This week’s Blu-ray Disc movie releases include: Flatliners, The Patriot: The Extended Cut, The Untouchables: Special Collector’s Edition, and The Warriors: Ultimate Director’s Cut.
Features: Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, Kevin “to the ‘nth degree!” Bacon, and William Baldwin
I’ve never been a huge fan of director Joel Schumacher’s films, but I’m not one of those who slams the fella for either his overly slick visual style, which is so easily marketed by the studios, nor his homosexuality (casually linked and often attacked by those that don’t like his films… see comments via the web for that cinematic debacle known as Batman & Robin bunch, a director of note. Those so-called “… nipples on the Batsuit notwithstanding, the Batman/Boy Wonder partnership was always kinda gay to begin with). The guy is, and mostly always has been, an entertainer at heart… first as a costume designer, then as a screenwriter and finally as the director of a number of well-known films such as the string of 80’s “Bratpack” films that saw big ticket sales theatrically and, later, ongoing video popularity. Those films, St. Elmo’s Fire, The Lost Boys and Flatliners, all have a common interest in keeping that primary demographic the studios are always after (still, to this day!) happy: teenage boys (and the gals too). Lost Boys was probably the pinnacle of these films, and with Flatliners Schumacher seems to have gone out of his way to mimic many of the same visual and narrative tropes that made that film so successful. However, the main story for the film is not only medically implausible for the most part, but with the look and feel of a highly charged Goth music video (when it’s not ripping off important plot points and visual devices from Nicholas Roeg’s brilliant 1973 film Don’t Look Now, which starred Keifer’s father Donald Sutherland) it’s also, at times, laughably campy.
When a group of medical students, led by a determined, student named Nelson (Sutherland, first among the other strong performances), seek to find ways to beat back clinical death (when the heart stops circulating blood) and possibly brain death while finding out what’s on the other side. They do this by “flatlining,” putting their bodies in a low-temp environment and shutting down their heart and brain functions for a short duration. As they play God, beat death and flatline only to return through resuscitation, they’ve all experience the utter rush of the afterlife… or whatever passes for it in the cinematic realm of trippy/scary imagery. Once they return to life however, they begin finding that aspects of their time in the limbo of the afterlife are coming back to haunt them (kinda like the aftertaste of diet soda)… until they can make amends for their sins of the past. Love it or hate it, the film is still pretty effective for what it is… but it’s hardly a classic, and more of an effective way to waste an afternoon being simply entertained.
The Blu-ray release has NO special features! What a bummer! Not even a reunion of the cast for shits n’ giggles?!? Sony, you blew this one… BUT, the Blu-ray disc offers an excellent 1080p (MPEG-2 transfer) image in the original widescreen 2.35 ratio. The picture is clear, wonderfully detailed with excellent black levels that are retained throughout, nice color saturation without bleed and no edging or artifacts to mar the pleasure of what’s on the hi-def screen. Likewise, the uncompressed PCM 5.1 (4.6 mbps) surround track is awesome… very nicely handling the mix of dialog, score and ambient tones on the center, front and rear channels. There’s also a standard DD 5.1 (640 kpbs) surround mix in English, French and German. Subtitles are from the League of Nations: English, Bulgarian, French, Spanish, Korean, Chinese, Thai, Swedish, Dutch, Czech, Danish, Finnish, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Norwegian, Romanian, Slovene, Arabic, Turkish and Croatian subtitles are offered.
The Patriot: The Extended Cut (Sony)
Features: Mel Gibson, Heath Ledger, Joely Richardson, Chris Cooper, Tom Wilkinson and Jason Isaacs
As historical action movies go, this Roland Emmerich film (his follow-up to the fairly awful Godzilla) is a fairly slick affair on par with the best of Edward Zwick’s historical film output. Centering on the father/son relationship between Benjamin Martin (Gibson), a musket-to-plowshares veteran of the French and Indian Wars, and his headstrong coming-of-age son, Gabriel (Ledger), The Patriot takes very little time in establishing the characters in the period of the American Revolution before plunging Martin’s large family into despair as the violence of war comes to their town in South Carolina. While his father knows of the brutality and misery of war, Gabriel feels it’s his duty to join the Continental Army and fight for freedom against the British… of course, things go awry as the prodigal son returns home bringing trouble with him.
The beauty of Caleb Deschanel’s award winning cinematography on Blu-ray, along with the uncompressed soundtrack, make The Patriot a likely candidate for a showcase disc whenever someone stops by to admire your hi-def home theater. The incredibly detailed 1080p AVC high profile picture is stunning. From the opening sequence it’s apparent the terrific color saturation (the gore seems to leap out at times), deep black levels and just an all-around pristine image make this widescreen 2.35 ratio action film a must-buy for the format… that’s a must buy with a caveat.. wait for it, because first I must address the audio which is downright superb. The uncompressed 4.6 mbps PCM surround mix allocates enough room on 5.1 channels for the dialog to sound warm and distinct, while the John Williams score comes across as rich and assertive without overwhelming the rear channel sound effects and ambient tones, especially during the brutal battle sequences. Additionally, there’s dubbed tracks in DD 5.1 (German, French and English, too).
