Rolling Thunder - 4K Blu-ray Review

Michael Scott

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Rolling Thunder

Movie: :4.5stars:
4K Video: :4.5stars:
Video: :4.5stars:
Audio: :4stars:
Extras: :4stars:
Final Score: :4.5stars:

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I’ve never actually watched Rolling Thunder, though I’ve heard about the film for years. It was one of those films that inspired a lot of the directors of my generation, including Quentin Tarantino, Eli Roth and many more with it’s vicious “disgruntled Vietnam vet meets revenge thriller” tale. I’m actually more embarrassed that it’s taken me this long to watch the film more than anything. I’ve owned the DVD for the better part of 20 years, had it on my shelf the entire time, and every time I would get around to watching it, it would turn into a “maybe I’ll wait for the Blu-ray”, then when Shout Factory released the Blu-ray 11 years ago, it promptly left my mind. Well, what better kick in the pants to actually get around to watch it then Shout Studios (Previously Shout Factory) remastering the film in 4K and giving us a SWEET combo pack with all the trimmings to rectify my crime against cinema.

The 1970s was home to a lot of genres that have fallen by the wayside over the years, and the biggest of them would probably have been the old “disgruntled Nam vets returning home” genre that was so close to home for many Americans during the lat 1970s. John Flynn’s Rolling Thunder was another such effort to take a look the psyche of returning soldiers from war, but instead of going the full bore action route of Rambo: First Blood, or the somber and melancholy tone of The Deer Hunter, Flynn went with a more savage and grindhouse take on the genre. The film stars William Devane (who will forever be Secretary of State Heller from the TV show 24 in my mind), POW Major Charles Rane, who has returned home to the states after years of torture and pain in a Vietnamese prisoner of war camp. Along with his POW buddy Sgt. Johnny Vohden (Tommy Lee Jones) he looks forward to reintegrating back into society with his wife and child.

However, he’s sort of served a crap sandwich when he arrives. Despite the pomp and overtures of the community who are fawning over the real life war hero who is finally home, he finds out that his wife Janet (Lisa Blake Richards) has moved on in his absence, and hooked up with the local police Sgt. Now he’s left with no wife, a son who doesn’t even remember him, and a few thousand dollars in silver dollars as a memorial for all of the time spent rotting in a POW camp. To make matters worse, a local group of scumbags headed by “The Texan” (James Best of Dukes of Hazzard fame) steal his silver, assault his wife, murder them, and leave him for dead after chopping off his hand in the garbage disposal.

Now, you might think that most people would simply give up out of exhaustion, but not Rane. With a rage fueled by seven years of imprisonment he gets back up on his feet, grabs his guns, and sets out on a tale of blood soaked revenge hunting down each and every one of the men who took his family (as much as he had left) from him.

I’ve heard so much about the 1977 film from film fanatics and directors for YEARS, and now I see why. It may not have the nuance of Taxi Driver, or the somber introspection of The Deer Hunter, but Rolling Thunder is a gritty, nasty, ROUGH revenge thriller that uses all of the blunt force honesty of the 1970s film making and puts it on full display. You’re not meant to find the true problems faced by Vietnam vets. Nor are you supposed to find the meaning of life in this film. This is a straight forward revenge flick that uses the same trigger points that films like John Wick has used to bond the audience to the protagonist, and just goes with it.

Devane is superb in his role as the damaged Major Rane. The man has had everything taken from him, and the only thing left is the grit and fortitude her earned in combat. You can see the cracks and damage done to his psyche in glimpses, but it’s left more to the imagination as he paints the walls in blood rather than as a morality play. I was actually expecting more Tommy Lee Jones in the film, and while he only has about 10 minutes or so of actual screen time, he steals every moment of those 10 minutes. That scene near the end at the brothel where he goes from straight faced to have that little smile come over his face when he hears the shotgun blasts is simply PERFECT if you’ve ever been in the service. Simply put, this is a well acted, well directed and simply FUN old 1970s revenge flick and nothing more.


