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One year after a tragic accident claimed the life of a friend, rescue climber Gabe Walker (Sylvester Stallone), returns to the Rocky Mountain town where it happened – and to the girlfriend he left behind. When a gang of armed criminals led by Eric Quaylen (John Lithgow) hijack a U.S. Treasury jet and crash land in the mountains, Walker is soon back in the harness. Three suitcases packed with $100 million are missing atop the treacherous, snow-capped peaks. With his friend Hal Tucker (Michael Rooker) being held hostage by the crooks, the race is on to get to see who can reach the bounty first.

Originally released in 1993, Cliffhanger is a welcome new issue on DVD. The stunning widescreen vistas (the Italian Alps standing in for the real Rockies) are breathtaking even on the small screen and home theatre buffs are well served by a soundtrack that gives surround speakers a solid workout. From the opening seconds, when a helicopter swoops through the peaks and circles the viewer, the deafening tone is set, and even in rare quiet moments the rear speakers bristle with the sound of swirling winds and mountaintop echoes.

Watching on DVD also means you can cut right to the chase. Aside from a stunning opening sequence, Cliffhanger’s initial scenes are exposition of the lowest order with stilted dialog and a flat, by-the-numbers reunion between Stallone and his girlfriend/chopper pilot played by Taylor. Once things heat up Sly runs through his usual repertoire of grunts and lip-curls and it’s good to see him back in action. Cliffhanger was a career-resurrection feature for Stallone, whose attempts to broaden his acting palette post-Rambo had stumbled badly. Sly slimmed down from beefcake to lean meat to convince as a rescue climber whose crisis of confidence is cut short once a gun is pointed at his head. It’s a virtuoso physical performance in which Stallone – who did 95% of his own stunts – hangs tough on the rock face while his enemies plunge, Wily Coyote-like to the canyon floor. John Lithgow is keenly aware that he has the only good lines in the show and delivers them like the hammiest of vaudeville villains. “You want to kill me don’t you?” he spits. “Well take a number and get in line.”

Whether you would want to line up for the DVD release’s extra features is debateable. There’s plenty of additions padding out the disc, but it’s mostly filler. The voice-over commentaries – and there are two -- are like listening to paint dry. Harlin is hardly a scintillating speaker at the best of times, and while there are nuggets to be gleaned listening to the thought processes of any director, the commentaries quickly become repetitive. There are only so many times you can be told how cold it was on location, and how that really is Sly hanging from that rock, before you begin imitating the long, drawn out screams of the movie’s less sure-footed climbers.

In separate interviews, Harlin, who also helmed Die Hard 2 and Cutthroat Island, admits that uppermost in his mind when shooting is catching “trailer moments” on camera – action sequences arresting enough to include in the 30 second teaser. Harlin’s reasons for leaving the two deleted scenes on the cutting room floor are also revealing: both were superhuman stunts that made Stallone’s Gabe Walker look too heroic and Ramboesque.

Most interesting, however, are the storyboards. Harlin assembled some 2,500 illustrations before commencing shooting, referring to them like a comic book on set. Three lengthy action scenes are presented side by side with the corresponding sequence of drawings, showing just how the movie was transferred from drawing board to celluloid. As an insight into the shooting of the film it is certainly more instructive that the making-of documentary Stallone on the Edge. A marketing-driven puff piece, the 15-minute short is little more than an extended trailer intercut with interviews of the stars complementing the director on his “vision.” Stallone’s mugging does at least remind us why his comedies flopped so badly. If nothing else, we have Cliffhanger to thank that there was no Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot 2.
Stuart Whitmore

Published August 2, 2001

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You can buy it HERE - next day delivery within Australia


CAST: Sylvester Stallone, John Lithgow, Michael Booker, Janine Turner

DIRECTOR: Renny Harlin

RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: June 14, 2001

Widescreen presentation of the film; Introduction by the Director; Audio commentary (Director & Stallone); Audio commentary (Editor & Technical Crew); Stallone on the Edge: 15-minute making of the feature; Special effects featurette; Theatrical trailer; Deleted scenes; Photo gallery; Talent profiles; Storyboards; Languages: English, French, Spanish; Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Swedish, Icelandic, Norwegian, Danish, Hebrew; Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1

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