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A young cowboy is seduced by a new girl in town only to find out he has been kissed by a vampire. Slowly turning into a creature of the night, he is persuaded to join up with the girl and a roaming band of ghouls. But when his own father and sister become targets in the vampires' endless search for 'food,' he is forced to choose between loyalty to the vampires, or loyalty his own family. 'Near Dark' is a stylish and brutal mixture of horror, western, and action conventions from director Kathryn Bigelow ('Strange Days') that ranks among the best vampire movies ever made.
For more about Near Dark and the Near Dark Blu-ray release, see Near Dark Blu-ray Review published by Dustin Somner on November 14, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein, Tim Thomerson
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
» See full cast & crew
Near Dark Blu-ray Review
"Finger licking good..."
Reviewed by Dustin Somner, November 14, 2009
In case you're reading this review because you stumbled onto the Blu-ray cover of Near Dark and assumed the film is a spin-off of Twilight, I'm afraid I have bad news. If you're still with me at this point, I'll assume you're either a long-time fan of Near Dark, or at least willing to accept the idea that vampire mythology was interesting far before the emergence of pasty-skinned high schoolers with highlights in their hair.
Caleb Colton (Adrian Pasdar) assumes he's in for another boring night in his sleeping Midwestern hometown, when he happens across a beautiful young woman named Mae (Jenny Wright), standing outside the door of an ice cream shop. After approaching Mae and offering her a ride, the two youngsters head into the dead of night with the intention of getting to know each other. The makeshift date comes to a screeching halt when Mae suddenly insists Caleb take her home immediately, as if her life depends on it. Caleb playfully declines to start his truck without a kiss, and in a moment of passion, Mae bites through the skin of his neck. With the sun rapidly rising on the horizon, Mae runs toward a nearby barn with Caleb hot on her heels. What Caleb doesn't know is he's about to become the newest member of a travelling vampire clan, who preys on the innocent blood of small town residents.
Near Dark isn't an exceptional vampire film, but it does strike the perfect balance between various elements not normally found in a film of this nature. Written and directed by Kathryn Bigelow (Point Break, Strange Days), the film incorporates a cowboy setting with the blossoming love of a young couple, set against a terrifying background of unspeakable acts. The vampire clan is certainly the heart and soul of the film, but it's the unique incorporation of disarming elements that sets it apart from other vampire storylines. I've always found the first twenty minutes of the film a bit boring, but I can appreciate the need to develop the relationship between Caleb and Mae before introducing viewers to the insanity of the immortal bloodsuckers. If you're going into the film for the first time, I'd encourage you to stick with it through the bar scene, since the tension from that point forward remains thick enough to cut with a knife. Think of it like a rollercoaster. The first 40 minutes of the film is the long ascent to the top of the ride, and the rest of the film is the ride itself. Just as the laws of gravity require the good with the bad on a rollercoaster, the rules of character-building dictate the structure of a quality film. Bigelow could easily have thrown viewers into an onslaught of continuing violence from the very beginning, but the way she ratchets up the intensity gives the film lasting value.
If I had to put my finger on one performance that stands out, it would be the scene-stealing Bill Paxton as Severen. At the point where we first meet the clan of travelling vampires, I assumed Paxton would be the annoying rogue vampire that dishes out pointless one-liners and competes with the protagonist for influence within the group; but once we hit the bar scene around the midway point, he becomes one of the most likeably unpredictable villains of all time. Now that I've grown accustomed to his conservative role in the HBO series "Big Love", it's a treat to witness the range he demonstrated in his early days as an actor.
After viewing Near Dark several times over the years, I feel increasingly confident in making an assessment that the vampire classic will remain a timeless entry in a blossoming genre of mediocrity. I'm not purposefully aiming disrespect toward the Twilight camp (ok, maybe a little bit), but I truly hope a new generation of vampire fans will gain exposure to this 1980's gem, and come away with the realization that mixing young love and vampires is not a new concept.
