A good eight years after the release of "Gone In 60 Seconds," "Toby" Halicki returned to moviemaking with "The Junkman," an over-the-top chase movie that holds the Guinness World Record for most car, plane & motorcyle crashes (150) on film. Halicki spent two years making his ultimate car-crash movie, writing the threadbare and often silly script, producing, directing, acting (with immense hair), supplying many of the cars, designing several key prop autos, engineering and performing stunts, and using his own home and junkyard business as locations for some explosive effects.
You can't deny the man's drive (sorry), and in spite of the film's obvious flaws, "The Junkman" does contain some truly outrageous stunts that most likely would never be attempted today. Besides a few undercranked shots, much of what you see are cars driving at speeds ranging from 60 to 120 miles per hour. Halicki himself faced death several times (literally removing pieces of a plane wing from his bleeding head at one point) during shooting, and never used a harness or wires for a jump onto a Goodyear blimp.
Like their "Gone in 60 Seconds" DVD, the people at Navarre have produced a stellar release, presenting "The Junkman" in a crisp, anamorphic transfer, and good colour registration - pretty mandatory when the film's first half cuts between a fictional 'James Dean Memorial' custom car gathering (with legendary designer George Barris making a cameo). Halicki's camera positions are a bit awkward in spots, but his cinematographer and editor keep the pace moving, and the short cuts minimize any bit rate action on solid backgrounds.
Though the film's dialogue isn't its strongest point, a subtitle track would have been a helpful addition, since some plot points and Halicki's oddball humour is lost to the hearing impaired. Perhaps Navarre might consider one for their upcoming releases, particularly the planned "Gone In 60 Seconds 2" tribute disc.
The digital 5.1 soundtracks - in Dolby and DTS - are a blend of the film's original mono dialogue elements and tweaked sections - most notably explosions, and a DJ performance at the James Dean gathering (with booming echo and reverb). Composers Bill Maxwell and Lou Pardini once again provide a new music score, though given the general cacophony, there's little room for them to develop any thematic material; functional and efficient, the synth score is mixed with restraint, and never tramples the sound effects.
As cinematographer Tony Syslo and Production Manager Jack Vacek recall on the DVD's laid-back commentary track, Halicki was very particular about sounds, and made sure every engine noise matched every make - whether car, truck, or plane. What the commentary ultimately tells us is how a guy outside of the Hollywood studio system wanted to make a very personal movie, and the vast personal resources used to pull the whole thing off.
The DVD adds to Toby Halicki's portrait via behind-the-scenes stills (indexed and set to almost-complete score cues), and a promo documentary made during the movie's production. Though derived from a worn 3/4" master (the only available source), some risky stunts are revealed, and Halicki provides narration with moments of jaw-dropping understatement.
In the interview segments, pilot Tony Ostermeier recalls how he had to get used to flying an 8-foot plane under a bridge with 12 feet of clearance; George Barris dissects the 'James Dean' custom car gathering in the film, pointing out the actual patrolman at Dean's car accident who actually appears in the film; Goodyear PR manager Bob Urhausen, and blimp pilot Nick Nicolary recall Halicki's extreme stunt work with their valuable aircraft; and editors Warner Leighton & P.J. Webb detail their director's curious cost-saving methods (which ultimately didn't really help) with amusement and much affection.
The DVD is filled up with the original release trailers for "Gone In 60 Seconds," and "Deadline Auto Theft" - Halicki's last completed film, from which footage was used in "The Junkman" during the opening chase sequence. Also included are trailers for "Junkman's" remastered version, a tv spot, and the original trailer.
The only thorn in this otherwise wonderful, exhaustive release for car chase fans is the omission of the film's original soundtrack mix. Hoyt Axton's theme song "James Dean and the Junkman" is heard in the original trailer and making-of documentary, and the balladeer apparently composed the film score, but the only way to hear the original sound mix and music is on old VHS releases. Maybe there just wasn't enough room on the DVD, but the complete obliteration of the original mix has an unpleasant revisionist feel.
© 2002 Mark R. Hasan