And now, the buyer beware portion of our review where I ask the video gods how Sony screwed the pooch on this one. The “extended scenes” run about 10 minutes total, exactly like the standard-def Extended Version, and are integrated throughout the film; some scenes are extended by a minute or so fleshing out action and exposition. For fans of this film, note that none of the special features found on the standard-def Extended Version are here, making the Blu-ray release closer to the bare bones (but amazing quality) Superbit edition. There’s two EPK featurettes included: True Patriots and The Art of War, but missing are the director’s commentary track, conceptual art featurette, production galleries, etc. Buy this disc for an ungrade in scanlines from the Superbit while that version’s terrific DTS soundtrack is now replaced by a more robust and intense PCM mix. Last but not least is the polyglot of languages included: English, French, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Arabic, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Icelandic, Norwegian, Polish, Slovene, Swedish, Turkish, Bulgarian, Romanian, Hungarian, and Croatian.
The Untouchables: Special Collector’s Edition (Paramount)
Features: Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, Charles Martin Smith, Andy Garcia and Robert De Niro
Pure entertainment of the first order! The Untouchables, Brian DePlama and David Mamet’s film version of the old early 60’s TV show (and based on the real-life exploits of Bureau of Prohibition Agent Eliot Ness), is a completely re-watchable movie from start to finish. Well written by Mamet, it features lots of quotable dialog and memorable sequences staged so brilliantly by Brian DePlama as to overshadow much of his earlier, Hitchcock-style, suspense films. Two of the most well-known sequences, the meeting where Al Capone plays baseball with the noggin of one of his mob “employees,” and DePalma’s tension-filled Union Station homage to Sergei Eisenstein’s “Odessa Steps” sequence from the 1925 epic Battleship Potemkin are amazing in the way they play with audience expectations and the utter audacity with which they’re staged.
The actors are all in fine form here, with De Niro creating a Capone for the ages (both physically and dramatically), Connery chewing scenery with his Scottish brogue delivery (playing an Irish cop in 20’s Chicago), and Kevin Costner, in Gary Cooper mode, as straight-laced Ness, putting in a performance that rivals Robert Stack’s command of the role on network TV . Supporting roles are handled well by Andy Garcia and Charles Martin Smith (and hey! gorgeous Patricia Clarkson shows up as Ness’s wife in a few scenes), but it’s Billy Drago who has the ultimate villain role as Capone’s nasty enforcer, Frank Nitti… he’s a complete sociopath whose bloody hands are in every dirty job (unlike in real life, where he assumed control of Capone’s organization through cunning and his business skills rather than resorting to murder). Nitti’s attack on Malone (Connery) is another stand-out sequence that recalls some of Coppola’s most operatic moments in the Godfather Trilogy (considering its use of the tragic Italian opera Pagliacci, it ought to).
The Blu-ray disc is a hi-def remaster that found its way to the standard-def 2-Disc Collector’s Edition a while back and it looks gorgeous… save for some noticeable edging issues. Using a high-bitrate AVC MPEG-4 (1080p) transfer, the video elements look lovely with very good color saturation (I noticed the tiniest bit of bleed, heh heh, the in the reds… perhaps that’s because the blood flows quite a bit in this film). The black levels are top-notch and the deep browns prevalent throughout the film give off plenty of sharp detail. The 2.35 widescreen image shows off Stephen H. Burum’s cinematography in all its richness. The audio does an equally terrific job if using the DTS 6.1 (1.5 mbps) matrixed surround selection… as soon as the first aggressively urgent thrums of Ennio Morricone’s classic, powerful score come rumbling out of the speakers it’s apparent Paramount’s release is well worth the buy. The DTS-HD mix is very fine in letting the score roll off the rear speakers, but the 6.1 channels largely come into play during certain actions sequences, especially the Union Station sequence. Dialog comes across clear and understandable, hitting very warm tones from the center and side channels. The DD-EX 5.1 surround selection offers up to 640kbps bitrate compression and also sounds pretty darned good for a film released in 1987 before the advent of digital soundtracks (there’s also a DD-EX 5.1 track in Spanish or French at an even lower bitrate.
Subtitles are in English, Spanish and French), but it lacks the sonic spatial quality of the DTS track. The special features are identical to the 2-Disc Special Collectors DVD edition and still manage to include no audio commentary from DePlama (who really doesn’t like to do ’em)… what you get is The Script, The Cast which includes a few interviews with DePalma, producer Art Linson and (via older inter-cut footage) the cast; Production Stories is an in-depth look at how Cinematographer Stephen H. Burum achieved the period look of the film; Reinventing the Genre is a look at how DePlama conceived the film’s overall place in the gangster genre and also dissects two of the films most violent sequences while offering up some deleted bits, The Classic offers up a conversation about the film’s memorable musical score; there’s also an EPK featurette called The Men that was used to promote the film and a theatrical trailer (new to the Blu-ray/HD DVD release, it’s in hi-def 1080p).
