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HD DVD Review: The Hitcher

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The Hitcher wastes no time in giving the audience what they came to see. Barely at the 15-minute mark, the film begins its slasher movie remake happenings with Sean Bean playing the maniacal killer. It does have everything you would expect from a typical piece of Hollywood entertainment, and it does okay for itself without making an attempt to do anything with the material, which also becomes its failing.

As with nearly any movie in the genre, it requires dumb people doing dumb things to work. It’s filled with conveniences well past the point of simply accepting it as movie logic. The few scares are nicely inserted (except for a falling truck that goes absolutely nowhere), though fans of the genre have seen it before.

The film closely follows the original in terms of the story. Characters have been added or altered, and the generic “cute couple in ugly situation” is played up as much as possible. A nice twist on the formula taken from the first Hitcher outing has the victims slowly being framed for the rash of sudden murders. Unfortunately, it only adds a moment of tension and an action sequence replete with an unbelievably poor musical choice.

The finale is a massive letdown. Not only does the killer get off too easily, but the build-up is nothing short of absurd. The audience is supposed to believe the victim and killer will be transferred at the same exact time, down the same “middle of nowhere” road, and right behind each other. This is after the creepy hitchhiker takes out an entire police station's worth of cops with only a knife without making a sound.

A truly shocking piece of gore is unfortunately done in a long shot so the payoff isn’t worth it. Those unfamiliar with the 1986 Hitcher will find this specific kill a stunner. It’s a risky move when trying to make this into entertainment.

Before making it that far, the script meanders without adding any personality to the leads at all. Sophia Bush is undeniably eye candy for half of the audience and Zachary Knighton will be pleasing to the other half. Unfortunately, they’re as generic as movie heroes can be. Apparently, the writers found it important to waste about two minutes of limited character development to let the audience know Sophia Bush has to pee.

There are some thrills in this arguably unnecessary update. It’s at the very least respectful to the source material, adding in some modern Hollywood effects (including a spectacular crash sequence) and new surprises. In the end, it’s a mundane affair for all but new horror fans.

This is a beautiful disc, filled with rich black levels and outstanding color. Detail is phenomenal, and the print is remarkably clean. Grain is almost non-existent. Opening scenes set in rain, flawed by compression on SD DVD, are perfect here. It’s a spectacular sight. Very mild fuzziness keeps this from entering into the top tier of format discs, but there’s a lot to appreciate here.

When it needs to, The Hitcher provides a great boost in the audio department. Movement is subtle throughout all channels as cars drive around, yet it’s effective for those who can appreciate it. Bass is strong when called on. Action scenes do a fantastic job of filling the sound field. Sadly, for as great as the rain looks, it fails to sneak into the rear speakers in any noticeable capacity.

Extras are relatively slim, but fun. Dead End is a 13 minute piece dealing with a dummy created for the film’s biggest gore sequence. It’s loads of fun to see the process and the actors' reactions to dummies made in their likeness. Road Kill is a wisely titled 11 minute look at the car stunts.

Chronicles of a Killer is a short series of campy news clips that follow the events as they happen. Fuel Your Fear is a tedious promotional 'making of'. Eight deleted scenes, totaling 22 minutes, show how thin the film is with its 84 minute running time. It truly was the bare essentials, and if you’re looking for more information on the characters, this helps slightly.

As with many Universal HD DVDs, this disc includes U-Control. Here, it’s nothing more than still pictures as you watch the film. Annoyingly, you cannot view them in other way. It’s nice to see the advanced interactivity of the format being used, though this is not a selling point.

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.