TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 24 April 2014
MIDNIGHT EXPRESS  [Deluxe Limited Edition DigiBook] [Blu-ray] [US Release] It’s About Never Giving Up Hope! Brilliantly Made . . . Frighteningly True!
‘Midnight Express’ is the harrowing story of Billy Hayes [Brad Davis], a young American tourist condemned to a Turkish prison for his futile attempt to smuggle hashish out of the country. A victim of ineffectual diplomacy, where Billy Hayes is made an example by a corrupt legal system. Sentenced to 30 years and must overcome some ruthless brutality and his own descent into madness in order to survive and hopefully escape.
‘MIDNIGHT EXPRESS’ is powerfully directed by Alan Parker, who inspires searing performances from Brad Davis, John Hurt and Randy Quaid. It is an unforgettable look at one of the most dangerous prisons in the world, and one man’s fight to get home.
FILM FACT:‘MIDNIGHT EXPRESS’ won Academy Awards® for Best Music, Original Score for Giorgio Moroder and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium for Oliver Stone. It was also nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for John Hurt. Best Director, Best Film Editing and Best Picture for Alan Parker. The film was also entered into the 1978 Cannes Film Festival.
Cast: Brad Davis, Irene Miracle, Bo Hopkins, Paolo Bonacelli, Paul L. Smith, Randy Quaid, Norbert Weisser, John Hurt, Mike Kellin, Franco Diogene, Michael Ensign, Gigi Ballista, Kevork Malikyan, Peter Jeffrey, Joe Zammit Cordina, Yashaw Adem, Raad Rawi, Tony Boyd, Zannino, Mihalis Giannatos, Vic Tablian, Ahmed El Shenawi and Alan Parker (uncredited)
Director: Alan Parker
Producers: Alan Marshalls, David Puttnam and Peter Guber
Screenplay: Billy Hayes (book), Oliver Stone (screenplay) and William Hoffer (book)
Cinematography: Michael Seresin
Composer: Giorgio Moroder
Video Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English: 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, English: Dolby Digital Mono, French: 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, Portuguese: 5.1 Dolby TrueHD and Spanish: 5.1 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Portuguese and Spanish
Running Time: 121 minutes
Region: All Regions
Number of discs: 1
Studio: Columbia Pictures [SONY Pictures]
Andrew’s Blu-ray Review: Alan Parker's ‘Midnight Express’ is a tough, troubling, difficult picture. It's thoroughly unpleasant to watch, loaded as it is with brutal assaults and grisly torture and people losing their minds; it also includes some cringe-inducing xenophobic attitudes and dialogue (which screenwriter Oliver Stone later apologised for). It's structurally wobbly, and full of odd interludes. But you can't deny director Alan Parker's ability to work over an audience; his direction is tight and sometimes unbearably tense, and he manages to draw us in to a story with a serious shortage of sympathetic characters, primarily through the sheer brute force of his imagery.
The film is based on the true story (reportedly much exaggerated, however) of Billy Hays [Brad Davis]. An American on vacation in Istanbul with his girlfriend Susan [Irene Miracle] in 1970, Billy Hays tries to smuggle a couple of kilos of hash back to the United States, only to get busted and sent, indefinitely, into a Turkish prison (the film single-handedly made "Turkish prison" synonymous with "living hell"). With the help of his father Mr. Hayes [Mike Kellin], in a fine performance of deeply felt frustration and an expensive lawyer, he gets a three-year sentence for possession, but fifty-three days from the conclusion of that term, a higher court overturns the sentence and instead finds him guilty of smuggling for a thirty-year stint. This is around the time he starts looking to escape, and by the time that fails, he has gone a little bit crazy.