The Warriors: Ultimate Director’s Cut (Paramount)
Features: Michael Beck, James Remar, Dorsey Wright, Deborah Van Valkenberg and David Patrick “Come Out to Plaaaaayyy-yay!” Kelly
CAN – YOU – DIG – IT!! Walter Hill’s little cult classic of a youth gang fighting to reach their home turf recently went from campy to comic book for the standard-def DVD Ultimate Director’s Cut release, and here it is again on hi-def. Nothing’s really changed except the bitrates and scanlines, so if you’re the movie geek that’s just gotta upgrade their existing collection, this one’s worth buying.
This New York story, as we should all know by now, concerns the pleather-clad Warriors from Coney Island. Led by Andy Gibb lookalike Swan (Michael Beck), the Warriors find themselves very, very far from home when then attend a gang summit called by Cyrus, leader of the Gramercy Riffs… needless to say, the attempt by Cyrus to unite all the New York gangs into a force to be reckoned with ends with his assassination, but whodunit?? Fingers point immediately to The Warriors and from then on, The Warriors must fight rival gangs— the best being the Baseball Furies (though their fight is kinda lame, not nearly what you’d expect) and The Lizzies n’ Punks. There’s the duplicitous Orphans and the somewhat bloodthirsty Rouges… all of them become help or hindrance during the Warriors odyssey homeward. It’s a highly stylized film for it’s time, not quite the ultra-violent take on urban gang life its infamous poster would have you think it is… it’s more like a mix of The Wanderers and The Wiz than A Clockwork Orange… still, you’ll viddy well especially with the Director’s Cut sanctioned and modified by Walter Hill himself. The film now emphasizes its links less to Sol Yurick’s 1965 novel (source for the film) and goes way back in the Wayback Machine to the adventure of the Ten Thousand from Greek legend (same story… group of guys must get through enemy territory to find their way home to safety). Whereas the 1979 cut had passing references to Hill’s interest in the story of the Ten Thousand (recorded by Xenophon in his Anabasis) with the radio DJ as Greek chorus and the various tests of skill, wit and endurance faced by our heroes, Hill now creates a prologue that explicitly references that legend and creates comic book panels for the camera to loving pan over in which both exposition and transitions from scene-to-scene now occur.
It’s a stunning little effect and though my buddy Paul, a huge fan of the film, hates the new look Hill’s given his gritty adventure yarn, I personally enjoyed it and felt it added some needed eye candy to a film that was, frankly, looking completely dated and worse for wear. Times have definitely changed since The Warriors original theatrical release, but overall the film is still very influential, more so for Hill’s visual artistry and handling of his young cast including the young James Remar (sheesh… my how the years have flown), and especially quirky David Patrick Kelly playing the utterly loathsome Luther (he plays a variation on that same name in Hill’s wonderfully silly 48 Hrs.), he of the most memorably haunting line in the film… the one that lingers long after the credits have rolled. The Blu-ray version of the Extended Director’s Cut is a fine looking video release for the film’s age… all things considered the picture, in the theatrical widescreen ratio of 1.85, looks incredible for its age, and I mean it looks like it could have been filmed yesterday.
The AVC MPEG-4 (1080p) remastered image is bright and crisp with a level of detail that should belie the film’s age, but doesn’t. The black levels are dark and retain exceptional detail while the overall saturation of the color plays very nice to the eye. There’s very little marring or video nose, and no noticeable edge enhancement. Where the film’s age is most apparent is on the audio side of the equation. With a DD 5.1 surround mix at 640kbps, there’s nothing really wrong here, in fact, I doubt there’s much Paramount could have done differently, but the HD DVD offering has a higher bitrate with a better compression standard. The audio sounds great on the dialog end of the spectrum, while there’s not much action to distinguish the use of multi-channel surround and ambient tones barely register on the whole it’s a step up from the old video monaural track (which the Spanish and French languages retain in DD 1.0 mono). Subtitles are offered in English, French and Spanish. The extras are exactly the same save for the theatrical trailer which is now HD in 1080p.
There’s a nice introduction by Walter Hill explaining the artistic changes and ties to Greek historical legend, there’s also four featurettes including The Beginning which relates how the rights to the book were purchased and the approach taken with the story as it was translated to a screenplay and eventually the pre-production fights and conceptual work done to create the distinctive gangs and their respective looks. The Battleground features some onset drama and production memories including what it takes to get hundreds of street-cast extras to do what you want. The Way Home features more in-depth production material including staging of some of the fight sequences, some absurd memories of real gangs honing in on the actors playing gang members and more on the film’s unique look and costumes… there’s also a bit on how David Patrick Kelly came up with his irritating little chant, total geek stuff! Love it! The Phenomenon offers even more details of the production, including some trivia on the voice of the radio DJ heard throughout the film as well as offering a deleted moment and alternative introduction and some reflections from the cast and crew on the film’s cult status. While this isn’t necessarily a showcase disc (unless you’re doing a side-by-side comparison with the older standard DVD or even older VHS, which will truly blow you away), it is a must-buy and highly recommended for fans of the film. For those with a casual interest, I’d consider buying it for the film’s content and its very good Blu-ray specs.