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Damnation Alley - Blu-ray Review

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Damnation Alley - Blu-ray Review

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3

Loosely adapted from Roger Zelanzy's 1969 short story, Damnation Alley arrives on blu-ray courtesy of those B-movie lovers over at Shout! Factory.  The film, originally made in 1977, cost more to make than Star Wars: A New Hope did and looks about a thousand times cheaper.  Odd, I know, but when oversized scorpions threaten a motorcyclist courtesy of some low-budget optical effects, Damnation Alley makes the campy science fiction movies of the 1950s look like Avatar.  Yet, the film has its own merits when viewed as an insane post-apocalyptic journey across America.

Lt. Jake Tanner (Jan-Michael Vincent) and Maj. Sam Denton (George Peppard) can barely stand each other.  Working together as Air Force officers sharing ICBM silo shifts deep underground, the two are caught off-guard when WWIII begins and America’s missile defenses aren’t strong enough to stop the bombardment of nuclear bombs hitting various cities across the United States.

A nuclear holocaust is what they witness and what they survive.  Eventually they abandon the silos for land adventures along with Keegan (Paul Winfield) and Perry (Kip Niven) in super-sized 12-wheeled Hummers.  Their goal is to look for other survivors - Janice (Dominique Sanda) and Billy (Jackie Earle Haley) - and get to Albany, New York in one piece.  Yet, flesh-eating cockroaches, sand storms, weird skies, and trippy wild-eyed sandbillies stand in their way.

While logic largely leaves this narrative with little direction, the sense of cinematic fun and child-like ‘what if’ moments keeps the picture from being a total waste of time.  This is pure B-movie mayhem and magic with glorious amounts of goopy cheese heaped on it for good measure.  With craters in the plain states and bleeding radiation sores in a roadside diner, Damnation Alley could seriously give a damn about answering any questions its audience might have about exactly how this movie operates.  It’s making up the rules as it goes along.

Stock footage is used for explosions, models are sent floating in bathtub water, and bizarre sky effects are used quite extensively.  The film barrels in full-throttle at an easy 90 minutes, but – due to large narrative gaps and time loss – it’s rather suspect.  Certainly, there is more footage we were meant to see that got whopped off in favor of making the film a little more kid friendly.

Directed by Jack Smight, Damnation Alley gets most of its science and logic wrong.  This isn’t a movie known for its musings on surviving an unholy war on an unholy planet.  Hell, there’s no explanation of how the Air Force has uncontaminated water two years after the world blew up.  Yet, the gonzo heart of this dim-witted farcical pile of science fiction hokum keeps it from being, for lack of a better word, a total bomb.

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{2jtab: Film Details}

Damnation Alley - Blu-ray ReviewMPAA Rating: PG - parental guidance is suggested.
Director
: Jack Smight
Writer
: Alan Sharp
Cast:
Jan-Michael Vincent; George Peppard; Paul Winfield; Jackie Earle Haley; Dominique Sanda
Genre: Sci-fi | Thriller
Tagline:
The magnificent epic of five people who survive the nuclear holocaust and their incredible odyssey through the nightmare world it created. And now, you will not only see it, you will feel it, live it--in "Sound 360"--a revolutionary sight and sound experience.
Memorable Movie Quote: "Don't go making something personal out of this. Perry is dead. That doesn't make you right and me wrong. It just means Perry is dead."
Distributor:
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Release Date: October 21, 1977
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
July 12, 2011

Synopsis: A small group of survivors at a military installation who survived World War 3 attempt to drive across the desolate wasteland to where they hope more survivors are living. Hopefully their specially built vehicles will protect them against the freakish weather mutated plant and animal life and other dangers along the way.

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{2jtab: Blu-ray Review}

Damnation Alley - Blu-ray Review

Component Grades
Movie

Blu-ray Disc
3 Stars

2 stars



Blu-ray Experience
2.5 stars

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - July 12, 2011
Screen Formats: 2.35: 1
Subtitles
: None
Audio:
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1; English: LPCM 7.1; English: Dolby Digital 2.0
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)

It’s really unsure if a lot of love went into this presentation.  The source material is questionable at best; full of pops and scratches and sudden splices.  Yet, this is its debut on HD and in widescreen.  The 1080p transfer might be from best available prints of the film, but it isn’t without its faults.  Maybe it’s the abundance of optical effects that pins it down to a certain era.  There’s a heavy layer of grain that permeates the picture and the sound, presented in a DTS-HD MA 6.1 lossless soundtrack, isn’t going to shake the walls with explosive theatrics but, all in all, both picture and sound are serviceable and probably the best the film’s fans (myself included) are ever going to get.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • Producer Paul Maslansky steps up to the microphone and details the film’s convoluted history, production, and special effects.  Fans are going to love this track.  Haters?  Not so much.

Special Features:

The three featurettes that comprise the release’s supplemental material are pretty interesting.  Screenwriter Alan Sharp discusses the adaptation of the story and his writing process and one producer, Jerome Zeitman, discusses the making of the film.

The breakdown is as follows:

  • Survival Run (12 min)
  • Road to Hell (13 min)
  • LandMaster Tales (10 min)
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Television Spot

{2jtab: Trailer}

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