Australian label Imprint Films gathers together a terrific collection of films to celebrate the great genre filmmaker Walter Hill. Inside this Directed By Walter Hill set, fans can score excellent Blu-ray releases of Hard Times, The Long Riders, Extreme Prejudice, Johnny Handsome, and the excellent mini-series event Broken Trail with a 4K UHD of The Driver. Stylish packaging, all-around solid A/V, and tons of bonus features - if you’re a Walter Hill fan this collection is essential Highly Recommended.
During one of my many film-related classes in school, one of my professors asked us which Walter Hill films we liked, and I casually tossed out there, “I like his Westerns.” My prof’s simple response was “All of Walter Hill’s films are Westerns.” Now I would argue there are some exceptions to be made with that blanket statement, but if you really look down into the nitty gritty of his various cinematic achievements, there’s a case to be made that many of Hill’s films happen to be redressed Westerns within other genres. I personally like to think of Hill's films as exciting classic pulp novels come to life. Crime epics, gangsters, science fiction, comedies, and yes genuine true Westerns (and some damn good ones at that) can be found in his massive catalog of feature films.
Trying to catch up with his work can be a tough task because he’s done so much. With over twenty feature films and some great TV work as a director, Hill has enjoyed a diverse catalog of work. That’s why Imprint’s Directed By Walter Hill collection is so damn cool. Picking pieces from his first feature Hard Times all the way to his magnificent two-part Western mini-series Broken Trail, the six films in this set can give newcomers, casual fans, and the die-hard Hill nuts something to celebrate. I wouldn’t exactly call all of these his greatest masterpieces, but they’re all incredibly entertaining and worth every minute you give them.
Hard Times (1975)
Charles Bronson stars as a bare-knuckle boxer trying to make a buck during the Depression. Along comes James Coburn as the skeezy promoter trying to capitalize on his successes. As the two reach new heights, Coburn’s past catches up to them both one brutal fistfight at a time. This is pitch-perfect Bronson in one of his very best roles with Coburn flashing that toothy charming grin with gusto. It’s essential Walter Hill and the perfect lead-off for this box set. 5/5
The Driver (1978)
Do you want car chases? Do you want a cops and robbers thriller? You get plenty of both with The Driver as Ryan O’Neil puts the peddle to the metal to outrun Bruce Dern’s obsessed police detective. With some of the most exciting vehicular carnage ever caught on screen, this film inspired many an imitator with few ever coming close to matching the sheer raw intensity of this pitch-perfect thriller 4.5/5
The Long Riders (1980)
Speaking of westerns, Walter Hill steps behind the camera for his first genuine western with The Long Riders - a highly stylized but arresting depiction of the James and Younger outlaw gangs. Starring real-life brothers in the various leads, the film maintains an authentic feel while depicting shockingly violent gunfights with dreamlike tranquility. It’s a hell of a picture. 4.5/5
Extreme Prejudice (1987)
After a string of comedies, action/comedies, and thrillers, Walter Hill delivers a Neo-Western Thriller starring Nick Nolte, Powers Booth, Michael Ironside, and Clancy Brown - among numerous others. The story of a Texas ranger tasked with bringing his old friend and career criminal back across the border could be any average Western, but placing it in modern times against the backdrop of the drug trade, Hill brings new levels of action and excitement to the screen with some gloriously intense shootouts without shortchanging character development. 4/5
Johnny Handsome (1989)
Dipping back into the Crime Thrillers, Walter Hill directs Mickey Rourke as a deformed-at-birth crook given a second chance with a life-changing facial reconstruction. Only instead of going straight, he’s out to get revenge against Lance Henriksen and Ellen Barkin for betraying him with straight-arrow cop Morgan Freeman on his trail. Through some pounds of heavy makeup, Rourke delivers an exciting nuanced performance but the film feels a little too safe and by the book without many surprises. 3.5/5
Broken Trail (2006)
Skipping over his solid 90s output, we pick up with Walter Hill’s dynamite 2006 two-part mini-series Broken Trail. Starring Robert Duvall and Thomas Haden Church, this is a rich story of family bonds and heroism while touching on the sad history of importing Chinese women for prostitution. A grand epic, if it hadn’t been a mini-series, it’d be remembered as an iconic piece of late-genre Western cinema that absolutely deserved a run on the big screen. 5/5
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Imprint Films delivers another fantastic filmmaker box set with Directed By Walter Hill. Featuring six feature films including Hard Times, The Driver, The Long Riders, Extreme Prejudice, Johnny Handsome, and Broken Trail. Each film has its own case with spine numbers 164-169. Hard Times is a single-disc Region free BD-50. The Driver is a Region Free BD-100 4K UHD with a Region Free BD-50. The Long Riders is a Region Free BD-50 for the main feature with a BD-25 for bonus features. Extreme Prejudice is a single-disc Region Free BD-50. Johnny Handsome is a single-disc Region Free BD-50. Broken Trail rides off with a single-disc Region Free BD-50. All of the films and their respective cases are housed in a stylish hard-box case. Each disc loads to a static image main menu with standard navigation options.
