ON DVD & BLU-RAY
Black Moon Rising (1986) starring Tommy Lee Jones Blu Ray (Arrow)
A computer tape and a hi-tech car both go missing
This sci-fi action-thriller features Tommy Lee Jones as Sam Quint, a professional thief who is working under contract for the United States government. He has been tasked with stealing an incriminating computer tape from a bent corporation in Las Vegas. He breaks in and manages to retrieve the tape, albeit not without setting off the alarm in the process. He is pursued across country by the organisation’s security forces, who are led by an old rival named Marvin Ringer (Lee Ving).
The following morning, he stops off at a rural gas station and crosses paths with an inventor named Earl Windom (Richard Jaeckel) and his driver Billy Lyons (Dan Shor), who are working on a futuristic sports car called the Black Moon. He learns that they are on their way to Los Angeles to present it at a motor show which is being held at a club called The Betsy. Quint examines this striking vehicle more closely and decides that it would be a good idea to hide the tape within a hidden compartment at its rear end before can Ringer catch up and beat it out of him.
That night, Quint arrives in L.A. and attempts to retrieve the tape from the Black Moon. Unfortunately, before he can do so, the car itself is stolen by Nina (Linda Hamilton), a young woman who is involved in a large-scale car theft operation run by Ed Ryland (Robert Vaughn). When Quint passes on the news to his direct employer - a hulking FBI agent called Johnson (Bubba Smith) - he is given just three days to steal it back from Ryland’s fortress-like hideout.
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Great ingredients don’t quite add up to a great whole
Black Moon Rising is perhaps best known for being one of a number of films that John Carpenter wrote the original script for but wasn’t involved in a directorial capacity. It is also, to coin a phrase, “80s as fuck” due to its synth-heavy soundtrack, neon-drenched settings, big hair and the presence of a hi-tech vehicle in the style of such film and TV favourites as Megaforce, Knight Rider, Blue Thunder, Airwolf and even director Harley Cokeliss’s earlier Battletruck.
There are a lot of great basic ingredients in place here. As ever, Tommy Lee Jones makes for a fine, rugged-yet-personable protagonist. Moreover, for a 1980s action hero, he comes across as being a bit more of a regular human being than a near-indestructible superhero for a change. In one scene, he practically has seven bells beaten out of him and thus spends the rest of the film wincing from pain due to his injuries. The rest of the cast is pretty solid as well, especially Linda Hamilton reprising her spunky, plucky persona from The Terminator and Robert Vaughn as a cold, smarmy villain.
There are also some well-handled action sequences here: a speedy car chase through the streets of Los Angeles at night, a suspenseful assassination scene which plays out from the POV of a deaf-mute mechanic (played by William Sanderson), and a lengthy finale which takes place within Ryland’s heavily-fortified twin skyscrapers. Some of the dialogue is also fairly amusing: there’s one moment when Johnson punches the unruly Quint in the stomach and issues him with the words of warning “Don’t fuck with the government”! Add in some moody, film noir-influenced cinematography by Misha Suslov and a spine-tingling John Carpenter-style synth score by Lalo Schifrin and all appears pretty promising.
However, the film as a whole just doesn’t quite come together in the way in which it should have done. The whole thing is rather far-fetched in terms of setup and, more to the point for a supposed action flick can be quite slow-going at times. This is especially true of its lengthy midsection. It’s strange that a film which is so keen to feature a flashy hi-tech car as its selling point opts to render it pretty much absent from the screen for at least half of the runtime. Instead, there’s too much emphasis placed on a burgeoning romance between Quint and Nina, as well as on Ryland’s creepy/dirty old man fixation over the latter whereby he puts her under repeated video surveillance and endlessly watches old video interviews of her.
One really gets the feeling that John Carpenter should have taken the directorial reins for this one; he doubtless would have opted to jettison a number of the unnecessary divergences and tightened up the pacing a few notches. At its heart, Black Moon Rising fits in with the same retrieval/rescue mission format as the Carpenter-directed Escape from New York (1981) and Big Trouble in Little China (1986) and yet both of those are well-paced and exciting throughout. Harley Cokeliss is a competent director but clearly lacks any authoritative or individual stamp.
Still, as 1980s action junk food goes, Black Moon Rising isn’t bad. It’s no classic and it does drag on occasion but it still passes the time enjoyably enough.
