Review for Cliffhanger
Sylvester Stallone is the strangest person when it comes to films. When he is great (Rocky, Creed, First Blood) he is amazing, when he’s not (More or less anything else) he’s either enjoyably bad or just bad. I can’t make up my mind with his 1993 film Cliffhanger.
Stallone stars as Gabe Walker a mountain ranger who in a rescue attempt fails to rescue his friends’ girlfriend in one of the tensest opening scenes of any movie. It is a scene that has been parodied multiple times, but I think it is pretty great and as someone who is afraid of heights the whole film hit all the right notes with me. After this, he leaves, feeling guilty for the incident.
Returning, to collect his things and leave for good, he gets involved with a distress call that is a hoax. A plane transporting $100 million from the US Treasury has been hijacked by a mercenary Eric Qualen who needs the help of the Rangers to find the lost suitcases filled with the money. Now Gabe must use all his skills to thwart Qualen and rescue his friends.
I am going to go out on a limb and say that I really enjoyed this film, faults and all. It is not surprising that the film was nominated for Worst Picture at the Golden Raspberry (losing to Indecent Proposal), but this is not an awful film by any stretch. A lot of the criticism is aimed at John Lithgow as the English bad guy Qualen and his awful English accent. I didn’t mind it, granted after years of watching Third Rock from the Sun all I could imagine is him as Dick Solomon from the show. The biggest surprise is Michael Rooker as a good guy. Again, after years of watching him as bad guys in The Walking Dead and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, seeing him as a good character was so bizarre.
The film itself is a mess of over the top action scenes, but they all work and Stallone is pretty good throughout and this role felt like a natural fit for him. Director Renny Harlin was able to construct a film that was able to crank up the action and these scenes all looked amazing. I enjoyed most of the set pieces with the opening; the plane heist and the end fight remarkable action scenes. The reason why I think it worked was that as OTT as it was, it did seem to pull back on some of the scenes (which we later find out was due to editing scenes in the deleted section) this makes me happy that Harlin was able to acknowledge when he had taken it too far.
The extras of this film are great. There is a fun ‘Making of’ from the time which looks at how the film was made. It is a shame that there was no contemporary look at the film as it is clearly one that people enjoyed making and it would interesting to hear other people commenting on the film too.
It is clear from his input that this is a film that Renny Harlin was proud of and you can feel that from all the additional contributions to the extras. He provides introductions to the film and the Trailer and you can tell he enjoyed every aspect of the making of the film. His Commentary with Sylvester Stallone (who also co-wrote the script) is perfect and one of the best as you can really these are two people who are happy with the film and are enjoying talking about it. The Commentary provided by the Technical Crew is, as you can guess, a very technical, but was still enjoyable to hear in depth how certain scenes and moments were created.
Renny Harlin introduces a number of Deleted scenes and none are essential to the film and so I can understand them being lost due to pacing or (in the case of some of the action scenes) to tone back some of the OTT scenes. He also provides a commentary over a breakdown of two scenes Sarah’s Fall and The Helicopter Explosion which is nice in general, but I expected this to be a more in depth look from all aspects of how the scenes were created rather than just from one point of view. It would have also been better if they had combined this feature with the storyboard comparison feature which shows the scenes and storyboards alongside each other and that would have been better to have heard the Commentary over that too.
Cliffhanger is an enjoyable film. It is not a ‘so bad it’s good’ film, but instead a film that is enjoyable from beginning to end. If you enjoy your action loud and extreme and you like a Goodguy vs. Badguy film then you will love this film. It is classic 90s action at its best and definitely one that I would hang on to.