Black Sunday review by Mike Long

Over the past 20 years, author Thomas Harris has become, if not quite a household name, a powerful driving force in popular culture. His creation of the Hannibal Lecter character in the novel "Red Dragon", and his appeararances in the subsequent novels "The Silence of the Lambs" and "Hannibal", give the world a new monster to fear. When Lecter was transferred to the big-screen in four different films (from three books? How does that work?), a pop-culture icon was born. But, few may be aware of the fact that Harris' first novel was published in the early 70s. A political thriller, "Black Sunday" was turned into a big-budget Hollywood feature film. But, does Black Sunday have the magic which resided in Harris' later work?

Black Sunday stars Marthe Keller as Dahlia Iyad, a member of Black September, a Lebanese terrorist group. The organization is planning an attack against the United States for their continuned support of Israel. When Black September's headquarters is raided by Israeli agents, led by Major David Kabakov (Robert Shaw), Dahlia flees to the U.S., determined to carry out the plot. There, she meets with disgruntled Vietnam vet Michael Lander (Bruce Dern), who now works as a pilot of the Goodyear blimp. With Lander's help, Dahlia plans to fly the blimp over the Super Bowl (where the President of the United States will be in attendance) and then detonating a shrapnel-filled bomb, killing all 80,000 spectators. Major Kabakov, who is now working with FBI agent Sam Corley (Fritz Weaver) knows that Dahlia is planning something big, but doesn't know what. Will he be able to stop her in time?

Considering all of the star power involved in this film, Black Sunday should be a winner. Aside from author Harris, you have director John Frankenheimer, who had just come off of The French Connection II, and had made the superior thrillers, Seconds and The Manchurian Candidate. Speaking of past successes, star Robert Shaw was still very hot from Jaws, as was composer John Williams. Actor Fritz Weaver made several good exploitation films in the 70s and of course, Bruce Dern playing a psycho should be worth the price of admission.

So, what's the problem with Black Sunday? In short, it's too long. At almost 2 1/2 hours, the film is simply too weighed down with extraneous characters and ideas. I haven't read Harris' novel (I tried, but couldn't get into it), but I get the idea that every single sub-plot and detail from the book made its way into the movie. The idea of a terrorist blowing up the Goodyear blimp over the Super Bowl is a great idea for a thriller, but Black Sunday takes far too much time getting to that point. Granted, once the blimp is in the air and the chase is on, the film really kicks into high-gear. But, the first two-hours and ten minutes are dreadfully boring at times. I hate to knock a movie for being detail oriented, but in a film like this, all we need to know is who the players are and what they plan to do. Watching Black Sunday some 26 years later is interesting on 2 counts. One, despite the fact that the film was essentially a political thiller, it's interesting to see how the movie was influenced by the cinematic climate of the time. There's a nice exploding head scene in Black Sunday which was clearly echoing the kind of thing the audiences had seen in The Omenand would see again in The Fury. Secondly, despite the fact that almost 30 years have past, the political ideas in Black Sunday are still as relevant today as they were then. This fact alone makes the film disturbing. Black Sunday has a dynamite cast and a good finale, but can't overcome the fact that it drags on for far too long.

Black Sunday hovers onto DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Video. The DVD contains an anamorphic transfer and the film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1. Given the fact that the film is over 25 years old, this transfer looks pretty good. For the most part, the image is sharp and clear, with only minor moments where the grain is distracting. There are some noticeable defects from the source print at times, such as black dots or small scratches, but these happen only occasionally. The colors are fairly good, but some scenes are a bit faded, and there are some night-time scenes which are too dark. Edge-enhancement and artifacting are kept to a minimum. The DVD sports a newly created Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. On this track, Williams' score comes through loud and clear, filling the surround channels, but the rest of the audio does not. For a good example of this, simply go to the chapters contaning the football game. Theoretically, the crowd noise from the stadium should fill the speakers, but it does not -- it only comes through in stereo. But, the music suddenly kicks in, clearly in surround sound. So, the dialogue and sound effects are always clear and audible, but it appears that only the music was truly re-mastered in 5.1 and is often much louder than the dialogue. The DVD contains no extra features, but retains the familiar artwork with the blimp hitting the stadium.

5 out of 10 Jackasses

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