Runtime: 100 mins
Dir: Harley Cokeliss
Script: John Carpenter, Desmond Nakano, William Gray
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Linda Hamilton, Robert Vaughn, Richard Jaeckel, Lee Ving, Bubba Smith, Dan Shor, William Sanderson, Keenan Wynn, Nick Cassavetes
Blu Ray Audio-Visual
The image contains quite a few white specks and some grain at times but, otherwise, the detail and colour are well up to Arrow’s usual high standards. The soundtrack is smooth and clear.
Audio Commentary by Lee Gambin
Gambin is a film critic and writer at Diabolique Magazine. He gives an enthusiastic commentary and clearly displays a comprehensive knowledge of genre cinema but does occasionally wander too far off on tangents about films other than the one which he is talking over. He reveals that John Carpenter’s original script featured Vietnam veterans as the main characters. The character of Quint (played by Tommy Lee Jones) was introduced during rewrites by Desmond Nakano and William Gray. Carpenter himself had admitted to Gambin that he has never actually seen this filmed version. Nonetheless, there is a clear Carpenter influence still evident in the use of tropes from the Western genre.
Black Moon Ascending
A great 34-minute interview with the Chicago-born director Harley Cokeliss, who begins by telling us of his diverse early years of filmmaking. He started developing an interest in the craft at childhood when he got to play around with an 8 mmm camera. He then went to the London Film School, where he arrived during Michael Mann’s last semester had future cinematographer Tak Fujimoto as a classmate. After graduation, his career included some freelance work with the BBC and a pair of Children’s Film Foundation films. He then found himself becoming a last-minute replacement for second unit director John Barry on Star Wars Episode IV: The Empire Strikes Back after the latter died suddenly. A year or two later, he trekked to New Zealand to film the post-apocalyptic adventure Battletruck (1982).
He then goes on to discuss a wide variety of different aspects of the making of Black Moon Rising, the best of which revolve around the film’s central futuristic car. it was a prototype developed at the McGill University in Montreal, Canada. While it was able to reach a speed of around 80 mph, some camera under-cranking was used to make it look like it was going even faster. A scene involving it leaping between two buildings used a mixture of stuntwork and miniatures.
The film received a test screen in Las Vegas (where the opening scenes were shot) and got an incredibly positive audience rating of 92%. It also received a glowing review from Roger Ebert, who was the editor of the newspaper at the school which Cokeliss attended. Cokeliss himself was the paper’s photographer.
Thief in the Night: Producing Black Moon Rising
Producer Douglas Curtis discusses his time working on the film. It was the second of two John Carpenter scripts which were adapted by New World Pictures during the 1980s, the first being The Philadelphia Experiment (1984). While he covers a lot of the same ground as director Cokeliss does in his interview, we do get a couple of interesting snippets of behind-the-scenes footage including of the climactic scene of the car leaping between two skyscrapers. He ends by admitting that he would like to make a sequel.
Sound of Speed: Composing Black Moon Rising
Composer Lalo Schifrin and film historian Daniel Schweiger take a look at the film’s various musical pieces.
Author and critic Troy Howarth takes a look at John Carpenter’s career in a superb video essay which is accompanied by a large number of archive stills. Some special attention is paid to his often-overlooked screenwriting-only efforts. During the 1970s, after he left film school and was still trying to make it as a director, he attempted to make a living by churning out a number of scripts for him to shop around Hollywood studios. Amongst these were several Westerns (ironically, at a time when the genre was going out of fashion), including one called Blood River which actually attracted John Wayne’s interest. Unfortunately, his ailing health meant that he had to pass it up. It was finally turned into a made-for-TV film in 1991 with Wilford Brimley taking on the role intended for Wayne. Black Moon Rising itself was written in the mid-1970s and was picked up soon after it was completed. However, it would only get made a decade later.
Making Black Moon Rising
This archival documentary from the 1980s is well worth a watch as it features some behind-the-scenes footage from the film shoot as well as interview snippets with Tommy Lee Jones, Linda Hamilton, Robert Vaughn, Bubba Smith, Harley Cokeliss and others. Towards the end, it also takes a brief look at the phenomenon of organised car theft rings and the use of hydrogen as a vehicle fuel.
Alternative Hong Kong version scenes
A few selected scenes a presented here with an alternative score and sound effects.
Alternative work print opening sequence
A version of the pre-credits and title sequence which was taken from Harley Cokeliss’s own personal VHS copy. It features an alternative title card with a pseudo-3D font.
We also get some trailers/radio spots, an image gallery and a collector’s booklet.
Black Moon Rising isn’t the most noteworthy entry in John Carpenter’s filmography but it has its moments. The collection of extras here is superb and adds a lot of value to the release.