Extreme Prejudice (Blu-ray Review)
Release Date(s)1987 (May 17, 2022)
Studio(s)Carolco Pictures/Tri-Star Pictures/Lionsgate (Vestron Video Collector’s Series)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: A-
Extreme Prejudice is director Walter Hill’s homage to Sam Peckinpah—or to be more precise, it’s The Wild Bunch by way of The A-Team, with more than a whiff of Lone Wolf McQuade thrown in for good measure. It’s Maximum Walter Hill, with every dial turned up to 11: the good guys are tougher, the bad guys are meaner, and the guns are bigger. Even Nick Nolte’s neck is dialed up to 11, and while it may have deserved co-star billing, the actual supporting cast is even more impressive than that. Nolte (who has never looked better) was joined by Powers Boothe, Michael Ironside, Rip Torn, Clancy Brown, William Forsythe, Matt Mulhern, Mickey Jones, and Tom “Tiny” Lister, Jr. They all take things to 11 in their own unique ways: Boothe is oilier, Ironside is nastier, Torn is ornerier, Forsythe is more perverse, Brown, Lister, and Mulhern are all more hulking, and Mickey Jones is, well, more Mickey Jones-ish.
Extreme Prejudice had a long gestation period before it finally reached the screens in 1987. Hill may have made the film his own, but it passed through many different hands before it got to him. Everything started with a script from John Milius, who originally planned to direct it himself in 1976. He ended up making Big Wednesday instead, and the script moved around a bit, even passing through Hill’s hands at one point, before finally settling at Carolco Pictures with Hill officially at the helm. It was rewritten substantially during that process, and while the final screenplay is credited to Milius, Fred Rexner, Deric Washburn, and Harry Kleiner, there were many other cooks involved in making this concoction.
Despite all of the chaos, the story still falls comfortably within the Walter Hill wheelhouse. Jack Benteen (Nolte) is a Texas Ranger fighting the drug trade in a small border town, along with the help of the local sheriff (Torn). Those drugs are being run up from Mexico by Cash Baily (Boothe), who grew up with Jack and used to be his best friend. Meanwhile, a “zombie unit” of special ops soldiers who were supposedly killed in action is in the vicinity, under the command of Major Paul Hackett (Ironside). Inevitably, their paths cross, since they appear to be after the same target. However, nothing is quite what it seems, and things end up going south both literally and metaphorically.
There’s a love triangle present in Extreme Prejudice, with Sarita (Maria Conchita Alonso) caught between her current lover Jack and her former lover Cash, but the real romance in the film is actually between Jack and Cash. The homoerotism isn’t particularly blatant, with Hill treating it as more of a bromance, but Jack’s jealousy over Sarita’s previous relationship with Cash does come across as resentment over her having come between the two men. The only love that lasts in Extreme Prejudice is the love for power, guns, and male camaraderie, not necessarily in that order. Even the loyalty exhibited to each other by the members of the “zombie unit” is pure male love, through and through. There’s enough macho posturing in Extreme Prejudice to fill eleven other films with change left over, but all of it serves the purpose of cementing the bonds between the various men. Ultimately, that’s what turns Extreme Prejudice into a perverse redemption story, just like it did in The Wild Bunch.
The parallels to The Wild Bunch were no accident. Walter Hill’s own love for Sam Peckinpah infuses the film from the first frame to the last. Hill was no mere postmodernist director paying homage to the classic films that inspired him; he was someone who had actually worked with Peckinpah, when he wrote the screenplay for The Getaway in 1972. While the various plot elements in Extreme Prejudice never quite cohere, and the story feels too elliptical and even a bit confusing sometimes, Hill’s love for Peckinpah is the glue that holds everything together. Like Peckinpah, Hill is a director for whom style becomes substance, and Extreme Prejudice is the prefect fusion of form and content into a moody, atmospheric whole. It is indeed Maximum Walter Hill, in more ways than one.
Cinematographer Matthew F. Leonetti shot Extreme Prejudice on 35 mm film using Ultracam 35 cameras with spherical lenses, framed at 1.85:1 for its theatrical release. There’s no information regarding the master that StudioCanal supplied for this Blu-ray, but it doesn’t appear to be from a recent scan. There’s instability during the opening credits, and everything looks a little soft, with limited contrast, and shadow detail is a bit lacking. There’s still a satisfactory amount of fine detail, with no major damage to report. It’s worth noting that there was a lot of smoke on the set, and the diffusion from that reduces the sharpness, but it still seems like there would be room for improvement with a fresh scan. Regardless, it’s unquestionably a big improvement over the DVD.
