Recently, thanks to the release of Rambo, people have expressed a newfound appreciation for the bloodthirsty gore of the relentless action flicks of the 80's. Whether or not that means a resurrection for the genre in Hollywood remains to be seen, but it certainly provides for a good opportunity for the studios to re-release such material on DVD and now Blu-ray disc. Fox jumped in with a pair of Schwarzenegger titles, the classic Predator and the less memorable Commando.
Arnold stars as a retired special forces commando named John Matrix. His former colleagues are being brutally and mysteriously murdered by a group of hitmen. John, living peacefully in the mountains with his daughter Jenny (a very young Alyssa Milano), is warned about the attacks just as one is launched on his home. In the process, both he and Jenny are captured. John discovers that the attacks have been spearheaded by a rejected member of his team, Bennett (Vernon Wells). Bennett is working for a toppled South American dictator (Dan Hedaya), who demands that Matrix kill his democratically elected replacement. John initially goes along with the plan, but once on the plane, he kills his chaperon and makes an escape. Now he has eleven hours to rescue Jenny before Bennett discovers Matrix's plan and kills her.
Commando was a hit in the 80's, solidifying Schwarzenegger's stardom after The Terminator. At the time of its release, Commando was a gleeful slice of action machismo. Schwarzenegger walking around in small sleeveless shirts to show off his bulging muscles, ridiculous weaponry, gruesome on-screen deaths, and the requisite nude blond are all present. Audiences ate it up, but the film hasn't aged all that well. What's missing? A story, for one thing. Schwarzenegger's best films (Terminator, Predator, True Lies) all have a compelling story and a cast of characters that you care about and have genuine concern for their well being. Commando rushes in too fast, with characters that are so flat that you just can't care about them. And Bennett is one of the most annoying and obnoxious villains in film history.
On the plus side, the ridiculous action set pieces still work fairly well. Commando was always tongue-in-cheek, and those elements are the ones that have held up the best. Arnold single-handedly flipping a car, for example, or the awful one-liners ("Remember how I told you I'd kill you last? I lied!"). The action itself works well, from the initial killings to the hand-to-hand fights and the final Arnold vs. everyone climax. But again, compared to something like Rambo, Commando seems fairly tame by comparison.
Commando is not Schwarzenegger's best, and ultimately a minor entry in his catalog. Perhaps the best example of how badly this film has dated is the final scene, where Arnold rides off in a seaplane while a generic 80's soft rock song plays over the soundtrack. The plane circles around and around and around as the credits roll, completely overstaying its welcome while the song becomes incessantly annoying. It's lame, and cheesy, and incredibly dated.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Fox presents Commando in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 in a 1080p MPEG-2 encoded transfer. This isn't the worst high def transfer I've ever seen, but it's certainly far from the best. Granted, the shooting stock and style of the film was going to lead to a soft image, but the problems extend beyond that. As has been noted before by myself and many others, using an inefficient compression codec on a single layer disc is never a good idea, and Commando is no exception. Detail is low, and shadow delineation is downright awful. At times, the image also looks washed out. For the most part, the image is free of artifacts.
Fox provides a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, but really, it's not much to shout about. The sound effects are incredibly dated, from the gun shots to the physical hits. The mix itself is focused on the center speaker, and the few times the surrounds are used, the result is very artificial. The sub track is anemic, without the satisfying thump you'd expect from the film's many explosions and gun shots. Not even the lossless aspect helps, instead making the audio sound even more thin.
Eschewing the many extras available on the standard DVD, Fox gives yet another slap in the face to the high def market by including only the trailer, although admittedly it is in high definition.
Fox gives us a poor presentation of one of Schwarzenegger's more forgettable films with this Blu-ray release of Commando. While 80's action junkies may find some measure of nostalgia here, the vast majority is just plain dated. The poor image and sound quality, combined with Fox's complete disdain for their high def customers through the exclusion of the available special features, makes this one an easy decision. Skip It.
Note: The images in this review do not reflect the image quality of the Blu-ray disc.
Daniel Hirshleifer is the High Definition Editor for DVD Talk.