Fox // 1985 // 90 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // April 11th, 2008
Somewhere...somehow...someone's going to pay!
It doesn't surprise me much that in the two times Commando has been brought before this court, it has received judgments of 53 and 100. Commando is not a great film (hence the 53), but it does deliver everything it promises (thus the 100). My overall judgment is pitched between the two because, although I appreciate the film for what it is, this high-def presentation doesn't do the film justice.
Retired special forces Colonel John Matrix (Arnold Schwarzenegger, Terminator) lives in seclusion with his daughter (Alyssa Milano, Charmed) until one of his disgraced former comrades (Vernon Wells, Weird Science) kidnaps his daughter so Matrix will assassinate a foreign president. Matrix has eleven hours to rescue his daughter before the bad guys get wise to the plan. Along the way he has to destroy a mall, steal an airplane, and infiltrate an island fortress -- all in a day's work for this Reagan-era hero.
I first saw Commando as an adolescent, and I enjoyed its action plot and cheesy one-liners. I knew it wasn't great cinema, but I also knew it was a great way to kill 90 minutes on a Saturday night with my dad. Until I saw this Blu-ray release of the film, I hadn't watched Commando in over a decade. Here are some things that I missed as a teenager that made the film fun to watch:
* Don Hedaya's butt-chin. Seriously, I've seen him in a number of roles since this film, but I never noticed how bizarre the cleft in his chin is. It's not just a split (like Bruce Campbell's, for instance), but there's a crevice in the split. Maybe it was the high-def transfer that brought it to my attention, but I couldn't help staring at it every time he was on screen. I could hear the MST3K guys in the back of my head preparing some zippy one-liners for his face.
* Vernon Wells as Bennett looks like Freddie Mercury's sleazy little brother. Or maybe like a reject from Frankie Goes to Hollywood. I expected him to start belting out "Relax, don't do it" in his Australian accent the whole movie. Maybe if he had, it would have allowed him to defeat John Matrix. And what is that shirt he's wearing? It looks like a chain mail sweater. His fabulousness gives his final fight against Arnold a whole new dimension, with Schwarzenegger giving him lines like "You don't want the girl, take me, Bennett." Take him, indeed.
* Arnold looks pretty buff. I know that's kinda weird to say to a former Mr. Universe, but in many of his more recent films he just looks like an indeterminate slab of flesh. In this film (thanks to his Speedo), we get to see that he's not just bulk, but definition -- and who doesn't want to see Arnold carry a tree trunk singlehandedly?
* Alyssa Milano is a lot less annoying than I would expect. Generally, the plucky young girl is obnoxiously played by some privileged and fragile-looking young star. Alyssa's Jenny actually seems capable and intelligent despite her youth. Yes, they also use her as an excuse to pour on the sugar, but it never becomes excessive. Oh, and her fashion sense rocks; it's amazing all those dangling bits didn't conceal a weapon.
* The film hasn't aged very well. Films like Die Hard and Lethal Weapon seem much more modern by comparison, while Commando seems to come from an alternate fantasy dimension where the '80s never die.
* Commando is one of the few films I can think of that works as an example of its genre while also appealing to the camp audience. It's possible to watch this film with a serious action-oriented audience and be entertained. It's also entirely possible to watch the film for laughs (or for a drinking game) and be entertained by the poor acting, the one-liners, and the butt-chin.
But enough about the movie. Let's turn to the Blu-ray presentation of Commando. To sum it up, this is the most superfluous release I've seen in the high definition realm. The video is atrocious. This disc is like talking a 10X mirror to an ugly face. Yes, the mirror does a good job showing all the details, but the face is still ugly. That's the problem with Commando. There's lots of grain (much of it turns to noise), the color saturation is pretty poor, and detail isn't great. I think I would actually prefer to watch the DVD release of the film; even if there was less detail, I would see fewer flaws. Despite the ridiculous explosions (and silly music), I didn't feel like the audio had much oomph. The only extra is the film's trailer. There are also control codes for those who have a D-Box motion control system, so if you have one of their chairs you can rock along with Matrix during the film.
If you don't like action or appreciate camp, this is not the film for you.
Commando is, without a doubt, a fun movie, and worth a watch if you've never enjoyed it before. However, this Blu-ray is probably not the way to experience the film. The high resolution of the transfer actually makes the film less enjoyable to watch. Moreover, the near-total lack of extras does little to recommend the film. This edition seems like a port of the early Commando DVD. If Fox had taken the time to port the newer edition, with the director's cut and some extras, then the disc might be worth a purchase. As it stands, a rental is all I can recommend.
The film is found not guilty, but Fox is guilty of producing a disappointing release of this classic action flick.
Review content copyright © 2008 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 4.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1985
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Theatrical Trailer
* Original DVD Verdict Review
* DVD Verdict Review - Director's Cut