Cobra: Collector's Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Shout! Factory
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (11th October 2019).
The Film

There was a time when Sylvester Stallone ruled the box office with two of the biggest films of the 80's – “Rambo: First Blood Part II” (1985) and “Rocky IV” (1985) – having the second and third highest grosses of that year. The man had already given cinema two highly popular, enduring characters – why not go for one more? Circling back around to ideas he had during the production of “Beverly Hills Cop” (1984) – before it turned comedic and went to Eddie Murphy - Stallone sought to make a hard-edged police thriller filled with action. “Cobra” (1986), loosely based on Paula Gosling’s 1974 novel “Fair Game”, could have been another notch on Stallone’s Tough Guy Characters belt, but incessant meddling from both the studio and Stallone himself crippled the picture. Entire scenes were cut, subplots were eviscerated, and loads of brutal violence hit the cutting room floor and, to this day, have only resurfaced in the form of a very crude work print bootleg tape. Once the film moves past the opening scene the entire picture feels rushed, as though it can’t wait to get to the end credits and hope Marion “Cobra” Cobretti has become an icon in viewers’ minds. The problem is one man does not always a movie make.

Lt. Marion “Cobra” Cobretti (Sylvester Stallone) isn’t your average cop; he’s the guy you send in when the cops can’t get the job done. As he so calmly reminds a scumbag supermarket shooter in the opening scene, “Crime is a disease. I’m the cure”, before blowing the guy away. Cobra isn’t liked for his methods but he’s respected for his results. A serial killer has been carving up people all over town and the cops can’t get a single lead on the guy – and that’s because it’s guys (plural) AND girls; an underground army of sadistic killers known as “The New World” who kill like they take cues from Clive Barker’s imagination. When supermodel Ingrid (Brigitte Nielsen) witnesses the killers in action one night, it causes them to hunt her down and brutally axe her friend to death. She survives the attack and is left in the care of Cobra and his partner, Sgt. Gonzales (Reni Santoni), but even with all the arsenal and attitude in Los Angeles these two men aren’t prepared to be under attack from a faction of no mercy murderers.

The original cut of “Cobra” supposedly ran closer to two hours and not the 87-minute mess of its current state. Warner Bros. not only required extensive cuts be made to the violence, which is clearly watered down to a nauseating degree, but supposedly when the studio and Stallone saw how big of a hit “Top Gun” (1986) was opening weekend – the week before “Cobra” was set to open – the runtime was further reduced in order to squeeze in one additional showing per theater per day. That’s right. Stallone compromised what could have been one of his most badass films in service of the almighty dollar. Watching the film you can’t help but notice how there is hardly any flow and rhythm to the pacing; every scene feels truncated and jarring; in some cases entire characters go missing or action scenes end abruptly. Sure, worldwide audiences ate all of this up to the tune of a $160 million return on a $25 million budget, but at what cost? It’s half a good film and that ain’t enough.

Stallone was one of THE tough guys of the 80's, and men of that stature required a commensurate villain. Enter Brian Thompson, best known to genre fans as the Alien Bounty Hunter on “The X-Files” (1993-2002, 2016-2018). He’s big, broad, menacing, and his character, The Night Slasher, is ruthlessly savage when it comes to killing. He talks a big talk, walks a mean walk, and carries a massive knife. That thing looks like it could cut you if you even LOOK at it wrong. Thompson’s character clearly had more depth than the film’s edit allows and his final showdown with Cobra is a bit deflated because, well, Cobra isn’t really there. Stallone wasn’t on hand to shoot some of the finale and the ending feels as disjointed as every scene that precedes it. Thompson has plenty to say about his experience on the film in the bonus features, so be sure to watch that interview.

One thing I do like about this film, in addition to Cobra himself, is the look and heavy violence vibe. This thing is mean, with the “faceless” horde of The New World feeling dangerous because these people are everywhere and everyone, as some reveals in the film prove. Nobody is truly safe, and it is only because of Cobra being such a renegade tough guy that Ingrid is able to stay alive. Otherwise, these marauders hit fast and hard, splitting people to the bone with axes and knives and anything else that leaves a big mark. Ric Waite’s cinematography is heavy on shadows and mood, establishing a dim and grim tone and aesthetic that is unsettling and effective.

Restored to its original version, I think “Cobra” could rank up there with Stallone’s best films. It’s a shame and a surprise the character Cobra never got a sequel, especially since this film, even with a poor reception, took in a sizeable chunk of change. This film needs the breathing room; stories need breathing room. Stallone got wrapped up in hubris and wound up making bad decision after bad decision, all to the detriment of his film. The guy could’ve demanded they release the full two-hour cut if he had wanted and the studio just might have caved. But instead everyone got greedy and sacrificed an evergreen home video title in order to make a few extra bucks each day. A sad reminder at the end of the day it’s all just business.

Video

The new 2K scan from Scream Factory bests the eight-year-old release from Warner Bros, though perhaps marginally. The 1.85:1 1080p 24/fps picture is bathed in darkness, as per Ric Waite’s somber photography. For its part, the transfer handles all of this blackness nicely, with stable contrast and a good bit of shadow detail evident at most times. Sometimes the idea is viewers can’t quite make out what’s going on, as you might in real life, so that near total darkness can be considered an artistic flourish. Colors have appropriate pop when possible. Overall detail is above average.

Audio

English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround and English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo tracks are available, though the former is a clear winner due to a number of discreetly placed sound effects. The opening alone, with Cobra roaring up in his custom hot rod, is brimming with low end rumble and enveloping chatter, as police and citizens standby outside the hostage situation. Dialogue is always clear and discernible, with no problems to be heard. Lots of clanking steel and slicing blades to be heard throughout, too. Subtitles are available in English.

Extras

There is an audio commentary with director George P. Cosmatos.

“Stalking and Slashing” (1080p) is an interview with co-star Brian Thompson, running for 26 minutes.

“Meet the Disease” (1080p) is an interview with actor Marco Rodríguez, running for 24 minutes and 5 seconds.

“Feel the Heat” (1080p) is an interview with actor Andrew Robinson, running for 14 minutes and 15 seconds.

“Double Crossed” (1080p) is an interview with actor Lee Garlington, running for 9 minutes and 5 seconds.

“A Work of Art” (1080p) is an interview with actor Art LaFleur, running for 8 minutes and 23 seconds.

A vintage featurette (SD) runs for 7 minutes and 50 seconds.

A teaser trailer (1080p) runs for 1 minute and 20 seconds.

A theatrical trailer (1080p) runs for 1 minute and 55 seconds.

Still gallery "Photos" (1080p) runs for 4 minutes and 35 seconds, featuring 55 images.

Still gallery "Posters and Lobby Cards" (1080p) runs for 5 minutes and 19 seconds, featuring 64 images.

Packaging

The single BD-50 disc comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keep case. A slip-cover is included on first pressings.

Overall

What could have been. Still, what is gets it right on occasion and when it does it feels like “Cobra” is the coolest film in the world… but lurking right around the corner is another reminder it isn’t. Maybe one day all of that cut footage will appear in a salt mine in Virginia. Until then, this is a pretty good – but should’ve been great - effort from one of Hollywood’s 80's icons.

The Film: C+ Video: B+ Audio: B+ Extras: B+ Overall: B

 


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