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Blu-ray Reviews

The Stunt Man Blu-ray Review



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#1 of 16 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

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Posted June 11 2011 - 02:06 PM

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The Stunt Man

Studio: Severin/MPI Media Group
Year: 1980
Rated: R
Program Length: 131 minutes                Aspect Ratio: 1.85.1 1080p
Languages: English DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio, English Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles: None

The Program

Palm trees! Yet more palm trees! Who had the audacity to put palm trees there? They will be in every shot. And what are palm trees doing waving around in a battlefield in Europe during the First World War? - Eli Cross

The Stunt Man is an audacious and brilliant examination of the sometimes fine line between reality and illusion, set against the backdrop of the filming of a war movie. Unfortunately, this Blu-ray release is compromised by a less than stellar transfer, although that shortcoming is compensated somewhat by the inclusion of a half-dozen extras which were not included in the previous DVD edition.

The Stunt Man is the high point in the career of director Richard Rush. In spite of being nominated for Academy Awards for both Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay at the age of 41, since then Rush has made only one feature film, 1994's Color of Night. He did write the screenplay to the 1990 film Air America, and reportedly he was paid $4 million to let someone else make it. However, there is no reason to feel badly for him. As the extras on this disc make clear, he has been living well for the past thirty years.

Steve Railsback, who is best-known for his riveting portrayal of Charles Manson in the miniseries Helter Skelter, plays Cameron, a Vietnam veteran who is being sought by the police. Cameron is arrested at a cafe in southern California, but he makes a daring escape and utilizes his considerable athleticism to get away. A tragic incident occurs while he is hitchhiking on a bridge, and he then makes his way to the coast, where he comes upon the set of a motion picture which is being filmed by egotistical and domineering director, Eli Cross (Peter O'Toole, in an Academy Award-nominated leading role). Cross is making a war movie set during World War I, and the principal filming takes place at the spectacular and historic Hotel del Coronado, south of San Diego. At the conclusion of the filming of a spectacular air attack scene, Cameron walks down to the beach and observes an older woman fall into the ocean. He gallantly pulls her from the water, an act which is observed by Cross. The director is in need of a stunt double for his leading man, Raymond Bailey (Adam Roarke), and he has noted that Raymond and Cameron are similar in age, height and build. Cross also correctly surmises that Cameron is in trouble with the law.

Their meeting is fortuitous for both Cross and Cameron. The director needs an athletic young man who is not averse to taking risks, and Cameron realizes that becoming part of a movie crew is the perfect place to hide from the authorities. A shave, some makeup and hair coloring is all that Cameron needs to assume a new identity which completely fools Jake (Alex Rocco), the local police chief. Although Cameron has no experience as a stunt man, he proves to be an apt student as he is coached by his new mentor, Chuck Barton (Charles Bail). Along the way Cameron becomes involved with the film's leading lady, Nina Franklin (Barbara Hershey).

What follows is a highly entertaining tale which is both dramatic and funny, all the while interspersed with high-energy action scenes and a breathtaking sequence of seemingly death-defying stunts. Cameron appears to have found safe refuge from the police, but he increasingly finds himself in situations where he has difficulty distinguishing between what is real and what is cinematic illusion. Does the beautiful but enigmatic Nina really have feelings for him, and is she just using him for her own advantage, or possibly just to make sure that he remains with the crew until the completion of filming? Is Cross really committed to protecting Cameron's identity, or is it conceivable that the director will betray him - or do even worse? At the same time, it is unclear what to make of the fugitive, as we only gradually come to understand why he is being sought.

The Stunt Man moves along a rapid pace and never fails to deliver. It is populated with engaging, interesting characters that are flawlessly played by the film's actors (it also proved to be a pivotal role for the gorgeous and talented Barbara Hershey, who had largely been relegated to making television movies). The Stunt Man also provides an eye-opening look at how Hollywood movies are made. The film is full of surprises and leads to a stunning climax which is both spectacular and unexpected. It deserves all of the critical accolades which it has received over the years.

The Video

The publicity for the Blu-ray release of The Stunt Man promises "a stunning HD transfer" supervised by director/producer Richard Rush. The aspect ratio is a true 1.85:1 1080p, leaving narrow black bands at the top and bottom of the image. However, "stunning" is an exaggeration. I have been able to compare it with the Anchor Bay DVD which was released a decade ago, and the improvement is only subtle. The Blu-ray exhibits stronger contrasts and shows slightly more picture information on the sides than the DVD, but the enhancement in picture detail is not likely to blow anyone away. Home Theater Forum members likely have already read resident expert Robert Harris' take on this transfer. He downgrades the Blu-ray transfer for undistinguished colors, wear and dirt, and he has concluded that it was mastered from a dupe rather than original film elements. Were it not for the impressive array of extras, it would be difficult to recommend going to the expense of upgrading from the DVD.

