Vanishing Point - Blu-ray/DVD

Sunday, 16 June 2019 09:45

The Californian police carefully construct a roadblock out of numerous cop cars; into the centre trundle a couple of heavy plant loaders, buckets placed in a V shape with barely a sliver of light gleaming from the gap between them. In the distance, a throaty 1970 Dodge Challenger speeds into view pursued by additional police cars. So begins “Vanishing Point” before the narrative jumps a couple of days earlier to enlighten us.

Kowalski (Barry Newman – Petrocelli, “Daylight”) is an illicit car delivery specialist with a background in professional racing who thrives on tight deadlines. His journey stretches three states from Denver, Colorado to San Francisco, with a 15 hour deadline. To begin with he only attracts a couple of weedy police motorbikes, but as the blacktop flies by, the authorities and media sharpen their focus, the former on stopping him, the latter broadcasting the incident.

“Vanishing Point” is a strange film with little dialogue and a weirdly chilled, spaced-out atmosphere despite the copious footage of the white Dodge Challenger zooming through the desolate American landscape. Kowalski is a likeable rogue in the vein of Han Solo from “Star Wars”, complete with similar white shirt and dark waistcoat. He is kept sharp by the drug speed and lost in his inner contemplation of pivotal moments from his past.

Learning about Kowalski’s history is one of the film’s primary hooks, and we are drip-fed to keep us watching. Despite risking his own life on the road, the speed-freak does have a behavioural code that includes checking if those caught up in his chaos are hurt, and by implication hoping that they have not been.

To fill in the long stretches of driving action, a blind radio DJ played by Cleavon Little of “Blazing Saddles” fame relays Kowalski’s progress to his audience, in between some great music tracks. Although they cannot talk directly, DJ Super Soul starts trying to help the driver by giving none-too-subtle hints about what the cops are up to. This intervention goes down better with some listeners than others, not least because Kowalski is depicted as a defiant, anti-authoritarian celebrity.

We encounter a few other, rather quirky characters along the way to help prevent the film becoming too one-note, including a snake catcher, some faith healers and a fellow speedster who gives Kowalski a run for his money.

In terms of excitement it is difficult to compare this movie to many others in the car chase genre, with the exception perhaps of “Smokey and the Bandit”, primarily because most of those feature tense, claustrophobic races through crowded city streets. “Vanishing Point” features racing along near-empty, straight roads that disappear into the distance (hence the title), set in wide-open countryside. The film is quite unlike anything else I have come across and its enigmatic nature and central character draw you in inexorably.

Special features include:

  • Original US Theatrical Version (99 mins)
  • Original US Theatrical Version with Super Soul Me Bonusview (picture in picture interviews)
  • Original US Theatrical Version with audio commentary by Director Richard C Sarafian
  • Original UK Theatrical Version (106 mins)
  • “OA-5599: All About the Car” featurette (10 mins approx)
  • Built for Speed featurette (18 mins approx)
  • 1970 Dodge Challenger Info
  • Trailers and TV Spots

The slightly longer UK version of the film includes a scene cut for the US market, wherein Kowalski gives a lift to a hitchhiker played by Charlotte Rampling. Fans of car specs should enjoy the ‘OA-5599’ featurette and the Dodge Challenger information, which is a series of short CGI clips of the car, complete with picture-in-picture discussions of the vehicle’s stand-out points. The high-definition picture quality displays good levels of detail and stability.

"Vanishing Point" (1971) is out now on Blu-ray and DVD (both 2 discs), courtesy of Fabulous Films. The main feature has a running time of 106 minutes approx, carries an '18' certificate and retails for £14.99 on DVD, £19.99 on Blu-ray or less from www.culttvstore.com.

 

Last modified on Monday, 17 June 2019 09:50

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