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William Friedkin
Al Pacino, Paul Sorvino, Karen Allen
Writing Credits:
William Friedkin

A sadistic serial killer targets New York's gay community and the NYPD sends rookie cop Steve Burns undercover to find the murderer.

Box Office:
Domestic Gross

Rated R

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English LPCM 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 102 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 8/20/2019

• Audio Commentary with Director William Friedkin
• Audio Commentary with Director William Friedkin and Film Critic Mark Kermode
• “The History of Cruising Featurette
• “Exorcising Cruising Featurette
• Trailer


-LG OLED65C6P 65-Inch 4K Ultra HD Smart OLED TV
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-Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player
-Chane A2.4 Speakers
-SVS SB12-NSD 12" 400-watt Sealed Box Subwoofer


Cruising [Blu-Ray] (1980)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 12, 2019)

Like Deliverance, The Boys from Brazil and many other films of the era, 1980’s Cruising immediately makes me think of SCTV, as a skit on that show made fun of one of the flick’s more unseemly elements. I was too young to really get the joke when it first aired, but the sketch stayed with me.

That alone would’ve made me interested to watch Cruising, but the film’s infamy pushed it into “must see” territory when it arrived on my door. Cruising introduces us to the gay S&M culture of New York City, where someone preys on the denizens of these nightspots with enough frequency to turn this into serial killer territory.

NYPD officer Steve Burns (Al Pacino) gets the assignment to go undercover and infiltrate the clubs so he can attract and apprehend the killer. This requires a deep commitment to “disappear”, a fact that doesn’t exactly delight his girlfriend Nancy (Karen Allen). The movie follows Steve’s involvement in the rough gay scene as he pursues the mysterious murderer.

Back when Cruising hit the screens in 1980, it generated a lot of controversy due to its depiction of gay life. Some straights felt offended by its “graphic” content, while many gays didn’t like it because they thought it focused on the seedy side of the lifestyle. They believed it contributed to a monochromatic view of gays as sex-obsessed pervs.

Did Cruising help or hurt the gay cause? I’d say neither, as I think its impact on society was negligible. Once it left theaters, it essentially went forgotten, and I seriously doubt it did anything to affect gay acceptance or repression.

If I were gay, I’d mostly be offended that they made a flick related to the culture that’s so damned boring. Some movies come armed with a tight, gripping story, and they make their events feel like an integral part of those tales.

Cruising isn’t one of those flicks. Instead, the plot feels tacked on and almost superfluous.

When the film tries to emphasize the murder mystery, it doesn’t seem interested. It gives off a “who cares?” attitude about those sections, as it prefers to delve into the smutty side of things.

Those who expect a really graphic view of the gay nightlife will likely come away disappointed. We find lots of shots of semi-clad dudes as they kiss, grope and moan, but there’s not really much more to it than that. The movie makes all of this look pretty seedy, but it rarely presents a more intense view than that.

Nonetheless, Cruising really does revel in those scenes. As I mentioned, it seems bored with the story when it makes half-hearted attempts to pursue the narrative. Instead, it’d rather indulge in endless shots of gay clubs, ala some form of cheap TV newsmagazine exposé.

Perhaps this was titillating and provocative 39 years ago, back before gay culture received as much widespread public exposure as it does today. Or maybe it was just as dull then as it is now. Whatever the case may be, shot upon shot of guys in bars doesn’t create an interesting movie.

In addition to the undercooked narrative, Cruising comes with consistently flat performances and characters. Steve himself is a particular dud, especially as radically underplayed by Pacino.

Given that actor’s tendency toward the hammy side of the street, it comes as a shock to see Pacino’s subdued work here. And by “subdued”, I mean “barely conscious”.

Pacino plays the role with absolutely no spark or personality. As such, Steve lacks any of the depth we would expect – and require, really.

We should see some inner life to the character, but Pacino lends nothing to the part, so he’s basically a cipher. To some degree, that choice makes marginal sense when you get to the finish of the film and see its cheap twist ending, but it still doesn’t feel right to me.

Not that much about Cruising works. A flat, dull piece of work, it never musters the energy to tell a real story. Instead, it throws attempted titillation at us with little else to merit our interest.

The Disc Grades: Picture C/ Audio C/ Bonus B

Cruising appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Superficially, the image could look good, but it came with some flaws at the core.

These stemmed from the apparent use of digital noise reduction (DNR) techniques. I expect a lot of grain from a movie made in 1980, but Cruising lacked much of that, a factor that just seemed “off”. While I did see some grain, it felt minimized, and the image could come across as a bit too “smoothed out”.

Overall sharpness was good, though maybe too good, as I suspected artificial sharpening. Edge haloes cropped up through the film, and I also noted some odd pixelization in some shots, such as a killing around the 45-minute mark.

No signs of jagged edges or moiré effects occurred. The source also lacked print flaws, though the image could take on an overcranked, “digital” look at times, such as the radioactive glow of Karen Allen’s eyes at 1:03:25.

