DVD Review HTF DVD Review: Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) - Restored Collector's Edition

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Neil Middlemiss, Feb 16, 2009.

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  1. Neil Middlemiss

    Neil Middlemiss Producer
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    [​IMG]
    Assault on Precinct 13
    Restored Collector's Edition





    Studio: Image Entertainment
    Year: 1976
    US Rating: Rated R
    Film Length: 91 Mins
    Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
    Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1 Surround and Original 2.0
    Subtitles: Spanish, English for the Hearing Impaired




    US Release Date: February 3, 2009
    Review Date: February 16, 2009

    The Film - [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG] out of [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]

    “It’s an old story with me…I was born out of time!”

    Before he became synonymous with the horror genre, John Carpenter delivered a low budget, simmering thriller predicated on the simple idea of surviving an assault. The tenets of horror films are used to great effect here, with a seemingly omnipresent, unstoppable force picking away at a few frayed survivors trapped by the violent assault.

    Assault on Precinct 13 is a great, but imperfect film, but its imperfections help make it a triumph of filmmaking. The bare budget and gritty essence permeate the dialogue and raw action. Carpenter’s directorial sensibility and careful ballet of perfectly framed shots, symmetry of mise-en-scene and his now traditional gliding camera voyeurism saturate this classic. In the build up, it is an evenly crafted piece of cinema; steady, patiently layered and staged with deliberate constancy.

    A confluence of unrelated events creates an incredible night of violence. The film opens with a massacre of gang members by the police. That night, a new officer, Ethan Bishop, is assigned to oversee the final night of Precinct 13, a police station being relocated 10 blocks away. The building is all but empty and just a skeleton crew is on hand to close up shop. Meanwhile, a bus carrying notorious criminal Napoleon Wilson, on its way to a federal prison, must make a stop at the closest precinct (13) to tend to a sick inmate being transported. And, nearby, a man exacts revenge on a gang member that viciously murdered his young daughter. He kills that gang member, but is then chased by other gang members into what he believes is the safe haven of a police station. When the gang begins shooting at the building, prisoners and police alike are held hostage by their predicament and must work together to hold off the assault.

    Like the great westerns that pit unsuspecting innocents against the overwhelming forces of evil, Assault on Precinct 13 presents the villainous swarms that surround those holed up as an oppressive power, punishing those under siege for standing in the way of some twisted sense of honor or duty. In this case, the blood oath of vengeance sworn by the well staffed Street Thunder gang is carried out with unflinching dedication and unrelenting persistence.

    The cast is pretty good, with Austin Stoker as Bishop, the officer assigned to be ward over the closing precinct and Darwin Joston as Napoleon Wilson, the notorious killer locked up in the run-down precinct while medical attention is sought for another death row inmate. The relationship between these two ‘soldiers’ in the circumstance is simple, based on a mutual respect that transcends the positions in life they held before the shooting started. They play their roles well. Laurie Zimmer plays Leigh, a tough precinct worker who can certainly handle herself, keeping composure when the chaos ensues. Martin West stars as Lawson, transporting Wilson, and Tony Burton stars as Wells, a fellow prisoner on the bus round out a small, but effective cast.

    Carpenter uses the same skills he later employed in Halloween to create tension and drive this thriller into something greater than the simplicity of its story would indicate. He creates a straightforward situation and fills it with unlikely and uneasy alliances. This surprisingly effectual, oddly exposition-light film delivers by using its violence to punctuate the calm (or illusion of calm) and keep us all on edge.

    Assault on Precinct 13 was remade in 2005 with an all star cast and a slick production. It moved the action from the run-down streets of Los Angeles to the run-down streets of Detroit, adding a heavy snowstorm to the mix to further isolate the officers and criminals under siege. But it kept the same tight quarter’s atmosphere and updated the characters, gave far more back story and exposition and changed out the impetus for the siege. The simplicity of Carpenter’s tale was traded for people with a lot more to say, but it honored enough of the original to be worth checking out.

    John Carpenter is a master and Assault on Precinct 13 ranks among his finest works. What he hints at here, in how he lays up sequences and builds fear and tension, comes to full fruition in his later, exceptional works Escape from New York and The Thing.




    The Video- [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG] out of [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]

    Image Entertainment brings home Assault on Precinct 13 in a new Anamorphic high-definition digital film transfer in the original 2.35:1 Panavision© aspect ratio. In a word – wonderful.

