watchable drama that does have a tendency to be overly sentimental. Some contrivances and clichés litter the plot, but the acting is mostly sound. Unfortunately, the whole experience is hampered somewhat by the quality of the transfer.

    The video is quite poor. NTSC coupled with a pan & scan transfer does not make a recipe for a decent viewing experience.

    Likewise the audio is drab, dull, lifeless, and boring. A legacy of being mono I would say.

    To cap it off, there are no extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Darren Walters (It's . . . just the vibe . . . of my bio)
Friday, October 25, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDLoewe Xemix 5106DO, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Calida (84cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationHarmon/Kardon AVR7000.
SpeakersFront - B&W 602S2, Centre - B&W CC6S2, Rear - B&W 601S2, Sub - Energy E:xl S10

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Comments (Add)
I thought this was the Aussie film - cztery REPLY POSTED