Release Date(s)1985 (November 22, 2016)
Studio(s)United Artists/MGM (Shout! Factory/Shout Select)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: A
“Symbolically counterfeit” is how William Friedkin describes his 1985 good-cop-gone-bad classic To Live and Die in L.A. Based upon the novel by Gerald Petievich, it tells the story of two over-the-top Secret Service agents (William L. Petersen and John Pankow) who are out stop a murderous, psychopathic counterfeiter (Willem Dafoe). Extremely well-shot and paced, the movie was a hit with critics and managed to make a decent amount of money at the box office before becoming a cult favorite with film fans.
In the overall scheme of things, much of To Live and Die in L.A.’s story isn’t unique. From one cop going into retirement to another living on the ragged edge, it would be easy to point a finger at the movie and label it as nothing more than a series of clichés. The difference is that most movies like it tend to get made quickly and on the cheap, leaving little room for performances or artistic merit, of which To Live and Die in L.A. has plenty. After scoring big early with The French Connection and The Exorcist, Friedkin’s later work didn’t often click with audiences, despite the fact that much of it is heralded now. At the time, though, To Live and Die in L.A. was seen as a return to form, giving Friedkin a chance to revisit a familiar genre and do something different with it stylistically. It’s dated in a lot of ways now, but the performances and the look of the film carry it beyond expectations. One certainly can’t argue that this film isn’t shot beautifully, with lush, 80s noir scenery and rough pavement bathed in sunlight. It also features another Friedkin signature: a great cinematic car chase. And while the ending here is darker than one might expect, it ultimately feels as if the movie was building towards it all along.
This Shout Select package is also being released concurrently with Arrow Video’s Blu-ray edition in the U.K. The good news is that the transfers are almost identical and seem to come from the same source, which is a new 4K scan of the original camera negative, supervised and approved by Friedkin himself. The only real difference in quality between the two is minor, in that the Arrow release’s grain structure is a little more pronounced, while the Shout Select release is slightly less refined. Fine detail excels in both transfers, especially in shadows, with good definition. The color palette has been improved over the previous MGM release, which was a bit anemic when it came to skin tones. Primaries are also much bolder now, while blacks are deep. Both brightness and contrast levels are satisifying and there isn’t much in the way of film defects visible aside from some mild wobble. The audio comes in two options: English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD. The Arrow Video release features a 2.0 LPCM track instead of DTS, which would have been nice to have here as well. However, the DTS track is not to be dismissed. The 5.1 doesn’t offer much in terms of rear speaker activity, outside of some ambience and widening of the score, but the dialogue is clean and clear on both tracks. Sound effects also have some substance, and both the score and Wang Chung’s music come through well. The 2.0 track is probably the better way to go, as it feels more authentic to the original experience overall, but you be the judge. Optional subtitles are included in English SDH.
Extras consist of everything carried over from the previous MGM Blu-ray and DVD release, plus some new stuff. There’s an audio commentary with Friedkin; Taking a Chance with William Petersen; Wrong Way: The Stunts of To Live and Die in L.A., an interview with stunt coordinator Buddy Joe Hooker; So in Phase: Scoring To Live and Die in L.A., an interview with Wang Chung (Jack Hues and Nick Feldman); Doctor for a Day with Dwier Brown; Renaissance Woman in L.A., an interview with actress Debra Feuer; a deleted scene; an alternate ending; the Counterfeit World: The Making of To Live and Die in L.A. documentary; a still gallery; the theatrical trailer; and a radio spot. The only difference content-wise on the Arrow Video release is an additional trailer. Otherwise, both sets of supplements are identical.
Shout Select’s line up of titles continue to impress with To Live and Die in L.A., a disc that bests the already decent previous Blu-ray release here in the U.S. with a better presentation and even more extras. Thankfully, whether you live in the U.K. or here in the States, there’s a great new Blu-ray edition of this film available to you. And if you’re looking for a great movie pairing, this and Manhunter make for a terrific double feature.
- Tim Salmons