To Live and Die In LA appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A transfer with some moderate ups and downs, LA occasionally betrayed its age, but it mostly looked pretty solid.
Sharpness varied. The movie generally seemed acceptably detailed and concise. However, more than a few shots looked a bit soft or ill defined. Those didnít become dominant, but they occurred more than Iíd like. I saw no issues connected to jagged edges or shimmering, but some mild to moderate edge enhancement popped up at times during the film.
Despite the movieís age, print flaws caused very few issues. I noticed a little grain and some very occasional specks. Otherwise, the movie stayed clean and without problems, which came as a surprise given its vintage.
Many Eighties films suffer from muddy colors, but those of LA mostly came across well. The tones occasionally demonstrated a little of the eraís flatness, but usually the hues looked fairly dynamic and vibrant. They never became runny or messy and mostly were distinctive and tight. Black levels also looked a bit erratic but usually worked fine. For example, the shots at the dance club where Masters first talked to Lanier were somewhat wan and murky. Otherwise, blacks mainly seemed fine, and low-light shots generally appeared well defined. Shadow detail appeared fairly clean and visible. Despite the mix of issues, LA maintained a good image for its age and earned a ďBĒ.
As with the picture, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of To Live and Die In LA presented an inconsistent piece. On the positive side, it featured a well above average soundfield for a movie from 1985. It seemed surprisingly active as the mix added a lot of different elements. Stereo imaging for the music was somewhat lackluster but generally appeared acceptable. Effects spread nicely across the front. They were a little more speaker-specific than Iíd like, but given the age of the material, I easily forgave that. The pieces moved moderately smoothly across the speakers, and the surrounds contributed a great deal of information to the track. They kicked in nicely during action sequences and provided pretty engaging environment through the whole flick.
LA lost points due to its erratic audio quality. Much of the dialogue sounded decent, but the mix included some of the worst looping Iíve heard; a lot of dubbed lines integrated poorly. Mild to moderate edginess also affected many lines, though I felt they always remained intelligible. Music varied from reasonably robust to thin and shrill. However, that mostly related to the source material. The pop production of the day favored a bright trebly sound, so the lack of bass didnít come as a surprise. Effects presented some fairly good low-end but they were moderately dense and didnít sound tremendously realistic some of the time. I also noticed occasional examples of distortion. Ultimately, LA did enough right to merit a ďB-ď, but the generally flat sound quality caused concerns.
Although I didnít expect any significant extras for To Live and Die in LA, it includes a pretty decent roster. We open with an audio commentary from director William Friedkin, who offers a running, screen-specific piece. At the start, he tells us that he wonít talk about the story, and he keeps to his word. That comes as a relief, for during prior commentaries, Friedkin often did little more than narrate the films.
He avoids the trend for LA and offers a somewhat spotty but generally good examination of the movie. Among other topics, he gets into the flickís origins, its casting, his editing techniques, how and why Wang Chung did the score, and cinematographic concerns. Friedkin provides some nice discussions of work on the set and really gets into the challenges of the big car chase, particularly in his attempt to not just rehash the famous pursuit from The French Connection. Friedkin lets too much dead space appear, but this doesnít become a true annoyance. The director gives us a nice look at his work and his film in this fairly solid commentary.
Next we find a new documentary entitled Counterfeit World: The Making of To Live and Die in LA. In this 29-minute and 30-second piece, we get the usual mix of movie clips, footage from the set, and interviews. These contemporary clips offer information from Friedkin, co-producer/editor Bud Smith, propmaster Barry Bedig, stunt coordinator Buddy Joe Hooker, and actors William Petersen, Willem Dafoe, John Pankow, and Darlanne Flugel. We also get notes from author/co-screenwriter Gerald Petievich and Petersen on the set in 1985.
They cover why the project appealed to Friedkin and the others, spontaneity of the shoot, approaches to the roles, making fake money, Friedkinís style with actors and with camera set-ups, fight choreography, the chase scene, the ending, and other issues. Some of the information duplicates topics detailed in Friedkinís commentary, but the program expands these areas well. It doesnít feel like a great documentary, but it gives us a good perspective on the making of the movie.
After this we get an Alternate Ending Featurette. This eight-minute and 25-second piece presents comments from Bud Smith, Petersen, Friedkin, and Pankow, and it also shows us the scene itself. They tell us about the sequence, why it was shot, and why it was discarded. Filmed only as a compromise with the studio, itís indeed pretty terrible and inappropriate for the flick.
In addition, we discover a Deleted Scene Featurette. It runs four minutes and 10 seconds, and we find information from Friedkin and Pankow. It involves an attempted reconciliation by Vukovich with his estranged wife. We learn why Friedkin cut it; interestingly, he notes that he wishes heíd kept it.
In the Stills Gallery, we get a mix of publicity shots and images from the set. 59 of these appear in all. The trailers domain includes both the theatrical and teaser ads for LA plus ďOther Great MGM ReleasesĒ, an area with clips for La Femme Nikita, Fargo, and Dark Blue.
1985ís To Live and Die In LA doesnít represent the best from William Friedkin. However, despite some very dated moments, it mostly holds up well, especially for first time viewers. The DVD offers pretty good picture and audio plus a small but informative set of extras. LA definitely merits at least a rental.