The best thing about Gone in 60 Seconds is that the film knows exactly what it is. Just take a look at the breathless blurbs on the Blu-ray case for the latest release. “Over 500 crashes!” “93 cars wrecked in the 40-minute car chase!” No one involved with this movie thought they were making an intimate character piece. I mean the top-billed star is “Eleanor.” Did I mention that Eleanor is a 1973 Ford Mustang?
The plot is little more than a necessary nuisance before the movie’s show-stopping climax, but here we go anyway. Maindrian Pace (what a name!) is an insurance investigator who moonlights as the leader of a car thieving ring. Since Pace is the hero of our story, he only steals cars from people who are insured and subsequently compensated for the trouble he’s caused them.
One day, he receives a $400,000 offer from a shady drug lord: Pace is to steal and deliver 48 exotic, high-end vehicles in five days. Pace and his team scout the cars they’re going to steal, including the 1973 Mustang — but really a 1971 model with a ’73 grill — he nicknames Eleanor. After a double-cross and our hero’s refusal to back down from his code, Eleanor winds up being the last car on the list and ignites the spectacular chase that concludes this film.
If the 1970s were the golden age of cinema, then the late ‘60s and early ‘70s represented the twisted metal era of the car chase. Some of cinema’s best and most famous chases came from films in this era like Bullitt (1968), Vanishing Point (1971), The French Connection (1971) and The Seven-Ups (1973). Of course, with that 40-minute whopper of a finale Gone in 60 Seconds took the car chase to another level and is largely responsible for all those World’s Wildest Police Chases episodes you can’t stop watching on TruTV.
Unfortunately, the movie is 98 minutes long which means we have to slog through almost an hour of truly questionable filmmaking. H.B. “Toby” Halicki wrote, directed, produced, distributed, starred in and performed his own driving stunts in this film as Pace. (He probably handled all the catering and changed a few flat tires.) Halicki, better known as a car and toy collector, made his feature film debut with Gone in 60 Seconds.
Frankly, the acting is generally a half step above porn quality (or what I’m told porn quality acting is like), which makes sense because Halicki cast a bunch of his non-professional friends to save money. That being said, Halicki has an assured, Gary Cole-like vibe on screen. When he throws on his directorial hat, he displays a sly sense of humor and comes up with some truly stylish shots. My favorites were the first-person/windshield views of the chase toward the end. I also dug the fact that, while the protagonist in the 2000 Gone in 60 Seconds remake sets out to steal a bunch of cars to save his little brother, Pace sets out to steal a bunch of cars for the money (and just to see if he can).
The on-screen wrecks still hold up incredibly well after nearly 40 years. What stands out from the chase sequences are the way the director — and most filmmakers back then — pulled the camera back and allowed the cars to fill the entire screen. The rapid cuts in this film aren’t there to give the audience a cinema verite sense of immediacy (like in contemporary action movies); they’re there because the director probably didn’t have enough footage and needed to cover that up.
You have the option of watching the film with a video introduction from Denice Halicki, Toby’s wife. She says her husband wanted to make the ultimate car crash film and his efforts represented independent filmmaking at its finest. For better and for worse, Halicki succeeded at precisely that.
Gone in 60 Seconds – Car Crash King Edition is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average of 22 mbps. The gloriously grainy video transfer fits right in with the movie’s groovy 1970s vibe. I don’t mind the grain at all because it goes quite well with the gritty story and setting (DNR here would be a tragedy), but there are parts of this presentation that are problematic. Though black levels are strong, there’s an extended nighttime sequence where it is absolutely impossible to see what is happening.
I’d hate for them to artificially lighten the image to the point that it no longer represents the time period that produced it, but the best thing I can say about this Blu-ray transfer is that it faithfully reproduces the original, lo-fi presentation.
The DTS Digital Surround track pushes the funky ‘70s soundtrack and, naturally, the roar of engines and screeching tires to the forefront (and the rears). The fact that there are no lossless options on either disc means the sound presentation is plenty loud but lacks refinement. The dialogue is almost always incomprehensible with all the sound effects. Then again, it wasn’t exactly recorded in the most ideal conditions and absolutely no one is watching this movie for the dialogue.
Fans hoping for the original mono track and score by Ronald Halicki (Toby’s brother) and Philip Kachaturian are out of luck: this disc brings back the music of Lou Pardini and Bill Maxwell from the 2000 restoration. You also have the option of listening in on Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks.
Commentary with cameraman Jack Vacek and editor Warner Leighton: Not listed on the Blu-ray case, this track is a hidden treasure. Vacek and Leighton don’t have any illusions that they were working on a masterful piece of cinema and freely admit they didn’t always know exactly what was going on during the shoot. Still, it’s clear they had tons of fun going along with Halicki’s vision, despite the challenges of working with no budget. I came away very impressed with Halicki and his crew’s ingenuity.
All of the bonus material is presented in standard definition and has appeared in previous DVD releases.
Life & Times of H.B. “Toby” Halicki: The Car Crash King: (45:00) Speed channel tribute to the “shoestring showman” examines the guerilla-style shoot and real-life accidents on the set of Gone in 60 Seconds, as well as Halicki’s early life and his romance with Denice. This doc also covers the film’s restoration and features comments from people involved in the 2000 remake. The anecdotes from Halicki’s friends and colleagues alone make this worthwhile.
The Car Crash King’s “Cut to the Chase”: Billed as three featurettes, this footage actually plays more like a trio of short films titled The Junkman (16:47), Deadline Auto Theft (10:16), and Gone in 60 Seconds 2 (10:59). These are rough — they make Gone in 60 Seconds look positively refined — heavy on the vehicular mayhem and even less concerned with story. Of course, the real treat is seeing footage from 1989’s Gone in 60 Seconds 2, the film Halicki was working on when he was killed in an on-set accident.
E! Interview with Denice Halicki: (9:07) Denice Halicki is interviewed on the set of the 2000 remake, for which she served as an executive producer. Covers some of the same ground as “The Life and Times” doc.
“The Father of the Ford Mustang”: (9:11) Auto icon Lee Iacocca — the “Father of the Ford Mustang” — sits down for (what we’re told is) a rare chat with Denice. He talks about the Mustang’s origins and its legacy. I enjoyed watching him speak so affectionately about his baby.
Previews: Theatrical trailer for 1982’s The Junkman (1:01), Halicki’s follow-up to Gone in 60 Seconds, and a commercial for a 2004 DVD containing both Deadline Auto Theft and Gone in 60 Seconds 2 (0:32). The DVD also includes the “Life & Times” documentary.
(Note: The Blu-ray case lists “Special Interviews with Parnelli Jones, J.C. Agajanian Jr. and Bobby Ore” as bonus features, but they are nowhere to be found. They may have been scrapped at the 11th hour.)
This is called the “Car Crash King Edition” for a reason. Even though it’s nice to have the original Gone in 60 Seconds in high definition, H.B. Halicki is the main attraction. Yes, all of the bonus material is recycled from previous releases, but this is still an effective love letter to a one-of-a-kind showman and a celebration of his longest-lasting work.
If you have it on DVD, I can’t recommend you run out and grab this. If you’ve never seen it and you’re a fan of any sort of on-screen automotive fireworks, this is absolutely essential.