At the top of the pack is Hard Times showcasing what looks to be the same 2.35:1 1080p transfer used for Twilight Time’s disc way back in the good old days of 2013. It was a great transfer then and it remains a great transfer today with clear details, strong cinematic grain structure, and healthy robust colors. While I would love to see this get a full 4K restoration release, I’m not going to complain about this transfer as many folks missed out on the Twilight Time release, it’s still a great-looking disc. 4/5
Next up we get the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray of The Driver which offers up the same fantastic 2160p Dolby Vision transfer that StudioCanal issued for their UK release. Crystal clear details, deep inky blacks, healthy colors, I have nothing to complain about here and only great things to say watching this exhilarating demolition derby of chase sequences come to life like never before. For a full breakdown of this great transfer, check out Sam Cohen’s The Driver 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Review - 4.5/5
Next in the pile comes The Long Riders which according to the case artwork was sourced from a new 4K scan. I haven’t yet picked up Kino Lorber Studio Classics’ two-disc Blu-ray from 2017, so I don’t have that to compare, but I’m very impressed with the results here. Fine details are clean and clear, and costumes and facial features are well-textured without any signs of smoothing or edge enhancement. Film grain is nice and finely resolved without ever looking too intrusive. Black levels are excellent giving the image plenty of depth while colors are nice and healthy with accurate human skin tones. The elements are in great shape without any notable speckling or scratches to be seen. A 4K UHD of this one would be very welcome, but until then this disc is a great option. 4.5/5
After that comes Extreme Prejudice. Like The Long Riders, the artwork reads that the 1080p transfer was sourced from a 4K scan. Since StudioCanal offered the transfer it looks to my eyes to be identical to the one Lionsgate turned in for their recent domestic Blu-ray release. I’d say this is damn good, almost striking in numerous areas, but there are a couple of rough interior and shadowy twilight-ish sequences that just don’t quite pop like the rest of the film. In one scene you’ll see crystal clear details with finely resolved film grain, a few scenes down the line can look hazy with rather gloppy grain. The “rough-looking” scenes aren’t terrible mind you, they won’t distract from how good the rest of the film is, but they’re a step back in overall quality. 4/5
Next is Johnny Handsome which like the previous two discs says is sourced from a new 4K master. This may be the case but it’s not a crystal clear winner. To be fair, this movie has never looked great on disc and has generally been rather rough to ugly to watch. Details are much better than I’ve seen before allowing you to appreciate Rourke’s work under all that makeup but those fine details don’t quite pop either. Fine lines can have a bit of a crunchy quality to them. Black levels are pretty good but they get awful close to crush and the image can feel pretty flat. Whites aren't exactly cripy clean either and often look drab, almost gray. Colors are a bright spot with nice primaries and healthy skin tones, but as the weakest film in the pack, it also picks up the weakest video transfer by comparison. 3/5
Last on the pile is Broken Trail which looks to be an almost identical disc to what Sony issued back in 2008. And again, that’s not a bad thing at all considering that disc was terrific for its day and it still holds up. As stated for some of these other films, I would not complain if a 4K UHD disc came down the dusty road someday, but as is this is still a terrific-looking disc with excellent details, healthy colors, and nice deep black levels. It’s a genuinely cinematic piece of work so I do hope Sony someday revisits it, but for now, if you don’t already have this film, this is a great disc for the collection. 4/5
Each film in the set offers up its own assortment of audio options.
