The Film: 4/5
American Travelways Flight 282 and its 144 passengers and flight crew have been hijacked by Abdul (Robert Forster) and Mustafa (David Menachem), members of the Islamic extremist New World Revolutionary Organization. Abdul orders Captain Campbell (Bo Svenson) to fly the plane to Beirut or else he'll destroy the aircraft and everyone on board with a hand grenade. Back in the U.S. General Woodbridge (Robert Vaughn), under orders from "the President", assigns the Delta Force - under the command of Colonel Nick Alexander (Lee Marvin) and Major Scott McCoy (Chuck Norris) - to intercept and take down the terrorists and rescue the hostages. Before the plane lands Abdul separates all of the male Jewish passengers and three American Navy divers and has them removed from the plane when it lands in Beirut to refuel and his re. Upon hearing of this from flight attendant Ingrid (Hanna Schygulla) once the female passengers and children are released and the plane continues on to Algiers Alexander, McCoy, and the Deltas must venture into hostile territory controlled by Abdul's forces and extract the captured men to safety using their sizable arsenal of automatic weapons and badass vehicles, including McCoy's own rocket-launching motorcycle.
Whether it's in real life or on the big screen, we Americans can't do without our happy endings. Hollywood has nurtured our collective co-dependency on fantasy and formula to the point where that disconnect from reality starts to infiltrate the foreign policy decisions of our elected officials. We can't stand it when we lose a battle or a war or any kind of violent conflict, so it's in our nature to use any medium of fictional storytelling to rewrite history to give us the rousing conclusion our hearts desperately desire. That's how the staggering loss of Vietnam resulted in the smashing success of revisionist action propaganda epics in the 1980's such as Missing in Action, Rambo: First Blood Part II, and Commando. Only during the decade where Americans elected a has-been Hollywood ham actor who never saw an international crisis that he couldn't solve with a full-scale military deployment could these bloody, blazing delusions of grandeur not only rule the box office but wield the power of altering public opinion across the country.
Case in point, The Delta Force, Cannon Films honcho Menaham Golan's most blatant and shamelessly entertaining attempt to provide a happy ending to a sad episode in world history as only the finest fantasists in cinema can accomplish. The film was released on Valentine's Day 1986, just eight months after the hijacking of Trans World Airlines Flight 847 by Islamic militants that inspired its plot. The screenplay, which Golan co-wrote with James Bruner (one of Cannon's go-to scribes, as he had also written the first and third Missing in Action features as well as Invasion U.S.A.), is nearly a beat-for-beat dramatization of the hijacking and incorporates more than a few of its more enduring images. For the first half of The Delta Force the story plays out like a riveting docudrama and Golan milks every scene aboard the seized airliner for maximum dramatic effect, often to the point of over-the-top hysteria. The legendary Lee Marvin, in his final performance (he died over a year after the film's theatrical release), looks tired at times but invests every ounce of his trademark grizzled authority and alcohol-soaked sardonic humor in what could have been a mere quick paycheck. As for top-billed Chuck Norris....well he never could act worth a damn but he kicks ass and displays at most two emotions at the level his star salary demanded.
The director pads out his supporting cast with Oscar winners (George Kennedy, Shelley Winters, Martin Balsam) and scene stealers (Schygulla, Lainie Kazan, Joey Bishop) alike, all delivering fine performances with material that demands little but controlled histrionics that often ring true given the circumstances. The casting of cult movie icon Robert Forster as the villain Abdul was an inspired choice as the actor makes this remorseless terrorist an intelligent and formidable adversary without succumbing to frothing-mouthed scenery chewing. He cedes those duties to David Menahem as Abdul's sweaty, bug-eyed yet sympathetic-to-a-degree subordinate Mustafa; Menahem does some impressive acting with just his eyes and you can see the insanity that dances behind those bulging pupils and eats away at the poor excuse for a soul dwelling within. Even as The Delta Force becomes a live-action G.I. Joe cartoon in its second half Forster and Menahem's characterizations remain steely portrayals of uncompromising evil.
But seeing as how this is a Cannon production (and one of the most expensive in the company's history at the time - $9 million!) it has to be in The Delta Force's nature to become an overblown B-movie action extravaganza, and thanks to Golan's refusal to underestimate the intelligence of the international movie-going public the relentless spectacle of the second half is very much worth the wait. A destructive chase through the narrow streets of Beirut demolishes every innocent fruit cart and water truck in sight and looks to have influenced the Paris car chase in The Bourne Identity sixteen years later. Everything that can explode gets exploded and with a minimum of camera set-ups because even Cannon imposed limits on their excess from time to time. The raid on the terrorists' compound inside a burned-out school ignites a sustained finale of breathless thrills. Patriotism is one of the more blatantly-exploited elements of The Delta Force; it's one thing to be pro-American, and hey that's never a bad thing as I happen to be a proud American myself, but after the umpteenth close-up of U.S. flags being affixed to Delta Force uniforms or being waved in celebration the mood gets tiring. Then Golan stages a celebratory rendition of "America the Beautiful" while cold cans of Budweiser are passed around to the rescued hostages and you get caught up all over again.
