Midnight Express (30th Anniversary Edition) – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com

Director

Alan Parker

Cast

Brad Davis … Billy Hayes
Irene Miracle … Susan
Bo Hopkins … Tex
Paolo Bonacelli … Rifki
Paul L. Smith … Hamidou (as Paul Smith)
Randy Quaid … Jimmy Booth
Norbert Weisser … Erich
John Hurt … Max
Mike Kellin … Mr. Hayes
Franco Diogene … Yesil
Michael Ensign … Stanley Daniels
Gigi Ballista … Chief Judge

The Movie

Billy Hayes has one of the more extraordinary stories to tell as an American who escaped from a Turkish Prison. After several failed attempts, and several years of torture, Hayes would find his way across the Greece border and back to the United States. His book about the experience, Midnight Express, would become a best-seller and eventually turned into a film. After being caught trying to smuggle Hashish out of Turkey, Hayes would eventually be sentenced to life imprisonment by Turkish officials and after incompetence by his own government, Hayes would escape after endearing several years of torture. This is a fictionalized account of his experience, with certain details changed for dramatic purposes.

Hayes, played by Brad Davis in a role originally meant for Richard Gere, was by all accounts a young man who did something stupid and got caught doing it. The film presents his viewpoint as a man in a strange land, enduring what amounts to a kangaroo court of justice in terms of dealing with the Turkish justice system as well as systematic torture by sadistic guards. Combining his talents with fellow prisoners Jimmy (Randy Quaid) and Max (John Hurt), the three experience prison life while trying to hop on the “Midnight Express,” prison slang for escape.

It’s a harrowing journey by Hayes as he repeatedly tries to escape, and fails, but eventually we know he’ll get out. That’s not because the film has a formula; Hayes really did escape and wrote a book about it. The historical aspect is something known going in. It’s how he does it that makes the film interesting. It’s a gritty, harsh film that’s uncompromising in a lot of areas. While it’s portrayal of Turkey and the Turkish people are not in the best light, this film isn’t about them. It’s a portrayal from Billy’s perspective about his experiences. So slanting it obviously towards him makes a certain amount of sense.

Midnight Express won Oliver Stone his first Oscar, as he won another pair for directing Born on the Fourth of July and Platoon, but this was for his writing. Alan Parker would direct the film, as Stone was still a relatively unknown screenwriter at that point (he was years from penning the adaptation of Scarface or directing Platoon) and it’s a sign of how good a screenwriter Stone can be. Hayes story is heart-breaking in what becomes a series of increasingly horrible treatments by his captors.

The film stands as a minor classic from the 1970s, often over-looked in a decade filled with the bulk of Hollywood’s great films. While its biggest contribution may be to have one of its tracks lifted for the theme song of an 80s pro wrestling tag team of the same name as the film, it’s a powerful story about a man trying to keep his sanity while trying to gain his freedom.

A/V QUALITY CONTROL

Presented in a Dolby Digital format with a widescreen presentation, the film has been given a slight makeover for its 30th anniversary edition. The audio is a bit more crisp and solid than the film’s single disc edition; it uses the format much more effectively. The film has been cleaned up a bit, removing a lot of the grain and age of the film stock. It’s not a superb transfer, but it’s markedly better than a lot of its contemporaries.

The Extras

The Producers is a segment about how the film came to be. With a news article chronicling Hayes’ escape, the producers thought his story would make a great film and convinced Hayes to let them turn what would become his book about it into a feature length film. Originally conceived as a vehicle for a young Richard Gere, his clashes with Alan Parker in regards to the film’s script would lead to Brad Davis being cast for the role over a young Dennis Quaid. It’s interesting to hear the producers talk about the film in retrospect; originally conceived as an action-adventure story, the film-makers decided at the end that the film’s story about a man surviving was more important and that the big action finale planned for the film didn’t work with the story they crafted. Debuting at the Cannes Film Festival, the film grew quite a substantial buzz after the press screening in the morning. The piece, which runs 25 minutes, covers the entire production cycle of the film with a bit of candor as well.

The Production follows the film’s production, from screenplay to finished product. . It’s interesting to hear the cast, minus Davis (who died of AIDS in the early 1990s) , discuss the film and genuinely seem to have enjoyed making it.

The Finished Film is a look at some of the aspects of the film, focusing a lot on what the film was going to look and sound like. Using a synthesizer-fueled score, which won an Academy Award, the piece focuses more on technical aspects.

The DVD set also contains The Making of Midnight Express, a photo pamphlet written by Parker with photos from the production, detailing the aspects of making the movie. It’s interesting to read the director’s thoughts about making the film. There’s a Photo Gallery on the DVD as well.

The film’s Original Theatrical Trailer is included with the new DVD release, as well Previews for the first season of Damages, the new Collector’s edition of Taxi Driver and the 30th Anniversary Edition of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Commentary from Director Alan Parker is included.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for Midnight Express 30th Anniversary Edition
CATEGORY RATING(OUT OF 10)
THE MOVIE

9.0
THE VIDEO

8.5
THE AUDIO

8.5
THE EXTRAS

6.5
REPLAY VALUE

8.5
OVERALL 9.0(NOT AN AVERAGE)