Blu-ray Review HTF Blu-ray Review: HARD RAIN

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Michael Reuben, Feb 8, 2010.

  1. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

    Feb 12, 1998
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    Hard Rain (Blu-ray)

    Studio: Lionsgate
    Rated: R
    Film Length: 96 min.
    Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
    HD Encoding: 1080p
    HD Codec: AVC
    Audio: English DTS-HD MA 7.1
    Subtitles: English; English SDH; Spanish
    MSRP: $19.99
    Disc Format: 1 25 GB
    Package: Keepcase
    Theatrical Release Date: Jan. 16, 1998
    Blu-ray Release Date: Feb. 9, 2010


    A hybrid of a disaster film and an action picture, Hard Rain should have been better. It certainly cost enough for the era ($70 million), almost none of which it earned back. Has the film improved with time? I don’t think so, but the new Blu-ray from Lionsgate offers a good enough (and cheap enough) presentation that you can judge for yourself.

    The Feature:

    It’s pouring in Huntingburg, Indiana. The water is accumulating so fast that Hank (Wayne Duvall), the operator at the nearby dam, keeps having to vent the excess, sending surges into the town. It’s an old dam. Care to guess whether it survives the movie?

    The town is being evacuated under the supervision of Sheriff Mike (Randy Quaid). It’s likely to be his last official act, as he’s recently been voted out of office, a development considered wildly unfair by his deputies Wayne and Phil (Mark Rolston and Peter Murnik).

    As a precaution, all the local banks are emptying the cash from their vaults. The armored car handling the pickup is driven by an old-timer, Charlie (Ed Asner), and his nephew, Tom (Christian Slater), who’s been on the job only a few months. With almost $3 million in the truck, they get stuck in deep water at the edge of town and radio for help, but it isn’t help that arrives. It’s a gang of armed robbers led by Jim (Morgan Freeman – as a villain!). There’s gunfire, and before long Tom is fleeing through water up to his chest with the cash in tow.

    The rest of Hard Rain is one long series of chases, confrontations and escapes in a landscape that grows more hostile as the waters keep rising. There’s a statue of a man on horseback at the center of town whose gradual submersion marks the increase in water level. Tom doesn’t just have to deal with Jim’s gang, which includes a bomb-making high-school teacher played by Dann Florek (far from the Law and Order franchise), a gun-happy cool dude played by Ricky Harris and the requisite screw-up played by Michael Goorjian. He also has to worry about Sheriff Mike and his men, as well as a brassy local girl named Karen who’s spent eight months restoring a church and doesn’t want anyone looting her project (her weapon of choice is a crucifix the size of a baseball bat). For comic relief that’s not very comic, there’s a bickering couple (Richard Dysart and Betty White) determined to stay and repel any looters with shotguns and bear traps.

    Hard Rain was written by Graham Yost, who’d previously scripted Speed and Broken Arrow. The director was Mikael Solomon, the Danish cinematographer whose credits included The Abyss, Always and Backdraft (making him at least as qualified for the job as Jan de Bont when he directed Speed). So what went wrong?

    Having just viewed Drop Zone, I’d put it this way: They forgot the fun. Action pictures and disaster pictures may look like they’re all about stunts and destruction, but if they don’t have actors giving juicy performances, the film just lies there. Was Speed only about the bus, or was it also about Dennis Hopper’s over-the-top raving as Howard Payne and Sandra Bullock’s goofy delivery of lines like “It’s just like driving a big Pinto!” and Joe Morton’s captain telling his officers, “Don’t get dead!” and a thousand little performance details that made the picture lively and vibrant? The cast in Hard Rain never clicks into that rhythm, despite the presence of people who should be able to do it. Maybe the strain of working in all that water took too much out of them. It should start with the villain – Alan Rickman blazed the trail in Die Hard – and Morgan Freeman shows a glimmer of the right stuff in his first scene when he disciplines a member of the gang. But after that he’s strictly by the numbers, and without a good villian, the film gets as soggy as the town.

    Meanwhile, Christian Slater seemed to have completed the process of shedding the intensity that had made him an arresting screen presence in such early Nineties films as True Romance. Whether it was his producing duties on the film or the personal problems that dogged him throughout the decade, he’s flat and uninteresting as Tom in Hard Rain. And unlike Broken Arrow, he didn’t have someone like Travolta off whom he could play. Minnie Driver had it even worse. She’s always needed a strong male lead to anchor her performances, whether it’s Matt Damon, John Cusack or David Duchovny. But here she’s stuck with Slater, who gives her nothing to work with.


    This is a capable if not stellar presentation. Hard Rain takes place almost entirely at night and in darkened interiors. However, the blacks in this transfer too often shade more toward gray than black. Some of this may be due to the source material, especially given the technical demands of getting rain to register on film. But clearly a decision was made to give contrast a boost during the transfer. This is particularly evident during the long opening shot that moves from an aerial view of the landscape to the streets of the town, where the excess contrast makes the effects work accomplishing the transition stand out very obviously. However, with the exception of that shot, the issue is minor and should not detract from one’s viewing enjoyment.

    The image is suspiciously clean, and it appears to my eye that some light noise reduction has been applied. What remains is highly detailed, however, and I saw no instances of the “wax mannequin” syndrome that indicates aggressive DNR. The film’s muted color palette is well-represented.


    Raining water. Dripping water. Flowing water. Rushing water. These are constant presences in Hard Rain, and the DTS lossless track puts them all around you, all the time. Dialogue is clearly presented, and the usual action and disaster movie events (gunshots, explosions, collisions, etc.) pack the requisite punch. The overly insistent score by Christopher Young (who has done better work elsewhere) is well-presented.

    Special Features:

    Trailer (1:85:1; SD, centered in a 4:3 area). It gives away most of the plot, such as it is, and there’s an air of desperation to the voiceover. Also available both at startup and from the special features menu is a general trailer for Lionsgate Blu-ray, which can be skipped at startup with the chapter button.

    In Conclusion:

    If you’re a fan, this is a more than acceptable presentation, and it’s certainly a vast improvement over the non-enhanced DVD that Paramount (the original studio) released in 1998, when it first began issuing films on digital disc. For anyone else, I recommend a rental.

    Equipment used for this review:

    Panasonic BDP-BD50 Blu-ray player (DTS-HD MA decoded internally and output as analog)
    Samsung HL-T7288W DLP display (connected via HDMI)
    Lexicon MC-8 connected via 5.1 passthrough
    Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier
    Monitor Audio floor-standing fronts and MA FX-2 rears
    Boston Accoustics VR-MC center
    SVS SB12-Plus sub
  2. cafink

    cafink Producer

    Apr 19, 1999
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    Carl Fink
    I've always rather enjoyed this movie. I really like the idea of having the action take place in a nearly-deserted town. Throw in all that rain, and it's a really scary setting that I thought was used rather effectively. I'm happy to be able to replace my DVD.
  3. Neil Middlemiss

    Neil Middlemiss Producer

    Nov 15, 2001
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    Neil Middlemiss
    Thanks for the review, Michael. I was waiting on your review to hit the pre-order on this bad movie that I love to watch. Thanks!
  4. Joseph J.D

    Joseph J.D Cinematographer

    Dec 4, 2001
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    I remember really enjoying this film when I caught it in the theater way back when. It's the only time I've ever watched it because I never purchased Paramount's lackluster DVD. I will certainly pick this one up when it reaches the cheap bins....where I'm sure it will end up eventually.

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