The Audio

The audio is less of a concern than the video, although the studio seems to be confused about the soundtracks. According to the packaging, the choices are English 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround and English Dolby Digital 2.0. However, the audio choices on the disc's menu are English DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio and English Dolby Digital 2.0. The Anchor Bay DVD offers three choices: Dolby Digital Surround EX, DTS ES 6.1, and Dolby Digital 2.0. I did an A/B comparison between the Blu-ray's DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track and the DVD's DTS ES 6.1 track and found very little to distinguish between the two. The Blu-ray's Dolby Digital 2.0 track provides considerably less punch and dimensionality. The 5.1 track is adequate but not spectacular. On a few occasions the dialogue is difficult to decipher completely and there are no optional subtitles to compensate for that. On the other hand, the Blu-ray provides a pleasing soundstage for Dominic Frontiere's rousing and memorable music score.

The Supplements

This Blu-ray edition has ported over the enjoyable and informative commentary track which was recorded by Richard Rush, Peter O'Toole, Steve Railsback, Barbara Hershey, Alex Rocco, Chuck Bail and actress Sharon Farrell that was recorded for the DVD. The deleted scenes and theatrical trailers which were included with the DVD also are replicated here.

The new extras on the Blu-ray disc are plentiful and will be of great interest to every fan of The Stunt Man.

First up is "The Sinister Saga of Making The Stunt Man," a 112-minute documentary which Richard Rush made in 1990. The documentary was made on videotape and is presented at 1.33:1. The director leads the viewer through the film from conception to completion, making it one of the more exhaustive and detailed "making of" features I have ever seen. The director comes across as a very intriguing and interesting man. Most of the principal cast members except Adam Roarke (who died in 1996) participate in the documentary. [Note: Thanks to Charles for pointing out that this documentary is included in the Limited Edition DVD which was issued in 2001 - it is not included in the standard edition DVD.]

"The Maverick Career of Richard Rush" is a newly-made featurette which covers the directors career from his formative years making exploitation films at American-International Pictures" to his unhappy experience making Color of Night in 1994. At the conclusion he makes a very wry comment about the meaning of "final cut."

"Peter O'Toole Recounts The Stunt Man" is self-explanatory. He met Richard Rush when they were introduced by a mutual friend, actor Philip Bruns.

"Devil's Squadron" is a new featurette which includes the recollections of actors Steve Railsback and Alex Rocco.

"Barbara Hershey on Nina Franklin" gives the actress the opportunity to gives her insights into her character. She also discusses her interactions with the director and her fellow actors. As an added bonus, she still looks great at the age of 63.

"The Stunt Man at the New Beverly" is a Q&A session involving Richard Rush, Steve Railsback and Barbara Hershey which was filmed after a 2010 showing of The Stunt Man and Freebie and the Bean (another Rush film) at the New Beverly Cinema.

Also included are trailers for Inglorious Bastards (not to be confused with Inglorious Basterds), Shopping, and Santa Sangre.

The Packaging

The single disc is packaged in a standard Blu-ray keep case.

The Final Analysis

The Stunt Man is a great, compelling film which has been given less than stellar treatment on Blu-ray. However, the wealth of extras on this disc likely will convince many of the film's fans to upgrade, its shortcomings notwithstanding.

Equipment used for this review:

Panasonic DMP-BD50 Blu-ray player
Panasonic Viera TC-P46G15 Plasma display, calibrated to THX specification by Gregg Loewen
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable

Release Date: June 7, 2011


Rich Gallagher

#2 of 16 OFFLINE   Felix Martinez

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Posted June 14 2011 - 06:23 AM

I agree that the image has issues.  For me the new color correction is the main one - it tends to push towards green in some scenes.  In other scenes, like the one with Barbara Hershey in aged makeup on the beach, I prefer the Severin Blu-ray's colors.  However, an A-B comparison with the 2001 DVD as viewed upscaled on a large screen (my screen is 92in) reveals that the Blu-ray is a substantial upgrade over the DVD in the areas of resolution, image stability, and mosquito and other compression noise.  The Blu-ray has also not been DNR'd or at most grain-managed with a light touch and no visible contrast-boosting or edge enhancement halos, etc.



#3 of 16 ONLINE   Charles Smith

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Posted June 14 2011 - 09:31 AM

As disheartening as the news is about the transfer, I keep hearing for those new extras calling my name.  Damn.


One thing, though:  The "Sinister Saga" documentary is on the 2-disc Anchor Bay DVD set, so that's not a new extra for the Blu-ray.




#4 of 16 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

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Posted June 14 2011 - 01:51 PM



Originally Posted by Chas in CT 

As disheartening as the news is about the transfer, I keep hearing for those new extras calling my name.  Damn.


One thing, though:  The "Sinister Saga" documentary is on the 2-disc Anchor Bay DVD set, so that's not a new extra for the Blu-ray.



Thanks for pointing that out. There were two DVD editions released in 2001, one of which is a numbered limited edition. The limited edition contains the documentary, but the standard edition (which I have) does not. I was comparing the BD to the standard edition, as I had forgotten about the limited edition.



