DVD Review: Runaway Train Remastered for DVD and Blu Ray
A film review, a first for me but I was asked if I would like to review this, and I decided as I had never experienced this film when it came out back in 1985, why not?
Following it's premier in 2010 at the Cannes Film Festival (Classics Selection) Runaway Train has been remastered in High Definition by MGM and we are treated to Special Features and get an insight into the background to the film.
The story is one of a hardened criminal, in a maximum security prison. Manny (John Voight) , has just earned the right through a civil rights case, not to be welded into his cell, as he has been for three years. The brutal administrator, Renken, rules the prison with clear hatred of the "animal" inmates, but fails to keep any real control. The news that Manny is free to mix with the other prisoners at last is met with a riot, and a stooge is employed to stab Manny in the food hall in an attempt to stimulate his "dangerous" behaviour and get him banged up again.
Manny and a co-prisoner escape using a laundry trolley, grease, cling film and a sewage outfall into a freezing Alaskan river (hence the grease and cling film-insulation). The co-escapee, Buck is portrayed by Eric Roberts as a "country bumpkin" to make his statutory rape conviction seem more of an accident and not detract too much from the story.
Running together through freezing desolate Alaskan landscape the convicts reach a freight terminal with some impressive diesels, on of them fortuitously going Manny's desired direction. They unfortunately pick the "wrong train" the one with a train driver about to drop dead at the wheel.
The adventure, the harrowing interactions between Manny and Buck, and then a girl, Sara played by Rebecca de Morney who helps on the trains all add up to a very gripping drama. Manny turns out to be much less of a man than the man Buck and the rest of the inmates had put on a pedestal. His animalistic behaviour and unhinged demeanour, means the Sara and Buck cling together in fear and resignation of their certain death in the speeding and brakeless train. Efforts are made to solve the situation, the sense of danger as they clamber over the frozen train trying to cut power lines, is very intense. Meanwhile a control room with the latest computers tries its best to minimise the damage and Renken does his best to kill Manny. He is just another psychopath, just the one holding the keys.
Without giving the end of the story away, I found this unusual for an American film. There was no tidy ending, we don't know what happened to Buck and Sara, if Buck got away, or if Manny and his nemesis are finally crushed in a climactic crash. I like the film more for this lack of resolution. The fact the story was adapted from a play maybe made for a more convincing film.
The extras, especially the interviews with the actors and the director, made me respect them so much more. The fact they wanted to be part of this re-release and the way they talked candidly about the creative process showed the real affection they feel for this film. John Voight is clearly a lovely man with a very pleasant personality. To play the brute Manny took amazing skill and devotion, and he is clearly proud of the role he played, and rightly so. Eric Roberts gave the "performance of his life" according to director Andrei Konchalovsky and Rebecca, playing the only really normal person in this horrible scenario, held it together very professionally.
I think the extras definitely gave something to this package in addition to the improved picture quality. Sometimes "special features" are not very special. These interviews were special. They do give a view into the bigger picture around the production.
I enjoyed this film way more than I expected. Sometimes we don't expect much from a film, just because its old. I was wrong to do so. I loved the power of the massive American diesels and the speed of the train through the snowy landscape. I do like diesels! If you want a fast moving 80's thriller with a bit of unhinged craziness and a lot of metal, you could do worse than get hold of this package, enjoy. It was realeased on July 22nd and is available from Amazon