Hudson Hawk (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: Oct 12, 2022
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Hudson Hawk (Blu-ray Review)


Michael Lehmann

Release Date(s)

1991 (September 27, 2022)


Silver Pictures/Tri-Star Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
  • Film/Program Grade: B+
  • Video Grade: B+
  • Audio Grade: B+
  • Extras Grade: B+

Hudson Hawk (Blu-ray)

Buy it Here!


In Sir Walter Scott’s 1805 narrative poem The Lay of the Minstrel, the novelist, playwright, and poet wrote these famous words:

“Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This Hudson Hawk, my, it is grand!”

Okay, so maybe that isn’t exactly what he wrote, but it should have been. Hudson Hawk was a notoriously expensive flop in 1991, and it was critically reviled at the time, but removed from that context and taken on its own terms, it’s hard not to love every self-indulgent and quirky moment from beginning to end. Okay, so maybe that’s not quite true either, but it should be. Some people simply don’t see the inherent lovability in Hudson Hawk, but when it comes to comedy, there’s no accounting for taste. One person’s meat is another person’s poison. Still, sometimes all that it takes is a fresh eye, so if it’s been a while since you’ve last given Hudson Hawk a chance, it might be worth another look. There’s a lot here to love, when it’s approached with an open mind.

It’s safe to say that very few minds were open in 1991. Hudson Hawk was a famously troubled production, and the negative advanced publicity engendered by that fact virtually guaranteed a harsh reaction when it was finally released. The film ran wildly over budget and just as wildly over schedule, and the trade press gleefully reported that the whole production was completely out of control. There’s a modicum of truth to that, but art does sometimes rise out of chaos, as Francis Ford Coppola will no doubt attest. Yet there’s no denying that Hudson Hawk isn’t exactly Apocalypse Now, so when the film finally reached theatres in May of 1991, everyone was only too happy to pounce on it. Hudson Hawk never had a fair chance to find an audience.

Hudson Hawk was actually the brainchild of Bruce Willis and Robert Kraft, who took their idea to producer Joel Silver. Heathers director Michael Lehmann was brought on board to direct, despite his inexperience with big budget studio productions, and Die Hard scribe Steven E. de Souza took a crack at turning the concept into a script. There would be many drafts to follow, with fellow Heathers veteran Daniel Waters eventually penning the final draft(s). It was actually the second expensive flop that Waters worked on for Silver, after the previous year’s notorious (and equally underrated!) The Adventures of Ford Fairlane. Still, nothing was ever really final on the set of Hudson Hawk, and things were revised on a daily basis, with everyone throwing ideas at the wall to see what would stick. Some of it did, and some of it didn’t.

One thing that did stick was a superb cast, with Willis being capably supported by Danny Aiello as Hawk’s partner Tommy Two-Tone, and Andie MacDowell as his love interest Anna. MacDowell wasn’t even the first choice for her role, but she and Willis display an easygoing chemistry with each other that really helps make the whole film work. That chemistry is matched every step of the way by Richard E. Grant and the incandescent Sandra Bernhard as Darwin and Minerva Mayflower, a pair of villains for the ages. They don’t just chew the scenery; they annihilate it. A film as over-the-top as Hudson Hawk would have collapsed under its own weight without villains who are equally outrageous, and both Grant and Bernhard delivered in that regard. The rest of the cast is filled out by familiar faces like James Coburn, Donald Burton, Frank Stallone, Leonardo Cimino, and David Caruso (Caruso’s surprisingly deft touch makes an interesting counterpoint to the flamboyance of Grant and Bernhard). All that, plus the great William Conrad’s wry touch as the narrator, in his best The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle voice. (Sadly, Hudson Hawk would be his final feature film credit.)

The actual story in Hudson Hawk may be its least important component. Singing cat burglars, the CIA, Leonardo Da Vinci, the Vatican, alchemy—does any of that matter? Not really. Some films offer style over substance, but that’s not quite true in this case. No, it would be more accurate to call Hudson Hawk the triumph of attitude over substance. The polite way to put that would be to say that Hudson Hawk displays a devil-may-care insouciance, but the reality is that it’s a giant middle finger to the conventions of Hollywood action filmmaking. It subverts the rules of the genre, but that’s just for starters, as it also subverts audience expectations and damned near everything else in the process. It even subverts itself. Is it a bit of a mess? Of course it’s a bit of a mess, but that’s a feature, not a bug. Hudson Hawk is a glorious mess, and that’s but one of its innumerable charms. You just have to be willing to meet it on its own terms in order to appreciate it.

Oh, and for those who remain stubbornly immune to said charms? Three words: Bunny? Ball ball. ‘Nuff said.

Cinematographer Dante Spinotti shot Hudson Hawk on 35 mm film using Panavision cameras with spherical lenses, which was finished photochemically, and framed at the 1.85:1 aspect ratio for its theatrical release. Sony appears to have licensed the same older master to Kino Lorber that they had previously licensed to Mill Creek, although it runs at a much higher bitrate here. The Mill Creek disc ran anywhere from 15-25 Mbps, while this new disc runs at a consistent 35-40 Mbps. The higher bit rate pays off, as this presentation looks smoother and more organic compared to Mill Creek’s version—the grain in particular is much better managed, with less of a coarse digital appearance to it. As a product of the pre-digital compositing era, any optical work like the opening credits or other composites do look softer and less detailed than the surrounding material. Everything else looks much better, with a decent amount of fine detail, and very little signs of damage. Contrast is fine, though the blacks do end up a bit crushed in some of the darker material. The colors all look good, with natural flesh tones. For an older master, it still does Hudson Hawk justice.

