THE STUNT MAN Blu-ray Review
It defied all odds to become the most unexpected and acclaimed cult hit of the 80s, and it remains one of the most slyly subversive and thrillingly original action/comedy/drama motion pictures of all time. The legendary Peter O'Toole in his iconic Oscar® nominated performance stars as director Eli Cross, a deliciously megalomaniacal madman commanding a film-set circus where a paranoid young veteran (Steve Railsback) finds himself maybe replacing a dead stunt man, possibly falling for the beautiful leading lady (Barbara Hershey), and discovering that love, death and the mayhem of moviemaking can definitely be the wildest illusions of all. THE STUNT MAN now features a stunning HD transfer supervised by Oscar® nominated producer/director Richard Rush, plus new interviews and commentaries with Rush, Peter O'Toole, Steve Railsback and Alex Rocco, all in the ultimate edition of the classic that the Los Angeles Times calls as innovative today as Citizen Kane was in its time!It had been at least 9 or 10 years since I'd seen The Stunt Man before watching this brand new Blu-ray disc last week. A lot has happened to me in that decade, most important here is my own maturation and ability to look at films with a more well developed eye and sense of context. When I first watched it, I found it to be a nifty look inside the movie industry, but revisiting The Stunt Man, it becomes much more. The Stunt Man is a look at our own ways of seeing the world, we travel through Richard Rush's wonderland at once on top of the world and fearful of each new corner that must be turned. The film as metaphor for individual paranoia, and ultimately as a criticism of the very fears that make us human has become too blatant to ignore.
Typically when I'm addressing a film in a critical context, I'm able to single out and identify the individual parts that make it work. It isn't that easy with The Stunt Man, everything works. I can't say that the acting saves the film, or the writing, or the effects, or the score, or the pacing, it is all perfect. I suppose that in cases like this, it is only fair to credit the one man more responsible that anyone, Richard Rush, the director.
Rush's Stunt Man was a labor of love, and one that he fought like hell to get made and seen. It was Rush who chose Peter O'Toole to play the megalomaniacal Eli Cross, a performance which featured him in full bore God-mode, and won him one of his eight Oscar nominations (unluckily in a year that also featured De Niro in Raging Bull). It was Rush who wrote the bulk of the script and who took every opportunity, even and perhaps especially on set, to make the film dig a little bit deeper and keep the pressure on his cast and crew to keep up with his fantastic vision. It was Rush knew exactly how to push every single person under his care to put forth their absolute best performance, in many cases, the best they ever gave. Rush's Stunt Man could've been something much less than it was, but each and every decision he made was the right one and he single handedly kept the film on point and managed to create something still as yet unparalleled.
This was a "meta" film, before it was cool. What seemed to be made on a massive scale to the viewer was initially viewed by the main investor as a tax write-off. Everyone making the film insists that it was in no way autobiographical, but after having watched it and watched Rush talking about it, I can't help but believe that Eli Cross was at least a little bit of Richard Rush. The Stunt Man is a stunner of a film, and one that deserves all of the accolades it has received, and deserved to be treated better upon release. This Blu-ray has already garnered the film and its cast and some well-deserved reassessment; just a couple of days ago The New York Times published an interview with O'Toole about the film, and he remains adamant that it was one of his finest moments. He is right to be proud, as is Rush, and everyone else associated with the film. It is a magnificent achievement.
Severin Films' Blu-ray of The Stunt Man is fucking insane. Upon the film opening, some viewers might be taken aback at the amount of invasive grain from the opening close up, but pressing on through the next few seconds clarifies image significantly and lets us know that we're in for a treat. The image is pretty damned clean, and there is a wonderful texture to the image that DVD could never touch. One thing that Severin is good at is restoration when they really put their minds to it, and this one is a biggie in their catalog. Severin are among the proud independent home video distributors who regularly reject excessive digital manipulation of their films. There is no DNR to speak of, and the grain field is gloriously intact. It looks like you're watching a film, and not just a movie, something that even the big studios with all of their resources can't often say.
The Stunt Man is provided a DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio remix of the original mono audio track. It, too, is clean as a whistle. The surround remix sounds pretty great, although there is a moment at the beginning that feels out of place when a car whirls around and the tire screeches move around the room. It isn't poorly done, it just feels a bit out of place in the film, fortunately after that it settles down and everything sounds great with little to no distraction.
As if the film weren't enough, and I'd be ecstatic with just a barebones disc with the quality of this transfer, Severin Films have given The Stunt Man their most elaborate package to date. Packed with around 6 hours of bonus materials (including the commentary), one could feasibly spend 8 hours with The Stunt Man and never get bored. The commentary is ported over from the previous Anchor Bay disc and is a lively one. Rush participates in the commentary, along with all of the main cast. It seems that the commentary is cobbled together from a few different sources, as I can imagine it would've been a logistical nightmare to get everyone in one place, but it succeeds in being entertaining and informative.
Also ported over is one of the finest supplements ever provided in the DVD age, The Sinister Saga of the Making of The Stunt Man. Richard Rush directed this two hour documentary about his own film back in the mid-90's for the original Anchor Bay LE release. To call it illuminating would be an understatement, but what else would you expect from the man that made this, one of the greatest films about films ever made? It follows the film from conception, production, marketing, distribution, with all of the nightmares and roadblocks that he faced along the way. As O'Toole says in his interview, "the film wasn't released, it escaped!", and boy, is that true. I would pay $20 for a DVD of that documentary alone.
Okay, so that's four hours down, but that's far from the end. Severin have produced new interviews and featurettes with every surviving person significantly involved in the production. There is a 30 minute retrospective of Richard Rush's film career, which goes way back to 1960 and features a number of great exploitation and biker films on the way to The Stunt Man. There are also interview segments with Peter O'Toole who is effusive about his love for both Rush and the film, Barbara Hershey, Steve Railsback, and Alec Rocco. The last major extra is a 20 minute production on the film being shown at LA's New Beverly theater with Hershey, Rush, and Railsback in a Q & A following the screening. Finally Severin have provided a couple of deleted scenes, and a few trailers, including a Spanish language one.
All of this closes in on six hours of stellar extra material, and that volume of material doesn't seem to affect the image or audio quality at all. This is really outstanding work from Severin, who have proven themselves to be one of the finest companies in the world working with cult features. I cannot recommend this package highly enough! If you love movies, and you love movies about movies, you can't not love The Stunt Man, and Severin have given it the release it deserves but would probably never have gotten without them.. Thank you Severin!
Severin Films present The Stunt Man in a REGION FREE Blu-ray and DVD edition that is accessible anywhere in the world, so buy it!
• Audio commentary with writer/director Richard Rush and stars Peter O'Toole, Steve Railsback, Barbara Hershey, Alex Rocco, Sharon Farrell, & Chuck Bail
• The Sinister Saga: The Making of The Stuntman (1:54:21 in 1080i)
• 'The Maverick Career of Richard Rush (34:18 - in 1080P)
• Peter O'Toole Recounts The Stuntman (18:46 - in 1080P)
• Devil's Squadron: An interview with Steve Railsback and Alex Rocco (18:59 in 1080P)
• Barbra Hershey on Nina Franklin (14:23 in 1080P)
• The Stuntman at the New Beverley (17:18 in 1080P)
• 2 Deleted Scenes (Sandpile - 2:39, Police Station - 3:15 - both in 1080P)
• 3 Trailers (Teaser, Theatrical, Spanish)