Academy Award-winner William Friedkin (The Exorcist, The French Connection) directs Al Pacino as an undercover cop pitched into New York's seedy underbelly in Cruising - available for the first time on Blu-ray in a brand new director-approved transfer. New York is caught in the grip of a sadistic serial killer who is preying on the patrons of the city's underground bars. Captain Edelson (Paul Sorvino) tasks young rookie Steve Burns (Pacino) with infiltrating the S&M subculture to try and lure the killer out of the shadows - but as he immerses himself deeper and deeper into the underworld, Steve risks losing his own identity in the process. Taking the premise and title from reporter Gerald Walker's novel, Cruising was the subject of great controversy at the time of its release and remains a challenging and remarkable movie to this day, with Pacino's haunted lead performance as its magnetic centrepiece.
William Friedkin’s Cruising receives its Blu-ray debut through Arrow Video, who present the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a dual-layer disc. The 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation comes from a new 4K restoration conducted by Arrow and scanned from the 35mm original camera negative.
Despite a couple of questionable aspects Arrow’s presentation still offers a sharp improvement over Warner’s DVD edition. The most obvious change right out of the gate is the film’s colour-timing, which had a heavy blue tint applied to it on the DVD. That tint is now gone (or is not as strong, as a blue tint is still visible in a lot of the club scenes) and the colours come off looking more natural, at least in comparison, and daytime sequences present some incredible looking reds, oranges, and so forth. Black levels are also nice and deep, which aid in the film’s many dark night club sequences (and exterior nighttime shots) and also helps in delivering shadow detail.
Where things get a little iffy is in the presentation’s grain management. It’s a grainy film and this shows through most of the time. When it’s good the grain is evident, it looks clean, and there’s a decent filmic texture to the picture. But during its weaker moments grain not only comes off a little bit noisier in the darker areas, but it can also look to have been reduced and the image looks little more processed. This latter aspect seems to primarily affect the long shots during nighttime sequences, along with a handful of day time sequences (like the pool room scene), where grain is not as obvious and surfaces can have more of a waxy texture. Finer details can also look a bit muddier (Sorvino’s hair in the pool hall scene looks a bit patchy). The odd thing is that it’s not consistent throughout: some scenes have a processed look, but most others don’t, and I have to wonder if this is how Friedkin wants it. It’s not a deal-breaker by any means, but as I said it’s odd and quite evident.
At the very least the restoration work is solid (I don't recall much of anything remaining) and the overall image is still very good, it just has these moments that stick out.
Arrow includes two audio tracks: a lossless PCM 2.0 stereo presentation and a DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround presentation. I admittedly only listened to the 5.1 presentation and sampled the 2.0 one. The 5.1 track isn’t overly showy but it works. Most of the material sticks to the fronts but the club scenes open things up, and some of the louder moments outside of the clubs (like the murder sequences) also spread audio, whether it be music or sound effects, out to the surround. Bass is excellent but doesn’t drown out the rest of the mix, and dialogue sounds sharp and clean.
Considering Arrow went to the trouble of licensing the film from Warner Bros. I would have imagined they would have gone all out when it came to special features, but disappointingly they only provide one new feature, though also port over the Warner features. From that disc you get the same audio commentary featuring William Friedkin that was found on the Warner disc. Friedkin’s commentaries can be a bit painful though this one is probably one of his better ones. It’s more technical and interested in covering story details, primarily the influences behind certain elements, and it’s worthwhile in that regard. But sometimes he comes off a bit clueless as to why the film seemed to irk people and thinks that some of it just comes down to bad timing for its release and. He interestingly also talks about the 2007 remaster, referring to what would have been found on the Warner DVD, so some of his comments are dated and don’t refer to what you are getting here.
Arrow also carries over the film’s theatrical trailer and then the two featurettes found on the DVD: The History of “Cruising” and Exorcising “Cruising”. The two features, running over 21-minutes each, cover various aspects of the film’s production and legacy. History offers a straight-forward recounting of the film’s production, from the source novel and coincidences that brought Friedkin on board (someone who appears briefly in The Exorcist would be charged and convicted for multiple murders), through casting and then the film’s release. Exorcising looks more at the controversy that surrounded the film and then looks at the stylistic choices applied to the film, from editing to sound design. These studio features prove to be better-than-average ultimately, with the latter one putting in a bit more effort.
Arrow’s one on-disc contribution proves to be a solid one, though, a new commentary featuring Mark Kermode and William Friedkin. I ended up enjoying this track significantly more than Friedkin’s solo effort, and most of that comes down to how Kermode is able to direct the conversation. Outside of a handful of topics (like what influenced Friedkin to make the film) I was impressed on how little of this track repeats details covered in the disc’s other features. There’s a lot of great material here but I found myself most engaged with the discussions around Friedkin’s tinkering with the film through the years (Friedkin even addressing the change in color-timing here), his editing style, and the film’s soundtrack. But one of the more fun aspects of the track is when the two start talking about the 40-minutes’ worth of material that was cut out of the film (which Friedkin explains he never intended to keep in the film and was primarily graphic material he was going to use to negotiate with the MPAA) that leads to them talking about James Franco’s Interior. Leather Bar, which is about the missing material from Cruising. It’s a far more interesting and engaging discussion, and I would recommend this track over the original Warner one.
Arrow then includes a booklet, limited to first pressings and featuring an essay by F.X. Feeney, who addresses a number of the criticisms that have been thrown at the film through the years and offers some defenses. The release also has a slip cover.
Though I’m thankful for the commentary (which I ended up really enjoying) it is a little puzzling this isn’t a more lavish edition, and it could come down to Warner Bros. and/or Friedkin limiting the material that could be included.
The presentation leaves a little open for improvement—though is still nice in the end—and it’s disappointing that the only new supplement is a commentary—though a good one! The film really cries for some sort of “ultimate” edition loaded with material and if anyone could have done it it’s Arrow, but sadly (for reasons I suspect that are out of their control) this isn’t that edition.