Cliffhanger, 1993, 113 mins, 4K UHD
Its some kind of wonderful when I return to a film I used to really enjoy and discover that it still works, that it still has that ‘magic’ that appealed to me back in the day. There’s nothing sadder than returning to a film once beloved and realising its actually a dud, that its nowhere near as good as it once seemed to be. Thankfully that’s not the case with Renny Harlin’s 1993 thriller Cliffhanger, which I watched last night for the first time in, oh, must be getting on for twenty years now, other than catching bits of the film on tv screenings.
How is it possible that Cliffhanger is getting on for thirty years old now? Here I go again, measuring the passing of years by accounting film release dates: in this case, it feels like another life, Cliffhanger dates back to before I was married. Mind, it doesn’t escape me that the Showcase Cinema in which I first saw the film back in 1993, a still fairly-new, state-of-the-art multiplex cinema at the time, has recently been demolished to be replaced by a car supermarket. Cliffhanger has seen a cinema gone, and home video formats come and go (VHS, laserdisc, DVD etc). Seems everything is transient, but the films remain.
We had it good back then, looking back- when Arnie and Sly were in their prime. I think Cliffhanger can arguably qualify has Sly’s best film other than First Blood.
John Lithgow steals the show though. His evil Eric Qualen character is despicable and rotten to the core, and Lithgow pushes his performance to the brink of Panto holiday season. He looks like he’s having the time of his life, bless him, and its great. Its at just the right level of theatrical bombast to match Sly’s larger than life physicality. Lithgow’s stooges suffer by comparison, but Craig Fairbrass is fairly memorable daring to use Sly as a football -until Hal (Michael Rooker) informs him “Season’s over, asshole!” Cliffhanger has some fantastic dialogue/memorable lines that enable the cast to chew up the scenery while standing still. Between this, Robocop and Total Recall it feels like a long-lost art now.
So much impresses regards this film. The action sequences are great, the film benefits massively from dating back to the pre-CGI era; there is a sense of tactile reality to it, and most of the optical work is actually very good (a few miniatures betray the films age but if anything possibly just add to its old-school charm). It is also well-served by a bombastic music score from Trevor Jones that sounds like a curious mix of Predator and Last of the Mohicans to my ears now, but adds a great energy to the film that film scores these days largely lack. Its watching films like this that makes me think they just don’t make ’em like they used to, and its true. Some people will think that’s a good thing, mind… but not me.
Hang on, Sly- it won’t be long before I give this disc another spin.