It's all brought to life through impeccable stun twork and pyrotechnics and some pretty ace cinematography from one of Cannon's house D.P.'s, David Gurfinkel, who also shot The Apple, Enter the Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja, and Mata Hari for the company. The original score composed by Alan Silvestri (Back to the Future, Predator) is as propulsive and aggressively emotional as the film itself and thanks to Golan's insistence on reusing the main title theme for every single action set-piece you'll have it stuck in your head for days.
The 1080p high-definition transfer prepared by MGM, which owns most of Cannon's catalog, for their 2012 U.S. Blu-ray release from an original 35mm Interpositive is most likely the same one used by Arrow Video for their Region B disc. Since it's probably the best the film will ever look on this format it would be time-wasting to try and improve upon the quality of the domestic transfer. The Delta Force is presented in its original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio and overall the picture looks solid. Grain is persistent throughout but it never becomes a problem, and for the most part the video quality is clean and free of print damage. Even during the night scenes the brightness level is sharp and keeps the action in focus. Arrow's uncompressed 24-bit English 2.0 LPCM stereo track was created by MGM using the original 4-track stereo printmaster magnetic tracks and replicates the original two-channel Dolby soundtrack from the film's theatrical exhibition with fantastic results. Every single element of the bustling sound mix comes through with fine clarity and strong volume levels, and audio distortion has been completely removed. English subtitles have also been provided.
Since most of the cast and crew of The Delta Force are still among the living (notably Golan, Yoram Globus, Norris, Forster, and a good number of the supporting cast) it's a real shame that Arrow's otherwise solid line-up of supplemental featurettes doesn't feature any of them. I'm sure every effort was made to secure their involvement in the creation of this Blu-ray so I won't consider it a strike against Arrow or this release, because the fact that it has more bonus features than the original trailer already makes it a vast improvement over the U.S. MGM Blu.
First up we have Aussie documentarian Mark Hartley at the center of "Genre Hijackers" (15 minutes). The director of Not Quite Hollywood, Machete Maidens Unleashed, and the recent Patrick remake briefly discusses the history of Cannon Films and how it was once one of the world's leading studios for rollicking B-action pictures and esoteric arthouse endeavors until their dual desire for respectability and prosperity got the best of Golan and Globus. Their partnership dissolved over competing Lambada movies. I would love for this interview to be longer as it's meant to act as an appetizer for Hartley's upcoming documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films, which is due either later this year or next.
In "Chuck Norris Scribe" (22 minutes), screenwriter James Bruner shares his memories of writing The Delta Force and his working relationships with Norris and Cannon that both came to an ignoble conclusion on the third Missing in Action movie. He also reveals how the original M.I.A. script was sold to Cannon after they had already bought a script of the exact same name - which became the basis for the 1985 prequel Missing in Action 2: The Beginning - and how both films were shot back-to-back to save money. If you're also interested in learning how Cannon's American Ninja was originally supposed to be a starring vehicle for Norris and how Charles Bronson was first linked to Lee Marvin's role in The Delta Force (illustrated by an early trade announcement that used an image of Bronson from the immortal Death Wish 3) then you will find Bruner's interview essential viewing.
Wrapping up the new featurettes is "May the Delta Force Be with You!" (23 minutes). Despite the stupid title this is a highly informative interview with Commandant Christian Prouteau, founder of the Groupe d'Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale and an instructor of the first Delta Force. Proteau, clearly filmed speaking in a busy restaurant, is full of great stories about how the Deltas came to be and his involvement with some of the events that inspired the film.
The theatrical trailer (2 minutes) closes out the disc-based extras. Exclusive to Arrow's release is a reversible cover art sleeve featuring the original poster art and a new image by Graham Humphreys and a collector's booklet that contains a new essay about The Delta Force written by John Kenneth Muir, a reprinted article about Cannon Films from the July/August 1986 issue of American Film Magazine, and archive stills and posters.
A macho revenge fantasy that could have only been made in the 1980's (Navy SEALS and True Lies attempted it in the 90's and dated even faster), The Delta Force is a balls-out revisionist action-thriller that chucks political correctness screaming out the window and replaces it with sledgehammer subtlety and lots of blood and fireworks. More than one of the ultimate uber-patriotic flicks of the Reagan era, it's possibly the ultimate Cannon film. Arrow's Blu-ray presentation outclasses MGM's Region A release in the supplements department, making it a solid recommendation for fans of the bright, brainless, and inimitable celluloid cheese Golan and Globus made their names on.