For whatever reason, along with Sudden Death (1995) on Blu Ray, Hard Target has been considered somewhat of a black sheep in studio land. They just refused to release it. This is puzzling because while Van Damme isn’t the star he once was, he was a big deal in the early 90’s and this was one of his best movies. Lance Henriksen ain’t no slouch either, neither is John Woo. In fact, the Director’s Cut version of this movie in particular is the best movie he’s ever made. That’s what happens when you combine Van Damme with John Woo. This is a movie from a time where enemies were still taken out with 15 bullets instead of one, and a helicopter kick for good measure. One of the last truly great 80’s/90’s actioners. Well, the theatrical version is here now, for better or worse.
I have a hard time deciding whether this or Universal Soldier is Van Damme’s best movie. It’s definitely John Woo’s best (American) film. This is Van Damme in his prime, being directed by arguably the best man to get the best out of him. It’s actually a fairly brutal movie, its kinda funny that this was released in the same year that Jurassic Park (Which is a damned good movie) was shifting containers full of lunchboxes and toys. John Woo is an action surgeon. He knows what should be slowed down and when, and just when and how to unleash kinetic hell. He’s a man that likes his violence and weaponry too. You combine that with JCVD and it can’t fail. You add Lance Henriksen and it just gets sweeter. Henriksen, by the way, does the villain thing so well. Shit, even the sound in this movie is a cut above; that’s exactly what a bike with that engine should sound like. Woo likes his bikes, too.
As for the Blu Ray release, after such a long time and given how much material exists, you’d expect that the delay was down to Universal putting out something truly special. Wrong. Like Sudden Death on Blu Ray, it’s about as bare-bones as you’re going to get. Starting with an uninspired cover and packaging with a lonely disc reminiscent of old first generation Blu Ray releases from 2006 and 2007. There are no features, not even in standard definition. There isn’t even a stinking trailer. Director’s commentary? Forget it. Director’s Cut? Nope. It is competent where it counts, though. The transfer is ‘good’, or arguably ‘very good’ for a 20 year old movie. These days Blu Ray transfers stand out less and less, so we should be thankful that it holds its own, mostly. But while we should be happy with the fact that Sudden Death showed up at all in a good transfer, Hard Target was always a little bit more special. More was expected, we didn’t get it.
The movie itself is a 9/10 (the Director’s Cut a 5/5). The Blu Ray release, slightly disappointing. It’s 20 years old this year, it would’ve been a perfect time to release an ultimate edition.