Bloodsport/Timecop (Action Double Feature)
Bloodsport (1987), Timecop (1994)
| Studio: Warner Bros. |
Year: 1987, 1994
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 - Bloodsport, 2.4:1 - Timecop
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Release Date: September14, 2010
As part of their latest wave of "Double Feature" Blu-ray releases, Warner Home Video has paired two Jean-Claude Van Damme films on one reasonably priced Blu-ray disc. They represent both his initial breakthrough and arguably his peak as a star of big-budget Hollywood action movies
Bloodsport (1987 - Cannon - 92 minutes)***
Directed by: Newt Arnold
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Donald Gibb, Leah Ayres, Norman Burton, Forest Whitaker, Bolo Yeung, Roy Chiao, Philip Chan
In Bloodsport, Jean-Claude Van Damme plays Frank Dux, a US Army Captain who plans on using his furlough to fight in an underground full-contact martial arts tournament in Hong Kong known as The Kumite. His intent is to honor his Sensei Tanaka (Chiao), who trained him since he was a young boy and is now very ill. While in Hong Kong, Dux befriends a rowdy American fighter named Ray Jackson (Gibb) and a reporter named Janice Kent (Ayres). As Dux and Jackson advance deep into the tournament, they appear headed inevitably towards a showdown with reigning champion Chong Li (Yeung), a physically imposing fighter with a sadistic streak. Frank's attempts to advance to the championship are further complicated by the efforts of Helmer (Burton) and Rawlins (Whitaker), a pair of military agents representing his superiors who did not sanction his participation in the Kumite and want to bring him into custody.
Bloodsport was Jean-Claude Van Damme's introduction to movie-going audiences. As martial arts fight tournament films go, it is about as flimsy a story as one could imagine. Character motivations are colored in with all of the attention of a three year old with crayons. The subplot involving Dux evading military agents trying to bring him back to the USA feels like it was added at the last moment to get the running time up to feature length.
The perfunctory romantic relationship between Dux and a female reporter is given such short shrift that the character of Janet feels more like a beard to mask Dux's more abiding affection for the burly American fighter, Ray. Maybe I am over-analyzing things. There is a certain unavoidable hint of homoeroticism in any dramatized activity involving slow motion footage of men with oiled torsos tousling, but when, in their big romantic scene, the camera spends more time gratuitously lingering over Van Damme's body than Ayres' and the denouement includes a scene of Frank and Ray declaring their mutual love more than Frank and Janice ever do, it seems to cross a line from gay subtext to "Enola Gay"...not that there's anything wrong with that…
As is typical for first time film actors, Van Damme has a pronounced tendency to over-emote, sometimes to the point of it being comical. Years later, after working with directors such as John Woo and Peter Hyams, he would learn to tone things down a bit, but he is in full-on live action cartoon mode here. The highlights of the cast are Gibb, who specializes in the type of comic loudmouth brute he plays in this film; Forest Whitaker, who plays a completely thankless role, but does nothing to undermine his future Oscar prospects despite being given ample opportunity by the screenplay; and Philip Chan as a Police Inspector, a role similar to ones he played in some of the best Hong Kong films of that era.
Given the shortcomings listed above, the film sounds like a losing proposition, and it would be except that the filmmakers never lose sight of the fact that watching skilled men fight no holds-barred in a variety of styles can be pretty entertaining. The subsequent rise in popularity of mixed martial arts fighting certainly supports this notion. Director Newt Arnold, who actually has more credits to his name as a first assistant director than as a director, understands how to stage an action scene, and as long as people are training, fighting, fleeing, or chasing, which proves to be something like half of the running time, the movie is working. The fight choreography is not at the level of the best Hong Kong films of the time, but it was a lot better than what American viewers were used to seeing in Hollywood action films. Van Damme was physically capable of things of which other 80s Hollywood action stars could not even dream, which made him something of a special effect in the eyes of viewers who were not otherwise familiar with martial arts action stars of the time such as Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao. Squaring him off against martial artist/body-builder Bolo Yeung for the film's climax was a stroke of genius because not only was it guaranteed to resonate with viewers who would remember Yueng's appearance in Bruce Lee's, Enter the Dragon, but it would be hard to imagine any red-blooded fan of action cinema not wanting to see two such behemoths face-off.
Timecop (1994 - Largo Entertainment - 98 Minutes)***½
Directed by: Peter Hyams
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Ron Silver, Mia Sara, Bruce McGill, Gloria Reuben
In Timecop, a science fiction action film based on a Dark Horse Comics series set in the near future, Jean-Claude Van Damme plays Max Walker, an agent with the United States Time Enforcement Commission. His job is to pursue and apprehend criminals abusing time travel technology. Max is a dedicated agent who has all but given up on the idea of having a personal life since the murder of his wife ten years earlier. When Max apprehends his former TEC partner in the process of trying to exploit the stock market crash of 1929 for millions of dollars, he learns that the man behind this and other illegal time travel activities is none other than Senator Aaron McComb (Silver), a Presidential candidate and the man responsible for the TEC's Congressional oversight. McComb quickly catches wind of Max's suspicion, and Max finds himself on the wrong side of a powerful enemy with the ability to wipe out his past.
