The Delta Force Review

1986’s The Delta Force drew its primary inspiration from the hijacking of TWA Flight 847, which took place on June 14th, 1985. Shortly after the flight to Rome took off from Athens, it was taken over by two terrorists belonging to the Lebanese pro-Iranian Hezbollah. They re-routed the flight to Beirut and demanded the release of Lebanese Shi’ite being held in Israeli jails. The ordeal dragged on for around two weeks and resulted in one casualty: US Navy diver Robert Stethem, along with the release of over 700 Shi’ite prisoners in Israel. It took two years before the capture of key orchestrator Mohammed Ali Hammadi.

Such a demoralising outcome wouldn’t be befitting of Menahem Golan’s Chuck Norris vehicle, however, as it sets out for bloody retribution, when the Delta Force, led by Chuck and Lee Marvin, are called into action to save the day.

By this point, Menahem Golan was treading on familiar ground. The Israeli-born director’s 1977 feature Operation Thunderbolt [Mivtsa Yonatan], which was inspired by the real-life events of ‘Operation Entebbe’, had earned him an Academy Award nomination for ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ (eventually losing out to Madame Rosa). Having dug Cannon out of a financial ditch by the end of the 70s, he and his cousin Yoram Globus rebranded the fledging company and began to produce cheap scripts, which would subsequently give rise to some of the most fondly remembered B movies of the era. These included a number of Death Wish sequels and well regarded Chuck Norris classics, such as Missing in Action and the unforgettable Invasion U.S.A., in which Chuck lives with an armadillo, fights an alligator and Richard Lynch throws Billy Drago’s battered girlfriend out of a window…but not before shooting Billy in the balls.

Such unsubtle behaviour would go on to define much of Cannon’s output during this period, being largely unified by common themes and politics inspired by past and present conflicts or those which simply advocated vigilanteism and ninjas. The Reagan era was in full effect by the mid-80s, making way for some of the decade’s most fondly remembered features, of which The Delta Force resides quite highly on the manly chart.

To Golan’s credit, he handles proceedings respectfully well. While there may be a certain lack of subtlety, with scenes like the separation of the jews and tried catholic intervention, its mirroring of the Flight 847 incident in an almost pseudo-documentarian form is startlingly on point; providing a suitably tense reality given its partially historic significance. Much of the conviction here lies in the portrayal of not only the hijacking victims, but so too the terrorists, showing - like the more recent United 93 and Captain Phillips - that it can be done without feeling overly cloying. Surprising still is that they are given so much screen time that it does begin to feel very much like a film of two halves.
Indeed The Delta Force is one of the more oddly paced action films out there, which although takes its time to set up the severity of the situation by following the timeline of the events which inspired it fairly closely, isn’t any worse off for it. Less about extravagance and more geared toward building tension, Golan’s restraint in not blowing his load too soon is commendable, with just one major sequence (save for the opening titles which references the botched Operation Eagle Claw rescue in 1980) surfacing in its first 80 minutes, involving Chuck outrun baddies in a VW camper van. This in itself almost makes the film’s credited leads appear to serve more of a tertiary function, at least until the final act, which is balls to the wall stuff. Predictably jingoistic in a pro-American, flag-baring kind of way, it’s nonetheless supported by Alan Silvestri’s terrific score, which presents a pulsating and arguably bombastic heroic anthem; seemingly stuck on a loop, it’s ready to surface every time the good guys enter frame. And while the action won’t win too many points for originality, it is otherwise well shot and coherent, and one can’t be too dismissive of Forster’s merciless beat down at the hands of Norris by the end, before he’s hilariously dispatched with thanks to a rocket-equipped motorcycle.

Perhaps most surprising is the film’s veritable smorgasbord of screen veterans. George Kennedy, Shelley Winters, Martin Balsam, Joey Bishop and even Robert Vaughn making a brief appearance, adds a spot of class to proceedings. Chuck Norris seems dwarfed by the whole thing, whilst Lee Marvin, in his final appearance is noticeably frail at times, though no less committed. However, it’s The Delta Force’s chief antagonist who steals the show here. When casting Asian actors as Asians was still a foreign concept in Hollywood (it could be argued that it still is), the luring of everyman actor Robert Forster may have seemed like too much of a bold move. His first role as a screen baddie did - according to himself - ultimately sabotage much of his later career, so terrifyingly convincing, yet mildly vulnerable with his mannerisms, that he became somewhat typecast for the next ten years. It’s most definitely up there with the best of 80s action villains.

Presentation

Arrow states that “The HD master for The Delta Force was produced by MGM and delivered by Hollywood Classics. The original transfer transfer was produced by Paramount from an original 35mm Interpositive and the original 4-tracks stereo print master magnetic tracks.”

So what does that mean? Well, it’s as good as it gets. Arrow’s presentation is a vibrant affair, offering a fair amount of high saturation, which is in accordance to previous releases and HD broadcasts. I’ve watched this film on just about every format, so I’ve no doubt that this is how the colour timing is meant to be, regardless of slight pinking in some facial tones. Black and contrast levels are solid, only really losing shadow detail during darkly-lit interior and exterior nighttime shots. Detail is excellent throughout, with the transfer retaining that lovely film grain. Great to see no meddling in that regard.

Audio consists of an original, uncompressed 2.0 PCM stereo track. Again, if you’re a purist for this sort of thing (as you should be), we’ve a truly acceptable offering which delivers dialogue cleanly and holds a lot of love for Silvestri’s thumping score.

In addition to Arrow’s accompanying booklet, featuring contributions by John Kenneth Muir on the history of The Delta Force and Robert Friedman on Golan and Globus’s rise to power (reprint of American Film Magazine’s 1986 article), we’ve a set of welcome videos.

‘Genre Hijackers’ (14 mins approx) features Mark Hartley, who recently directed the Australian remake of Patrick and is currently working his own Cannon Films documentary. Here he naturally talks about the legacy of Golan and Globus, which serves as a decent companion piece to the included booklet. ‘Chuck Norris Scribe’ (21 mins) sits down for a frank chat with screenwriter James Bruner, who wrote the screenplays for several of Chuck Norris’s features, including An Eye for an Eye, Missing in Action, Invasion U.S.A. and The Delta Force, while ‘May the Delta Force Be With You!’ (23 mins) is the most notable addition. Commandant Christian Prouteau, who was key in organising the GIGN and GSPR, as well as instructing the first Delta Force unit provides a serious and informative piece which does well to flesh out areas which may otherwise appear greyer in the feature itself. This featurette is presented in French, with English subtitles.

Finally we have the ‘Original Theatrical Trailer’, presented in Hi-definition.

Film
8 out of 10
Video
8 out of 10
Audio
8 out of 10
Extras
7 out of 10
Overall

8

out of 10

Last updated: 04/05/2018 06:50:47

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