Near Dark Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in 1080p utilizing the AVC codec (at an average bitrate of 19Mbps), Near Dark isn't exactly the revelatory experience I was hoping for on Blu-ray. I'm confident the majority of the issues with the transfer are directly related to deficiencies in the source material, but that still doesn't rectify the situation. The primary weakness on display is a general lack of clarity in most scenes, obscuring the finest details (such as facial textures or the fabric of clothing). I'd assume this is a direct result of overaggressive DNR in the engineering of the transfer, but there's still a thick layer of grain from time to time, making it difficult to pin 100% of clarity issues on the transfer. The second issue that wreaks havoc on the image quality, is a combination of shoddy black level depth during nighttime sequences and contrast that struggles to differentiate between various dark shades in low-light scenes. The contrast issue seemed to improve during the second half of the film, but you still have to endure some awful scenes earlier on in the runtime. Switching gears a little, long-time fans of the film will be extremely happy with the combination of vibrant coloring and excellent definition during daytime sequences. They might be rare, but they truly breathe life into a transfer that remains otherwise lifeless (no pun intended).
This Blu-ray version certainly surpasses the quality of the prior special edition DVD release, but any viewers hoping for a dramatic upgrade are setting their expectations too high.
Near Dark Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The audio presentation won't blow your socks off, but considering the age of the production and the budgetary constraints the crew was working within, the lossless audio mix sounds reasonably proficient. I can't say I'm extremely familiar with the musical group Tangerine Dream, but their music was an excellent choice for a film of this nature. The synth-infused musical score creates a surreal mood that's light and airy, disarming viewers with undertones of innocence that make violent scenes feel increasingly horrific. It's rare for the music to define a film, so the fact that I can't imagine Near Dark without Tangerine Dream's score is a testament to their accomplishment as musicians. The sound engineers in charge of the effects and environmental sounds did an equally commendable job on this mid-80's production, creating several rousing action sequences that ooze tension. For example, listen to the dynamic surround use during the bar massacre or the western style last-stand in the desert motel. Bullets zing across the sound field, shattered glass originates in a dominant speaker before diffusing out to the remaining surrounds, and there are even two sequences that make use of your subwoofer with a booming LFE channel. Unfortunately, the roses and sunshine end in the transition to a discussion of the dialogue. I noticed several scenes where the dialogue volume drops below ideal levels, making it extremely difficult to decipher the conversation between characters. A perfect example occurs in the opening minute of the film, when Caleb pulls up to a bar for a verbal altercation with his friend. It's not bad enough to alter the entertainment value of the film, but does reveal a chip in the armor of the lossless audio track.
Near Dark Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Living in Darkness (480p, Linear PCM 2.0, 47:17 min): This lengthy supplement contains recent interviews with director Kathryn Bigelow, the film's producers and crew, as well as most of the major cast members. Beginning with the writing of the screenplay and the financing of the film, we're taken on a complete walk-through from the beginning of production through a discussion of the film's modern-day cult status. If you love Near Dark, this is not to be missed.
Deleted Scene with Director's Commentary (480p, Linear PCM2.0, 1:18 min): I'm surprised this scene was removed from the film, since it provides an interesting vampire viewpoint on nighttime vision (shot in black and white, the scene uses infrared technology to make the night look like day).
Rounding out the extras, we have two standard definition theatrical trailers for Near Dark (with 2-channel lossless audio).
Near Dark Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
In the case of most cult classics, the level of popularity achieved is based on a film's ability to differentiate itself from the norm. In that regard, Near Dark delivers in spades. Combining horror, action, romance, and cowboys -- the film offers an intriguing mixture of elements that on the surface seem to be a recipe for disaster, but in the capable hands of Kathryn Bigelow became a cohesive whole. If you've never seen the film, there's no better time to get your hands on a copy, though you should temper your expectations when considering the technical merits of this high-definition release.
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Near Dark Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Near Dark Blu-ray Special Features Revealed - October 21, 2009
Lionsgate Home Entertainment has announced the special features for the upcoming Blu-ray release of 'Near Dark', which is on schedule to hit store shelves on November 10th, day-and-date with the DVD release. Video will be presented in 1080p AVC accompanied by a ...
• Near Dark Gets Blu-ray Release - August 18, 2009
Lionsgate Home Entertainment has announced that they will bring the Kathryn Bigelow film 'Near Dark' to Blu-ray on November 10th. For this release, video will be presented in 1080p AVC accompanied by a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. Special features have not ...
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