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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » River of Death (Blu-ray)
River of Death (Blu-ray)
Kino // R // May 26, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted April 28, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
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The Movie:

Helmed by prolific action film director Steve Carver (who was behind Lone Wolf McQuade, An Eye For An Eye and Bulletproof to name only a few) and based on the novel of the same name by Alistair MacLean, 1989's River Of Death was a Cannon Films production obviously inspired by the success of the Indiana Jones films.

The movie begins at the end of the Second World War. A Nazi scientist hides his daughter under a table after which she sees him shot dead by Dr. Wolfgang Manteuffel (Robert Vaughn). Manteuffel is then told by commanding officer Heinrich Spaatz (Donald Pleasence) that the Russians are coming and that they need to get out. Manteuffel agrees but shoots Spaatz in the leg before the escape is made.

A decade or two later and we head from Germany to Brazil where we meet an adventurer named John Hamilton (Michael Dudikoff). He's accompanying Doc Blakesley (Victor Melleney) and his foxy daughter Anna (Sara Maur Thorp) on a philanthropic mission through the jungle to help inoculate a native tribe against a deadly disease. Things head south quick and before you know it Doc is dead and Anna has been captured. Hamilton escapes but he's got a thing for Anna so you just know he's going to return. Once back in civilization, however, a man named Hiller (L.Q. Jones) talks Hamilton into accepting an offer from a relocated Spaatz who wants him to help lead he and his men to a fabled lost city. Hamilton agrees, for the right price, knowing that this could give him a chance to find and free Anna from her jungle prison. There's also the lure of some serious treasure, but local official Colonel Ricardo Diaz (Herbert Lom) makes it very clear to Hamilton that anything he finds out there in the Amazon belongs to the state. Will all of this somehow tie into the opening scene involving Manteuffel and his sinister, unholy experiments? Obviously.

River Of Death mixes up Boys From Brazil style Nazi conspiracy theories with Raiders Of The Lost Ark inspired jungle adventuring but never quite reaches the same heights as either of those movies. Sure, it's entertaining enough and it makes for a pretty easy, even enjoyable, B-movie but there are definitely moments in the film that absolutely reek of wasted potential. The most obvious? Vaughn's evil Nazi scientist. He just doesn't get as much screen time here as you want him to. He's fun in the part, his hair looking to have been dyed with greasy black shoe polish and his accent moving in and out and never really properly gelling, but we don't get enough of him. Pleasence fares a little better and he's a kick to watch. His Spaatz is a womanizing, dirty old man with a goofy hair piece and a constant gleam in his eye. Pleasence seems to be having a good time hamming it up in the film and he steals more than a few scenes.

As to The Dude? He's fine in the role. He doesn't have the charisma of a Harrison Ford but he handles the action sequences rather well and he makes for a reasonably dashing action/adventure hero. He did better in more traditional action films like Avenging Force and the American Ninja films but Carver gets adequate work from the man in this film. His voice over work lacks enthusiasm, however. L.Q. Jones is fun in his supporting role while Sara Maur Thorp is… pretty. We'll leave it at that.

River Of Death didn't have a massive budget but the production crew do a decent job of stretching what they had to work with. Yeah, the makeup effects on Sara Maur Thorp at the big finish are fairly terrible but the lost city, ripe with booby traps and pitfalls aplenty, turns out to be pretty much the perfect playground for all of this to happen on. The action quotient his plenty high here too. Not only do we get loads of scenes of natives chasing people through the jungle throwing poorly aimed spears at them but we get lots of firefights, shoot-outs and explosions. There's even some good old fashioned fist-fighting here too. The movie is a bit long for what it is, running a good fifteen minutes past where it probably should have been, but all in all, as derivative and oddly paced as this one is, River Of Death makes for fine, completely disposable entertainment.

The Blu-ray:

Video:

River Of Death arrives on Blu-ray from Kino in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.78.1 widescreen. Colors are reproduced really well here and they look consistently natural, as do skin tones. Detail is very strong throughout, particularly in close up shots. The image is also quite clean throughout, save for some noticeable but minor print damage more prominent in the opening few minutes than anywhere else. You'll notice film grain, as you should, but no serious print damage, whatever elements were used were obviously in good shape. Black levels are pretty solid here and there are no problems at all with any edge enhancement or noise reduction. All in all, this is a very nice transfer from Kino.

Sound:

The only audio option for the feature is an English language Stereo track presented in DTS-HD lossless format. There are no alternate language options, subtitles or closed captions provided. Balance is good, depth and range are solid and the dialogue and score both sound quite nice. No issues with any hiss or distortion to note. There is some pretty effective channel separation during some of the action sequences that helps add to the fun here.

Extras:

Extras start off with a commentary track from Dudikoff and Carver moderated by Bill Olsen. The track occasionally has some pacing issues where the participants go a bit quiet but overall this is a decent look back at the making of the movie. Carver speaks quite favorably about his relationship with Golan and Globus and he discusses shooting the film on location while Dudikoff talks about the stunts required for the role, the dangers of using squibs on set and more. Carver also expresses his admiration for Donald Pleasence, noting various bits and pieces that the actor ad-libbed in the film. Aside from that we get a theatrical trailer for the film, static menus and chapter selection.

Final Thoughts:

River Of Death is going to appeal more to Cannon Films aficionados and Dudikoff diehards than the average movie fan but it is a pretty enjoyable jungle adventure picture. The fact that it's got Vaughn and Pleasence in decent supporting roles definitely helps, and it's never a bad thing to have L.Q. Jones on board. The movie is a bit long and it drags a little in the middle part but the ending more than makes up for that. B-movie action fans should get a serious kick out of this and Kino's Blu-ray not only looks really nice and sounds quite good, but it throws in a decent audio commentary too. Recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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