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

The Thomas Crown Affair [Blu-ray]

 

(John McTiernan, 1999)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reissued January 4th, 2011:

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Irish Dreamtime

Blu-ray: MGM Home Entertainment

 

Disc:

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

Runtime: 1:53:17.165

Disc Size: 39,226,747,991 bytes

Feature Size: 38,948,032,512 bytes

Video Bitrate: 31.05 Mbps

Chapters: 36

Case: Standard Blu-ray case w/ 2 discs

Release date: April 6th, 2010

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

 

Audio:

DTS-HD Master Audio English 4267 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 4267 kbps / 24-bit (DTS
Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)
DTS Audio French 768 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 768 kbps / 16-bit
DTS Audio German 768 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 768 kbps / 16-bit
DTS Audio Italian 768 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 768 kbps / 16-bit
DTS Audio Japanese 768 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 768 kbps / 16-bit
DTS Audio Portuguese 1509 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit
DTS Audio Spanish 768 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 768 kbps / 16-bit
DTS Audio Spanish 768 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 768 kbps / 16-bit
Dolby Digital Audio Hungarian 224 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 224 kbps / Dolby
Surround
Dolby Digital Audio Russian 224 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 224 kbps / Dolby Surround
Dolby Digital Audio Thai 224 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 224 kbps / Dolby Surround
Dolby Digital Audio Turkish 224 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 224 kbps / Dolby Surround

 

Subtitles:

English, Bulgarian, Chinese (traditional and simplified), Croatian, Danish, Dutch, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, none

 

Extras:

• None on Blu-ray disc

• DVD of the Feature Film w/ Commentary

 

 

The Film: 7
It's beyond tempting to compare the remake with the original movie – not that the story needed a rethinking. But what are we to say: that new actors and directors are to be forbidden an opportunity to strut their stuff, to meet the challenge, or even just to work the material? Who knows, maybe there’s substance to be mined. I thought so, even though in some ways I still prefer the original.

Whereas the 1968 Thomas Crown was an exercise in style over substance (just ask Director Norman Jewison who admits as much on the DVD commentary), the 1999 version of the story is a riff on the old "Shell Game," a game that extends beyond the question of who's got the Monet (Monet!) to who is behind the mask. It is a question, posed in terms of Trust and Control, deliberated in the film's opening scene between Crown (a wry and very pleased with himself Pierce Brosnan) and his therapist (Faye Dunaway – a nice touch). It is a question that reverberates right through to the final line of the movie.

Jewison, Cinematographer Haskell Wexler and Editor Hal Ashby had a great time indulging in the relatively new trick of split screen photography, aided by smart editing framing choices. There are advantages to a simple story, simply told, and there are risks that come with fleshing out character and plot with elaborate detail. For one thing, Director McTiernan's extends his shell game to his audience. For example, we're not supposed to notice that Brosnan's plan to heist the Monet depends on its success the coincidental arrival on the scene of the head of security. A few seconds sooner or later and the whole plan falls apart. And, ask yourself why Brosnan hides the Monet behind his Magritte. Is it not only to distract us from his true intentions.

 


The new movie is smartly cast: Could anyone at the time be a better choice than the Bondian Pierce Brosnan. OK, there isn't nearly as much expressed by the eyes or going on beyond them, but few actors possess that quality, or ever did. Gary Cooper, certainly. Audrey Hepburn. And, I think, Steve McQueen. Thomas Crown may have been the first time we get to see McQueen in a suit and playing an educated man of means, but it was a choice (McQueen himself lobbied for the part) that worked an odd sort of magic across from Faye Dunaway’s self-assured woman of fashion.

Rene Russo doesn’t really play the same part – indeed, her character has a different history and name to go with her – She’s older (45 as opposed to Dunaway's 27) and despite her tough, cynical exterior, her Catherine Banning is just as vulnerable. More so, I think. We can imagine her sparring with Brosnan, and possibly winning. She's smart. Russo has the necessary sex appeal. Maybe not as fashionable as Dunaway was then, but she’s more direct and more revealing, which, while I enjoy ogling Rene as much as the next guy, I found not nearly as much fun.

As we saw in Predator, Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October, we know John McTiernan can handle the action bits and make them dramatically coherent, intelligent and useful, all of which are necessary ingredients for a successful Thomas Crown Affair. The remake of the 1968 classic was his second shot at a romantic adventure, the first being the failed Medicine Man with Sean Connery and Lorraine Bracco. Hmmm. Grrrr. This one worked much better but I wonder about some of his choices in the intimate moments. Why does Banning toss an unopened crate she believes is a stolen painting into the fire? Has she so lost control that she is willing to try something so desperate? Does it matter if Crown rescues it or if he doesn't?

The original screenplay was written by Alan Trustman – his first, by the way, a success, which he followed promptly with Bullitt. And that was pretty much it for Trustman. The remake, with a screenplay by Leslie Dixon and Kurt Wimmer, takes the basic outline and much of the detail and transposes them to the present of ten years ago. As for the heists themselves - which were fairly uncomplicated affairs, though photographed with style in 1968 – all of the modifications are to their credit. The new movie flirts with the new Mission Impossible; the old movie with – well . . .

I usually prefer metaphor to explicit love making on screen, and I’m not entirely convinced that Banning’s willingness to parade around semi-nude once she beds Crown doesn’t give away more than she should. I mean, she looks great, but wouldn’t a woman of her character know that once she makes a habit of undress she runs the risk of becoming mouse rather than cat?


 

Image: 8/9   NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken 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.

MGM's transfer of this curiously unromantic movie is very good indeed and faithful to its mood and intentions. The high definition image retains the slightly less than razor sharp picture that is appropriate to a fable of this sort, while offering plenty of sparkle when necessary (the sailplane and catamaran sequences, especially) but not quite enough to tell if any of the paintings are forgeries. I found no transfer issues such as noise, DNR or edge enhancement, of concern. Blacks are deep and flesh tones wander about with the mood of the moment. I thought the picture darker overall than I remembered it.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 8/9
From the outset we are made aware of the extent to which Bill Conti's effervescent score is to be made a significant source of energy for TTCA. It functions as the movie's heartbeat, not unlike the earlier film's split-screen photography. But whereas in the 1968 film, the photography was all style while clarifying the plot and moving it forward, Conti's music is like the subtext made manifest.

The effects are well judged, from the traffic outside the museum, to the crowd inside; the heist is full of contraptions that invite the surrounds to properly locate them in convincing sizes and shapes. And so they do. Dialogue is always clear, whether shouted on a stormy sea of whispered on a crowded dance floor. When Conti's music comes on, which is often, it tends to command attention, which is its intention. A curious and effective mix.

 

 

Operations: 0
I don't think I have ever given a zero score for Operations until now – after all, the Blu-ray does function and the main menu has a nice look to it before it gets cluttered with small windows. But the fact that the disc actually plays from one end to the other brings the score up from a minus 5. Why a –5? Because at every other opportunity, this Blu-ray insults us or fails to do the minimum.

Let's start with the DVD included in this box: a double-sided disc with an anamorphic presentation of the movie on one side and a 4:3 crop on the other. They are otherwise identical. It would have better for all concerned if MGM had simply placed a label on the 4:3 side. Such DVDs have no place in a high definition box.

 


The Blu-ray disc, which has zero extra features, makes use of one of those search & search menus, where only a single audio, subtitle or chapter option at a time is displayed. This is made all the more frustrating by its having 36 chapters! Saving the biggest insult for last, the feature commentary with Director McTiernan is available only on the DVD – both sides, if you must know. This is manifest insanity at it most puzzling.

 

Extras: (0)
(See Operations for a comment on the Commentary)

 

 

Bottom line: 6
Even after forty-plus years I still find McQueen and Dunaway irresistible. I never thought the machinations of the heists were complex so I never wanted more. My understanding of the dramatic energy of the movie was more along the lines of a duel, between McQueen and Jack Weston on the one hand, and McQueen and Dunaway on the other. The issue of Trust is differently handled in both movies, enough to watch them back-to-back just to see how it plays out.

 


A good Image and Audio transfer, but the Blu-ray fails miserably and, so far, uniquely, in other departments. Just at this writing, Amazon is offering this Blu-ray for $11.99 – over 50% off, which kind of makes up for the packaging snafus.

Leonard Norwitz
April 13th, 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reissued January 4th:

 

 

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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