Rated R by the MPAA

4K Video: :4.5stars: Video: :4.5stars:
Rolling Thunder has had a varied rough history on home video. The film was originally given a laser disc and VHS release back in the 80s and early 90s, and then it sort of languished in 4x3 hell for literally decades. It wasn’t until the 2011 DVD (which is the version I own still) that the film actually got a 1.85:1 widescreen release for the very first time! I haven’t seen the Shout Factory 2013 Blu-ray disc, but from what online chatter I could uncover it seems that it was a mediocre transfer that was most likely taken from a 35mm Interpositive, or a scan of the master that was used for the MGM release back in the day. Either way, this new transfer goes back to the Original Camera Negative and does a bang up job presenting the film in all of it’s gritty 1970s glory, with the original theatrical framing (or VERY close to it) and an amazingly textured look.

I was surprised just how GOOD the film looked upon my first watch. This is a low budget 1977 film that has been sitting around in a vault for years, but somehow the new scan just breathes new life into the image. The picture is crisp and clean, with a slightly pastel look that was popular during the 1980s, and the typical soft shots of the era. Grain is alive and heavy, but it’s not a massively heavy texture that obscures details and swarms. Skin tones are natural (if a bronzed) and fine details are superb. Check out the end fight in the brothel where you can see the actual lines and creases on the 00 buck shells that Rane tosses his buddy to reload. Black levels have a bit of crush in it, but it’s more of a problem with the low light and the cameras used back then vs. an encoding problem, as Shout has given the disc a VERY beefy 84-85mbps bitrate for the disc. All in all, this looks FANTASTIC (the new Blu-ray in the combo pack also sports the same 4K restored transfer, so those who had the old Shout Studios disc may want to take notice for that reason alone, even if they don’t have a 4K player).

Audio: :4stars:
As I mentioned above, I’ve never seen the Shout Blu-ray nor the Studio Canal disc, but it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that the 2.0 Monorail track found on the 4K disc is simply a port of both mixes. They seem to sport the same bitrate from what I could ascertain from a few friends who have both, and with a Mono track like that it stands to reason that they haven’t done anything fancy with it. The Mono track is solid, effective, and gets the job done, but still has the limitations of a typical Mono mix. Action is a bit thin, but dialog is strongly located up in the front of the room and the crooning of “San Antone” fills out the sound stage a good bit. Nothing fancy, but it is more than ameniable.

Extras: :4stars:
Disc One - 4K UHD
NEW Audio Commentary With Screenwriter/Novelist Heywood Gould And Author/Film Historian C. Courtney Joyner
• NEW Audio Commentary With Filmmakers Jackson Stewart And Francis Galluppi

Disc Two - Blu-ray
NEW Audio Commentary With Screenwriter/Novelist Heywood Gould And Author/Film Historian C. Courtney Joyner
• NEW Audio Commentary With Filmmakers Jackson Stewart And Francis Galluppi
• NEW "Lean And Mean: The Early Films Of John Flynn" – An Interview With Author/Film Historian C. Courtney Joyner
• NEW "Coming Home To War: Scoring Rolling Thunder" – An Interview With Composer Barry De Vorzon
• "The Making Of Rolling Thunder" – Featuring Interviews With Actors William Devane And Tommy Lee Jones And Writers Paul Schrader And Heywood Gould
• Trailers From Hell – Filmmaker Eli Roth On Rolling Thunder
• Theatrical Trailer
• TV Spot
• Radio Spots
• Still Gallery

Final Score: :4.5stars:

Rolling Thunder deserves all of the praise heaped upon it’s head over the years. It may not be PERFECT cinema, but it is a very solidly done flick that uses the old revenge motif and made it hit home in an America that was still reeling from the after effects of the Vietnam war. Not to mention the little tidbits and influences it has imparted any some seriously legendary directors in the 80s and 90s to boot. Shout Studios 4K UHD disc is impressive, with a fantastic new encode for both the 4K and the included Blu-ray, as well as the theatrical 2.0 Mono track in lossless. Extras are solid, but also comparatively middling for Shout Studios collector’s edition. That being said, an all around great package and well worth picking up.

Technical Specifications:

Starring: William Devane, Tommy Lee Jones, Linda Haynes, Dabney Coleman, James Best
Directed by: John Flynn
Written by: Paul Scrader, Heywood Gould
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 HEVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono
Sugtitles: English SDH
Studio: Shout Studios
Rated: R
Runtime: 100 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: April 23rd, 2024

Recommendation: Great Watch



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I'd say those are some very young versions of Devane and Jones.

I'd forgotten about (the older) Devane on 24, despite it being one of my favorite shows.
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