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 one, and you probably never will again.
Only in Commando can a lone man facing 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 below leaves nary a scratch or wet hair, much less any visible 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 Schwarzenegger, Commando is just another B-movie laced with gratuitous violence and wooden acting, even from screen vets Dan Hedaya, Vernon Wells and Bill Duke. Schwarzenegger brings an incredible screen presence and dry humor to Commando that keeps the 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 even the subject of a joke by Arnold’s character, John Matrix. Heck, even the then-eight-years-old Alyssa Milano puts forth an Oscar-worthy performance next to Rae Dawn Chong.
Schwarzenegger’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 truly hope to be able to test in the 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 viewers 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. Its overall clarity — blemishes and aged presentation aside — is notably superior to the 480p DVD version. The improvements are most recognizable in close-up shots of Schwarzenegger 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 audio component of Commando’s assaults are still lacking despite the jump to DTS-HD Master Lossless Audio. The surround channels are virtually silent throughout, and the subwoofer doesn’t have the punch of modern films. The mixing job is 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’s world, one man can surely obliterate one. Commando is a throwback to B-movie glory, but with a star-studded cast and higher production values. It shows its near quarter-century age with Blu-ray’s increased resolution, but still has never looked or sounded better. And really, you don’t need anything more than a bare-bones treatment when you can replay the over-the-top last 20 minutes over and over again in 1080p high-def.
- Score: 7.6