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Category:    Home > Reviews > Thriller > Mystery > Drama > Mental Illness > Vietnam > Horror > Supernatural > Jacob’s Ladder (1990/Lionsgate Blu-ray)

Jacob’s Ladder (1990/Lionsgate Blu-ray)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: B-     Film: B-



Adrian Lyne has been a director looking for respectability, but it has been mostly elusive, even when he has done good work.  Like Tony Scott, he wanted each of his films to be event pictures and after Foxes (1980) has that trajectory for a while.  Flashdance (1983) was a shallow film, but a surprise hit, then came 9½ Weeks (1986) which wanted to break sexual ground of some sort, but was kitschier than anything else.  Then he lucked out and made the influential Fatal Attraction (1987), a small release film that became a huge blockbuster and very imitated afterwards.


Of course, most of the imitators were awful and the film was eclipsed by Michael Douglas’ Paul Verhoeven hit Basic Instinct (1992, which led to more bad imitators), so Lyne’s next move was a film with ties to Vietnam.  Though the subject had been covered as well as possible, Jacob’s Ladder (1990) limited its battlefield time to the opening of the film, then it reverts to being a “coming back home” film as the title character (Tim Robbins in one of his best performances) finds his perceptions slowly turning to uglier and uglier versions of distorted reality.


So what is causing this?  Is he losing his insanity?  Is the world falling apart around him?  Was the Vietnam experience so bad that it has destroyed him?  Is it something demonological?  The opening Vietnam scene is effective by breaking free of the cliché that if a U.S. helicopter shows up, you are safe and saved.  This was written by Bruce Joel Rubin when he was writing more challenging works like Brainstorm (1983) before delving into commercial silliness like My Life, Deep Impact, Stuart Little 2 and a film that should have had more of an edge, the huge hit Ghost.


The result is a good film that could and should have been great, all the way to the end, but the film loses its way to a great extent in the end and that is why it was received with mixed commercial and critical results.  Lyne could not overcome the problems of the script or the war, moving on to the gimmicky Indecent Proposal (1992), ill-advised remake of Lolita (1997) and vaguely memorable Unfaithful (2002) before fading from the talk on top directors.  Maybe he’ll make a comeback later, but it has been all down hill since Jacob’s Ladder and he may never get material this interesting again.


Helping the film out is its cast, including Elizabeth Pena (Transamerica), Danny Aiello (Do The Right Thing), Ving Rhames, Jason Alexander, Eriq La Salle, Lewis Black and an uncredited Macaulay Culkin.  If you have never seen the film, it is worth a look, but if it has been a while, you might see new things in it.



The 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image disappoints, looking like it comes from both an older HD master and an older film print.  This does not do justice to what works here, especially visually and does not show off the work of Director of Photography Jeffery L. Kimball (The Expendables, Star Trek: Nemesis, Mission: Impossible II, Top Gun) to best advantage.  The film looks better than this, even if this look better than the previously released DVDs.  The DTS-HD Master Audio (MA) lossless 5.1 mix is a poor representation and upgrade remix of the advanced analog Dolby SR (Spectral Recording) analog system the film was originally mastered and issued in theatrically.  The fine score by Maurice Jarre (Fatal Attraction, School Ties, Laurence Of Arabia) could also sound better.


Extras include feature length audio commentary by Lyne, Deleted Scenes and the original theatrical trailer.  When they do updated extras, they should update the transfer as well.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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