Release Date(s)1993 (Originally released on December 7, 2021, re-released on February 22, 2022)
Studio(s)Alphaville Films/Renaissance Pictures/Universal Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B
[Editor’s Note: The comments in this review refer to KLSC’s corrected 4K disc.]
Chance Boudreaux (Jean-Claude Van Damme, aka the Muscles from Brussels) is a former Marine Corps reconnaissance officer turned merchant seaman and drifter, who’s hired by Natasha Binder (Yancy Butler) to find her missing father in New Orleans. It seems that Natasha’s father fell victim to a pair of sinister businessmen (Lance Henriksen and Arnold Vosloo), who arrange opportunities for wealthy sportsman to hunt homeless veterans. The police are initially reluctant to investigate the case, until Chance discovers that the man’s charred body was pierced by bolts from a crossbow. With the heat increasing, it isn’t long before Chance and Natasha are targeted by various henchmen, as the hunt organizers attempt to tie up loose ends to avoid getting caught. But Chance isn’t about to back down until they receive his furious justice. Wilford Brimley, Kasi Lemmons, and Willie C. Carpenter also appear in Hong Kong action filmmaker John Woo’s first US film, produced by Sam Raimi—essentially a B-grade “gun-fu” remake of Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack’s 1932 pre-Code film The Most Dangerous Game.
Hard Target was originally released on 4K Ultra HD by Kino Lorber Studio Classics on December 7, 2021, but that disc was quickly found to have a problem with its 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio surround mix—the left and right surround channels were essentially reversed. When early reviewers reported this error, the company decided to recall the title from stores. They’ve since fixed the error and the release has now been rescheduled to street on February 22, 2022 (the fixed package carries the new UPC code of 738329257903). If you were among those who purchased the original defective disc, Kino Lorber Studio Classics has established a replacement program to obtain the corrected version (you can find the instructions on how to take advantage of this at the end of this review). Note that some viewers are reporting a flickering problem with the fixed disc’s Dolby Vision HDR, but it appears the issue is limited to Panasonic’s UB820 and UB9000 4K UHD player models (presumably Panasonic will issue a firmware update to address this).
Hard Target was shot on 35 mm photochemical film by cinematographer Russell Carpenter (Titanic, True Lies, Ant-Man) using Panavision cameras and spherical lenses, and was finished on film in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio for theaters. For its debut on Ultra HD, Kino Lorber Studio Classics has taken advantage of a brand new 4K scan and restoration of the original camera negative (for the 100-minute Unrated International Cut of the film), which features high dynamic range grading supervised by Carpenter (both HDR10 and Dolby Vision options are available). The result is pretty terrific, an image with outstanding clarity, non-edgy crispness, and an abundance of fine detail that benefits skin, fabrics, and stonework. Grain is medium but even and organic at all times, while the film’s color palette is accurate and well-saturated, with deeply dark shadows and bold yet naturally bright highlights. There’s an occasional tiny nick or bit of dust remaining in the image post-restoration, but it would be difficult to argue that this is anything but a spectacular looking 4K image, particularly for a catalog film of this vintage.
Audio on the disc is available in English 5.1 and 2.0 in DTS-HD Master Audio format. The 5.1 soundstage is surprisingly wide, with smooth panning, and plenty of ambient activity in the surrounds. Dialogue is clean and clear, while gunfire and explosions have plenty of meaty low-end heft, and the Graeme Revell score is presented with excellent fidelity. The 2.0 track is of similar sonic quality. Whichever track you prefer, Hard Target still sounds of its time, yet it’s hard to image the film sounding better short of a new Atmos mix. Optional English SDH subtitles are available.
Kino Lorber Studio Classics’ 4K Ultra HD disc includes only one special feature:
- Audio Commentary with Brandon Bentley and Mike Leeder
But the package also includes the film in 1080p HD on Blu-ray, also mastered from the new 4K restoration. That disc also includes the commentary and adds the following extras:
- From Hard Boiled to Hard Target: Interview with Director John Woo (HD – 12:52)
- Henriksen vs. Van Damme: Interview with Actor Lance Henriksen (HD – 8:46)
- Hard Times in The Big Easy: Interview with Actress Yancy Butler (HD – 14:36)
- Gun Fu and Van Dammage: Interview with Stunt Coordinator Billy Burton (HD – 9:05)
- Hard Target Trailer (HD – 2:05)
- No Retreat, No Surrender Trailer (HD – 3:21)
- Hero and the Terror Trailer (HD – 1:26)
- Wanted: Dead or Alive Trailer (HD – 1:20)
- Running Scared Trailer (HD – 1:30)
- Black Moon Rising Trailer (HD – 1:30)
- Avenging Force Trailer (HD – 1:19)
- Revenge of the Ninja Trailer (HD – 1:42)
All of these features (save for the trailers) were newly-created for this release. The commentary is a highly entertaining smorgasbord of trivia, background information, context, and production anecdotes delivered by a pair of noted action film experts. Each of the four key participants interviewed for the featurettes offers interesting insights on the production and their involvement in it. Woo, for example, reveals that Hard Target wasn’t his first choice of Hollywood film (but the other film—an Oliver Stone project—offered him insulting money). Lance Henriksen notes that his use of the term “buffalo” in the film was ad-libbed. Butler admits that she didn’t know who Van Damme was before auditioning. And Burton describes how he got his start in Hollywood as a Western film extra, before training as a stuntman under the great Hal Needham. The film’s trailer has also been newly-restored in HD for this release, and the disc includes additional trailers for a host of other action titles (though most are of lower quality). It’s a nice package that’s really only missing the participating of Van Damme himself (no doubt KLSC tried to get him, but the Muscles is a notoriously slippery dude).
Hard Target is far from a great film, as it’s packed with corny, slo-mo stunts and insipid dialogue, but it remains one of Van Damme’s better early works thanks to Woo’s involvement. There is certainly a bit of cheesy cult film/action fun to be had here. And this is probably more of a special edition than the film really deserves. Hard Target’s road to 4K Ultra HD has been far from easy, but—once they get their hands on the corrected disc—fans should ultimately be pleased with the result.
- Bill Hunt