If Sainte-Chapelle’s physics-defying stained glass walls are considered Gothic church design’s greatest achievement, then Matrix’s (Arnold Schwarzenegger) impossible retrieval of his kidnapped daughter in 1985’s Commando embodies the 80s indestructible action hero. You’ve never seen anything so real yet simultaneously surreal like either before, and probably never will again.
Only in Commando can a lone man facing off against *hundreds* of soldiers use shrubs as cover against automatic weapons. Frisbee-tossed circular saw blades are capable of sawing the top of a man’s head off. Jumping 100 feet from a plane’s landing gear into a swamp leaves nary a scratch or wet hair, much less any viable physical body damage. These are the non-rules defined in Commando’s world, and they energize a film that might otherwise snap.
The fuel that powers Commando’s action is Arnold Schwarzenegger performing in his prime. Without Arnold, Commando is just another B-movie laced with gratuitous violence and wooden acting, even from screen vets Dan Hedaya, Vernon Wells and Bill Duke. Arnold brings an incredible screen presence and dry humor to Commando that keeps lulls between each slaughter sequence lively. No major death is without a classic Arnold one-liner, and Rae Dawn Chong’s joke of a performance is made a joke of by Arnold’s Matrix. Even then eight-year old Alyssa Milano puts forth an Oscar-worthy performance next to Rae Dawn.
Arnold’s demeanor in Commando is a precursor to today’s Jason Statham characters: muscle-bound foreigners whose accent and charm are as deadly as their fighting abilities. Several Statham films with similar physics-defying action and indestructibility evolved from Commando, and they certainly won’t be the last.
After lengthy delays, Commando finally joins Statham staples like Crank and The Transporter on Blu-ray in a far less polished, yet serviceable package. Missing are traditional supplemental features like commentary tracks, featurettes, deleted scenes and the like. In their place are a handful of Trailers for already available catalog Fox Blu-ray titles, and D-Box Motion Code which we are unfortunately unable to test at this time, but aim to in the near future.
Visually, Commando’s 1080p MPEG-2 encoded transfer is a mixed bag depending on your viewing preferences. Heavy grain and some small film defects are visible in a number of scenes which will be frowned upon by the crowd used to a crystal clear presentation from Blu-ray Discs like Crank. Color saturation is nearly non-existent and detail wavers from one scene to next.
Older films tend to maintain this aged look intentionally, and examining Commando’s transfer from that perspective is reason to rejoice. Overall clarity, blemishes and aged presentation aside, is notably superior over the 480p DVD version. Improvements are most recognizable in close-up shots of Arnold in his attack make-up, of which there are many. Pundits of Blu-ray encoding who smirk at the use of MPEG-2 in lieu of AVC will find little ammunition to argue for the latter.
The sonic component of Commando’s assaults are still lacking despite the jump to DTS-HD Master Lossless Audio. Surrounds are virtually silent throughout, and bass doesn’t have the punch of modern films. The mixing job is still shoddy, too, with action drowning out dialogue on numerous occasions. You could argue the DTS-HD mix is an improvement over the Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS mix, but that isn’t saying much.
One man does not make an army, not even Rambo. But in Commando, one man can surely obliterate one. Commando is a throwback to B-movie glory, only with a star-studded cast and higher production values. It shows its near quarter of a century old age with Blu-ray’s increased resolution, but still has never looked or sounded better. You don’t need anything more than a near bare-bones treatment when you can replay the over-the-top last 20 minutes over and over again in 1080p high-def.
– Dan Bradley