HD DVD Title: Midnight Run
Screen format: 1080P 1.85:1 (VC-1 Compression)
First theatrical release: 20 July 1988
Previously released on DVD/BluRay: Multiple anamorphic and full screen DVDs
Director: Martin Brest
Starring: Robert De Niro, Charles Grodin, Yaphet Kotto, John Ashton, Dennis Farina, Joe Pantoliano
Sound Formats: English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1. French Dolby Digital 2.0
Length: 2 Hours 7 Minutes
Subtitles: English, French
Arguably one of the best ‘Buddy’ movies ever made, Midnight Run is the tale of ex cop (and current bounty hunter) Jack Walsh (De Niro) hired by Eddie Moscone’s (Pantoliano) bail bond company to bring in escaped embezzler Jonathan “The Duke” Mardukas (Grodin). Seems the Duke skipped out on his bail for the charges that he embezzled fifteen million dollars from mob boss Jimmy Serrano (Farina). Serrano’s got his entire gang out ready to plug Mardukas dead if he shows his face in public before he can turn state’s evidence. While Jack easily scoops up the Duke in NYC expecting to fly him home to LA in an easy “Midnight Run”, he doesn’t know that the Duke is deathly afraid to fly and they both get kicked off the plane. It will take a trail of trains, autos, and other surprises to get them back in time before the Moscone’s lose their business, and with the Duke avoiding the mob. Complicating matters are hot headed FBI man Alonzo Mosely (Kotto) who is on a mission to get The Duke into custody and the Moscone’s have also sent a second bounty hunter, Marvin Dorfler (Ashton), after Mardukas in case Walsh screws things up.
Besides the above average casting and acting, shockingly crude but hysterical dialogue, sharp direction (Brest had just finished Beverly Hills Cop), and top notch soundtrack from famed composer Danny Elfman, Midnight run manages to somehow also cram in both great action/chase sequences and characters we actually come to identify with and root for, despite their flaws. It’s simply a highly quotable, very funny and memorable picture. For those reasons it’s definitely a candidate for my top ten movies list, and I was very much looking forward to checking it out in HD.
Sound Quality: 4/5
Musically there are few movies that can top Midnight Run. Elfman completely changed gears from anything he had done before or since, crafting a big band style rock/blues fusion that was both soulful and toe tapping from start to finish. In many ways it’s reminiscent of the soundtrack from The Blues Brothers, minus all of the guest appearances. The best part of it is that it manages to be as playful and humorous as the characters themselves. Featuring a big brass section, there’s a tremendous drive and vibrancy that just melds with the story and action to elevate the film even higher. While positionally most of the music stays in the front sound stage, there are occasions where the whole room is rocking and rolling. It rises subtly with the action and then fades to the front of the room as more dialogue heavy scenes return. Sound effects are mostly confined to the front sound stage but also peak out into the rears mostly during car crashes and gun shots. On the bass end, there’s a lot to like from the music but not a whole lot of action in the effects side. This is easily the best I’ve heard this film sound, and the DVD was one of my favorites for the music alone, so I’ve had some experience with it.
Speaking of the sounds, one thing to be absolutely aware of is that I can count on one hand the number of movies I’ve seen that have more vulgarity than Midnight Run, and few of them do it with such conviction. It’s almost like the F bomb was made for this film!
One other thing, check out how great the main title sounds in the menu! Someone had a lot of fun messing around with it and making it even more 3-D. Sadly the whole movie isn’t like this, but it is accurate to what was seen theatrically. You can’t have it both ways!
Visual Quality: 2.5/5
As happy as I am with the audio presentation, I have a few complaints about the video side of things. I noticed quite a bit of edge enhancement especially around very contrasty foreground elements. The halos were quite distracting and this is one of the few times I can say that on a high def transfer. Grain was mostly well controlled but there were a few occasions where it seemed to be in excess of the film stock. It’s possible that there simply was wildly different stocks used for these segments but that didn’t seem likely. Color rendition was fairly good, and the splash of Las Vegas is always a treat, but there wasn’t anything particularly awesome even in these scenes. Sharpness varied from shot to shot quite a bit, in many instances De Niro looked absolutely crisp and detailed and in others it seemed a bit gummy around him. On the other hand, the outdoor scenes were just great, with nicely rendered color schemes, low noise, and real detail. Overall things just weren’t very consistent with this transfer. It was a very clean transfer tho, there were a few nitpicky pops and scratches but once past the old Universal main leader there were very few instances.
Extra Features: 1.5/5
Just a recycled making of featurette and the theatrical trailer. Hardly even worth discussing but at least there’s something.
Overall: 3/5 (not an average)
Another absolute classic gets an uneven handling in this catalogue release. The audio is as good or better than it ever was, yet we get a lot of highs and lows on the video side and an absolute bottom barrel selection of extras. It’s a real shame, as I know a lot of HD collectors were looking forward to this release, as it’s simply one of those films that get better every time you watch it and many folks watch it at least once a year. With the slow trickle on HD we’ll take what we can get, but here’s to hoping that a more feature rich version is due later in the HD DVD life cycle.