DVD Review HTF DVD REVIEW: Midnight Express 30th Anniversary Edition

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  1. Richard Gallagher

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    Midnight Express: 30th Anniversary Edition




    Studio: Sony/Columbia
    Year: 1978
    Rated: R
    Program Length: 121 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
    Languages: English Dolby 5.1, English Mono (original soundtrack), French Dolby 5.1
    Subtitles: English, French, Spanish; also English close-captioned



    The Program

    Midnight Express is a harrowing tale about a young American, Billy Hayes, who is arrested while trying to smuggle a stash of hashish out of Turkey in 1970. While under most circumstances it would be difficult to care about a drug dealer, the brutality to which Hayes is subjected will make even the most passionate anti-drug activist root for him. Although Hayes is originally sentenced to a relatively light sentence, Turkish law allows the prosecution to appeal sentences with which it does not agree. The Turkish High Court throws out Hayes’ drug possession conviction and instead imposes a conviction of drug smuggling, which carries a sentence of thirty years in prison.

    Based upon a true story, but considerably fictionalized, Midnight Express was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning for Best Adapted Screenplay (Oliver Stone) and Best Original Score (Giorgio Moroder). The film also was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director (Alan Parker), and Best Supporting Actor (John Hurt). It features a bravura theatrical debut by the late Brad Davis as Hayes (Davis previously had some minor television credits), who took home a Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture Acting Debut (male). There also is excellent supporting work by Randy Quaid as a fellow prisoner and by Irene Miracle, who won a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Acting Debut (female).

    Midnight Express was a difficult sell to the studio, which was expecting more of a thriller and was squeamish about releasing a film which had a convicted drug dealer as its protagonist. Nevertheless, the film proved to be a major hit, albeit a somewhat controversial one. Turkey complained about the way the country is portrayed in the film, and years later both Oliver Stone and the real Billy Hayes apologized to the Turks.

    I remember being on the edge of my seat while watching this film in a theater 30 years ago, and it has lost none of its impact. I guarantee that anyone who watches Midnight Express will always try to be very careful when traveling in foreign countries. It is one of the more highly-regarded films of the 1970s and is highly recommended.

    The Video

    The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is very nice and smooth. There is a minimal amount of grain, good contrast, and accurate flesh tones. There are many dark scenes but shadow detail is reasonably good. Upscaled on my Toshiba XA2, this DVD looks very, very good. This film was previously released on DVD ten years ago, but I do not have a copy available to make a direct comparison. Reviews of the 1998 release appear to have mostly positive, so people who own that edition may want to pass on this one unless they are interested in the extras, which are discussed below.

    The Audio

    The original soundtrack was recorded in mono, so fans of the film will be happy to learn that the mono soundtrack has been preserved here. There also is a remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, which adds some dimensionality and sounded perfectly satisfactory to my ears. Both soundtracks convey the dialogue very well and I did not detect any distortion or other annoying anamolies.

    The Supplements

    The extras include a 56-page booklet written by director Alan Parker, which essentially is his memoir of the making of the film. The booklet includes a number of photographs, including a color photo of Brad Davis, John Hurt and Alan Parker with the real Billy Hayes at the Cannes Film Festival.

    There also is a commentary track by the director and three featurettes about the production of Midnight Express. “The Producers” focuses on Peter Guber, David Puttnam and Alan Marshall, who produced the film. “The Production” covers how the film was cast, how the locations were chosen, etc. “The Finished Film” relates how the film was marketed, including the decision to have its premiere at Cannes. The featurettes include interviews with Alan Parker, Billy Hayes, John Hurt, and Oliver Stone.

    The Packaging

    The single disc comes in a standard DVD keepcase. The keepcase and the booklet are stored inside a slipcase. The art work on the slipcase is identical to the art work on the keepcase.

    The Final Analysis

    Midnight Express is an iconic film of the 1970s and is highly recommended for anyone who has not seen it. Those who already own and are satisfied with the original DVD will have to decide if the extras warrant another dip into their wallets.

    Equipment used for this review:

    Toshiba HD-XA2 DVD Player
    Sharp LC-42D62U LCD display
    Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
    BIC Acoustech speakers
    Interconnects: Monster Cable

    Release Date: February 5, 2008

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