The remake of Gone in 60 Seconds climaxes with a hell of a car chase, clocking in right at ten minutes. That's epic by any standard, and only a tiny handful of movies have delivered chases anywhere near that scale or
scope. If you're impressed by that, then...well, try giving the original 1974 film a spin. Produced for less than the remake probably spent on Nic Cage's hairdye, H.B. Halicki's Gone in 60 Seconds devotes right at half of its runtime to breakneck chases. The climax alone runs forty minutes all told, with just about every last frame of that filled with Detroit muscle soaring across the screen, launching into the air, and smashing through damn near everything in sight. Halicki wasn't one to fake it, not that CGI was much of an option back then anyway. You're lookin' at real cars with real drivers at the wheel, flinging themselves through the streets of Long Beach at 90 mph. The flipside of the case boasts that there are over 500 crashes, and I don't doubt it. Crushed. Exploded. Wrecked. Totaled. Trashed. Gone in 60 Seconds is only a couple of years from ringing in its fortieth anniversary, and in all the decades that've passed since the movie first careened into theaters, its vehicular carnage has very, very rarely been rivaled.
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Gone in 60 Seconds is a car movie in the truest sense of the word. I mean, the top billed actor is Eleanor, a 1973 Ford Mustang, for crying out loud...and, yeah, she's got what it takes to be a star, alright. The movie doesn't let itself get too distracted by pesky little details like plotting or characterization. I remember a bunch of the nicknames that are assigned to the cars, but even when I was in the middle of watching the movie, I couldn't remember a single name of anyone without a carburetor. You can pretty much sum up the entire plot in one sentence: an insurance investigator (played by Halicki) has a side business stealing and swapping cars, and he and his team have less than a week to fill an order for more than forty high-end automobiles. A big chunk of the dialogue was improvised and often creaks along, and the movie's not exactly overflowing with seasoned actors.
None of that matters even a little bit, though. H.B. Halicki set out to make the greatest car chase movie of all time, and that's exactly what he did. Despite its many rough edges, Gone in 60 Seconds easily outclasses the remake because of the era
in which it was made. If Halicki had hopped in the Way Forward Machine and were to try to make the same movie now, he'd have to shoehorn in a tragic backstory, a love interest, a bad guy that gets some obnoxiously over-the-top denouement at the end; shooting the movie outside of the studio system with favors and whatever few bucks he could scrounge up, Halicki didn't have to compromise. Gone in 60 Seconds keeps its focus squarely where it oughtta be: on the cars. Chase sequences nowadays have such claustrophobically tight framing and frantic, hypercaffeinated editing that you can barely tell what's going on. Halicki, meanwhile, wants you to see these breakneck chases. Gone in 60 Seconds does an incredible job capturing that sense of speed and danger, and it's infectious. The movie hardly ever goes more than a minute and a half without reveling in some sort of impossibly gorgeous car, and even those in-between moments usually involve clever scheming, gleefully random moments like a 250 lb. feline surprise lurking in the back of one of the targeted cars, a subplot swirling around a trunkful of heroin, and the occasional beautiful woman. Halicki's passion for cars beams through more brightly than anything else, of course, but his sly sense of humor frequently sneaks in as well. Gone in 60 Seconds doesn't mug for laughs, exactly, but there are some pretty inspired smirks lurking around in here. While it's pretty easy to take jabs at what little writing there is, Halicki does a tremendous job establishing thieves as the movie's hero-types...people that are worth rooting for despite ripping folks off of hundreds of thousands of dollars of property.
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The annoying thing about writing a review like this is that Gone in 60 Seconds isn't really a movie you write about. I mean, if I hammer out a couple of sentences about a car that's T-boned at 84 mph and gets split clean down the middle, that's not going to come close to conveying how incredible it looks on-screen. Blathering on about a high-speed car chase through a Cadillac dealership can't hold a candle to the real thing. I can't convey the scale, spectacle, and sheer destruction of that climactic chase in plain text. The stuff I can write about, like the acting and writing, don't really matter at the end of the day. Look, you can buy this Blu-ray disc online for pocket change, so stop reading this review and check the movie out for yourself. Highly Recommended.