Barring a 21st Century comeback, Timecop is arguably the peak of Jean-Claude Van Damme's career as a traditional Hollywood action film star. It builds on a series of modest successes over the preceding years in the films Universal Soldier and Hard Target. Production values are high, the plot is centered on something besides martial arts tournaments (i.e. the producers could have cast somebody else in the role, but they chose him), and an experienced high-profile director, Peter Hyams, is in the driver's seat. After this would come the mind-numbing Street Fighter followed by films of diminishing quality and budgets and a series of personal and professional set-backs from which he would need almost a decade to regroup.
As 90s sci-fi action films go, Timecop is pretty watchable due to its amusing time travel premise (complete with the boatload of irresolvable paradoxes that are part and parcel to the subgenre), and a strong supporting cast. Very few actors can play unlikeable ambitious men better than Ron Silver, and he plays the role of the crooked Senator to the hilt. Bruce McGill once again earns his reputation as one of the most underrated actors working in Hollywood by breathing some much needed humor and life into a part that could have easily come across as a stock clueless commanding officer. While Van Damme is a much better actor than he was when he made Bloodsport, Director Hyams takes no chances, tailoring the part for his abilities and ensuring that an action sequence erupts every eight to ten minutes before things can start to drag too much. Hyams also seems to have a retro-commitment to providing gratuitous violence, nudity, and one-liners after killings that will no doubt endear him to fans of 80s action films.
The net result is some modestly entertaining nonsense that will offer a few thrills for genre fans, but will not likely linger in the memories of viewers. In many ways, the film winds up being more cartoony than the comic book on which it is based, which makes it not necessarily a great adaptation of the source material, but definitely an above average Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle.
A Note on the Mullet: Van Damme sports a mullet (or possibly a combination mullet/perm) in this film to which I could not possibly do justice in prose. Those so inclined are welcome to try to wrestle with its awesomeness in the discussion thread accompanying this review, perhaps through poetry or raw testimonials about how the mullet affected you on a personal level. Comparative analysis discussing the relationship between this mullet and the longer/greasier one he sported in "Hard Target" are also welcome.
The Video ***Both titles are presented in VC-1 encoded 1080p video. Neither of these presentations will lend themselves to use as home theater demo material, but both seem to be fairly accurate replications of how the films appeared in theaters.
Bloodsport approximates the film's original theatrical aspect ratio by filling the entire 16:9 enhanced screen. The film has a very 80s low-budget look to it with somewhat coarser grain and shallower black levels than most modern film stocks exhbit. The general effect is a slight haziness to the image which becomes more noticeable during optical fades and titles due to increased grain. That being said, there are only very minor instances of visible print damage and no signs of excessive digital processing, leaving me under the impression that this is close to as good as the film could possibly look on home video.
Timecop is letterboxed to its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.4:1. While grain is finer and sharpness better than Bloodsport, the image exhibits unusually high contrast during its many very dark scenes. Based on the cinematographic style of Director Peter Hyams, my guess is that this is consistent with his intended look. For the most part, the tricky lighting is handled well by the folks working the telecine and video compression nobs, but there are a few instances during the darkest scenes where there seems to be some contrast banding visible in otherwise nearly pitch black areas of the screen.
The Audio ****Both films are presented with English DTS-HD MA lossless tracks. Bloodsport gets a 2.0 matrix surround stereo track that betrays its "80s low-budget" origins even more so than the visual appearance. The score is predominantly synthesizer-generated, and the sound mix is pretty crude at times. The lossless encoding actually makes instances of awkward balance between dialog, music and effects and obvious post-sync dialog even more noticeable than they might otherwise be.
Timecop has an impressive 5.1 mix that is very well served by the lossless encoding. Whisper to scream dynamics and frequent directional effects are rendered with precision and accuracy. It is very much in the vein of other 90s action movies, and the intended levels of operatic bombast will have the appropriate house-shaking/neighbor-waking effect with nary a hint of distortion if played anywhere near reference volume level. Clarity was so impressive that I could frequently almost understand what Van Damme was saying.
The Extras½No extras are present on this double feature Blu-ray disc.
PackagingBoth films are encoded on the same side of a dual-layered BD50. The menu layout is straightforward and allows the viewer to move back and forth between the two features with ease. There is minimal to no implementation of Java features, so the "resume" function of most players should work without issue.
Summary***½This pairing of two of the better entries in the filmography of Belgian action star Jean-Claude Van Damme offers high value for fans of the films as long as they are not partial to bonus features. Bloodsport is presented with video and audio limited somewhat by its low-budget 1980s origins, while Timecop has outstanding surround audio appropriate for its action bombast along with a video presentation marred only by some minor issues with its high-contrast/low-light cinematography.