Audio is offered in English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English subtitles. Hudson Hawk was one ten films that had prints available in the short-lived Cinema Digital Sound format. (Other titles that used the system include Dick Tracy, The Doors, and Terminator 2: Judgment Day.) Only a handful of theatres were ever equipped for CDS, primarily in California and New York, so most people experienced the film in either Dolby Stereo or Dolby SR instead, and that’s the only mix that’s ever been included on any home video versions. While it’s not discrete 5.1 like CDS, this is a four-channel surround mix matrixed into 2.0. It’s a lively mix that’s typical of big-budget Eighties & Nineties action films. with consistent ambience in the surround channels, and occasional directionalized effects whenever the action springs to life. The sound effects themselves are frequently exaggerated and cartoonish, but that’s how they’re supposed to sound. It’s an appropriately larger-than-life mix for a larger-than-life film. The only thing that’s lacking is the low end, as the deep bass is a bit anemic, even for effects like explosions. Still, the music is far more important to the film than the sound effects, and the score from Robert Kraft and the late Michael Kamen provides just the right tone to the final mix.

Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray release of Hudson Hawk includes a reversible insert with different artwork on each side, as well as a slipcover. There aren’t any new extras, but all of the extras from the 2007 Sony DVD have finally been ported over—the 2013 Mill Creek Blu-ray was bare-bones.

  • Audio Commentary by Michael Lehmann
  • The Story of Hudson Hawk (SD – 29:58)
  • My Journey to Minerva (SD – 10:58)
  • Hudson Hawk Theme by Dr. John (SD – 4:02)
  • Deleted Scenes (SD – 5:39)
  • Trailer #1 (HD – 2:05)
  • Trailer #2 (HD – 1:08)
  • Color of Night Trailer (SD – 2:07)
  • Green Card Trailer (SD – 2:47)
  • Blind Fury Trailer (HD – 1:25)
  • Bird on a Wire Trailer (HD – 2:25)
  • The Hard Way Trailer (SD – 2:04)

Lehman is understandably self-deprecating throughout his commentary, as he’s always been quite aware of Hudson Hawk’s negative reputation (though he does offer the tongue-in-cheek defense that it was a big hit in Europe). He notes how the film plays deliberate games with continuity, especially as it relates to geography and physical details—he wanted to mess around with the conventions of action filmmaking, and audiences either got it, or they didn’t (and yes, it tends to be the latter). He talks about the evolution of the script, including Bruce Willis’ involvement in developing the story, and Daniel Waters rewriting it from the point of view of his own Catholicism. He also notes some continuity errors that weren’t intentional, such as James Coburn having a picture of a monkey on his forehead for his climactic scenes (that was due to a subplot having been deleted). Lehmann pauses occasionally, and he freely admits that he doesn’t always have anything interesting to say, but it’s still a good listen for fans of the film. All two of us.

The Story of Hudson Hawk is a one-on-one between Willis and executive producer Robert Kraft, who didn’t just help devise the story; he also contributed some of the music as well. Kraft noodles at a piano while Willis vamps alongside him, and then the pair answer questions about their history together, how they came up with the idea for Hudson Hawk, and the process of bringing that story to life. They also discuss the negative reaction to the final film, and their own feelings about how it actually turned out. There’s a refreshingly positive vibe to this conversation, as their very real friendship rings through loud and clear at all times. The whole thing is just the two of them, with no clips or any other material included, but it has an energy all its own. This is a model of how to do a talking-heads interview that doesn’t feel like one. The same thing is true of My Journey to Minerva, which is an interview with the inimitable Sandra Bernhard—or to be more accurate, it’s a monologue by an actor who had made a career out of doing just that in shows like Without You I’m Nothing. It’s interview as performance art, which means that it’s a talking-head interview like no other. (H/t to director Stuart Richardson.)

The Hudson Hawk Theme by Dr. John is a music video that was created for the film’s original release. The Deleted Scenes include several moments that comprise the subplot that Lehmann mentioned in his commentary track, all of which revolve around Hawk’s deceased pet monkey Eddie (yes, you read that right). There’s also a clip that explains how Tommy Five-Tone got his name, and a few extended moments that were deleted to improve the film’s pace. There’s also raw footage of the flying scene being shot against blue screen, prior to compositing.

While it would be lovely to get some new extras, like a real making-of documentary, or an interview with Daniel Waters, and it would be really wonderful to get a fresh scan for the transfer, let’s face it: Hudson Hawk is still Hudson Hawk. Sony simply isn’t likely to spend any more money on this particular film. Fortunately, the old extras are good ones, and it’s not a bad transfer despite the fact that it’s a dated one. For the time being, this Kino Lorber Blu-ray is the definitive home video version of Hudson Hawk, and it’s likely to remain that way for some time to come.

- Stephen Bjork

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