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MIDNIGHT EXPRESS (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

July 8, 2009 by  



“A classic film that shocked the world with its violent and disturbing imagery of torture in a Turk prison and the fact that it was based on a true story.   Featuring a powerful performance by Brad Davis and John Hurt and overall, a wonderful High Definition Blu-ray transfer.”

Images courtesy of © 1978 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: MIDNIGHT EXPRESS

DURATION: 121 minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:85:1),  English, French, Portuguese Dolby TrueHD 5.1, Spanish 5.1 (Dolby Digital) and English (Original Mono)

COMPANY:  Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

RATED: R

Release Date: July 21, 2009

Directed by Alan Parker

Based on the book by Billy Hayes and William Hoffer

Screenplay by Oliver Stone

Executive Producer: Peter Guber

Produced by Alan Marshall and David Puttnam

Music by Giorgio Moroder

Director of Photography by Michael Seresin

Edited by Gerry Hambling

Production Design by Geoffrey Kirkland

Art Direction by Evan Hercules

Costume Design by Milena Canonero

Starring:

Brad Davis as Billy Hayes

Irene Miracle as Susan

Bo Hopkins as Tex

Paolo Bonacelli as Rifki

Paul L. Smith as Hamidou

Randy Quaid as Jimmy Booth

Norbert Weisser as Erich

John Hurt as Max

Mike Kellin as Mr. Hayes

Franco Diggene as Yesil

Michael Ensign as Stanley Daniels

Gigi Ballista as Chief Judge

Kevork Malikyan as Prosecutor

Peter Jeffrey as Ahmet

Brad Davis (The Player, Chariots of Fire) and John Hurt (Contact, Alien) star in this riveting truestory of a young American’s nightmarish experiences in a Turkish prison and his unforgettable journey to freedom. Busted for attempting to smuggle hashish out of Istanbul, American college student Billy Hayes (Davis) is thrown into the city’s most brutal jail. After suffering through four years of sadistic torture and inhuman conditions, Billy is about to be released when his parole is denied. Only his inner courage and the support of a fellow inmate (Hurt) give him the strength to catch the MIDNIGHT EXPRESS … and escape his living hell.

It’s about never giving up hope.

The 1978 film “MIDNIGHT EXPRESS” was a film that was known for its controversial story but also seen as a film masterpiece as it was the first major film to depict foreigners inhumane treatment in prison and it was brought alive due to the awesome performance by actor Brad Davis (“Chariots of Fire”, “Roots”) and a film directed by Alan Parker (“Bugsy Malone”, “Pink Floyd the Wall”, “Fame”, “Evita” and “Angela’s Ashes”) and a screenplay by Oliver Stone (“Platoon”, “JFK”, “Natural Born Killers”, “The Doors” and “Alexander”).  The film would also feature the talents of composer Giorgio Moroder (“Flashdance”, “Scarface” and “Over the Top”) and cinematography by Michael Seresin (“Fame”, “Angela’s Ashes”, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” and “Step Up”).

“MIDNIGHT EXPRESS” would be nominated for seven Academy Awards and won an Academy Award for “Best Music”, “Original Score”, “Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium”.

But what caught attention was that the film was based on a true story of Billy Hayes who was convicted for smuggling hash and sentenced to four years in a Turk prison where he and many people were tortured.  To make matters worse, he became a scapegoat to prevent foreigners from even thinking of smuggling drugs in the country by having his sentenced overturned and giving him a life sentence.

Hayes book “Midnight Express” details his life behind bars and the inhumane treatment that he and others received in prison and eventually how he escaped from the prison.  The film adaption had gone through so many hands through its screenplay adaption and studio pressure that in order to make it a commercial film and due to budget constraints and location challenges, there is a difference between the book and the actual film.

The film revolves around Billy Hayes (Brad Davis) who is leaving Turkey with his girlfriend Susan (Irene Miracle).  Unbeknown to Susan, her boyfriend is hiding hashish taped to his body.  Unfortunately, for Billy, the country was going through a strict search due to country being on high alert for terrorist attacks and although he bypassed the airport security search, he was caught at the search near the actual airplane.

Because of Turkey’s strict anti-drug policy, he was given four years and two months prison time.  And during his prison time, he gets in trouble a few times and is tortured by the warden (hung upside down while his feet are hit repeatedly by the warden until he bled).  Also, the prison held the a variety of prisoners who were not exactly nice with their foreign prisoners.

Billy meets up with Western prisoners such as Jimmy Booth (Randy Quaid) and Max (John Hurt) who are trying to survive in the prison and keep sane but they also get themselves in quite a bit of trouble and get beaten.

But as prison life in a Turk prison is hard to bare, Billy counts down the days until is able to get out.  Nearly reaching the completion of his prison time, he receives bad news that his original prison time has been overturned and that he will now be serving life in prison.  Shocked, angry and depressed, he’s told that he’s being treated as a scapegoat in order to prevent other foreigners who try to smuggle drugs in the country.  And from that moment on, life for Billy Hayes becomes nothing but pure hell and he knows that he needs to find a way to get out.

The film received quite a bit of controversy when it was screened at the 1978 Cannes International Film Festival which on one hand received critical approval for the screenplay and Brad Davis performance as Hayes but also received criticism for making the country of Turkey as a backwards country and gave Turkey and the country’s image a bad reputation and damaging tourism to the country.

But despite the controversy (which Oliver Stone and even the real Billy Hayes have regretted the film’s depiction of the Turks), the film was well-known for its powerful performances and its powerful storyline.  It’s a gritty film that shows the violence behind Hayes experiences at the prison and torture they received.  Including other things that were deemed quite controversial back in the late 70’s.

