Release Date(s)1993 (May 18, 2021)
Studio(s)Columbia Pictures (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: B-
1993’s Last Action Hero was promised to be the ultimate satirical action film, re-teaming Predator veterans John McTiernan and Arnold Schwarzenegger, but was ultimately written off by many as a well-intended misfire. It didn’t help matters much that the film was released only a week after Jurassic Park’s box office smashing debut and subsequent multi-million dollar run. It managed to do decent business, following second behind its dinosaur-leaden counterpart, but was seen primarily as a letdown. Last Action Hero also had a long gestation period before it ever got in front of the cameras. It was re-written and doctored by the likes of Shane Black, William Goldman, and Carrie Fisher; Schwarzenegger was paid an enormous salary; and it was constantly being edited and re-edited, right up until its debut. Highly-stylized with obvious and not so obvious meta commentary, it pokes fun at a variety of genre cliches, but more importantly, self-reflects upon Arnold Schwarzenegger and his then status as a media superstar.
Danny Madigan (Austin O’Brien) lives in the crime-ridden world of New York with his widowed mother Irene (Mercedes Ruehl). Obsessed with movies, he spends most of his time at a rundown theater with his friend and elderly projectionist Nick (Robert Prosky). Danny’s favorite action movies, the Jack Slater series, star Arnold Schwarzenegger, and on the eve of the premiere of the latest sequel, Nick invites Danny to watch it. But before entering the theater, Nick gives Danny an unusual ticket, which he claims to have belonged to Harry Houdini. During Jack Slater IV’s explosive car chase, dynamite flies out of the screen, blowing Danny into the movie itself. Now stuck inside the movie, Danny becomes Slater’s initially unwilling partner since he seems to know a lot about mob boss Tony Vivaldi (Anthony Quinn) and his eye-glass wearing henchman Benedict (Charles Dance). Benedict becomes aware of Danny and his magic ticket, gains control of it, and crosses over into the real world. Danny and Slater follow, but Slater becomes disillusioned by the fact that he isn’t real and that action-oriented cliches can have consequences. Meanwhile, Benedict, fascinated by a world in which bad guys can win, threatens to acquire an army of screen villains, including the murderer of Slater’s son, the Ripper (Tom Noonan).
Last Action Hero was photographed on 35 mm film with Panavision cameras and anamorphic lenses, using a variety of different film stocks for the real-world footage and movie-bound sequences, and was finished on film at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio. For its release on Ultra HD, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has scanned the original camera negative and master interpositive in native 4K to create a new Digital Intermediate, complete with new color grading for high dynamic range (HDR10 is available on this disc). The result is leaps and bounds better than the previous HD incarnation, with a much richer and more textured image. Grain modulates between heavy and moderate, depending upon which side of the motion picture screen the film takes place on. The real world footage is gritty and downbeat, with low-level lighting and deeper shadows, all of which this new UHD release represents faithfully. One artificially-zoomed in shot (of Nick explaining the origins of the ticket) sticks out a bit due to its soft appearance, but the rest of the footage is appropriately coarse. On the other hand, the Jack Slater world is comparatively brighter and cleaner, with more robust textures and lighter grain. It’s also more colorful, which the new grading and wider gamut enhances enormously. It offers a vivid palette, whether it's the city-based hues of gray, green, and blue, or the vibrant reds, browns, and oranges of Slater’s clothes and car. Overall, this is beautifully organic image, and easily the best the film has ever looked on home video.
There are multitude of audio options, including a new English Dolby Atmos track (7.1 Dolby TrueHD compatible), the film’s original theatrical SDDS mix presented as an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, and the original theatrical audio presented as an English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track. The Atmos has decent overhead, but you’re dropped right into the proceedings with highly effective surround activity. The track has some nice muscle behind it with good directionality and spacing. Explosions, gunfire, and car crashes are loud and window-rattling, giving the bass and the other speakers a real workout. Dialogue exchanges are mostly centered, coming through clearly amid the action-oriented chaos. Michael Kamen’s score and the hard rock soundtrack blend with the sound effects for a musical experience that truly slaps. The option of having both the original SDDS and stereo soundtracks from the film’s theatrical release is icing on the cake. These are definitely all sound experiences you’re going to want to crank, especially the Atmos. Other audio options include Czech, French (Canadian), Hungarian, Italian, Polish, and Spanish (Latin American) 5.1 Dolby Digital; French (Parisian), German, and Spanish (Castilian) 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio; and Thai 2.0 Dolby Digital. Subtitle options include English, English SDH, Chinese (Simplified), Chinese (Traditional), Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Spanish (Castilian), Spanish (Latin American), Swedish, and Thai. Audio commentary subtitle options include English, Chinese, Dutch, French, Italian, Korean, Spanish (Castilian), Spanish (Latin American), and Thai.
The film is also included on Region A Blu-ray in 1080p with a Digital code on a paper insert, both contained within the package. The Blu-ray is the same disc that’s been available for years with the older presentation of the film and not the new 4K master. The Steelbook recreates the original theatrical artwork for its cover. The following extras are included on the Ultra HD disc only:
- Audio Commentary by John McTiernan
- Deleted Scene: You’re My Partner (UHD – 0:31)
- Deleted Scene: What If You’re Right (UHD – 0:35)
- Deleted Scene: It’s Payback Time (UHD – 4:09)
- Deleted Scene: Resist the Temptation (UHD – 0:52)
- Deleted Scene: Plan A (UHD – 1:02)
- Deleted Scene: Alternate Ending (UHD – 2:23)
- AC/DC: Big Gun Music Video (Upscaled SD – 4:46)
- Behind-the-Scenes Featurette (Upscaled SD – 6:36)
- Teaser Trailer (HD – 1:27)
The new audio commentary with director John McTiernan is slow and goes quiet too many times (he admits to not having seen the film in a long time), but still manages to offer valuable insight. He discusses the film’s identity crisis and apologizes multiple times for its tone, working with the cast, the look of the film, the production design, helping the crew understand what living in New York was like at the time, the difficulty of making a “big” movie with a small story, the chemistry between Schwarzenegger and O’Brien, the MPAA’s problems with the tone, the ridiculousness of the film’s cost, his own personal political statements within the film, shooting scenes in the rain and the cold, and how difficult it was to finish the film on time. The deleted scenes, which have been newly-scanned and included in Ultra HD with HDR10, offer additional connective tissue, including more of Slater realizing that Danny might be right about the funeral, Slater being recognized by a group of kids as Schwarzenegger, more backstory about Danny’s father, an additional moment between Benedict and the Ripper in the back of a Limousine, Benedict using gangsters to rob banks in the real world, Danny laughing at the ACME sign on the side of the building at the end, and an alternate ending in which Danny and his mother walk away from the theater in each other’s arms. The AC/DC music video is pitched down by a half step, maybe even a whole step, but it’s as goofy as ever with Arnold dressed up as Angus Young. Not included is the HBO First Look TV special (fondly remembered) and the film’s final trailer and TV spots. The new commentary, deleted scenes, and all of the old extras carted over from various overseas DVD releases make for excellent additions to what’s mostly been a bare bones home video experience in the US.
John McTiernan is clearly unhappy with Last Action Hero and tends to be overly apologetic for it. It’s a shame too because even though it has pacing issues and doesn’t go far enough with the idea of being able to jump in and out of movie screens, is still fun with a good comedic sensibility, explosive set pieces, great performances, and a dynamite soundtrack—one that I personally listened to endlessly in my youth. Sony’s treatment of the title is top notch, obliterating any and all previous DVDs and Blu-rays. It’s definitely the release of the film to own. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons