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

Spy Game [Blu-ray]

 

(Tony Scott, 2001)

 

 

 

Re-issued March 22nd, 2011

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Production:

Theatrical: Universal Pictures and Beacon Productions

Video: Universal Home Video

 

Disc:

Region: ALL (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 2:06:38.591

Disc Size: 38,211,943,154 bytes

Feature Size: 34,858,229,760 bytes

Video Bitrate: 28.32 Mbps

Average Total Bitrate: 36.70 Mbps

Chapters: 22

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: May 26th, 2009

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: VC-1 Video

 

Bitrate:

 

 

Audio:

DTS-HD Master Audio English 4317 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 4317 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)
DTS Audio French 768 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 768 kbps / 24-bit
DTS Audio Spanish 768 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 768 kbps / 24-bit
Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps / Dolby Surround
Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps / Dolby Surround

 

Subtitles:

English (SDH), English, French, Spanish, none

 

Extras

• Commentary by Director Tony Scott

• Commentary by Producers Marc Abraham & Douglas Wick

• Clandestine Ops

• Deleted Scenes w/ Director's Commentary – in SD (5:26)

• Alternate Scenes w/ Director's Commentary – in SD (14:17)

• Script-to-Storyboard Process – in SD (2:51)

• Requirements for CIA Acceptance

 

Exclusive to Blu-ray:

• BD-Live 2.0

 

 

 

Comment:

The Movie: 7

Critical reception was lukewarm, which is why I passed on Spy Game when it came out in 2001, just ten weeks after the attack on the World Trade towers.  Perhaps the real life incident influenced judgment about the movie, which would have seemed at odds with real-life events.  In any case I approached the Blu-ray with lowered expectations, often a good idea, as it was in this case.

 

Tony Scott, Ridley's younger, and less celebrated director, has nevertheless directed a number of memorable films: The Hunger (1983), Top Gun (1986), Crimson Tide (1995), and Man on Fire (2004).  I think Spy Game marks Scott's first movie with Robert Redford and his second with Brad Pitt (the first being True Romance form 1993.)  It was also the first time that these gentlemen worked with Catherine McCormack (who memorably played the title role in Dangerous Beauty, 1998) in a feature film.  Also on board is Stephen Dillane, whom you might remember as Thomas Jefferson in the HBO series (soon to be released on Blu-ray) John Adams.

 

There are certain expected clichés for the genre, and most of them are present in Spy Game, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  But we are spared one of the most common – in every sense of the word.  The movie starts with what turns out to be a botched rescue attempt in a Chinese prison by Brad Pitt's character, Tom Bishop.  (The person Bishop was trying to secure an early release for is not made known to us for quite some while.)  Bishop is captured and tortured, and a bad outcome is expected sooner rather than later.  His former colleague at the CIA, Nathan Muir (Redford), learns of this from a contact in Hong Kong on the day of his retirement from the company.  (For some reason I keep seeing flashes of Joe Turner – the irony was irresistible.) 

 

When Muir arrives at his office he strives to learn as much as he can about Bishop's circumstances and what his soon-to-be former boss plans to do about it.  For various reasons, only one of which that he is about to turn in his badge, the task force considering the matter wants to get as much information from Muir about Bishop as possible, but keep him ignorant their intentions.  When we learn that Bishop has 24 hours before he is scheduled for execution, clearly Muir is not going to hop on a plane and make that happen.  (So much for the cliché.) But he is invested in getting the company to take care of its own, which they seem reluctant to do.

 

The main body of the story is revealed to the task force by Muir in flashbacks about how he came to run across Bishop in Vietnam and how he laid the groundwork for bringing him on board as an operative for the CIA.  Phrases like "boy scout" and "don't ever risk your life or your career for an asset" stick in our mind as Muir begins what turns out to be a 20 year partnership with Bishop – the latter being the operative who goes in to the trouble spot, sets up a plan and executes it.  More than one operation leads Bishop to question the CIA's goals in terms of the collateral damage.  He walks away from his job after one such action took the lives of too many innocent people just to nail a single, albeit important, terrorist, to say nothing of the strain it placed on a romantic entanglement that had the potential of exposing him.  A few years later, Bishop turns up in his present predicament.

 

The supporting players, particularly a compelling McCormack as the romantic interest (less routinely positioned as politically ambiguous for a change, thank you) and Dillane as the task force company man who dogs Muir for 24 hours, certain he is up to something, are excellent.  The busy photographic effects and snappy editing that nearly consumes the movie in its opening scenes lets up once Muir gets on the case.  Whew!

 

 

Image: 7/8  NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were ripped directly from the Blu-ray disc.

The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale.  The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

 

Universal’s VC-1-encoded 1080p image appears confident at first glance on large screen projection, but a closer examination reveals a degree of oversaturation here and softening of textures there.  I assume the inconsistent film grain comes with territory, but I'm not so sure about the occasional noise.  Otherwise, the filmmakers’ choice of filters and effects is well captured, and the movie’s wide-ranging contrast is given its due.  Dimensionality is very good in long shots and on-and-off elsewhere.  All that said, I found the film engaging enough that these imperfections did not stand up and shout at me.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 9/8

I’m more attentive to responsibly differentiated timbres and acoustical spaces than I am directional surround sound cues, though it’s nice to have both.  From the first bars of Harry Gregson-Williams’ (Gone Baby Gone, Prince Caspian) colorful, swirling, impulsive score through the tightly framed, frantic confusion of the attempted prison break-in, the DTS HD-MA mix places us right in the middle of the chaos.  The various metallic sounds familiar to prison movies are all there, but surrealized, as is the imagery of the rescue itself.  Later, Langley’s conference rooms, offices and corridors are subtly defined and distinguished with a nice touch of proper ambience added to the usually crisp and clear dialogue.  In the many flashbacks, from Vietnam to Berlin to Beirut, all manner of firepower is convincingly brought to bear down on, from and around Bishop with the requisite, if not whacking explosive impact.

 

 

Operations: 7

Loading leads us directly to the feature menu, which is laid out like other Universal Blu-rays. Arrows tell you which way to direct your remote, and the bonus feature instructions are intuitive.  No U-Control on this one.  In its place is a feature called "Clandestine Ops."  When activated from the main menu, an icon appears often enough throughout the movie.  Click on it and the movie is paused and replaced with behind-the-scenes information.  You can return to the movie with a click of the chapter advance.

 

Extras: 6

Two commentaries: Tony Scott concentrates more on his work with the actors, how some of the shots were set up and the editing process.  The producers' commentary is wider in scope as they discuss the challenges of international shooting, the script and the director himself. "Clandestine Ops" offers behind-the-scenes information, interviews and background on the characters.  The Deleted & Alternate Scenes in letterboxed standard definition are more interesting than usual, especially with Scott's comments re how he agonized about how much backstory some of them might reveal.

 

 

Recommendation: 7

Spy Game is a better than average spy thriller that avoids one or two tiresome clichés, with very good performances from all, especially the supporting players.  The image is better than my discussion of its imperfections suggests, and the audio is excellent, making the Blu-ray version the way to go, even if it doesn't measure up to a fully satisfactory upgrade.

 

Leonard Norwitz
May 29th, 2009

 

 

 

Re-issued March 22nd, 2011

 

About the Reviewer: 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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