I never thought much of Commando in the 80s or 90s; in fact, I'm not sure I saw it all the way through. I picked up the DVD anyway after overwhelming recommendation on the Digital Retribution forums, thinking I must've missed something. It became clear very quickly that by watching only snippets of the film here and there over many years, I hadn't just missed "something," I'd missed the awesomest movie of all time. After finally watching it, the film skyrocketed in my estimation, to the point I'm sitting under a framed Commando poster as I type this, and the movie singlehandedly got me reinvestigating the action genre that I'd been neglecting for a decade.
|Director: Mark L. Lester
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rae Dawn Chong, Dan Hedaya, Vernon Wells, Alyssa Milano, David Patrick Kelly
Screenplay: Steven E. de Souza
In Commando Arnold Schwarzenegger is a retired commando living a peaceful life of seclusion with his young daughter, Embrace of the Vampire's Alyssa Milano. Life is a dream and we know that because they spend their days inappropriately feeding wild deer and training in hand-to-hand combat, plus they're so relaxed he doesn't' even get mad when she carelessly wastes ice cream. The tranquillity is shattered when some bad guys kidnap his daughter and blackmail Schwarzenegger out of retirement. He doesn't follow the villains' plans exactly, and instead sets out to find his daughter, but he only has 11 hours to reach her before the bad guys realise he's not where he's supposed to be. He enlists the help of Rae Dawn Chong, who has also had a run in with one of the villains, and the pair follow leads to try to rescue Li'l Alyssa.
Commando really starts up at about 12 minutes in, and is solid, fast paced, mind-boggling fun from then on, but it's not like that was a slow first 12 minutes because they contain murders, an explosion, a car crash and some wood chopping. It's just that at 12 minutes in the story really takes off.
What makes Commando so brilliant is that it can be watched as a straight, albeit dumb, action movie or as a hilarious satire. The film is brimming with great humour, great action, great one-liners and great feats of strength from Schwarzenegger. The tongue-in-cheek nature allows the viewer to accept that Schwarzenegger can take out an entire army but no one else in the movie is able to hit a target while shooting. I think there is some unintentional humour, too, but because the movie's so funny that just blends in with the other jokey bits. The plotting is satirically convenient, but does have a few surprise moments where it skirts some genre clichés, like Schwarzenegger's negotiations with the villain that informs him his daughter's been taken.
One thing that a lot of people have picked up on is that Commando is probably the gayest action movie of all time not found in the gay porn action movie parody section of a video store. Schwarzenegger needlessly strips to budgie smugglers prior to the climax, claims to know the scent of a man and says 80s pop star Boy George should have been called Girl George to eliminate confusion. I assume he means confusion over being sexually attracted to someone that has "boy" in his name. There's also a scene where Schwarzenegger is fighting a guy in a hotel, and they break through a door and surprise a couple in bed. Now, it is a heterosexual couple, but watching the scene it appears that she's behind him in a doggy style position when they're interrupted. I'm thinking it would've been too obvious to have two guys in bed together, so instead the filmmakers put a guy who's clearly in a transitional phase getting it up the ass from his girlfriend wearing a strap on dildo. Once he admitted his love of being sodomised, I'm sure it was only a little while till he switched teams. Or maybe he's bi, and a big phallus in his pooper was the one thing he really missed from his homosexual relationships, so he was just trying to find a way to make it work with his new gal. There's also the possibility that he's straight and just happens to like having things in his rectum, but if he's discovered that then he's at least open to possibilities, and maybe his character is there to get viewers to open their minds too, then progress to accepting the gay lifestyle portrayed in Commando without judgement. Even if someone wanted to dismiss these and all the other little gay moments, there is one homoerotic element of the film that is impossible to overlook: Vernon Wells' tight little vest. It has been claimed that the reason Wells' vest is so tight is that he was replacing another actor that was much smaller than him, and wardrobe were unable to get him a size appropriate vest. For awhile I fell for that line, but the thing to remember is that Commando is directed by Mark L. Lester, who also directed the even more gay Showdown in Little Tokyo. Maybe this is a Nightmare on Elm Street 2 kind of thing, where Wells didn't know he was starring in a gay film, but I bet Lester did. As I said about Showdown, I don't even know that Lester is gay, but I think he's making movies that have all the red blooded macho men out there really excited, but not sure why they like the films so much. I love the idea of a bunch of closeted men, who pretend they like these beefy action movies because they're so butch, stuck trying to explain their obsession with Commando on heterosexual terms.
Not that you have to be gay to like Commando, it's just another funny, subversive element (in that the action genre usually tries to be the antithesis of gay) within the film that makes me like it more. I'm not the only one, as I suspect Peter Jackson's a fan. His debut Bad Taste featured a character who has to fight his way out of a toolshed after being surrounded by enemies, and a large shootout in a big garden. In Commando Schwarzenegger also busts out of a toolshed, then slaughters a whole army in a garden. Plus, both films have a rocket launcher, so I'm right and don't doubt me.
Speaking of the toolshed scene, it's longer in the director's cut. Most of the other stuff in the director's cut doesn't change the movie that much, though Milano is more verbally aggressive to one of her captors, but the toolshed scene makes more sense in the director's cut. I find the theatrical cut of this scene a bit difficult to follow, and while I get the gist of what's happened it does flow better in the director's cut. With Commando the question isn't, "How good is it?" The question is, "Is this humanity's single greatest achievement?" The answer is yes.
| Commando has a bit of edge enhancement and some macroblocking, which at times gets hard to ignore. There're a few spots and specks, there's a little trailing and a teeny bit of crush. The colours are much more stable than on the DVD, and the image is significantly sharper. Usually the film looks clear with good detail, and it does pop at times. The added clarity makes it easier to spot stunt doubles and a wire helping Schwarzenegger hold up a bad guy, and at one point I could see way too well up Schwarzenegger's nose. Despite a few flaws, for a budget release of an older catalogue title the Blu looks great. Unfortunately, the price of the Australian edition was way too high for it to be considered a budget release, but thankfully it's now dropped down to a level that makes the purchase worthwhile.
The audio comes in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, but the disc does not include the movie's original audio track. Instead there're 5.1 DTS dubs in French and German. Those two tracks seemed similar in quality to each other, but the English track is lossless so it's better. The 5.1 English re-mix is not bad, but I wish I had the original sound to compare it to. The explosions and gunfire usually sounded good, but at times the audio seemed a bit muffled. Whether that's a flaw on the source I couldn't say because I only have this remix to listen to. The director's cut DVD had some relevant extras, but this Blu-ray does not, which makes me wonder where they went? It seems silly to try to get people to buy into a new format and then not give them the best possible edition of a movie, but then I guess I'm just not smart enough to understand this logic like studio heads. Instead of the making of and the director's cut of the film, this Blu has the trailer, and trailers for Alien vs. Predator, Behind Enemy Lines, Phone Booth and Planet of the Apes. Talk about a major downgrade.