Audio is offered in English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English, Spanish, and English SDH subtitles. Extreme Prejudice was released theatrically in Dolby Stereo, so this is a four-channel mix matrixed into two. The surrounds are pretty restrained, but they spring to life during any action scenes, and also during suitable moments like a thunderstorm early in the film. Effects like gunfire, thunder, and rain are steered to the rear channels when appropriate. There’s also a bit of ambient reverb from Jerry Goldsmith’s synth-driven score, and from Ry Cooder’s songs as well. The bass can be a little lacking, so the music doesn’t have much in the way of a low end, but there are a few thumps here and there from effects like explosions. It’s not spectacular, but overall, it’s pretty typical for an Eighties Dolby Stereo mix.
Lionsgate is releasing Extreme Prejudice via the Vestron Video Collector’s Series as #26 in that line. It features a slipcover that duplicates the artwork on the insert, as well as a Digital code on a paper insert tucked inside. The following extras are included:
- Audio Commentary with C. Courtney Joyner and Henry Pike
- Isolated Score Selections with Audio Interview from John Takis
- Interview with Director Walter Hill (HD – 58:52)
- The Major's Agenda (HD – 22:57)
- The War Within (HD – 24:25)
- Capturing the Chaos (HD – 15:11)
- Teaser Trailer (Upscaled HD – 1:04)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:13)
- TV Spots (Upscaled HD – 2:13)
- Vintage EPK (Upscaled HD – 6:54)
- Still Gallery (HD – 9:56)
The commentary is with screenwriter and novelist C. Courtney Joyner, as well as screenwriter and magazine editor Henry Pike, both of whom describe themselves as Walter Hill devotees. They cover the lengthy development process, from Milius to Hill, as well as the protracted nature of the production itself. They note material missing from the final cut, like Andy Robinson’s role as Michael Ironside’s partner, and also identify references to The Wild Bunch and more surprising films such as Bullitt. They admit that some of the plot elements never really come together, and characterize the film as being made of jagged pieces that Walter Hill shaved down and made his own. That’s as apt a description of Extreme Prejudice as you’re likely to find.
The isolated score selections feature commentary from music historian John Takis, who wrote the liner notes for the 2021 Intrada CD release of Jerry Goldsmith’s soundtrack for Extreme Prejudice. He spends time talking about Goldsmith, analyzes the specific sonic choices made by the composer for the film, and goes through each cue one by one, in their intended order (not as presented on the original soundtrack album from 1987).
The interview with Walter Hill was originally recorded for the 2019 Region B StudioCanal Blu-ray release of Extreme Prejudice. Hill talks about his background with Peckinpah, and gives his thoughts about the evolution of the action genre with films like Bullitt and Point Blank, as well as the way that films and filmmaking have changed. He does eventually work up to Extreme Prejudice, while talking about some of his other films along the way. It’s a great interview, and a fascinating journey through the mind of an iconic American director. The rest of the interviews are new to this edition: The Major’s Agenda is with Michael Ironside; The War Within is with Clancy Brown; and Capturing the Chaos is with Matthew Leonetti. Ironside and Brown talk about their careers and their experiences making Extreme Prejudice, and they’re both great storytellers. Leonetti gives a bit more practical information regarding the ways in which Hill would shoot coverage, and how things were edited together.
Not included here from the StudioCanal disc is the Make My Day introduction, and the Walter Hill: A Cowboy in Hollywood documentary. It’s also missing the 2010 interview with Hill from the Koch Media Region-free Blu-ray. On the whole, Vestron’s version has an edge over both of those releases due to the commentaries and the extra interviews. Extreme Prejudice has never gotten the full respect that it deserves, and the fact that it’s been MIA on Blu-ray in North America hasn’t helped that situation. Yet here it is now, in all of its Maximum Walter Hill glory. Physical media may be dying, but those dying gasps are resulting in an influx of great new releases, and no one could possibly hope to keep up with all of them. You may have to pick and choose, but Extreme Prejudice should be at the top of everyone’s wish list.
- Stephen Bjork
(You can follow Stephen on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook.)