Rolling Thunder has been a major title with cult movie aficionados for decades. Until recently, part of its allure has been how hard it was to get the film on home video: after a Vestron Video VHS release in the early ‘80s, it slipped out of print and was not issued on DVD during that format’s heyday. Things have improved in recent years via a DVD-R release from MGM’s on-demand division and a foreign blu-ray release — but neither of those option were ideal for a lot of U.S. based film fans. Shout! Factory has stepped in to fill this gap with their own domestic blu-ray/DVD combo edition — and it does well by this deserving film.
The blu-ray is what was watched for this review and the results are very impressive. The high-definition transfer captures the extremes of Jordan Cronenweth’s stylish cinematography, which offsets naturalistic exteriors with moody, dimly lit interiors that allow the actors to trail off into shadows. This transfer lives up to this palette with vivid yet realistic colors and also brings out the fine detail and rich black levels in those shadowy interiors. The audio component of the transfer offers a lossless presentation of the film’s original mono mix and this vintage track holds nicely, offering a solid blend of sounds and some punchy sound effects in key spots (especially those gunshots).
There is also a small but potent collection of extras included. The most substantial is “The Making Of Rolling Thunder,” a featurette that chronicles the film’s story in around 20 minutes. The producers assembled an impressive roster of commentators here: stars William Devane and Tommy Lee Jones, co-writer Paul Schrader and Heywood Gould. Topics they discuss include when and why Gould was brought in to do rewrites, the differences between the film and Schrader’s original script, how the film’s brutal finale was pulled off from a stunt standpoint and the skill of director John Flynn (who sadly passed away in 2007). This piece isn’t afraid to address grievances — Schrader isn’t shy in his criticisms of the rewritten script — and the results offer plenty of insight into a film that hasn’t been chronicled in great detail otherwise.
The rest of the extras consist of promotional materials. The gutsy theatrical trailer is included as well as an interesting television spot. A quartet of interesting radio adds are also included: there are two different spots that appear in two variations, one selling it as a straightforward revenge item and two that try to pitch as a Walking Tall-style opus. The last item is an image gallery that contains a variety of stills.
In short, Shout! Factory’s combo set for Rolling Thunder is a good one, boasting a strong transfer and some interesting bonus materials. If you haven’t seen the film, it’s a good way to get acquainted with its gritty charms. If you’re already a fan then you can finally fill that missing slot in your collection.
To read Schlockmania’s film review of Rolling Thunder, click here.