Welcome to my column dedicated to the appreciation of physical media supplements called: Feature Presentations. The goal of this column is not to say whether a film is good or bad and worth picking up or not—I would like to highlight the discs that go the extra mile and provide film fans with enough tasty tidbits to satisfy even the hungriest of cinephiles. With all that out of the way, today’s article will focus on Last Action Hero from Columbia Pictures.
Regarding 1993’s Last Action Hero, I’ve always had a complicated relationship. The idea behind the film is fascinating, featuring elements that work supremely well. On the other: it’s a tonally-imbalanced misfire that squanders such a rich concept. I’ve seen the movie over 20 times in my lifetime. Each subsequent viewing, I have an internal discussion about whether or not I will enjoy this film. I know Last Action Hero inside and out, but every time the film comes to a close, I leave with a shrug of the shoulder and a sense of “meh.” And, for a movie with limitless potential, such as Last Action Hero, the worst thing that can happen is you walk without having strong feelings one way or another.
Now, I’m not going to sit here and say the film doesn’t get a rise out of me; quite the opposite. As a cinephile who moonlights as a wannabe screenwriter, the idea of entering the “film world” and playing around with actors, scenes, and ideas is possibly the most exciting concept imaginable. Just typing that out gets the hairs on my arms standing on end as I muse over how I would write such a script. Is it possible to mess up such a concept?
The production history behind Last Action Hero is arguably more interesting than the finished film. Starting mainly as a satire on big-budget action movies that Shane Black would write or Arnold Schwarzenegger might headline, Shane Black took over rewriting the script. Irony at its finest. In one of the most unusual production details you’ll ever see, the original creators of the story and initial screenplay, Zak Penn and Adam Leff, only received ‘Story By’ credit; their names are nowhere on the ‘Screenplay’ credits.
From there, the production didn’t get any smoother as the film lumbered its way into cinemas during the summer of 1993, getting trampled by Steven Spielberg‘s Jurassic Park. For a movie as troubled as Last Action Hero, one might assume those involved dusted their hands and walked away, never to speak the movie’s name again. And as Last Action Hero made its way into people’s homes via VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray, the bare-bones releases solidified that feeling. So, count me surprised when the announcement came down that the 4K of Last Action Hero contained a handful of extras.
There isn’t much substantiative material on this release, but having a little is better than nothing. The edition I am looking at is the 4K UHD/Blu-ray steelbook combo. The glossy finish and color pattern reminiscent of the film’s theatrical poster is a solid choice for the cover. Even if the poster/4K artwork promises a “slam-bang action extravaganza,” which the film delivers—going back to my mixed feelings, the extravaganza isn’t quite what the marketing suggests.
As a note, only the 4K disc holds the bulk of the film’s supplemental material.
The supplemental material kicks off with over nine minutes of deleted scenes and an alternate ending. As someone well-versed in the film’s production, the promise of deleted scenes had my curiosity. As with my thoughts on the finished product, it’s more sizzle than steak. Most of the deleted scenes are superfluous, and hitting the cutting room floor is the correct choice, but two interested me more than the others.
The first deleted scene plays out more like an alternate version leading up to the Jack Slater IV premiere sequence. In this, Slater and Danny spend a minute giving each other a bit of character development. Slater and Danny share a bond about a parent they no longer have before sharing a hug. While it’s nice that both characters get this moment, it comes far too late in the story and doesn’t work as placed. Like most of the movie, the idea is correct, but the execution leaves plenty on the table.
The other deleted scene comes when Danny and Slater search for the villain atop the Empire State Building. A news report discusses a string of robberies committed by what looks like characters from a 1930s noir film. Danny and Slater conclude that the villain is jumping into cinemas and bringing villains into the “real world.” To me, this deleted scene showcases the potential that the idea behind Last Action Hero squanders.
I might be in the minority, but I feel Last Action Hero is at its best in the back half of the picture, with Slater experiencing the “real world.” The film gets slightly darker, and the consequences and stakes feel weightier. While in the “real world,” the finished product toys with the idea that the villain can bring out King Kong, Hannibal Lecter, and others, but only (spoilers) emerges with Slater’s nemesis from Jack Slater III (end spoilers). Seeing this additional scene with the gangsters robbing a bank helped hammer home the potential looming threat of multiple movie villains that Danny and Slater would need to defeat. As this is the only scene that offered hard evidence that the villain was jumping in and out of movies, it deserved heading to the chopping block. It just makes me sad to see such possibilities relegated to the final act of Last Action Hero and this brief sequence.
Director John McTiernan took the time and recorded, what sounds like, a recent feature-length audio commentary. If you’ve heard his other tracks, you know he has a somewhat dry delivery and tone, matched only by his filmmaking knowledge. And that doesn’t change with this track, but there is an additional level of honesty and self-reflection.
For a film with as many issues as Last Action Hero, such a commentary could go a couple of ways: skirt the troubled history or face it head-on. In some ways, I feel John McTiernan’s comments do both. As a director, it’s not surprising that he doesn’t divulge too much about the script’s bumpy history; instead, he looks within himself to assess what went wrong. He discusses his trouble with finding the correct balance for the film, what he should have done to make Last Action Hero as good as it could be, and questions certain aspects throughout the movie.
Listening to John McTiernan’s commentaries can be cumbersome to some listeners, but this commentary is fascinating. In a way, listening to McTiernan audibly discussing what he did right and wrong almost offers a glimpse into his private thoughts. It’s honest and open—which many tracks nowadays lack.
The disc also comes with a six-minute behind-the-scenes featurette filmed for theaters. There’s a bit of production footage with talking head interviews from actors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Charles Dance, director John McTiernan and others. It’s brief and harmless.
The disc closes out with the film’s theatrical trailer.
One note, the Blu-ray disc looks similar to the one released a handful of years back. This disc only features preview trailers for other films and a BD Live feature. As I previously mentioned, all the other supplemental material is on the 4K UHD disc.
And there you have it! Last Action Hero is the film definition of a mess. It’s not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination, but it reeks of a missed opportunity. At the same time, I find things I enjoy, Charles Dance’s wonderful villain, Benedict, the final third, and Arnold Schwarzenegger doing what he does best. I never thought I’d see a day when the film got anything more than a bare-bones physical media release, yet, here we are. While the disc isn’t stacked, the crop of never-before-seen deleted scenes; and an honest John McTiernan audio commentary undeniably makes this the ultimate edition of Last Action Hero.