Sometimes, I get a bit of an impulse buying urge. And a while back, I went and got a spiffy Philips 727 DVD player (which I’ve since replaced with a Toshiba upconverting unit). Sure, it’s not a higher end player or anything, but for $80 and a hack using the remote control, it’s now become a decent multi-region player. So after testing out a friends borrowed Region 2 disc to see if the hack worked, I picked up a couple of movies from eBay and Amazon.UK, so I’ll do the occasional Region 2 review.
For whatever reason, there are instances where the US gets yanked by the shorthairs with the occasional DVD release. If you were going to buy this movie, would you want the release that just has an anamorphic transfer and 5.1 soundtrack? Or would you want the one that has the anamorphic transfer and 5.1, along with two commentaries, as well as a 2nd disc of short films, deleted scenes and documentaries? So that’s what I did. And my wife, bless her heart, is patient with me through all of this. She even watched this with me over the weekend and liked it. I’ve still got the bruises on my arm from where she squeezed hard.
The Hitcher is the 80’s film that firmly cemented Rutger Hauer’s place in movies as a convincing killer. Hauer plays John Ryder, who is picked up alongside the road by Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell, The Outsiders). Halsey picks him up as an attempt to keep him awake on a long drive from Chicago to San Diego, and as the two talk, Halsey finds out that Ryder killed the last person he hitched a ride with, and he intends to do the same thing to Halsey. Halsey manages to force Ryder out of the moving car, and what follows in a chase between the two, set against a southwestern landscape. In order to stretch the movie a bit, Halsey is chased by the police, for murders that Ryder committed. Halsey also finds someone who is willing to listen in Nash (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Road to Perdition). These scenes, as well as the latter half of the action scenes, get a bit ridiculous at times (Halsey running in slow motion to avoid Ryder’s setting a ruptured gas pump on fire), and there are other scenes that are a bit of a stretch to acknowledge.
But there’s something about this movie. I think it’s because Rutger Hauer scared the crap out of me when I was a kid, and in between his performance here and the one in Blade Runner, it left an impression on me. I’ll leave it on, and Hauer’s performance is outstanding. I wish he had been used a bit better, and his career choices were a bit smarter (a blind, white, crime fighting samurai type in Blind Fury?), but he’s always been for my money one of the more underrated actors in recent memory. This performance is one of his best, and hopefully this set will come to Region 1 soon so everyone can re-discover Rutger.
OK, here’s a quick primer, to the best of my knowledge. The UK DVDs are done in a PAL video format, which I’m told (someone will correct me if I’m wrong) is a higher video resolution that here in the US, where we have a NTSC format. I understand the reason for PAL may have something to do with widescreen TVs being more readily available in the UK than here, but again, if I’m wrong, someone will let me know. On the plus side, some of the players that are out have a feature that allows them to make the conversion from PAL to NTSC. The result of all this appears to be a noticeable improvement in video quality. I’m still relatively new to it, but I think this is how it is. Any questions? Bueller? Bueller?
Despite both the UK and US discs having anamorphic transfers, the 2.35:1 treatment given to this looks pretty good. There are still some issues with it, some parts show more grain than others, and it detracts from the outstanding cinematography by John Seale, who won an Oscar for his work in The English Patient. I don’t know if the 5.1 soundtrack is the same one employed on the US release, but it’s satisfactory. The rear speakers bring out some environmental sounds as well as any score you may hear, but there’s a lot of silence here, so there isn’t much to show off.
Disc 1 features a commentary with Director Robert Harmon and screenwriter Eric Red. The two were recorded together, and share some technical information, but there is a LOT of gaps of silence in this track. The two almost have trouble interacting with each other as well. I know it’s a bit of a stretch to sum up a commentary in three sentences, but this one was very bland and almost totally non-eventful. On the plus side, there is a scene-specific commentary that has audio with Harmon, Red, Seale, producer Edward Feldman, composer Mark Isham, and Hauer and Howell. They are recorded separately, and range in duration from 2 to 12 minutes, with a play all function that runs for about 52 minutes. Aside from the crew’s thoughts on how things were shot, composed and produced, Hauer and Howell share their thoughts on where they were careerwise (in Howell’s case, warts and all) when the film came to them, and what they thought of the parties involved. I would have easily preferred to listen to Hauer and Howell do a full track, and hopefully someone can pull that off for a Region 1 double dip in the future.
Disc 2 begins with a new 38 minute documentary entitled The Hitcher: How Do These Movies Get Made? Featuring interviews with Howell, Hauer, Harmon, Red, Seale, Mark Isham and Feldman, the group shares humorous stories of where they’ve seen the movie located in movie stores, in anywhere from the comedy to horror sections. The usual recollections about how each individual came to the film are included here, and Seale initially had objections due to the gore, but was convinced to shoot by Harman. Casting choices are included (Terence Stamp or Sam Elliott in Hauer’s role would have been interesting), and the usual memories of location shooting, thoughts on the characters and each of the cast members are included. Howell seems to be the chattiest of the bunch, but I guess that’s natural, since no one is looking for the Special Edition DVD of Soul Man anytime soon. There’s even a small segment on the score of the film, featuring interview footage with Isham. All in all, while the film is discussed in great detail, the personalities involved don’t have much-well-personality to add to the piece. A bit of a disappointment for something that could have been very good.
Next are 2 short films that include a couple of participants from this film. Harmon directed China Lake, which he made shortly before being offered to direct The Hitcher. China Lake is very similar, however, as Charles Napier (Philadelphia) plays a cop who kills and maims people while on a vacation. It’s a harmless film, as far as short films go, but at 34 minutes, the length could be seen as a tad pretentious. Harman provides commentary here also, as he recalls how he managed to get the equipment and actors that appeared in the film, along with other technical information. The movie itself is pretty quiet, there isn’t much dialogue in it, but Harman’s commentary contributes a fair share of silence here. If you don’t like the commentary, you can also look at the 5 page text introduction that comes with it. It’s a nice addition to this release. The Room comes in at around 10 minutes in length, and features Hauer, who also co-directed the film. As opposed to the 2.0 audio of China Lake, The Room is not only shown in Dolby Digital 5.1, but also given an anamorphic treatment to boot. Based on a story by a Dutch writer named Henry Murlisch, this film is about a man who early in his life has a near-obsession with a room he walks by every day, and we find out later he rents the same room, and prepares to die in it. Flashbacks are included, surrounding a man in his 20s who looks a lot like Hauer used to; it’s a interesting film. Hauer also provides commentary. Be prepared though, the volume is low, so you’l have to turn it up a bit. He also talks about how he wanted to do it, and how the story came to him. While it’s a third of the time of China Lake, Hauer provides much more activity to the track, and overall, the film is another interesting addition to the set. Next are screenplay samples which are presented as text pages, and even include two deleted scenes that did not make it to film. They primarily feature key points from the film, and those pages number about 140 in total, but they aren’t 8 1/2×11 sized pages either, but it’s still a good chunk of the screenplay that is included here. Filmographies for Hauer, Howell, Red, Harmon, Feldman, Seale and Red are included, and the teaser and trailer wrap things up. There’s also a 10 page booklet that comes with it.
I bought this as an example to see what I’m missing. By and large, I was not disappointed. A nice, but bland, retrospective, along with other cast-related bonus material to go with a decent presentation of the film make for a good choice. Those of you with multi-region players will be rewarded with this in your library, and even the region 1 barebones release is worth renting for the curious.
Special Features List
- Director/Writer Commentary
- Scene Specific Commentaries
- “The Hitcher – How do these Movies Get Made?” Documentary
- Short Movies
- Screenplay Samples