Runtime: 132 Minutes Rated: NC-17 What To Expect: About as good as ’90s action got
You gotta hand it to Renny Harlin. The guy followed up probably the greatest action movie of all time with a sequel that people didn’t hate. In fact, people love Die Hard 2: Die Harder. Has Willis topped it since? Arguably not. Harlin’s follow up to to Die Hard 2, a movie called ‘Gale Force’, was supposed to be an action thriller set in a small town, where Sylvester Stallone would hold off murderous criminals in the midst of a storm. That movie fell through. And then we got Cliffhanger, a nice shot in the arm for Stallone’s career which was struggling with a series of comedic flops. He had to revert to form with some manly action. And boy did Cliffhanger deliver. Initially the movie was pretty fuckin’ violent, a 130 min NC-17 cut was the first one presented. But like another movie from that time, Hard Target, the censors went to town on it and cut it down to size. The final movie was ‘only’ Rated-R and ran for 112 mins. Today, we’re going to look at Cliffhanger’s dark alter ego that the studio kept hidden in the basement.
Technically speaking, there are more additions than there are differences. There are a few scenes in the theatrical cut not present here, yet despite that the movie runs around 18 minutes longer. Obviously, that’s down to unused footage. So what does the ‘new’ footage consist of? Well there are a few scenes that round off logic and continuity better, such as Lithgow ordering Rooker to call back to base and throw them off the scent. As mentioned above, there’s a lot of axed violence too, a few headshots, more brain matter pasting windows etc. Or for example a more extensive sequence where the second skydiver is shot up with an MP-5 by Linn. He was spared this fate in the theatrical version and as such, the fact that he was shot calls for another scene later in the movie addressing it. This is why the wolves wanted to have him for lunch. There are a few other minor changes. The night vision equipment seems to be presented through a different field of view and the music is entirely different and and patched in, the only thing not finished. Most of the score is from Predator (1987) with some also from Die Hard (1988).
As for how both movies compare, like Hard Target: Director’s Cut, this version is superior than the the theatrical version. Not massively, but it has an edge in that the tone is darker. It’s not just that it’s more violent, the scoring has a lot to do with it too. The music in Cliffhanger theatrical is more upbeat. The music in Cliffhanger NC-17 is not, it has a more menacing edge to it. In personal scenes that are scored softly in the theatrical cut, looming Predator (1987) ‘there’s something out there’ meanness hangs over them in this version, there really is no respite for the heroes. The score difference is temporary but it’s surprisingly effective, especially during the action sequences. It’s funny how music can have an effect on things, but it can get distracting having unique themes from other movies that you recognise being used. I think it’s safe to assume this is probably the director’s preferred take on the movie. And unfortunately, it’s the last great thing Harlin has done. Over 20 years have passed and he hasn’t equalled Cliffhanger, either version.
Wasn’t stuff like this supposed to be a big selling point for 21st century home video? Like John Woo’s real Hard Target, most people will probably never see this. And that’s a shame.