Tuesday, March 28, 2023

RETURN TO PARADISE (1998) (Imprint Films Blu-ray Review)

Imprint Collection #209

Label: Imprint Films 
Region Code: Region-Free 
Rating: MA
Duration: 112 Minutes 
Audio: Audio English DTS-HD HD 5.1 Surround, LPCM 2.0 Stereo with Optional English HOH subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Director: Joseph Ruben 
Cast: Vince Vaughn, Anne Heche, Joaquin Phoenix, David Conrad, Vera Farmiga

In the 90's drama thriller Return to Paradise (1998), based on the French film Force Majeure, three 20-something friend, John "Sheriff" Volgecherev (Vince Vaughn, Psycho remake), Tony (David Conrad, TV's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), and Lewis (Joaquin Phoenix, Joker) are on vacation in Malaysia, the three young Americans take great pleasure in indulging in drugs and sex in the foreign country, having the time of their life. We catch up with them as the trip is wrapping up and Sheriff and Tony are set to return to America, but ecologist Lewis decides to stay behind and travel to Borneo to take up the cause of saving endangered species. Two years later, lawyer Beth Eastern (the late Anne Heche, Psycho remake) arrives in New York and tracks down Sheriff and Tony, informing them that their friend has been locked-up in a prison cell inside Penang Prison – sentenced to die after being busted for drugs the same day that they left. They've been unaware this whole time of his predicament, and making things worse, it was not only their shared drugs that got him busted, but because Sheriff wrecked a rented bicycle while there, it was the bike's owner looking to find his bike that brought the cops to their vacation hut. Beth tells the pair that only way he can be saved from his death sentence, which is to be carried out in eight days, is for Sheriff and Tony return to serve three years each, or if only one is willing to go, six years. It's a hard pill to swallow for the former pals, to sacrifice years of their own lives to save the life of their friend. 

The drama comes by way of Sheriff and Tony mulling over the decision with only eight days left to decide before their friend is hung as a drug dealer. In the years since the trip Tony has made something of himself as a structural engineer with a finance (Vera Farmiga, The Conjuring franchise) while Sheriff is working as limo driver. As they go back and forth about owning up to the fact they are complicit in their friend's mortal predicament the stresses of their choices build upon them, as Beth increases the pressure for them to commit to saving their friend's life. It's a very interesting premise and one that offers plenty of drama, and on top of that tough choice and the count down we have the added elements of a story-hungry reporter
(Jada Pinkett Smith, The Matrix Reloaded) who hounds Beth to publish a story about the case, convinced that international exposure will help the case, while Beth argues that any spotlight on the case could threaten to derail her efforts to save Lewis. This overlooked late-90's gem is well-made and a thoroughly engaging thriller-drama from director Joseph Robin (Dreamscape, The Stepfather), with an all-star young cast who deliver the goods. Vaughn and Heche are dynamite together with a sizzle developing between them, and Phoenix while not onscreen a ton offers a emotionally wrenching turn as someone destroyed by the penal system in a third world country. There's a few solid unexpected turns throughout that worked quite well, one was a gut-punch, and the other added a whole other layer of drama to the proceedings. 

Audio/Video: Return to Paradise arrives on region-free Blu-ray from Imprint Films in 1080p HD framed in 2.35:1 widescreen, advertised as being a 4K scan form the OCN. It looks quite good, sharp visuals with solid color-saturation. Audio comes by way of  uncompressed English DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround and LPCM 2.0 Stereo with optional English HOH subtitles. Both tracks are well-balanced and clean sounding, no issues - the surround option is more front heavy but does bolster the Mark Mancina (Training Day) score. . 

Imprint offer two new extras for this flick we get the Force Majeure: Directing Return to Paradise – interview with director Joseph Ruben, plus A Godless Place: Scoring Return to Paradise – interview with composer Mark Mancina. Additionally there are Archival interviews with actors Vince Vaughn, Anne Heche and Joaquin Phoenix, plus the Theatrical Trailer. The single-disc release arrives in a clear keepcase with a 2-sided, non-reversible artwork housed inside a side-loading slipcase with unique artwork, which is strictly a limited edition of 1500 copies - so get at it if you want it! 

Special Features:
- 1080p High-definition presentation on Blu-ray from a 4K scan of the original negative
- NEW! Force Majeure: Directing Return to Paradise – interview with director Joseph Ruben (28 min) 
- NEW! A Godless Place: Scoring Return to Paradise – interview with composer Mark Mancina
- Archival interviews with actors Vince Vaughn, Anne Heche and Joaquin Phoenix
- Theatrical Trailer
- Limited Edition slipcase on the first 1500 copies with unique artwork