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(Special Edition)

Decades later, when John Carpenter’s GHOSTS OF MARS revisited the western themes of his second film, ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 ($20), it seemed to indicate that the director hadn’t gotten the desire to make an actual western out of his system. As dedicated John Carpenter fans are fully aware, ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 is Carpenter’s homage to the Howard Hawks’ western classic RIO BRAVO (which is available in a terrific DVD edition for those wanting to check out the film’s original influence). As is typical with many John Carpenter movies, American critics and audiences gave ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 a very poor reception when it was released in 1976. However, the movie was very well received overseas, even gaining notoriety at a UK film festival.

Although ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 is an homage to RIO BRAVO, the film was set in the then contemporary Los Angeles of 1975. The film’s violent opening depicts members of a multiracial gang called Street Thunder being gunned down by Los Angeles officers, and then segues into an introduction to the film’s main character lawman Lt. Ethan Bishop (Austin Stoker). For Bishop’s first night on the job, he is assigned to supervise the closing of an isolated police station in a Los Angeles ghetto. With a small support staff of civilians, the station is unprepared for the arrival of a prisoner transfer bus, followed by the members avenging members of Street Thunder, who lay siege to the all but abandoned police station in retribution to their fallen comrades. To save the lives of those in the police station, Bishop is forced to arm the prisoners, including the enigmatic Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Joston), who just happens to be on his way to death row. While some of Carpenter’s dialogue is a bit stilted, the solid performances more than compensate. I especially enjoyed the chemistry between Joston and actress Laurie Zimmer, who have this whole Bogie and Bacall thing going on. The cast of ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 also features Martin West, Tony Burton, Charles Cyphers, Nancy Loomis, Henry Brandon, John J. Fox and Kim Richards.

For their second release of ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, Image Entertainment has made the film available on DVD in a 2.35:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for 16:9 displays. Considering that ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 was an incredibly low budget affair from 1976, it is actually a pretty good-looking movie that has been given a terrific looking transfer. The image on the DVD is sharp and well defined; maybe not up to today’s standards, but very pleasing nonetheless. Colors are reasonably well saturated, with natural looking flesh tones. Sometimes the hues have a slightly dated appearance, but that is due to the film stocks and prevailing colors schemes of the mid 1970s. Blacks appear accurate and the whites are clean. Shadow detail is decent for a film of its age and production limitations. The film element used for the transfer displays a few mild blemishes, as well as a bit of a grain structure during the darker moments. Digital compression artifacts are a non-issue on the DVD.

ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 comes with a rather nice Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack. The track is free from overt signs of age and other anomalies, coming across in a clean, crisp manner. Fidelity does have its limitations, which keep John Carpenter’s funky synthesizer score from having a cleanly defined top or bottom end, but the music still manages to sound pleasing with a bit of amplification. Dialogue is always completely understandable; however, some of the voices can occasionally sound a bit canned. No other language tracks or subtitles have been included on the DVD.

Animation and sound serve to enhanced the interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a nice complement of extras. Starting things off is a running audios commentary with John Carpenter. Although this commentary has been kicking around since the film’s wide screen Laserdisc release, it remains a solid, detailed and entertaining track that Carpenter fans will find rewarding. Also included on the DVD is an isolated music track, as well as a recent twenty-three minute interview with John Carpenter and Austin Stoker at the American Cinematheque. A theatrical trailer, as well as two radio spots and a production gallery of stills, storyboards and screenplay excerpts close out the supplemental section.

Although ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 is only John Carpenter’s second film and predates HALLOWEEN, it remains an entertaining movie, whose western influences have helped make it a cult classic. Every time I watch ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, I have to wonder what Carpenter might do if he were given the opportunity to direct an actual western… Considering that Carpenter is considered a "bum" in the US and a genius elsewhere, I guess I'll just keep pondering. As for the ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 DVD, Image delivers the goods- namely; a great looking 16:9 enhanced wide screen presentation and some nice supplements. If you are a Carpenter fan, this is a must own DVD, especially if you own or plan to own a wide screen display. Recommended.



Assault on Precinct 13 (Special Edition) (1976)


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2003 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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