It is important to note that this film is featured in Digibook format (a book format and not the standard blue blu-ray case) as it contains a 42-page booklet with Director Alan Parker writing a personal memoir titled “Anatomy of a Film: The Making of Midnight Express” is included.

VIDEO & AUDIO:

“MIDNIGHT EXPRESS” received its 30th Anniversary treatment back in 2008 and in 2009, gets its High Definition treatment as the film is presented in 1080p High Definition (aspect ratio of 1:85:1).

The film looks incredible on Blu-ray and also compared to its DVD counterpart, the film really shows off the detail and grittiness of the prison and also how bad the conditions were (note: this is one of the controversies as the actual prison was supposedly created in the 1960’s but the film makes the prison look like the prison was created many decades before).  But the picture quality captures the grittiness of the prisoners and the overall look, is not exactly vibrant but quite detailed.

The film looks as if there was little DNR (digital noise reduction) was used and overall, you can see grain on the film.  Overall, this is a superb transfer to Blu-ray and another classic film given awesome treatment from Sony.

As for the audio, the film is presented in English, French and Portuguese Dolby TrueHD 5.1. (Also in Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital and the original English mono soundtrack).  For the most part, the film is front channel heavy as it is dialog-driven.  Although there are action sequences, they are very few and if anything comes alive is the music by Giorgio Moroder.

Overall, its great to see the film receive a lossless soundtrack and also include the original mono soundtrack as well.  But you are able to hear the screams of the prisoners while being tortured and overall, the pain and anguish from the talents who just are trying to keep sane in the prison.

As for subtitles, subtitles are in English, English SDH, French, Portuguese and Spanish.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“MIDNIGHT EXPRESS” comes with several special features featured in High Definition and Standard Definition in English (Stereo) and Portuguese and Spanish subtitles.  The Blu-ray is BD-Live enabled.

  • “Anatomy of a Film: The Making of Midnight Express” by Director Alan Parker – As mentioned, the release is featured in digibook format and includes a 42-page booklet/personal memoir titled “Anatomy of a Film: The Making of Midnight Express” by Director Alan Parker.  This book is quite thorough in the challenges the film had and also, how Brad Davis was a method actor and in essence became Billy Hayes.  Also, how warden Hamidou (Paul L. Smith) was also a bit rough on the actors during the torture scenes to the dismay of the actors who were to pretend as if they were being beaten (and too get that realism, Smith didn’t hold back).  Also, how John Hurt (who played Max) didn’t shower for six weeks in order to make his scene seem real and natural.  The personal memoir is quite detailed and those who enjoyed the film will enjoy reading this book filled with photos and storyboard sketches.
  • Commentary with Director Alan Parker – If you thought the booklet was full of detail, Director Alan Parker really goes into detail of each scene and what transpired behind-the-scenes of the making of “MIDNIGHT EXPRESS”.
  • The Making of Midnight Express (7:27) The original 1978 featurette with an interview with the real Billy Hayes.
  • The Producers – (25:54) Peter Guber (Executive Producer), Producer David Puttnam and Director Alan Parker discuss the challenge of making the film and the changes that had to be made for the film.
  • The Production – (24:27) Interviews with Director Alan Parker, Producer Alan Marshall and Billy Hayes.  Continuing discussion of the challenges of making the film, which included the studio execs not thrilled of the producers selecting Brad Davis (Richard Gere pulled out of the film) and tried to say he was cross-eyed and thus the producers having to get a medical note that he wasn’t cross-eyed and challenges of finding the location and the differences that went into making the film from the original screenplay.
  • The Finished Film – (23:49) Discussion of how hardcore of a method actor Brad Davis was and how far Alan Parker pushed him to achieve that powerful performance of Billy Hayes.  Also, discussing how the film is based on a true story but is not the true story.  And how there are key differences between the film and the book. Featuring interviews with Director Alan Parker and Oliver Stone.
  • Photo Gallery – (12:35) A photo gallery which is accompanied by music from the film.

“MIDNIGHT EXPRESS” is a powerful film about survival and despite how far low one can be in a situation, the human will to live and survive can lead to amazing wonders.  As it has had in the real life situation for Billy Hayes who had one of the most impressive prison escapes.

If there was any negative of the film, it’s that the real story of Billy Hayes and his life in prison has been changed for the film adaption.   In fact, Billy Hayes has commented in regards to the film that he wished there were more positive portrayals of the Turks and even Oliver Stone has come out and talked about their wish that the film had shown a positive life on some Turks and that not all Turks are bad.

But also, the actual escape of Billy Hayes differs greatly from the film adaption.  But considering that there was another planned final for the film that would have been a bit unbelievable, I was content with how the film ended.

The film is ultimately a powerful film and the acting is top notch and Brad Davis just shined in this film.  He was incredible playing the part of Billy Hayes and it was a role that consumed him even when near the end of the filming of “MIDNIGHT EXPRESS”.  But his performance made “MIDNIGHT EXPRESS” so believable in that despite what he did to receive prison time, we sympathize with him when he is tortured and is told that his four year sentence has been overturned and he would be getting a life sentence.

It was indeed a powerful performance and a powerful film experience that is so visually disturbing and that Director Alan Parker and crew were able to capture the anguish, the anger, the pain and grittiness of the film was amazing.

Overall, “MIDNIGHT EXPRESS” is an amazing film and worthy of having in your collection.  But I can understand if the film may be a bit much for some to watch it for a second time or more.

But for those who did enjoy the film, this Blu-ray release of “MIDNIGHT EXPRESS” is the definitive version to own!

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