Due to the home video market (and, for the past few years, DVD), certain films that have, for whatever reason, not succeeded in the theaters have gone on to attain cult status on video. Kevin Smith's "Mallrats" (jokingly called "the 'Blade Runner' of comedies on the commentary for that film) is certainly an example, as is John Carpenter's "Big Trouble In Little China". The 1986 film really does a wonderful job at putting together martial arts action scenes before the film before "martial arts" became big again in recent years. At that time, though, the studio didn't quite see the movie the same way and audiences expected a different character from Russell.
Russell stars as Jack Burton, a truck driver who finds himself thrown into a battle in Chinatown's hidden back-rooms and chambers when his friend's future bride is kidnapped by thugs at the airport. The rest of the film essentially turns into several chase/fight sequences, many of which are impressively well-staged for a film that's now 15 years old. The film works even better thanks to the fact that the actors involved seem to be having a great deal of fun, and the three credited editors on the picture move along the picture at a very rapid clip, keeping just what's needed through the 99 minutes. The film is highly original and completely unpredictable, keeping things light throughout. Russell's John Wayne-ish performance is one of his most entertaining.
The film is technically also excellent. The production design of John Lloyd is tremendous, and the sets look terrific. Cinematography is by the award-winning Dean Cundey, who has also shot everything from "Dances With Wolves" to "Nutty Professor 2". There's also terrific costumes by April Ferry("U-571", etc). The film cost about 20 million and it looks to me as if it cost a little more than that with the kind of detail and special effects (which are good for a 15 year old film) that are on display.
It's a high-energy, entertaining picture. I look at it now and wonder why it didn't get a larger audience; hopefully though, it will continue to add members to its cult after this excellent DVD release.
VIDEO: Although "Big Trouble In Little China" does have some flaws on this new 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer from Fox, I'll give a good example of how good I thought it did look: a day before I actually sat down to review the disc, I had it playing in the background and turned around and said "holy crap!". For a 15 year old picture, "Big Trouble" looks mighty good. Sharpness and detail are very strong, and some scenes even have a very nice depth to them.
There are a couple of minor flaws to be found throughout. Although the majority of the film looks excellent for its age (which is where the previous comment I offered came from), there are still a couple of little instances where the film shows its age - a print flaw or two is visible occasionally, although these little instances are hardly distracting and far less than I would expect from a picture that's 15 years old. A tiny trace or two of pixelation came up, but was so minimal as to be easily passed by.
Colors are terrific - the film has a wide variety of colors which look bright, bold and well-rendered throughout the movie. Black level is solid and flesh tones remain accurate and natural. The film looks largely fresh and new here, and Fox has done an excellent job.
SOUND: Fox offers "Big Trouble In Little China" in both Dolby Digital 4.1 and DTS 5.1, although the DTS presentation is still actually really 4.1. Although "Big Trouble" is a fairly agressive action picture, the film is still 15 years old and the sound design certainly isn't as active as a picture that would be made in recent years (speaking of that, it would be interesting to hear this film's sound re-done today, but oh well.)
Surrounds do get some use, but their use is very infrequent and not terribly effective. Audio quality is fine, though. Carpenter's score sounds excellent and really adds to the excitement of the picture. Dialogue also sounds clear and not thin or harsh. It's a respectable presentation and sounds fine, but not that remarkable in any way.
MENUS:: These are some fantastic menus that were done by Fox, offering wonderful film-themed animation that perfectly introduce the movie.
Commentary: I didn't know that two people could have so much fun in a commentary. This is a track with actor Kurt Russell and director John Carpenter, who have two tons of fun during this track, starting off the track laughing and joking all the way through. The two are able to remember a great deal of stories about the production and really have fun talking about the obstacles that came up throughout the making of the film. As they are able to be honest and fun in their comments, they succeed in making the track both informative and often hugely entertaining as it's obvious that the two are great friends. There's also some good discussion of Russell's career - even "Captain Ron". Definitely one of the better (if not best) tracks I've listened to all year.
Trailers: 2 Trailers and the Spanish trailer.
TV Spots: 6 TV Spots are included.
Deleted Scenes/Extended Ending: Fox has gone the extra step with these deleted scenes from the film. Taken from a either rough film elements or Carpenter's betamax work tapes, these provide low image and sound quality, but obviously work went into making sure that these were able to be seen at all here. The desire in this film was obviously to get going from the begining, so these scenes were likely cut out to keep the pace rapid. The 8 included are interesting to watch, but were rightly taken out, in my humble opinion. An extended ending of the film is also included, but doesn't work as well as the ending in the actual film.
Featurette: This is actually a 10 minute featurette from the film's production, not a new featurette. It's a decent enough watch, but most of it tells us the movie's story once again. Some of the interview footage is worthwhile viewing, but it's probably not something that people are going to come back to.
Richard Edlund Interview: Effects artist Richard Edlund discusses many of the film's visual effects and his role in "Big Trouble In Little China". This is actually a multi-angle feature, where the first angle shows Edlund's interview with a small box in the upper left corner. The second angle shows a large version of the stills that were previously in the small box.
Also: Cast/crew bios, production notes, interactive articles from Cinefex magazine and American Cinematographer, a large gallery of stills, DVD production credits and a disturbingly corny music video.
Final Thoughts: "Big Trouble" is a fun, action-packed film that suprisingly was largely ignored during release. Producer David Prior(who also put together Fox's "Fight Club" DVD) has done a wonderful job putting together this 2 DVD set, which offers very good audio/video quality and some wonderful extra features. Definitely recommended, and at a very nice $26.98(less at most stores) retail price.
The Film *** 1/2
Video 90/A- = (360/400 possible points)
Audio: 85/B = (340/400 possible points)
Extras: 87/B = (261/300 possible points)
Menus: 93/A = (186/200 possible points)
Value: 87/B = (261/300 possible points)
FILM GRADE: *** 1/2
DVD GRADE: B