Hard Times hits hard with either a DTS-HD MA 5.1 or LPCM 2.0 stereo track. Personally, I lean more favorably for the 2.0 stereo track, but I can’t deny that the 5.1 has some heft to it for the more action-packed sequences. When the fights hit that 5.1 track picks up some life, but surrounding scenes feel so front/center focused there’s very little surround activity. That’s where I feel the LPCM 2.0 mix is the better balanced and ultimately the more impactful. Regardless of which way you roll, the dialog is clean and clear, levels are spot on, and there are no serious age-related defects to contend with. 4.5/5
The Driver rides in with the same excellent English LPCM 2.0 audio mix. There’s no bemoaning the lack of a 5.1 upgrade or even an Atmos mix because this track all on its own is a beast. It’s authentic to the film on top of feeling every engine roar and gunshot through every blistering action scene. Dialog is clear, music cues are strong, and there are no serious age-related anomalies to report. 4.5/5
For The Long Riders, this disc gallops away with a terrific DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track as well as an LPCM 2.0 stereo mix. While I’d normally favor the 2.0 track above others, this 5,1 DTS mix is a terrific immersive mix. Those big bank robbery and shootout sequences and even simple scenes of people crossing the street with folks milling about give ample surround activity. Dialog is clean and clear without issue and levels are spot on. Some of the actors are a bit soft-spoken in keeping with their characters but I didn’t have any trouble hearing what was being said. Again, you can’t go wrong with either mix. 5/5
For Extreme Prejudice, we’re treated with a solo LPCM 2.0 mix, no 5.1 track included - which is fine. For how much action hits, there’s an equal amount of quiet conversational moments that just wouldn’t call for that kind of channel attention. When the big action sequences drop it’s still a tight and wild ride with those 80s-styled Howitzer explosive gunshots! Dialog is clean and clear without issue and the Jerry Goldsmith sounds terrific with his iconic 80s blend of full orchestra and 80s synth beats. 4.5/5
Johnny Handsome struts his stuff with a fitting LPCM 2.0 track. Much like Extreme Prejudice, the film has long stretches of simple conversations so there’s not a lot of call for a full-bore multi-channel surround track. Gunshots and the heist scenes get plenty of sonic attention with nice loud bombastic gunshots and plenty of screaming carnage. Dialog for the most part is clean and clear throughout without issue. Whitaker has a somewhat odd halting cadence to his speaking that can be a little hard to hear and then you do have to pay close attention to Rourke when he’s in all of that makeup but that's more of the performances than an issue with the mix. None of the other actors have any issues so it's all on those two guys. 4/5
Last but not least, Broken Trail rides off with an excellent DTS-HD MA 5.1 and a very good LPCM 2.0 audio mix. Of the two options, the 5.1 mix is the way to go. This is a big grand epic-scale Western and that sense of depth and distance is essential for the listening experience. Whether it's gunfire or galloping horses, this is an immersive audio mix. That isn’t to say the LPCM stereo track is bad, but it just doesn’t feel as full and alive. It’s perfectly good and will get you though but if you’re rigged up for surround sound at home there’s really no contest. 4.5/5
If you love bonus features, it’s best you strap in. This box set is packed to the gills with amazing extra content, save for one film. Sadly Hard Times doesn’t punch in with any extras of any kind - which is a shame because it’s the film I like the most but it has the least. But after that, The Driver, The Long Riders, Extreme Prejudice, and Johnny Handsome hold point delivering hours of excellent content to dig into. Extreme Prejudice on its own has three great audio commentaries on top of some awesome nearly two hours' worth of interviews with Walter Hill alone! Again, the audio commentaries are real treats for these films - especially the Beger, Mitchell, and Thompson commentary for The Long Riders is well worth the listen. Being essentially a repeat disc, Broken Trail only has the original making-of featurette, I’d have loved to hear a new commentary or see a retrospective on that one. As it stands though, you have so many hours worth of great extras it’s going to take you a while to pick through everything.
The Driver -
4K UHD Disc:
The Long Riders -
Extreme Prejudice -
Johnny Handsome -
Broken Trail -
Walter Hill is a heck of a filmmaker. You can’t say “was” because he’s still working and his latest western Dead for a Dollar is proof enough that the legendary filmmaker has plenty of grit to keep punching out solid flicks. But when it comes to appreciating a broad swath of his work, Imprint Film’s Directed By Walter Hill six-film box set is essential. Now you may have picked up a few of these over the years, I had half of them already, but for the quality of the films, the quality of their respective A/V presentations, and then the hours upon hours of excellent bonus features, the value of this set can’t be overstated. Highly Recommended