Blu-ray Review: Salvador - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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Oliver Stone was not yet a household name when the low-budget war drama Salvador opened in early 1986. He had a couple horror films under his belt (and, more notably, an Oscar for writing Midnight Express, one of several screenwriting credits in his early career). By late 1986, with the release of the Oscar-winning Platoon, everyone knew his name. But Salvador represents Stone’s true arrival as a director. Specialty label Twilight Time has issued the film as a limited edition Blu-ray (3,000 copies total), making this the perfect time to revisit (or discover for the first time) his impassioned, raw, brutal mix of political, social, and personal commentary.

I understand why someone might bow out of viewing Salvador based on the fact that it plops us right down in the middle of the relatively early days of the Salvadoran Civil War. Many people try to avoid “history lessons” when watching movies, but let it be said that Salvador is not just a politically-oriented war drama. It’s also a character study. James Woods, so deservedly Oscar-nominated for his work here, plays real-life journalist Richard Boyle. At the film’s outset, Boyle and his buddy Doctor Rock (James Belushi, not nominated but he easily could’ve been for his outstanding supporting work) have hit rock bottom in their personal and professional lives.

Salvador cover (214x280).jpgBoyle’s wife has left him in light of their pending eviction, taking their child with her. He’s desperately trying to scrounge up a few hundred bucks to shoot photos in war-torn El Salvador, which is in the midst of a peasant uprising against an overbearing militia. DJ Doctor Rock has not only been fired by his radio station, he soon learns his dog has been euthanized by a local shelter. Drowning their sorrows in an endless supply of booze and dope, they head south from California to El Salvador. Boyle is convinced he can rejuvenate his career and tricks Doctor Rock into accompanying him by telling him there’ll be plenty of low-cost prostitutes to solicit.

Woods and Belushi paint indelible portraits of skuzzy bottom-feeders who slowly grow consciences as they witness the death squads and violence routinely perpetrated against the people of El Salvador. Some of Stone’s screenplay (co-written with the real Richard Boyle) gets a little speechifying, but its points are powerfully conveyed. Stone strikes a balance between condemning the U.S. support for the Salvadorian military and the personal journey undertaken by Boyle. No matter one’s own political leanings, the love story between Boyle and Maria (Elpidia Carrillo) rings true and adds a palpable layer of intimacy to the broader political landscape depicted by Stone and Boyle.

Robert Richardson’s cinematography is given a very good high definition upgrade on Twilight Time’s Blu-ray. The film’s low-budget roots probably account for the visual inconsistency throughout. Interiors are generally razor sharp, while some of the outdoor, combat-heavy material is a bit grainier and softer focus. There are moments where black specs pop up, suggesting that a cleaner source print could’ve probably been utilized for the transfer. But overall this is solid. The audio is available in the form of DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround and DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono mixes. The mono is, of course, faithful to the original theatrical exhibition, but the surround mix does a good job of subtly expanding the more action-oriented scenes to the rear channels.

“Into the Valley of Death: The Making of Salvador” is a fascinating, unmissable exploration of the film’s creation. The piece runs 62 minutes and offers a comprehensive look at the making of the film. There are also 27 minutes of deleted scenes and an enlightening commentary track by Stone. Georges Delerue’s score is offered as a DTS-HD MA 2.0 isolated track. The booklet contains, as usual with Twilight Time releases, a new essay by film historian Julie Kirgo.

To order the limited Blu-ray edition of Salvador, while supplies last, visit Twilight Time’s exclusive distributor Screen Archives.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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