    From the opening moments with the deep red titles on the deep black canvass, the image quality of this cult classic is apparent. Black levels are incredible. The slightly muted color tones that you find in movies from the 70’s are presented here cleanly. Film grain is appropriate and this genuinely is a great treatment of this small budget classic. Very well done!



    The Sound - [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG] out of [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]

    With a brand new 5.1 surround audio mix, Assault on Precinct 13 delivers. Choose from Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1 (new to this release) or the original 2.0 audio which was available on the 2003 DVD release.

    Dialogue in the center channel is rather clean; there is nothing by way of distortions to be heard and, in fact, the quality is high throughout. Of particular note is the bass, which is deep and smooth. The subwoofer handles the lower end of John Carpenter’s familiar scoring style nicely and the shot guns and silencer quieted guns are crisp and handled well. There is a little hiss, but very infrequently and likely a result of the original filming conditions.




    The Extra's - [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG] out of [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]

    Interview with director John Carpenter and actor Austin Stoker - (23:06) – This interview, which took place at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood in 2002 isn’t of the best quality. Recorded by a video camera by what appears to be an audience member, it is a Q&A about the experience of making the film. A little hard to hear everything but valuable nonetheless.

    Radio Spots - Two radio ads for the film.

    Assault on Precinct 13 Production Gallery - (16:52) – A video slideshow with a look at shots of John Carpenter’s original screenplay (under the title ‘The Anderson Alamo’ by John T Chance), storyboards and stills from behind the scenes – rare glimpses of on-set photographs, foreign poster artwork and much more– all set to Carpenter’s score for the film.

    Audio Commentary by John Carpenter - John Carpenter tells some great stories, quite matter-of-factly at times of the making of his homage to Rio Bravo, made for 100K in 1975. He is a fascinating man to listen to and always provides valuable filmmaker insights into the process and art of making movies. It is interesting to hear Carpenter discuss the choices he made when making this film (and how he would make different choices). One of the best directors for providing commentary; he is the consummate filmmaker and wholly underrated.

    Original Theatrical Trailer - (2:02) – A Scratchy, popping theatrical trailer for the film that would comfortably fit with Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse concept.

    John Carpenter’s Isolated Score – Enjoy the simplicity and perfection of John Carpenters score which alternates between brooding pulses and eerie ambience.





    Final Thoughts

    Assault on Precinct 13 is a superb piece of low-budget, gritty filmmaking. With allusions to the great western genre, and to Howard Hawkes’ Rio Bravo in particular, it boils the violent streets of south central LA down to one building, one purpose and one hell of a night to have to try and live through. The failing fortress that the precinct becomes; the characters that band together under common purpose to stay the enemy – are all classic tenets of the Western genre – and with Carpenter’s eye for horror – it all comes together perfectly in a film that rightfully earns its title of cult classic. Recommended!


    Overall Score - [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG] out of [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]



    Neil Middlemiss
    Kernersville, NC
     
  2. Frank@N

    Frank@N Screenwriter

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    I'm in, but as usual I've mixed feelings about the cover art.
     
  3. Michael Allred

    Michael Allred Screenwriter

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    The only thing new here are the additions of the 5.1 surround mixes. Everything else was included on the previous special edition.
     
  4. Neil Middlemiss

    Neil Middlemiss Producer
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    Don't forget that it features a 'newly remastered HD transfer in the original 2.35 aspect ratio'....
     
  5. Michael Allred

    Michael Allred Screenwriter

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    Hehe, which is exactly what the previous SE had. So unless they did a NEW new transfer.......
     
  6. Neil Middlemiss

    Neil Middlemiss Producer
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    It's a new transfer...
     
  7. Michael Allred

    Michael Allred Screenwriter

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    Well Neil, I'm glad to hear they bothered to do a new one considering the previous SE's "new high definition transfer" kinda sucked.

    I used to write reviews for www . dvdangle . com (before they went under of course) and one of my first reviews was for the last SE Image released. If anyone's interested, here's a link:


    3036 - Assault On Precinct 13: Special Edition

    for comparison purposes.
     
  8. Neil Middlemiss

    Neil Middlemiss Producer
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    Thanks for the link, Michael - a good review! Do you write for anyone else now?
     
  9. Michael Allred

    Michael Allred Screenwriter

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    Neil, no I don't write reviews any more. Not necessarily by choice mind you, it's just nothing else has come up since dvdangle.
     

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