The strength of Oliver Stone's screenplay and Alan Parker's direction is in its portrayal of Billy Hayes' slow, steady descent into real madness; it's that old saw about how, if you treat a man like an animal, he'll turn into one. When Hayes makes the switch, Alan Parker is ready with a full arsenal of stylistic tricks: slow-motion photography, scary music, abstract sound, and plenty of blood and gore. But it's a slippery slope to get him there; the primary difficulty with telling this particular story is that you're asking an audience to sympathize and identify with a protagonist who is, semantics and connotations aside, a drug smuggler. And at the time he commits that crime that is literally all we know about him, Alan Parker and Oliver Stone parachute into the action at the last possible moment, beginning the film with Billy Hayes strapping the hash to his body and heading to the airport. There's no denying how unnerving the customs sequence is to watch; it's scored with heartbeat percussion and builds up some genuine tension, in spite of the fact that we know he's not going to get away with it, if he did, there'd be no film. But that speaks to the skill of Alan Parker's filmmaking; since we know nothing about this guy, we've got no good reason to want him to get away with it. In the scenes that follow, Oliver Stone's best notion for getting us on the protagonist's side seems to be making Billy Hayes into a dumb, naïve kid, and letting us see how he is ruined by this corrupt, foreign, evil system (never mind that the good ol' U.S.A is not exactly renowned for the common sense proportionality of our drug sentencing).
Not long after that, Billy Hayes finds himself in court, having his sentence upped. This is one of the more troublesome scenes in the picture; his big courtroom speech, which includes some of the most obviously anti-Turkish sentiments of the film, is full of the less-than-subtle dialogue and reckless hyperbole that have been a thorn in the side of Oliver Stone's critics in the years to come. For all of its problems, however, ‘Midnight Express’ is unquestionably effective. Parker seems to see it, first and foremost, as an antsy, jittery mood piece, he doesn't let a lot of sunshine in to his frames, and his handling of the story's violence is demanding and relentless. The direction is particularly compact during a nervy escape attempt; he shoots and cuts the sequence with razor sharpness, made stronger by the choice to go without music. The score itself, by Giorgio Moroder, is a mixed bag; renowned at the time for its innovative use of synthesizers, it was the first all-synth score to win an OSCAR®, the dread-filled music works beautifully in the first act, but is alternately bombastic, syrupy, and button-pushy through the rest of the film. We've seen before how nothing can date a film quicker than an inappropriate score, and that's often the case here. But as you will hear from the Extras, that Vangelis was Alan Parker’s preferred choice and I feel it would have been a far more of a superior music score and I think Alan Parker was rather miffed at being over ruled by the studio executives.
The performances are interesting, if not altogether successful. A young, thin Randy Quaid is a little over the top, but Paul Smith (later to play Bluto in Robert Altman's ‘Popeye’ film) is a terrifying presence, and John Hurt turns in a quiet, skilful performance (he nabbed a deserved Supporting Actor nomination). Brad Davis' performance mostly works and he does the turn from in-too-deep bonehead to a slobbering mess, believably and done very smoothly. His only real fumble comes in the scene where he finds out about the change in his sentence and loses his cool; Brad Davis, at least in this film, is better in reactive mode, and he can't quite land this scene where he blusters and yells and must command the screen. But for the most part, he is a fine anchor for this graphic, vivid, forceful film.
Blu-ray Video Quality – ‘Midnight Express’ makes its high-definition debut with a very solid 1080p image presentation. It looks quite good, especially for a film that's thirty-plus years old; skin tones are natural, fine grain is present but not distracting, and the clean 1.85:1 image shows no scratches, dirt, or other age artefacts. Alan Parker and Cinematographer Michael Seresin work mostly in an earth colour palate, heavy on the browns, and some of the wide shots, particularly in the opening sequence, are almost sepia-toned. But within its limited saturation, the colours are rich and full and the same goes for the black levels, a considerable feat in a film this dark and a closing shot, in which Billy Hayes emerges from a dense swath of darkness, is particularly notable, as is a wonderful silhouette shot of Hurt smoking and calling out for his cat. The attention to detail is also marvellous, particularly the grime and muck of the prison walls. With no compression artefacts, edge enhancement, this is about as good a presentation as we could hope for.
Blu-ray Audio Quality – ‘Midnight Express’ is presented with a 5.1 Dolby TrueHD surround mix isn't quite as impressive, primarily because the picture's claustrophobic sound design doesn't present many opportunities to spread the audio throughout the soundstage. Most of the noteworthy environmental sound work comes early in the film, during an Istanbul street scene and subsequent chase. The rest of the audio is mostly geared towards the front channels, with the exception of some distributed music cues. Dialogue is mostly audible and clear; though the entire track is mixed a bit too low and I had to crank my system up much higher than usual. The disc also includes the original mono English mix, as well as a Spanish 2.0 track and French and Portuguese 5.1 Dolby TrueHD surround mixes. English, English SDH, French, Portuguese, and Spanish subtitles are also offered.
