Review by Leonard Norwitz
Theatrical: Universal Pictures
Blu-ray: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Runtime: 105 & 1
Size: 50 GB
Case: Standard Amaray Blu-ray case w/ slipcover
Release date: December 23, 2008
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Video codec: AVC
English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1; Spanish & French DTS
English SDH, French & Spanish
• Theatrical & Unrated Versions
• Commentary with Director Paul Anderson & Producer
• Start Your Engines: Making a Death Race (19:44) in HD
• Behind the Wheel: Dissecting the Stunts (7:51) in HD
• Create Your Own Race
• U-Control Picture-in-Picture: cast & crew interviews
• Tech Specs: AN Interactive dossier on the characters,
cars and races
• D-Box Motion Enabled
• Disc 2: Digital Copy
Poor Paul Anderson was forever being confused with the
bringer of a rain of frogs and yet another Oscar winning
role for Daniel Day-Lewis and that other Anderson guy
who directed a movie about a royal dysfunctional family.
The director of the 1997
Event Horizon – long a low
water mark for sci-fi drivel – added the "W.S." to
distinguish himself from the distinguished. The man is
unapologetic about such movies as Resident Evil and AVP.
So I suppose we shouldn't expect critical approbation
for a remake of another B-Picture, the notorious 1975
Death Race 2000. With Roger Corman noted as producer for
both films, could this be the worst of both worlds, or
should we hold out for expectations denied?
Well, neither, as it turns out. The story is familiar,
even if the politics have been misappropriated. The
stunts are awesome, but the action is muddled, even for
staged mayhem. Characterizations are straight comic
book, but without the depth, with lots of badass
posturing in cool toned photography.
The time is not far in our future (2012) where, as the
prescient forward to the movie tells us, the U.S.
economy has collapsed, unemployment is rampant as is the
crime rate. Prisons, having reached the breaking point,
are now run by private corporations as for-profit
enterprises. To this end, Terminal Island has created
the Death Race – a monster, money-making Internet event
where prisoners race around the prison island in hot
cars armed with lethal offensive and defensive weapons
that no one dares aim at anything other than a
In the new film, the David Carradine character is played
by square-jawed, action figure Jason Statham (Transporter,
The Bank Job). Jensen Ames comes home to his
loving wife and infant child after having just been laid
off at the local steel mill. Before the night is out, he
finds her dead and himself arrested for his trouble,
with life imprisonment at the state's notorious Terminal
Island is only a short and lonely bus ride away. It
seems that Ames was a serious race car driver in his
day, and the warden (an icy Joan Allen) wants him to
assume the role of the masked killer driver known as
Frankenstein. As memories of The Longest Yard dance in
our heads, Ames comes to the realization that the man
who killed his wife is in this prison.
The desaturated gray-blue image, averaging about 30
Mbps, is sharp, blemish-free, with adequate appropriate
shadow information, occasional fine grain, and brilliant
car explosions that threaten, but never overpower the
picture. A lot is accomplished with little, thanks to
the production design that turns what looks like
abandoned warehouses and factories into Terminal
Island's prison blocks, yards, guardhouses and
drive-through semi-abandoned buildings of no particular
Audio & Music:
An armed care chase movie would be nothing more than an
idling whimper if it didn't convey the metallic whirring
of engines and dramatic collisions, the cackle of
automatic weapons, and the squeal of tires on an
assortment of road surfaces (not as many as I would have
liked, however). These, Death Race has in abundance –
though I felt the surrounds were a little pronounced at
times. Accuracy seems not to be the point so much as
enveloping terror – and this it has – or would have if
the action sequences were more clearly directed.
The menu is laid out like other Universal Blu-rays.
Arrows tell you which way to direct your remote, and the
bonus feature instructions are detailed and intuitive.
The chapter menu includes buttons for U-Control in case
you want to approach those functions from that point.
And, there are the usual number of U-Control
opportunities to invite and confuse.
Have you noticed the move toward the "interactive"
experience with high-def media, he asked rhetorically.
Blu-ray discs not only contain the feature film in
high-resolution image and sound, but several forms of
interactive experience. It's the CinemaScope alternative
to television all over again, the DVD alternative to
videotape, the CD alternative to vinyl - the response to
what is perceived as a flagging interest in home video,
or, more likely, now that 99.9% of all movies have found
their way to DVD, we need more than a better picture and
sound to get folks to buy them all over again. This
time, besides the Universal's U-Control
Picture-in-Picture behind the scenes interviews that
accompany the feature film at the click of a button, we
have "Create Your Own Race" – where you get to edit your
own race from seven different angles. You can view the
race whenever you like, change certain segments and
share with your buddies via My Scenes at BD Live.
I can't imagine anyone being disappointed here. The
Blu-ray delivers a clean dimensional image and whiz-bang
sound in dynamic uncompressed DTS HD-MA. With P.W.S.
Anderson you know what you're getting into, and this
movie has more dramatic interest, even if unsubtly told,
than most of his other films.
December 13th, 2008