Cruising offered a fairly blue palette, with the occasional sign of dismal green. In particular, scenes that involved nightclubs or the seedy culture went with those tones, though much of the rest of the flick was similarly desaturated. Within the production choices, the tones looked appropriate.

Blacks showed nice density, and shadows were clean. Despite some positives, the various methods on display here rendered this a disappointing transfer.

As for the movie’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 remix, it came with its own ups and downs. In particular, the soundscape seemed unbalanced, mainly because music mainly came from the rear speakers.

If Arrow reveals that this aspect of the track got reversed, I’ll not feel surprised. Music did emanate from the front, but the surrounds overwhelmed in an unnatural manner.

Otherwise, the soundfield seemed virtually monaural. A smattering of effects broadened to the sides in a minor manner, but don’t expect much.

I also failed to detect anything much in the back channels beyond the music. Perhaps light effects cropped up back there but the music simply obscured them. In any case, the overall result provided a soundtrack that stayed heavily centered except for the unbalanced score.

Audio quality had issues as well, mainly related to speech. The film came with some weak looping, and those lines tended to seem stiff and unnatural.

Dialogue varied, though, so plenty of the material felt reasonably natural as well. Most of the iffy dubbing seemed to occur in the movie's first half, so expect that element to improve with time.

Despite the weird focus of the music in the back channels, the score and songs showed decent clarity and life. Effects remained lackluster, as they failed to demonstrate much range or punch. Mainly due to the unbalanced soundfield, this wound up as a mediocre track.

Note that the Blu-ray also featured the film’s original LPCM stereo mix, one that I felt better represented the source. Because it eliminated the surrounds, it lacked the 5.1 version’s awkward placement of music, and it also appeared to spread out effects in a more natural manner.

Quality seemed about the same for both stereo and 5.1 tracks, as the flaws such as the poor looping came from the source. Still, the stereo mix fared better because it showed a more smoothly integrated sonic picture.

How did the Blu-ray compare to the DVD version? I preferred the lossless stereo mix here to the DVD’s 5.1 track, but the DVD’s 5.1 worked better than the Blu-ray’s since it came without the weird musical imbalance.

Visuals became a more complicated issue. On one hand, the good parts of the Blu-ray looked much better than the DVD, but because the DVD showed natural grain, it felt more “film-like”.

Which version you’ll prefer depends on your tolerance for tampering, I guess. In many ways, the Blu-ray fared better, but it came with techniques that damaged its ability to look like film.

The DVD’s extras repeat here, and the Blu-ray adds a new component as well. First comes an audio commentary from director William Friedkin. He provides a running, screen-specific discussion that covers inspirations and influences, locations, cast, issues with the gay community, realism and research.

While Friedkin occasionally touches on those subjects, most of the time he simply narrates the movie. Hoo boy, Friedkin sure does like to discuss what we see on the screen!

You might wonder if you accidentally triggered a DVS track instead of a commentary. Though Friedkin presents a little interpretation of the film and the occasional useful comment, the vast majority of this piece bores.

New to this Blu-ray, we get another audio commentary with Friedkin and film critic Mark Kermode. Both sit together for a running, screen-specific view of the project’s roots and development, story/characters, censorship and controversies, cast and performances, sets and locations, music, and connected domains.

After the boredom of Friedkin’s solo track, I feared this one would become a snoozefest as well. Happily, it proves radically more satisfying.

Kermode works well as an interviewer/moderator, and he ensures that the discussion moves smoothly. Friedkin proves frank and informative as he doesn’t shy away from criticisms, such as his comments on Al Pacino’s lack of preparation. Ignore the awful Friedkin solo track and play this one instead.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we get two featurettes: The History of Cruising (21:05) and Exorcising Cruising (22:31). Across these, we hear from Friedkin, actor/technical advisors Sonny Grosso and Randy Jurgensen, producer Jerry Weintraub, casting director Lou DiGiaimo, director of photography James Contner, production executive Mark Johnson, editor Bud Smith, and actors Richard Cox, Don Scardino, Gene Davis, Jay Acovone, and James Remar.

“History” looks at the adaptation of the novel and changes made for the script, research and influences, locations and realism. From there we learn about casting, characters, and performances, and Friedkin’s influence on the set.

“Exorcising” views cinematography, working within the gay community and connected issues, the film’s violence and topics related to the murders, editing, audio and music, and the movie’s reception.

The featurettes give us a pretty solid examination of the production and doesn’t skimp on frank details. I especially like all the attention devoted to the negative reactions from the gay community, as those make up an important part of the movie’s legacy.

Of course, it’s too bad that Al Pacino doesn’t participate, but his absence doesn’t mar this piece too much. The featurettes cover the flick in an informative and involving manner.

I don’t mind the fact that Cruising focuses on the seedy side of gay culture. I do object to the sheer boredom it inflicts on the viewer. Flat, dull and tedious, the movie acts more as a tour of gay nightclubs than as an actual story.

The Blu-ray comes with erratic picture and audio as well as a useful collection of supplements marred solely by one bad commentary. I don’t think much of the movie, and the presentation comes with too many problems.

To rate this film, visit the original review of CRUISING

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