L  e  n  s  V  i  e  w  s

A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

 

Introduction: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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Death Race (Unrated) [Blu-ray]

 

(Paul W.S. Anderson, 2008)

 

 

 

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Universal Pictures

Blu-ray: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

 

Disc:

Region: All

Runtime: 105 & 1

Chapters: 20

Size: 50 GB

Case: Standard Amaray Blu-ray case w/ slipcover

Release date: December 23, 2008

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: AVC

 

Audio:

English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1; Spanish & French DTS 5.1

 

Subtitles:

English SDH, French & Spanish

 

Extras:

• Theatrical & Unrated Versions

• Commentary with Director Paul Anderson & Producer Jeremy Bolt

• 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

• BD-Live

• Disc 2: Digital Copy

 

 

The Film: 5
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 competitor.

In the new film, the David Carradine character is played by square-jawed, action figure Jason Statham (Transporter, Snatch, 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.

 


 

Image: 8/9
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 origin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 8/6
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.

 

 

 

Operations: 7
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.

 

Extras: 6
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.

 

 

Bottom line: 6
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.

Leonard Norwitz
December 13th, 2008

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





 

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