Blu-ray Review: MIDNIGHT EXPRESS

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Release date: July 21st, 2009
MSRP: $38.96

Director: Alan Parker
Writer: Oliver Stone
Stars: Brad Davis, Bo Hopkins, Randy Quaid, John Hurt
Theatrical release date: October 6th, 1978

Midnight Express is a damn impressive, and powerful, film that I kind of regret watching.

While is it a well-made film, it pretty much sucks the life right out of you, leaving a desire to crawl into bed with your favorite blankie.

Based (loosely) on a true story, Billy Hayes (Brad Davis) gets caught attempting to smuggle a couple kilos of hash out of Turkey. He initially is sentenced to three years, only to have it changed to thirty years. Now 30 years in prison sounds awful to anyone, but in Turkey, we are talking about hell on Earth. This film actually scared a lot of young tourists and likely prevented plenty of from attempting to do the same.

Over the course of the film, Billy’s sanity (and humanity) slowly starts to slip. We get a front seat to watch his descent into madness. The film makes excellent use of lighting, photography and music to give the viewers the same sense of dread and despair that Billy must be feeling as well as creating an atmosphere that makes his collapse very understandable.

But, I have to say that as clever as it sometimes feels, there is plenty of glaring errors or weak spots. I can’t help but think that ME would have been even more effective if a little time was spent getting the viewer familiar with Billy. I felt bad for his situation, but did not feel a real connection to the guy. I felt like he was a sap that did something really stupid and paid the price.

Oliver Stone wrote the screenplay and it certainly has Ollie’s style. This is good and bad, there are moments that feel preachy (and even racist) and lack any semblance of subtlety. But with those shortcomings are the power and drama that Stone is a master of. The more powerful scenes are very vintage Stone and while another write might have done better in some areas, the overall film would likely not be nearly as powerful.

Video:
Midnight Express is presented in 1080p with a ratio of 1.85:1. It looks damn good. The print has either been restored or they found one in pristine condition. There are vitually no scratches or even fading of color. Everything looks like it was made yesterday rather then decades ago.

Even the darkest scenes, the level of detail is impressive. With the HD picture, I felt all the more overwhelmed by Billy situation. The grime and filth, of both the prison and it’s inhabitants, really stands out.

Audio:
For sound, we get TrueHD with a 5.1 mix. Since there is not a lot of action, it does not make full use of the potential of said system. The overall sound is fine, but don’t expect any fireworks.

In addition to the TrueHD, we get the original mono track, a Spanish 2.0 as well as TrueHD tracks for French and Portuguese. We also get subtitles for English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

Extras:
We get some nice packaging with a 32 page book that includes photos, production drawings, an essay by director Alan Parker and some pages from the screenplay.

The commentary track is from Parker. He is pretty low-key, but offers insight into the film. He talks not only about the technical aspects, but also about what he was trying to convey in various scenes. Not for a casual film-goer, but then I don’t expect a casual film-goer to buy this or look for commentary tracks.
Also included are a trio of featurettes that total out at about 100 minutes. These take us through the creative process, from pre-production all the way to the completed film. These include comments from Parker, Stone, the real Bill Hayes as well as some castmembers.

Midnight Express left a mark on our culture when it was released, leaving most of America with hellish images of foreign prisons and the atrocities that would certainly occur if they were locked up. Truth be told, I would guess that there was a drop-off in the number of Americans that visited Turkey in the year or two after the film was released. Though not without it’s flaws, it is a powerful piece of filmmaking that will certainly invoke powerful emotions in all but the most hard-hearted viewer.

Order the Blu-ray of MIDNIGHT EXPRESS.

Jeremy Lynch
For more reviews from myself, and the rest of the Crimespree crew, check out the index of reviews.