Black Moon Rising Review
Long before Vin Diesel got behind the wheel of his Dodge Charger, Linda Hamilton was tearing through the streets of LA in the auto heist movie Black Moon Rising (1986). The Black Moon of the title is a sleek, hydrogen powered supercar, first glimpsed racing across the salt flats at speeds in excess of 300 mph. It’s one of a kind and, naturally, gets stolen by a sophisticated gang of car thieves lead by suave criminal mastermind Ryland (Robert Vaughn). The owners of Black Moon are relying on wily thief Quint (Tommy Lee Jones) to get their prototype back. Quint, now working for the government, is more than willing to help. Not because he has any interest in the car itself, just a vital data file stashed inside the vehicle shortly before it was taken, which his employers insist he gets back at any cost. There’s just one problem: the Black Moon is stored inside Ryland’s heavily fortified skyscraper, so Quint has to draw on all his wits and formulate a plan to break inside.
Despite John Carpenter’s name appearing on the credits, don’t go setting those expectations too high. Although this is based on a story Carpenter conceived back in the early seventies, before his career took off, he had little involvement with what finally made it to the big screen over a decade later. The directing duties instead passed to Harley Cokeliss, one-time documentary filmmaker for the BBC, who curiously later changed direction and began working for B-movie legend Roger Corman. Considering two further writers toiled over the script for nearly a year, the resulting caper-style movie is disappointingly routine. There’s a smattering of violence and some half-decent suspense, yet very little that really stands out.
Black Moon Rising is given a welcome boost by the presence of a gruff monobrowed Jones, who delivers some funny lines in his inimitable style. Displaying big ‘80s hair, Hamilton is on good form too, in an early role that came between the first two Terminator films. She plays strong-minded Nina, a key member of Ryland’s hi-tec ring, who Quint must charm in order to obtain crucial information. Other cast members fare less well, with several screen veterans wasted in thankless roles, most notably Vaughn, along with the likes of Richard Jaekel and Keenan Wynn. By the crummy standards of New World Pictures, the production values here are at least better than usual. One highlight is a typically rousing score provided by the great Lalo Schifrin, combined with quaint special effects that just about hold up – though they’re clearly pushed to the limit when Black Moon jumps between two high-rise buildings. Reflecting back on the brilliance of Carpenter’s other early work, I wondered how much better the film could have turned out had he been enticed back to the project - and been given full creative control.
Black Moon Rising makes its UK debut on Blu-ray, with a brand new 2K restoration from the original 35mm interpositive. The transfer, presented in a ratio of 1.85:1, is bright with vivid colours and natural looking skin tones. Compared to an earlier DVD released by budget label Boulevard over a decade ago, fine detail is significantly improved, such as textures in clothing and background decoration. Those who are sharp-eyed may observe the occasional speck, but nothing too drastic. The enhanced clarity only further accentuates Jones' craggy features.
The audio choices are: 2.0 stereo and DTS-HD MA 5.1. Both options do a fine job, with dialogue crisp throughout and Lalo Schifrin's score suitably dynamic. No imperfections were detected. Optional English subtitles are also included.
The original 1986 film and VHS releases were rated 18 and slightly trimmed by the BBFC (reducing a scene where Quint is beaten), though these cuts were waived for the DVD. The BD carries a 15 certificate and is similarly uncut.
Arrow Video are releasing Black Moon Rising in the UK only. However, in the US it will be distributed by Kino Lorber during May 2019, with identical disc content.
New audio commentary by Lee Gambin, author of Show Me: The Making of Christine
An excellent selection of brand new interviews, most of which are produced by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures.
Black Moon Ascending (33:48): San Diego born director Harley Cokeliss discusses his eventful career in this insightful interview. Cokeliss talks about his early years studying at The London Film School, then working for the BBC on documentaries such as Horizon and later directing features for the Children's Film Foundation. He was also a last minute replacement to direct second unit on The Empire Strikes Back, before eventually working for legendary producer Roger Corman. He describes the original script for Black Moon Rising as ambitious, but needing refining. He is full of admiration for star Tommy Lee Jones, who he says had an ear for dialogue and describes Linda Hamilton as a "firebrand".
Thief in The Night: Producing Black Moon Rising (14:27): Producer Douglas Curtis talks about script development, the auditioning process and the slick vehicle itself. It's revealed that The Black Moon was actually a concept car designed and built by Wingho Auto Classique, based in Montreal - who still exist today. Although the Black Moon is shown to reach speeds of over 300 mph in the film, it was all Hollywood smoke and mirrors. The car wasn't really powered by hydrogen at all, just a conventional VW engine - and struggled to shift much above 40 mph.
Sound of Speed: Composing Black Moon Rising (7:53): an interview with composer Lalo Schifrin and film music historian Daniel Schweiger
Carpenter’s Craft (17:43): Author and critic Troy Howarth provides an interesting video essay on co-writer John Carpenter’s early screenwriting career.
Making Black Moon Rising (11:41): An archival documentary featuring behind the scenes footage and cast and crew interviews. Considering this was made more than 30 years ago, there are some intriguing comments made about the benefits of hydrogen powered cars over diesel, in order to reduce the growing problem of air pollution.
Alternative scenes: Selected scenes from the Hong Kong theatrical version with a different score & sound effects (12:12), and a workprint opening sequence with different credits (4:25)
Image Galleries: Extensive stills, behind the scenes, posters, lobby cards, storyboards and an annotated script.
Trailers (4:33): theatrical and teaser. Plus: TV spots (x 5) and radio spots.
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Haunt Love.
Collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film by Kieran Fisher (first pressing only & not available for review).