If you’ve paid attention to lists of holy-grail cult movie requests for video collectors in the last decade or so, chances are Damnation Alley was on a few of them. This elusive major-studio curiosity has been requested in the digital format by fans for over a decade. It almost got released some years back when Anchor Bay was issuing a package of 20th Century Fox titles on disc but that release never came to be. Thankfully for fans and curio collectors, Shout Factory has picked up the gauntlet on this title – and they’ve gone a step further by issuing it on both DVD and blu-ray, each also boasting a new set of special features.
The blu-ray is what Your Humble Reviewer checked out for this review and potential buyers can rest assured that Shout! Factory threw the stops out for this disc. It features a new high-definition transfer that delivers a digital-size level of detail and color but remains true to the 1970’s celluloid look of the film. Given the amount of old-school opticals going on in this film (almost any shot showing the sky has some trippy laser effect to it), it’s amazing that it looks this good.
Shout Factory has also put in some serious work on the audio portion of this transfer, offering a variety of choices. There is a 2.0 Stereo Track, a 6.1 DTS-HD track and an uncompressed PCM 7.1 stereo mix. Your Humble Reviewer chose the latter and it sounded great when played through his 5.1 stereo system: the big disaster sequences benefit from what multiple speakers can do for their sound effects and Jerry Goldsmith’s magnificent score comes through beautifully (especially those thick analog synths that hold down its bottom end). Simply put, it sounds as good as it looks.
The disc’s producers went in for a full package of extras, including several featurettes produced by Michael Felsher and a commentary track. The featurettes are all devoted to different aspects of the film. “Survival Run” is an interview piece with co-screenwriter Alan Sharp, who admits he was basically brought in for polish work here. He doesn’t go too deep into details but his comments veer between critical and complimentary in an interesting way.
More substantial is “Road To Hell,” an interview with producer Jerome Zeitman. He talks about this film represents his transition from a career as an agent into film production and speaks briefly but frankly about the difficulties he had as a first-time producer doing such a big-scale, effects-intensive film – and he also admits that the effects weren’t always up to snuff.
The last of the featurette trio is “Landmaster Tales,” an interview with the designer of the film’s all-terrain vehicle, Dean Jefferies. He comes off very likeable as he reveals all the challenges of making the Landmaster a reality and also reveals that Steve McQueen was considered for the role of Tanner. The only odd aspect of this featurette is doesn’t delve into his other job on the film as a stunt coordinator.
That said, the best of the extras is a commentary track by co-producer Paul Maslansky. He was the member of the production team who dealt with the day-to-day work of producing the film and has a lot of interesting production stories, including a fun tale about the Madagascar roaches used in the film’s infamous “killer cockroaches” setpiece. Like Zeitman, he’s honest about the extreme difficulties they had in coping with the effects but is mostly complimentary to his coworkers. He has no problem filling the running time with observations and comments and the end result is worth the listen for those interested in how this odd duck of a film came together.
The package is rounded out with a theatrical trailer and a t.v. spot for the film. Overall, this is a worthwhile set. Some fans might disappointed that it doesn’t delve into all the mysteries of this film: for instance, there is no talk of Roger Zelazny, who wrote the source novel and was famously critical of the film, or the scale-model giant scorpions originally used for one scene and later abandoned. That said, the strong transfer and audio options are the biggest selling points here and there’s plenty of information to be gleaned from the supplements for fans. The people who have begging for this film in a digital format are likely to be pleased by this well-produced disc of Damnation Alley.