I know we're talking about a fiercely independent movie produced nearly forty years ago that's being more or less self-released on Blu-ray and is going for all of $12.99 brand new at Amazon as I write this, but I promise that I'm not grading on a curve here. Gone in 60 Seconds looks phenomenal in high definition.
When I look down at the notes I scribbled while watching the movie, the first word I jotted down was "pure", and that pretty much sums it up. A lot of films of this vintage wind up getting processed and filtered to death on Blu-ray, to the point where they start to look more like video than film. A lot of care clearly went into cleaning up Gone in 60 Seconds for the format, but it's been handled the right way. Its gritty, filmic texture is wholly intact, not digitally smeared away. I get the sense that every trace of detail and clarity that can possibly be resolved is on display here. Its colors pack a wallop, not suffering from any fading whatsoever. Black levels are perhaps a bit too dense but haven't been taken to an unfortunate extreme. Gone in 60 Seconds isn't dragged down by even a little bit of wear or damage. Its coarse texture seems like it ought to be challenging to compress, but despite its modest bitrate, the AVC encode handles the sheen of film grain very skillfully. It's a rough-hewn movie, and some of the underlit shots are excessively, indescribably dark, but...well, I can't really pin the blame for that on this Blu-ray disc.
I have a couple DVDs of Gone in 60 Seconds handy, including the non-anamorphic DVD issued over a decade ago, so I went ahead and snapped a few screenshot comparisons. Click on any of these images to open them up to full-size:
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When I had the original DVD release and this Blu-ray disc spinning simultaneously in separate windows, this high-def remaster looks somewhat contrasty. Look at how much tougher it is to discern the top of that wooden beam in the upper-right of the first set of comparisons, for instance; it's more clearly visible on the non-anamorphic version and devoured by the shadows in the others. I didn't notice anything like that until I started doing direct comparisons, though. Viewing this Blu-ray disc on its own, contrast looked spot-on to my eyes.
So, yeah, I'm pretty thrilled with the way Gone in 60 Seconds looks on Blu-ray. I was hoping for the best and all, but this disc easily eclipses anything I could possibly have expected.
Gone in 60 Seconds tears its way onto Blu-ray on a single layer disc, and the presentation is lightly matted to preserve the film's original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The second disc in the set is an anamorphic widescreen DVD minted from the same high-def master.
There are a slew of soundtracks to choose from on this Blu-ray disc: a DTS 5.1 track, that same remix in Dolby Digital 5.1 (640kbps), and a stereo downmix (256kbps). If you get really hung up on technical specs, the bad news is that none of these are lossless. On paper, that's disappointing, but in practice, the full-bitrate, 24-bit DTS soundtrack
comes so close that I'm sure any differences would negligible.
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More unfortunate is that there are three soundtracks to choose from here -- four, if you count the commentary! -- and none of them feature the original music or sound effects. As clean and clear as the updated sound effects are, they fit really well into the film. I mean, if there hadn't been someone in the extras expressly spelling out that so many of these effects have been re-recorded, I'm not sure I would've clued in. The score, on the other hand...? Absolutely nothing about these revisionist choices in music screams "1974!" I get that the point is to help Gone in 60 Seconds feel more modern, but it doesn't really work. The updated musical selections are okay but skew kinda generic. Technically, they're rendered flawlessly on Blu-ray...clarity is off-the-charts, and the music's reinforced by a devastating low-end. It's kind of jarring, though, to have visuals that -- as terrific as they look in HD! -- are very much rooted in the 1970s, and the music sounds as if it could've been recorded last Thursday. I just really, really wish the original monaural soundtrack had been available as an option. I'm not even saying that this re-envisioned approach should've been nixed...just give me the choice of listening to the movie as it was originally intended along with the updated soundtracks. That omission is really the only thing keeping this disc from being the definitive release of Gone in 60 Seconds.
Okay, okay, moving past all that, I'm not left with much else to gripe about. The six-channel remix is aggressive without getting all forced and gimmicky about it, and the car chases are teeming with silky smooth pans from the surrounds up to the front. I really do feel as if I'm riding shotgun with Vicinski. The film's dialogue is presented about as well as it realistically can be. The quality is all over the place, sometimes sounding impressively clean and clear, and other times...well, not so much. There's one sequence in particular in a racing team's garage where I could barely make out anything that's being said, and the heavy reverb in the rear channels didn't help. Generally, though, the reproduction of the dialogue hits the marks I'd expect it to. If you can look past the revisionism -- which admittedly can be a tall order -- this is a very solid effort.
