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The tradition of shabby home video releases continues for "48 HRS"... this time on Blu-Ray
on March 11, 2011
"48 HRS." is a terrific action-comedy that gets everything right for its genre. The action is tough, but not overdone; the comedy is funny, but not over-the-top; the direction by filmmaker Walter Hill is skillful, edgy and playful; the San Francisco location shooting makes for a wonderfully dark, atmospheric and gritty backdrop; the dated-but-effective soundtrack is awesome in its own "1980s" sort of way; and the script is tight and witty, with sharp characterizations and crackling dialogue that is sometimes vulgar, yet always smart. Best of all, the two leads are at the apex of their star power, making the film a joy to watch.
Indeed, this is the film that made Eddie Murphy a superstar, and it's easy to see why. Raw, dynamic and totally charismatic, it is not hyperbole to state that Mr. Murphy's first film performance easily ranks as one of the greatest film debuts in cinematic history. Young, lean and hungry, Murphy plays a semi-tough street hustler/convict with just the right combination of streetwise smarts, slick charm and youthful defiance. While Eddie exudes a certain level of cockiness throughout the film, there are (thankfully) very few signs of the (often unbearable) egocentric smugness that would later come to define much of Mr. Murphy's later 80's film roles. On the other hand, Nick Nolte is no less great, playing a burnt-out, casually racist cop that somehow manages to retain a gruff charm even as his character alternates between being obnoxious and racially offensive. The two actors have distinctly different acting styles, yet the contrast works, as the two performers have genuinely great chemistry when performing together.
If I have one caveat with the film, it's the rampant male chauvinism (a typical characteristic trait that many of Walter Hill's films share) that permeates throughout "48 HRS.", a quality that hasn't aged particularly well over time; fortunately, it's not enough to taint one's overall enjoyment and respect of the film's achievements as a superior piece of pop culture entertainment. Thanks to the many knock-offs' this film has spawned over the years (e.g. "Midnight Run", "Lethal Weapon", "Bad Boys", "Rush Hour", etc.) aspects of "48 HRS" undoubtedly seem hackneyed by today's standards, but even so, the film manages to engage and thrill in a way that still feels fresh after all these years. A five star film (out of five).
Unfortunately, Paramount has never seen fit to release this highly influential film in a home video release worthy of its quality. The first DVD release from 1999 is in non-anamorphic widescreen, and barren of any type of special features. The second DVD release from 2007 is a decent (if minor) step-up, a budget title that paired up "48 HRS." with its inferior sequel "Another 48 HRS" on one dual-layer, single-sided disc with no extras. While this guaranteed a rather anemic bit-rate for both films, the presentation for both films is in 16x9 anamorphic widescreen and (surprisingly) both look and sound pretty good, all things considered; unfortunately, as with the 1999 release, the 2007 edition contains no special features. Finally, a third release followed shortly in 2008, an "I Love The 80's" DVD edition of "48 HRS.", which unfortunately is the exact same bare-bones non-anamorphic widescreen edition that was released in 1999. It seemed that "48 HRS." would never get its due respect on DVD, leaving fans to hope that the inevitable Blu-Ray release would finally do the film some justice.
Well, prepare to have your hopes dashed, as Paramount has released an incredibly weak Blu-Ray catalogue title. The 1080P picture quality is certainly sub-par, as the master used for this Blu-Ray release looks worn, faded and tired; in other words, the film master used for this release is crap. There is dirt and excessive film grain rampant throughout. Contrast is mediocre, with blacks alternating between looking pretty good and dark grey. Colors pop slightly better than the DVD, but generally come across as muted and flat. Sharpness wavers from scene to scene, with some scenes looking pretty good, and other scenes coming across as so soft, you'll swear you're watching a shoddy DVD. About the only thing this Blu-Ray picture has going for it is that there isn't any noticeable DNR or edge enhancement... but considering the overall disappointment of this Blu-Ray release, this is a small consolation at best. This is not the worst Blu-Ray title I've ever seen, but it is certainly one of the most disappointing, considering the caliber of this film.
The audio fares little better, with the Dolby True HD 5.1 sound coming across only slightly better than earlier DVD iterations. Bass is decent at times, but stereo separation overall sounds weak and muddled, even for a 1980's action film. Overall, about the only thing you'll notice different about this Blu-Ray soundtrack from its 5.1 Dolby Digital DVD counterpart is that its mixed louder.
To add insult to injury, there are no extras to be found outside of the included trailer.
At a ridiculous sticker price of $24.99, this throw-away catalog release is absolutely sure to disappoint both hardcore and casual fans. While the picture and sound quality is a step-up from the non-anamorphic 1999 (and 2008) DVD release, it is in fact only barely superior to the 2007 16x9 anamorphic widescreen release, and has no special features to speak of. Therefore, unless you can grab the Blu-Ray for $10.00 or less, I recommend the 2007 double-feature DVD release of "48 HRS" over the Blu-Ray release. The picture and sound quality on the 2007 edition is good for a DVD (especially when upconverted), the price is right at 9-12 dollars brand new, and it's the only home video version of "48 HRS." that comes with any special features, namely the sequel "Another 48 HRS" (as a side note, the "48 HRS." DVD double feature is still the only way to see "Another 48 HRS." in 16x9 anamorphic widescreen, as the stand-alone release is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen only).
If Paramount chose to release "48 HRS." on Blu-Ray as a double bill feature similar to the 2007 DVD release, the $24.99 sticker price would be far more tolerable; in fact, this is exactly what Warner Brothers has been doing recently with the release of some of their catalog titles (e.g. "Analyze This"/"Analyze That" and "Presumed Innocent"/"Frantic"). While those double feature releases carry no special features, the comparable $24.99 sticker price certainly feels a lot less painful. Of course, the most ideal situation would be for Paramount to wake up and (finally) show this film some respect, by giving "48 HRS." a proper home video release, remastered and full of special features... because ultimately this is what a classic film like as "48 HRS." really deserves. Chalk this up as yet another Blu-Ray disappointment.