District 13: Ultimatum (UK - BD RB)
Chris takes a look at the follow-up to the French parkour movie on Blu-ray Disc...
It is the year 2013 (or possibly 2016, the film can't make up its mind)—three years after the events of the original District 13—and despite continuing promises from the government nothing has changed in the ghetto notorious for its gangs, drug dealers and violence. A group of corrupt cops are conspiring with a shady government official to cause civil unrest within D13 as an excuse to demolish the area and make big money from its redevelopment. When a group of kids accidentally stumble upon the plot they turn to the district's resident free-running idealist, Leito (David Belle), who once again teams up with super-cop Damien Tomaso (Cyril Raffaelli) to bring peace to the troubled district and expose the conspiracy before the bombers are called in.
That’s all you need to know about District 13: Ultimatum’s plot. Hell, that’s about all there is to the plot! To be honest it’s largely inconsequenctial anyway, as the whole thing is simply an excuse for David Belle to jump off of things and Cyril (seriously, Cyril?) Rafaelli to beat the shit out of all and sundry. Some of the action is very nicely done—particularly the fight in the nightclub, the rooftop chase sequences, Tomso fighting an entire police station single-handed, and the mad scene where our heroes drive a car through a building—but it’s nothing that we haven’t seen before in the original and that at least had the advantage of being fresh.
Nowadays even James Bond is getting in on the whole parkour thing, so it’s not quite as impressive as it was back in 2004. On top of this, the parkour elements have been sidelined in favour of more traditional martial arts sequences, and the few scenes that there are utilise a lot of quick cuts that left me wondering whether or not Belle was actually performing all of the moves. I’m sure he was, but the editing doesn’t afford us the opportunity to view his feats of athleticism in all of their glory (something that the first film did well). Throw in a few plot contrivances and an ending that doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense (the good guys essentially elect to do what the bad guys were trying to do anyway) and you have a fast-paced action film with little to no story, let alone character development. I suppose it’s fine it you like that sort of thing, but I think the original film did it better.
For its Blu-ray debut Momentum has furnished District 13: Ultimatumwith a solid 2.35:1 widescreen transfer (1080/24p VC-1). Although the palette isn’t what I’d call completely natural, colour rendition is actually pretty damn good—some scenes have that bleached out ultra-stylised look that is so popular today, while others have a golden tone that creates feelings of warmth. Interior scenes shot in a Chinese club near the beginning of the film look sensational—with lots of deep reds and neon popping off the screen—and this quality continues throughout. Detail is also pretty good, especially in facial close-ups where you can pick out things like the intricate tribal tattoos and scarring on some of the gang members’ faces, and the image is also very clean. In fact, from my normal viewing position I couldn’t detect any obvious flaws on my 42” screen. Having heard horror stories about the Blu-ray release of the original film I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with this one, but I was pleasantly surprised and I think that fans will be too. In fact I'll go one better than that and call this transfer 'impressive'.
Do you like bass? Yes? Good, because there’s plenty to be found here! The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack pumps out the low frequencies from the opening moments and doesn’t let up until the very last scene. The main culprit (if that’s the right word) is the film’s ‘techno’ soundtrack, but every punch, kick and gunshot is reinforced by a solid thud from the subwoofer. Surround action is also pretty consistent throughout, whether it’s the soundtrack or various discrete effects like gunfire, high-speed chases, or the sound of things breaking (usually bones). There’s not a lot of room for subtlety in a track like this, but the dialogue at least remains clear no matter how over-the-top the on-screen mayhem gets. If you like your soundtracks with big brass balls, this one will be right up your street and I'd actually go so far as to say that it’s the stand-out element of the disc.
My French is next to useless, but the English subtitles appear to be well translated and they are always easy to read. They also appear in the frame (as opposed to the black space above and below), which might be useful for those with Scope projectors and televisions. Oh and please, whatever you do, avoid the English dub because it is laughably bad.
Making of (26:36 SD): This is a pretty standard 'making of' featurette that includes interviews with the director and stars of the film. They talk about the origins of the project, locations, shooting the parkour sequences, fight choreography, and all of the stuff you usually find in this kind of featurette. It's presented in French with English subtitles. For some reason the director is wearing one of those shirts with the tattooed sleeves, as popularised by woman and transvestites.
Production Diary (34:31 SD): This feature is similar to the 'making of' featurette, but takes more of a 'fly on the wall' approach. There's a lot of raw footage shot during the filming of some of the key scenes, along with more on-set interviews. Due to the way that each distinct section is introduced by Cyril Raffaelli it looks like this started life as a series of webisodes (or similar) before being combined into a production diary. In fact, a lot of the footage contained in the production diary also appeared in the making of in a slightly more polished form.
Deleted and Extended Scenes (09:22 SD): The title is pretty self-explanatory on this occasion. There are extensions to two of the film's lengthiest actions sequences, along with new scenes of the various gang leaders kicking the crap out of more soldiers (including Tao, the hot French-Asian chick played by Elodie Yung) and some with Raffaelli and Belle demolishing various goons. Unsurprisingly there's nothing critical to the plot here, but a couple of the action beats are nice.
Music Video: 'Determine' by Alonzo (03:35 SD): This is the film's title track, and indeed the one that plays over the Blu-ray menus. It's a strange mix of French and English gangsta rap featuring a bloke who appears to take himself far too seriously. Here's a tip mate, sunglasses are best worn outside, not in dimly lit basements. I don't actually mind this sort of music, I just hate all the ridiculous posturing that comes along with it.
Teaser Trailer (01:10 SD): Does what it says on the tin (i.e. tease).
Trailer (01:51 SD): This one's not much longer than the teaser and it accomplishes the same job. The French 'voice-over man' isn't as cool as the American dude though.
Well, what is there to say? District 13: Ultimatum has a paper-thin plot and a bit of a silly ending, but my biggest complaint can be summed up in just two words: Dany Verissimo. Where the hell was she? All joking aside, it’s an entertaining enough action romp as long as you’re not expecting it to live up to the standards set by the original film. Technically Momentum’s disc presents strong audio-visual elements backed up by a competent selection of bonus material, so I have no problem with recommending this to genre fans (there can't be that many French parkour films for them to chose from anyway).
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 26th October 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 French, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Extras: Making of, Production Diary, Deleted and Extended Scnes, Music Video, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Patrick Alessandrin
Cast: Cyril Raffaelli, David Belle
Length: 101 minutes
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