In case you depend on that sort of thing, it might be worth noting that there aren't any subtitles on this Blu-ray disc.
- Introduction (3 min.; SD): Gone in 60 Seconds features an optional intro by Denice Halicki, the widow of the late filmmaker and the caretaker of his movies.
- Audio Commentary: It's not listed on the flipside of the case, and you won't even find it under the 'Bonus Features' menu, but there really is a commentary track on this Blu-ray disc. Cameraman Jack Vacek and editor Warner Leighton -- the latter of whom is unfortunately no longer with us -- share their memories about being part of such a wildly unconventional production. I mean, there wasn't really a script, Leighton was being handed footage
with no slates and little context, and he somehow had to make somethin' out of it. This is a movie that was heavily self-financed and so low budget that production would occasionally screech to a halt, giving H.B. Halicki the time to rebuild some cars and offset the cost of fresh film stock. You get to hear about tiger-killing chicken bones, the MPAA frowning on all the topless pinups in the garage, and where the climax was cut short in Norway. It also goes without saying that Leighton and Vacek delve into the dazzling and frequently dangerous stuntwork, unconventional photography, and infectious passion of the film's multihyphenated writer/director/producer/stuntman/star. Well worth a listen.
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- The Life and High Times of H.B. Halicki (45 min.; SD): As much as I like the audio commentary, the best of the extras on this Blu-ray disc is easily this retrospective that was produced for the Speed Channel. It covers some ground that the commentary misses, such as Gone in 60 Seconds' staggering success at the box office, the "script" being all of 10 pages long, getting some free production value after stumbling upon a real-life train wreck, and accidentally plowing into a couple of the dealer's Cadillacs during one of the movie's most unforgettable sequences. As the title suggests, this doc spans the entirety of Halicki's life and career, not limiting itself to just Gone in 60 Seconds, and that includes some behind the scenes footage from several of his later films. Among the rest of the highlights are peeks at Halicki's other movies, his football field-size collection of toys and cars, his tragic death on the set of one of his movies, the remake of Gone in 60 Seconds, and the restoration of the film for its initial release on DVD...and, yeah, that includes the revisionist soundtrack. If you only have time to give one of the disc's extras a spin, make sure it's this.
- Interviews (18 min.; SD): There are two additional interviews on this Blu-ray disc, clocking in at nine minutes a piece. First up is a conversation with Denice Halicki on the set of the Gone in 60 Seconds remake she helped produce. Halicki appears again as she interviews Lee Iacocca, the father of the Ford Mustang. He speaks about the origins of the Mustang, his longtime adoration of fast cars, and what it was like to see something he helped create take center stage in a feature film.
- Car Crash King's "Cut to the Chases" (38 min.; SD): Three separate reels pile together all the best parts from The Junkman, Deadline Auto Theft, and Gone in 60 Seconds 2.
- Previews (2 min.; SD): Rounding out the extras are a trailer for The Junkman along with a home video promo for Deadline Auto Theft and Gone in 60 Seconds 2.
Gone in 60 Seconds is a combo pack that also includes an anamorphic widescreen DVD.
The Final Word
If you're keeping your fingers crossed for sterling performances and lush characterization, then...well, H.B. Halicki's Gone in 60 Seconds probably isn't gonna be your thing so much. On the other hand, it's car porn, with literally hundreds of high-speed collisions as its money shots and more drop dead gorgeous automobiles on display than you could possibly count. There are a hell of a lot of great car chase movies on Blu-ray -- The French Connection, Ronin, Bullitt, Death Proof, Smokey and the Bandit, and Vanishing Point, just to rattle off a few -- but as spectacular as the driving is throughout that long list, they still have a tough time stacking up next to the epic forty minute chase that closes out Gone in 60 Seconds. It's essential viewing for speed addicts -- wait, you know what I mean -- and a terrific visual presentation, a strong slate of extras, and a bargain basement sticker price make this Blu-ray disc come that much more enthusiastically recommended. Very Highly Recommended.