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ON DVD & BLU-RAY

Miracle Mile (1988) Blu Ray & DVD (Arrow)

Video review

Love at the end of the world

Anthony Edwards plays a 30-year-old jazz musician named Harry Washello who spots the girl of his dreams - Julie Peters, played by Mare Winningham - in La Brea Tar Pits Museum in Los Angeles. While he fails to break the ice properly, he subsequently successfully catches her eye while playing at an outdoor concert. They hit it off pretty quickly, resulting in them arranging a nightclub date during the early hours of the morning when she finishes her shift at a local diner. Harry decides to take a nap in the meantime.

However, an accident involving a cigarette and a pigeon nest sitting on a power line results in the loss of electricity to his apartment block. This means that he doesn’t get woken by his electric alarm clock and thus misses his date by several hours. Upon realising this he rushes to the diner to see if he can get in touch with her. After getting a phone number from her work colleague he attempts to call her on the payphone outside. Suddenly, the phone receives a call from a mysterious man. After listening to this person’s hysterics for some time, the latter claims that nuclear war has broken out - and that the people of the United States will be annihilated in just 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Harry, who is initially uncertain if the man is a prankster or genuine, frantically quizzes the other characters assembling in the diner. He soon finds out that one of them named Landa (Denise Crosby), who has government contacts, has overheard about a helicopter evacuation to the Antarctic. When the others in the diner hear about this they fill a van up with supplies and head for the nearest helipad. However, the lovestruck Harry insists on going back to rescue Julie. Thus begins a frantic race against time as the world around them disintegrates into panic and chaos.

Watch a trailer:

A lost-and-found classic

Director Steve De Jarnatt has only ever made two feature films, after which he worked solely on TV directing episodes of such shows as ER and Lizzie McGuire. His first film was Cherry 2000 (1987) an entertaining but rather slender Mad Max-style futuristic action-comedy about a wealthy businessman whose robot girlfriend breaks down. Getting a new model involves a trip into a bandit-infested wasteland with a gun-toting tracker played by Melanie Griffith. While it isn’t bad it never really rises above solid straight-to-video fare.

Therefore, considering his otherwise resolutely second-division directorial pedigree, it’s quite astonishing to find out how great Miracle Mile - his second and last film - really is. Unfortunately, it failed to make back even its smallish $3.7 million budget and ended up being forgotten about for a long time. However, in more recent years it has amassed a cult following thanks to a number of showings in arthouse cinemas and even an inclusion as part of an All Night Horror Madness run in the UK.

While it’s a much better film than Cherry 2000 there are a number of overlapping elements between the two, arguably pointing at a fledgling auteur style which may have developed had either film been a box office success. Both films blend several genres: SF, action, humour and romance. Both feature a nerdish male protagonist who finds love and becomes an impromptu hero. Both have somewhat apocalyptic backdrops - albeit Cherry 2000 is post-economic-apocalypse, while Miracle Mile is pre-nuclear-apocalypse.

A superbly-crafted thriller

It’s clear right from the opening that Miracle Mile is crafted with considerable tightness, economy and flair for camerawork. Harry’s early flirtations with Julie at the museum take place while the opening credits run, featuring him goofing around in front of various exhibits as the camera dollies past. A later montage which occurs as Harry misses his all-important-date with Julie is conveyed by framing Mare Winningham (looking increasingly frustrated) in the shots with a rotating digital clock - showing the displayed time lurching forward every time it spins back into view.

From the moment of the fateful phone call, the film takes place entirely in real time. While (unlike the more recent German film Victoria) it hasn’t been filmed in one take, it has been shot and edited so fluently that it practically feels like it has. There are many lengthy tracking shots as well as effective moments which imbue the feeling that it all takes place in one contiguous space with everything in constant motion. For instance, when a crook named Wilson (played by Mykelti Williamson) who teams up with Harry for a time absconds in a police car, he returns into the film later on with the girlfriend he intends to evacuate with. There are also a number of revisits to the same locations - but each revisit casts them in a different light as the nightmarish situation unfolds.

Great performances

Another element which makes the film work so well is the acting. Anthony Edwards is perfectly cast as an everyman hero trying frantically to keep himself and his newfound relationship together amid an utterly desperate situation. Mare Winningham is equally well-rounded as his girlfriend; they display a great onscreen chemistry together.

Anthony Edwards in Miracle Mile

There are a number of well-drawn supporting parts which are memorably played by a range of “I know that person from somewhere” character actors. As well as the aforementioned Mykelti Williamson we get the likes of Robert DoQui (who played the police precinct chief in the original Robocop) as a take-no-shit diner cook, Brian Thompson (the main villain from Cobra) as a gay bodybuilder cum helicopter pilot, Denise Crosby (Star Trek: The Next Generation) as a tomboyish stockbroker and more besides. All of them play their characters believably and thus help to flesh out the disintegrating world.

It all culminates in a finale that… well… let’s say that it’s devastatingly uncompromising but, at the same time, has an ethereally poetic aspect which is truly unique. It will stay with you for a long time. It’s in keeping with the film as a whole; there is a humanity to this mini-masterpiece that makes it so much more than just a slick, nail-biting “what if?” movie.

