Director: Renny Harlin
Screenplay: Michael France, Sylvester Stallone
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, John Lithgow, Michael Rooker, Janine Turner, Leon Robinson, Paul Winfield, Ralph Waite
Duration: 113 min
BBFC Certification: 15
What do you get when you mix Sylvester Stallone with mountains, snow, explosions, bad guys and piles of stolen money? The answer is, of course, Cliffhanger – the 1993 action adventure that sees Stallone play Gabe Walker – a Colorado mountain ranger who, despite being struck by tragedy, sets about righting high altitude wrongs.
Like the trio of original Rambo movies, Cliffhanger has been given the 4K makeover treatment and has been re-released as a bumper, extra-laden treat for true Stallone fans. And, to be honest, you’ll need to be a true Stallone fan to shell out for this one.
Reversing in time back to 1993, Cliffhanger was a box office smash and you can understand why. It is occasionally very tense, it is certainly action-packed and the film has some of the most fantastical stunts ever created. And, of course, there’s Stallone: flexing, grimacing, delivering one-liners and posing to perfection.
In many ways, Gabe Walker, is, of course, an amalgam of John Rambo and Rocky Balboa. The M60 madark-eyed is replaced by carabiners, ropes and crampons. The boxing belts are swapped for ice picks and harnesses. The dark eyed tough man with aching vulnerabilities angle remains largely the same though. And that’s the point: it’s a familiar and predictable slab of Stallone shaped escapism. That, in 1993, was enough to keep cinema tills ringing.
But does Cliffhanger still work today? As a piece of nostalgia, most certainly. If you loved the film 25 years ago, you’ll love it today too. Indeed, thanks to the 4K restoration, you might even love it a bit more. For all its faults, Cliffhanger is an occasionally beautiful movie. The snow-covered mountain vistas are so lovely you’ll want to pause the movie and savour them in all their 4K glory.
What makes this all the more noteworthy, from a movie-making perspective, is Cliffhanger comes from a time before drones and CGI. Those Rocky Mountains are real and rocky mountains. They’re not the actual Rockies though. Cliffhanger was shot in the Italian Dolomites, we learn in the disc’s extras. Italy’s snow-covered peaks were apparently adjudged to be better looking than America’s mountains. That inconsequential detail aside, Cliffhanger’s makers did an amazing job with real cameras, real stunt people and real ropes. And 4K lets you appreciate this all the more.
But, in 2018, is Cliffhanger a movie that stands on its own two feet? Probably not. The story is rather weak, the main characters are somewhat cliched, the dialogue is occasionally diabolical, supporting actors are sometimes wooden and the movie’s defining stunts feel excessive to the point of being completely unbelievable. That 4K makeover makes the movie’s use of greenscreen special effects unwelcomely obvious too.
Special features include:
Commentary with Director Renny Harlin and Sylvester Stallone
Technical Crew Commentary
Personal Introduction from Renny Harlin
Stallone on the Edge: The Making of Cliffhanger
Special Effects: Sarah’s Fall & The Helicopter Explosion
Trailer Introduction from Renny Harlin
This is a good bag of bonuses which, again, shine a spotlight on how action movies were made a quarter of a century ago. Back then, in the days before drones and computers, making action movies of this ilk seemed to be almost as dangerous and fraught as the movies themselves. And that’s something worth exploring, understanding and savouring.
In summary, the Cliffhanger re-issue is one for true Stallone fans alone – people with hunger for nostalgia. If that’s you, you’ll love it. If you’re not looking for a high-resolution dash down memory lane, give it a miss. Cliffhanger is too much a child of its time and time has, sadly, moved on.