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Thrills, spills and a handful of pills. It all adds up to one of the most spectacular car chases in motion picture history! Barry Newman stars as Kowalski, the last American hero, who set out to prove that he can drive from Denver to San Francisco in just fifteen hours. Along the way, he meets an old prospector (Dean Jagger), a snake worshipper, a nude woman on a motorcycle, and a blind D.J. (Cleavon Little) who "sees" danger ahead in this super-charged, action-packed adventure!
For more about Vanishing Point and the Vanishing Point Blu-ray release, see Vanishing Point Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on February 24, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Barry Newman, Cleavon Little, Dean Jagger, Victoria Medlin, Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, Paul Koslo
Director: Richard C. Sarafian
» See full cast & crew
Vanishing Point Blu-ray Review
Don't allow this release to vanish from your Blu-ray radar screen.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, February 24, 2009
The question is not when he is going to stop, but who is going to stop him.
If there is a more intoxicating thrill for Action movie fans and adrenaline junkies than a good car chase sequence, it has yet to be invented. A well-done car chase is the highlight of any good Action picture, and many of the classics feature memorable sequences filled with squealing tires, revving engines, twisted metal, and a whole lot of testosterone. Ronin, The Rock, and The French Connection are but a few classic Action pictures that capitalize on motor vehicle mayhem; several movies, including Bullitt, Death Proof, and Duel build their entire plots around the car chase. One of the best of the bunch is 1971's Vanishing Point. Though lacking the star power of Bullitt, the witty banter found in Death Proof, or the name director attached Duel, Vanishing Point is incredibly straightforward in its approach, easy to digest, and a blast to watch.
Kowalski (Barry Newman) is a single-minded car delivery man whose latest assignment has him traversing the states of Colorado, Nevada, and California in a 1970 Dodge Challenger, en route to San Francisco. His life has seemingly led him to this moment; his background is full of love, loss, and an adventuresome yet risky streak that has led him safely through the jungles of Vietnam, the trials of law enforcement, and the fierce competition of the dirt bike and stock car racing worlds. As he speeds through the empty, dusty roads, inexplicably driving with what the law deems as reckless abandon from the outside but what Kowalski seems to perceive as a demonstration of skill and determination, a massive chase ensues across several states and hundreds of miles. The white Challenger and its driver become the object of media fascination and the bane of law enforcement as car and driver elude many a police officer in pursuit in both two- and four-wheeled vehicles. Kowalski's trip quickly catches the attention of a small-time local DJ named "Super Soul" (Cleavon Little), who takes up the driver's cause, in part out of spite for the law, and uses his broadcast to pass information on to Kowalski, whom he can only hope is the recipient of the latest news the DJ gleans from the police band on his CB radio. As Kowalski speeds towards his final destination, it seems only the driver himself is the only obstacle between the open road and San Francisco.
Vanishing Point, aside from being a classic Action picture, seems like a prelude of sorts to the media sensation that is the modern car chase and police pursuit. Though it seems like it all began back in 1994 with the coverage of the low-speed O.J. Simpson spectacle, Vanishing Point capitalized on the drama and excitement of a high-profile chase and indeed builds much of its plot on media coverage of the event, beginning with a small-time local radio DJ's reportage which balloons into a media circus replete with interviews with those who know Kowalski and headlining stories in print, radio, and television outlets. It's even stated at one point in the movie that, because a CBS television van appears on the scene, it must be a big story. In only a few decades, Vanishing Point seems outdated in one regard, the ease with which Kowalski manages to evade authorities throughout the movie. Live broadcasts, a camera seemingly behind every blade of grass, and millions watching it develop live, leaves would-be Kolwaski's with nowhere to hide in the modern world. However, one of the movie's charms lies in its ability to captivate with what only seems like teasers for the bigger picture. Indeed, Vanishing Point seems to reflect the media coverage the Kowalski story receives; snippets of story are seen here and there but the big picture seems to remain sketchy at best, even through to the end. Kowalski's background is only haphazardly explored in small snippets that seem to reveal major character traits and motives but likely leave out the small details that truly shape a man's life. It leaves plenty of stones unturned, a reflection of the limited ability to attain information quickly and accurately in the 1970s yet still manage to present a fascinating and well-documented story that, at least superficially, puts enough information together to tell a cohesive tale.
Though the film seems a bit slow, haphazard, and perhaps even sloppy (though arguably deliberately so) in spelling out the plot and the building of the characters, the pacing is anything but. Vanishing Point is an all-out blast to watch from beginning to end with an incredible display of driving skills that will leave any viewer in awe at the maneuvers and the simplicity with which the filmmakers deliver the action. Even though the film captures virtually all of its action on dusty roads amidst the tumbleweeds rather than through the maze and perils of city streets, there is never a dull moment and nary a break in the action; the film manages to maintain a level of excitement despite what seems to be, from the outside looking in, a one-trick pony that pits the same car in the same locale against the same foes at every turn. Nonetheless, the movie somehow, some way, keeps viewer's jaws agape at the excitement that is around every bend in the road. At the end of the day, however, Vanishing Point is the tale of a man and his mystery, leaving viewers to only guess at the hows and the whys of his life as depicted throughout the film. Ultimately, that's the film's primary attraction. The chase sequences, fine direction, and rocking score only serve to further lead viewers towards a conclusion that only they may draw. Vanishing Point is far from the Hollywood norm of either then or now. It leaves much to the imagination, telling only that part of the tale needed to allow the audience to piece the rest of it together for themselves. There is no right or wrong answer and only several hints, several snippets brought to the forefront only by something that triggers a brief memory, to tie it together. In some ways, that's enough, in others, it's not. No matter how it is viewed at the end of the day, though, Vanishing Point is one of those rare movies that combines fast-paced, wall-to-wall action with an opening for deeper analysis of its character should audiences choose to look past that fury of the white 1970 Dodge Challenger.