Runtime: 88 mins

Dir: Steve De Jarnatt

Script: Steve De Jarnatt

Starring: Anthony Edwards, Mare Winningham, John Agar, Lou Hancock, Mykelti Williamson, Kurt Fuller, Brian Thompson, Denise Crosby, Robert DoQui

Blu Ray Audio-Visual

For the most part, the restoration is striking, in particular during the dawn sequences towards the end. The red flare effect during the final scenes, however, comes out in a rather grainy manner. The lossless stereo audio is immersive and powerful, making for an overwhelming aural experience.

Extras

Enclosed booklet

The booklet contains the essay “A Bloomsday for Doomsday: Appreciating Steve De Jarnatt’s Miracle Mile” by Tim Lucas, who is best known for his book Mario Bava - All the Colours of the Dark. It’s a rather rigorous piece of writing which takes in various literary parallels (James Joyce’s Ulysses, Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow) and nuggets of trivia (the diner location also featured in various other films including Reservoir Dogs and The Big Lebowski).

Director’s Commentary

A decent banter between critic Walter Chaw and director Steve De Jarnatt. Steve reveals that Miracle Mile was made on all of the (little) money Cherry 2000 had raked in plus $100,000 in credit card debts. Walter discusses the film’s recurring motif of screens and its corresponding theme of people acting on unreliable and filtered information. Indeed, Harry was originally written as an alcoholic in the script - which would have added further element of unreliability to the story. Steve also mentions that the script was written at the end of the 1970s but took 8 years to get the green light from a studio.

Stay on through the end credits for some more trivia tidbits - for instance that the “Dedicated to Doctor Biobrain” credit actually refers to Steve’s cat from the time.

Crew Commentary

Steve De Jarnatt, Theo van de Sande and Chris Horner comment on the hows and whys of the look of the film, often making reference to time and budgetary limitations. Theo reveals that the hundreds of small lights on the diner had to be replaced during shooting as they looked too orange on camera. The schedule was tight; the producers told De Jarnatt that he would be sacked if the film fell more than 2 days behind schedule, meaning that one rainstorm could have ended the film. The coyote seen in a later shot in the diner was reportedly “just there”; they are common in the LA area.

Last Orders at Johnie’s

An Arrow exclusive interview with Steve De Jarnatt. He discusses how he got involved in filmmaking. We get glimpses of his early short Tarzana, a stylish-looking noir pastiche featuring Eddie Constantine (whom he paid $50) as well as his episode of the 1980s reboot of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. For the bulk of the doc, however, he discusses the long and complex saga of making Miracle Mile. We get to see some storyboards and production paintings as well as a deleted scene featuring Joe Turkel. We also learn that, although the film was a flop in cinemas, it did well on VHS. However, De Jarnatt didn’t receive the money he was owed due to production company Hemdale going bankrupt. Well worth a watch.

Harry and Julie

Anthony Edwards and Mare Winningham discuss the film. They also talk about how they have known each other since adolescence - as well as being in the company of such high school friends as Kevin Spacey, Val Kilmer and Eric Stoltz. Edwards also reveals that he initially hated the script’s ending but changed his mind after he went through it a second time.

Reunion at Johnie’s Diner

We revisit the film’s diner location for a cast reunion with Steve De Jarnatt. What ensues is an enjoyable discussion on the film. Danny De La Paz talks about his experiences shaving his legs to play the transvestite, as well as discussing the time when he saw the 1992 LA riots on TV and felt that they looked like the rioting scenes in Miracle Mile. Denise Crosby reveals that she always gets asked about the film when she attends Star Trek conventions.

The Music of Tangerine Dream

Paul Hasunger from the German electronic band Tangerine Dream talks about scoring the film. It was scored in Austria - largely in isolation from the production bar one week when De Jarnatt visited the country. A disappointingly dry interview.

Excavations from the Editing Room

Over 11 minutes’ worth of deleted scenes and outtakes. They include an extra shot of Kelly Jo Minter dying in Mykelti Williamson’s arms (which was snipped because producer John Daly felt it was too bloody), a sequence with Joe Turkel (The Shining, Blade Runner) in the elevator and some footage which was exhumed from the finale.

Alternate Ending

A version of the ending featuring animated diamonds which producer John Daly rejected.

Storyboard to Film Comparison

It pretty much does what it says on the tin: a collection of scenes shown in parallel with storyboards.

Rubiaux Rising

Steve De Jarnatt reads one of his short stories. It’s about an amputee Gulf War veteran who is trapped in a house during a flood. De Jarnatt is clearly a talented writer and the piece is great to listen to. However, the stills from Miracle Mile which accompany it are out of place; it’s best you just close your eyes and let his words sink in.

A theatrical trailer rounds out this fantastic collection of extras.

Overall:

This is the third time I’ve seen Miracle Mile and I now rank it amongst my all-time favourite films. It’s a fantastic one-of-a-kind apocalyptic thriller. As per usual, Arrow’s presentation of the film is superb.

Movie: ☆☆☆☆☆

Video: ☆☆☆☆

Audio: ☆☆☆☆☆

Extras: ☆☆☆☆1/2

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