Release Date(s)1981 (October 18, 2016)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures (Shout! Factory/Shout Select)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B
Sylvester Stallone has appeared in some good films over the years, as well as a few great ones and others that are bad, or merely decent. But apart from Rocky, Creed, and First Blood, there are three often overlooked gems in his long body of work: Cop Land (1997), Victory (1981), and Nighthawks (1981).
Nighthawks is something of a cult favorite for a number of reasons, not the least of which is its cast. In addition to Stallone, the film features Rutgar Hauer (just a year prior to his work in Blade Runner), Billy Dee Williams (just after his appearance in The Empire Strikes Back), Lindsay Wagner (not long after The Bionic Woman left the television airwaves), and Persis Khambatta (right after her performance in Star Trek: The Motion Picture). Its story follows a pair of streetwise New York City police detectives (Stallone and Williams), who are assigned to stop the terrorist Wulfgar (Hauer) from bringing the city to its knees in order to restore his international criminal reputation. It’s hard to image that this plot seemed far-fetched at the time, as in the post-9/11 era it almost seems quaint. Though the film ultimately fails to reach its potential, partly because it was heavily reworked in the editing room, the pleasure of watching Stallone, Hauer, and Williams prowling the screen while in their prime is undeniable.
Nighthawks is also notable for the fact that the story (in part) was originally pitched at Fox as a third French Connection film, but writer David Shaber ended up taking it to Universal when actor Gene Hackman was unwilling do more sequels. Meanwhile, Stallone was already attached to a similar script at the studio about cops fighting terrorism (written by Paul Sylbert), so Universal ended up hiring Shaber to write the final draft to better suit Stallone using ideas from both versions.
Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray offers the film in very good 1080p HD video quality at the original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The print is in fine condition, with excellent detail and texturing, nice contrast, deep shadows, and moderate film grain that’s appropriate to both the period and the subject matter. Colors are strong and accurate, even vibrant when needed (note the bold neon lighting in the disco scene). The audio is available in a solid English 2.0 mono mix in DTS-HD Master Audio format. The sound quality is good, with clear dialogue and excellent mono music fidelity. That’s a plus, given that the score was composed by Keith Emerson from the English prog-rock band Emerson, Lake & Palmer. (It’s also worth noting that the score is intact here for the first time on home video; both The Rolling Stones’ Brown Sugar and Emerson’s Spencer Davis Group cover of I’m a Man play during the club scene. Previous versions replaced these tracks due to music licensing issues.) The mix offers a fairly wide front/center soundstage that works well for the film. English SDH subs are also available.
The real surprise here is that Shout!’s Blu-ray includes a substantial batch of extras (the disc was originally announced as a bare-bones title, but become a Collector’s Edition when the Shout Select line was announced). Produced by Cliff MacMillan, they include 6 new interview featurettes. Lights, Camera, Action! (HD – 16:10) is an audio interview with producer Herb Nanas. We Gotta Shoot This! (HD – 24:37) is a video interview with director of photography James A. Contner. A Sign of the Times (HD – 10:24) features Lindsay Wagner talking about her role and career. Not the Other Girls (HD – 4:24) is a short interview with actress Catherine Mary Stewart (better known for her appearance in The Last Starfighter). Nighthawks: The First Draft (HD – 9:49) is an interview with original writer Paul Sylbert, who talks about how his original draft differed from the final version. And It Was Hell (HD – 10:50) features an interview with technical adviser Randy Jurgensen. You also get the film’s theatrical trailer (SD – 4x3), a short collection of radio spots, and a gallery of still images (HD – 6:42 if auto played). I’m told that Shout! did try to get Stallone and Hauer to participate in the extras, but they declined. Shout also tried to obtain deleted footage from the film, but Universal didn’t allow it to be included. In any case, this is still a lot more bonus material for this film than we’ve ever had before.
Nighthawks can’t rightly be called a great film, but it’s a pretty damn good one, and Stallone and Hauer both deliver terrific performances. If you’re a fan, Shout’s new Blu-ray is well worth your time and money. In terms of both A/V quality and extras, it puts all previous home video versions to shame. Recommended.
- Bill Hunt