Blu-ray Special Features and Extras:
Audio Commentary: Commentary with Alan Parker: Alan Parker delivers a cogent talk in which he reminisces about the production. There is some repetition of content with the booklet essay, but he attempts to focus here more on the production logistics, his directorial choices, and his desire for "authenticity." In both the essay and the commentary, Alan Parker is very frank about his difficult working relationship with Oliver Stone.
Special Feature: The Producers [26:00] Part One of the documentary features interviews with producers Peter Guber and David Puttnam. They cover the genesis of the project, the hiring of Stone, the casting and the studio wanted Richard Gere; Dennis Quaid was also in the running, and working off the studio radar with a low budget.
Special Feature: The Production [25:00] Oliver Stone describes writing with a sense of anger and urgency. Alan Parker explains how he got attached to the project, scouting locations, shooting in Malta, and working with John Hurt.
Special Feature: The Finished Film [24:00] More stories about Brad Davis's eccentricity, the decision to avoid subtitling the foreign dialogue, the photography, the score, and the movie's controversial reception at Cannes.
Special Feature: The Making of ‘Midnight Express’  [7:27] A grainy, wonderful vintage full-frame behind-the-scenes piece and its on-screen title is "I'm Healthy, I'm Alive, and I'm Free." The heavy-handed voice-over introduces us to the real Billy Hayes as he roams the streets of New York, before showing us clips from the film and on-set interviews with Billy Hayes and Peter Guber, plus a New York interview with Billy Hayes' father.
Special Feature: Photo Gallery [13:00] It includes a few shots from the set, but mostly presents images from the film.
Theatrical Trailers: Several SONY Blu-ray titles, we get clips for ‘The Da Vinci Code,’ ‘A River Runs Through It,’ ‘Not Easily Broken,’ ‘Obsessed,’ ‘Casino Royale’ and ‘Damages Season One’ though, unfortunately, the Trailer for ‘Midnight Express’ isn't one of them, round out the bonus features.
BONUS: Booklet Essay: Part of the fancy packaging is a 32-page booklet with many glossy photos, storyboard sketches, and an in-depth essay by director Alan Parker about his experiences making the film. The essay is so thorough, in fact, that it covers pretty much all of the information repeated in the documentary on the Blu-ray disc.
Finally, superbly crafted and emotionally involving, ‘Midnight Express’ often defeats the moral quagmire as presented in the film and the controversial aspects of its script through sheer film making brilliance. Managing to turn a drug-smuggling character into a sympathetic figure due to his disdainful treatment in a hellish foreign prison and taking liberties with a true story for dramatic and artistic. ‘Midnight Express’ certainly deserves the accolades bestowed upon it at the Academy Awards® despite the subject matter and controversial depiction thereof makes it a rather unique film in the annals of cinema. No matter one's take on this representation of Billy Hayes' story, there is no denying the artistic merits ‘Midnight Express’ brings to the table, its superb technical achievements reason alone to watch. SONY's Blu-ray release of ‘Midnight Express’ befits the film and there is plenty of bonus materials information with this brilliant beautiful "DigiBook" and that is why it has gone pride of place in my Blu-ray Collection. 30 years after its release, ‘Midnight Express’ continues to impress. However harrowing and unpleasant, the film delivers a strong sense of dynamic verisimilitude [meaning “the appearance of being true or real”] and creates a good look at a miserable situation. The Blu-ray offers better than expected picture, acceptable but dated audio, and a few nice extras; the audio commentary proves particularly enjoyable and ever since I viewed this film, it has always burned an amazing image of viewing a great directed film, that deserved all the awards it garnered and on top of all that it also a very character driven film with a stunning script and now it has gone pride of place in my Deluxe Limited Edition DigiBook Blu-ray Collection. Highly Recommended!
Andrew C. Miller – Your Ultimate No.1 Film Fan
Le Cinema Paradiso
WARE, United Kingdom