Vanishing Point Blu-ray, Video Quality
20th Century Fox presents Vanishing Point on Blu-ray with a fine 1080p, 1.85:1-framed transfer. Unfortunately, the image features some sporadic edge enhancement, noted almost immediately on the sides of the bulldozers seen after the conclusion of the opening credits sequence. Nevertheless, the problem isn't a major distraction in this or any other scene in which it appears. The image looks slightly faded; colors aren't vibrant, but are otherwise solid in appearance. The red of a stop sign, the greens of the weeds and earth tones of the brush on the side of the road are nicely rendered. The Challenger's white coloring isn't overblown. The transfer retains some film grain in addition to some dirt and debris that crop up from time to time, but neither serves as a distraction from a mostly pleasing image. Detail is very good; individual pebbles, weeds, brush, or a straw hat seen in a few scenes appear nicely replicated. Close-up shots of individuals also fare nicely; several shots of Kowalski's hand shifting gears reveals the fine lines and hairs on his hand. Likewise, various shots of his face reveal every bead of sweat across his brow. Black levels are stable and deep, not a true inky black but very good and more than acceptable. Flesh tones, too, are natural in appearance. Despite a few minor blemishes, Vanishing Point looks good on Blu-ray. It is another fine catalogue transfer from Fox.
Vanishing Point Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Vanishing Point speeds onto Blu-ray with another DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack from Fox. Also available is the film's monaural soundtrack. The track definitely shows its age as it offers listeners effects and music with limited range and a slightly harsh edge, but it does feature fine directional effects that place sounds all around the listening area; they move from one speaker to the next with fine precision, following the action on-screen perfectly. The track features plenty of thuds, thumps, and rumbles, but it doesn't rely much on the subwoofer to accentuate the effects. The sounds of the speeding cars and motorcycles won't strain any sound system, but the effects remain exciting and generally pleasing on the ears. Dialogue reproduction occasionally has a muffled, harsh edge that doesn't lend itself well to discernment. It's occasionally lost under music and sound effects and makes some segments difficult to understand, particularly early on in the film. Both the popular music and the hard-hitting score that accompany the film flow nicely from the front, with most of it handled by the center channel. Unfortunately, it can also be a little loud at reference volume. Vanishing Point doesn't hold up well against today's more robust soundtracks, but the lossless presentation of the soundtrack does a noble job of reproducing the action nicely.
Vanishing Point Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
This high-octane Blu-ray release of Vanishing Point offers viewers a fine selection of supplements, as well as the option of viewing either the 99-minute theatrical version or the 106-minute UK version of the film. A commentary track with director Richard C. Sarafian headlines the package. This is a relaxed, easygoing, down-home track that features the director recounting the locations, the people who worked on the film with special emphasis on the late cinematographer John A. Alonzo, the challenges of shooting the picture and the small crew that made it possible, and more. Super Soul Me Bonusview is a Blu-ray profile 1.1 feature that shows behind-the-scenes footage and interviews in a small window during playback. The segments are also available to view separately, running in 1080p high definition for 30:40. Interactive 1970 Dodge Challenger is a feature that lets users explore the classic automobile that stars in the film, complete with specifications, color options, and interview clips with auto experts discussing the vehicle in further detail. Built For Speed: A Look Back at 'Vanishing Point' (1080p, 17:51) looks at the film's origins, its visuals, its legacy, the questions it raises, its messages, its staying power, and more. 0A-5599 (1080p, 10:20) looks at the history of the 1970 Dodge Challenger. This disc also includes two TV spots (480p, 0:22 & 1080p, 1:03), the film's theatrical trailer (1080p, 2:15), and additional 1080p trailers for The Transporter, Speed, and Street Kings. This disc is also D-Box enabled.
Vanishing Point Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Who would have thought that 100 minutes of wall-to-wall car chase action could be so exciting, so engrossing, and so amazingly captured on film, yet remain tight, tense, and thrilling for the entire runtime? Vanishing Point doesn't even offer all that many unique variables insofar as its superficial appearance, but its ability to maintain a flow and novelty, one chase scene after another, is a testament to movie magic and escapist entertainment at its best, and proof that the car chase is one of cinema's most exciting cornerstones. The film also offers viewers the opportunity to analyze a mysterious protagonist whose story is integral to the plot yet is only partially explored. It all adds up to a well-above-average movie experience that should excite a broad spectrum of audiences. 20th Century Fox's Blu-ray release of Vanishing Point is sure to excite fans of the film. Both video and audio qualities are up to specifications, and the disc offers viewers a hearty supplemental section. Vanishing Point is well worth a watch, and the film's fans should not hesitate to race on out and buy it. Recommended.
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