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#5 of 16 OFFLINE   Felix Martinez

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Posted June 14 2011 - 03:38 PM

Sinister Saga, in all its quirky standard def video glory, also benefits from better compression on the Blu-ray.  The only sore omissions from the 2001 Anchor Bay disc are the DVD-ROM extras; namely, the script and story notes by Richard Rush, which are a fascinating read.



#6 of 16 OFFLINE   Felix Martinez

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Posted June 16 2011 - 11:51 AM


Found these screenshots at DVDTalk.com (Anchor Bay DVD/Severin Blu-ray, click on each to enlarge).  Look at how much better resolved the finer details are on the Blu-ray - like the barbed wire.  In motion and on larger screens, the differences are even more pronounced IMHO.  As far as the element used for the transfer being far from pristine, I'm reminded of the Kiss of the Spider Woman Blu-ray from a couple years ago - another fine film released to Blu-ray by an indy shop, presumably doing their best and/or limited by the cost of digital cleanup.


Does The Stunt Man deserve better?  No argument from me.  However, we're dealing with a home video reissue cycle of 10+ years for this film and added to that fact is the awareness that Mr. Rush is already quite seasoned at 82 years young with a heart attack under his belt (or chest).


I'm counting my blessings.


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#7 of 16 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted June 17 2011 - 05:17 AM

Found time to view this entire film.  Color leans toward green entire length of film.  Just wrong.


"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#8 of 16 OFFLINE   Stephen_J_H

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Posted June 17 2011 - 05:55 AM

You can see the green in the screencap above. Isn't this usually a sign that the scanner sensor is about to fail?


"My opinion is that (a) anyone who actually works in a video store and does not understand letterboxing has given up on life, and (b) any customer who prefers to have the sides of a movie hacked off should not be licensed to operate a video player."-- Roger Ebert

#9 of 16 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted June 17 2011 - 07:11 AM



Originally Posted by Stephen_J_H 

You can see the green in the screencap above. Isn't this usually a sign that the scanner sensor is about to fail?


Here are two quick examples based upon the same frame.


The first is close to what it should look like, although a bit leaning toward magenta. I'm shortcutting the system working only in preview:


http://static.hometh...um.com/imgrepo/



followed by the same frame with an averaged look for the film:


http://static.hometh...um.com/imgrepo/



"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#10 of 16 OFFLINE   Felix Martinez

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Posted June 17 2011 - 08:51 AM



Originally Posted by Stephen_J_H 

You can see the green in the screencap above. Isn't this usually a sign that the scanner sensor is about to fail?


Could it have been a best light full grade of the film and left at that?  I found this interestingAnd also this.




#11 of 16 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted June 17 2011 - 09:00 AM



Originally Posted by Felix Martinez 




Could it have been a best light full grade of the film and left at that?  I found this interestingAnd also this.



Doubtful, but it may have come from an element that needed a bit of additional help, and was transferred as, or close to, a one-lite.


The pity is that it would not have taken a great deal of pain to get this near proper, even from a lesser element.


RAH



"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#12 of 16 OFFLINE   Felix Martinez

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Posted June 17 2011 - 09:23 AM

Ugh. I now have a setting on my projector nudging things a few points in the other direction, just for this title.

#13 of 16 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted June 17 2011 - 10:14 AM



Originally Posted by Felix Martinez 

Ugh. I now have a setting on my projector nudging things a few points in the other direction, just for this title.


I'm certain that I'm preaching to the choir, in saying that one should not have to have a setting for each improperly transferred Blu-ray.



"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#14 of 16 OFFLINE   Felix Martinez

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Posted June 17 2011 - 10:21 AM



Originally Posted by Robert Harris 




I'm certain that I'm preaching to the choir, in saying that one should not have to have a setting for each improperly transferred Blu-ray.


Special Features Include: Deleted Scenes, Audio Commentary, Interactive Color Correction




#15 of 16 OFFLINE   Paul_Scott

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Posted June 17 2011 - 12:12 PM



Originally Posted by Robert Harris 




I'm certain that I'm preaching to the choir, in saying that one should not have to have a setting for each improperly transferred Blu-ray.



I'm getting closer to setting up an excel list to keep track of all the calibration tweaks needed for all these titles to dial them back a little closer to original and natural.

I've been able to get Alien to look less Transformery, but I'm having a harder time getting the blue denim and blue skies in Thelma & Louise to actually look blue and not teal.


I think an expensive video processor is definitely in my future Posted Image




#16 of 16 OFFLINE   SD_Brian

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Posted July 17 2011 - 05:47 PM

Just watched this movie, hadn't seen it before. Being a resident of San Diego County, I recognized some of the locations, specifically the Hotel Del Coronado and La Jolla Cove. Before watching The Stunt Man, I'd never realized they were right next to each other! It always takes me a good 1/2-hour on the freeway to cover the distance. Once I got past that distraction--which was all just another bit of post-modern commentary on movie-fakery anyway--I found the movie to be just okay. Not bad but not what I was expecting.