Man on Fire (UK - BD)
Chris Gould checks out the Fox Blu-ray release of this Denzel Washington film
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In Mexico City the wealthy and their families are targets for organised gangs for whom kidnapping and ransom are a way of life. Most well-to-do families have bodyguards, and after a series of abductions in the city businessman Samuel Ramos (Marc Anthony) decides to hire someone to protect his young daughter, Pita (Dakota Fanning). Enter John Creasy (Denzel Washington), an ex-CIA operative with a background in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism. However, the burned-out, disenfranchised Creasy has taken to the bottle to ease his pain and has little interest in babysitting a nine-year-old girl.
Even so, Creasy needs the work and so he reluctantly agrees to protect Pita. Although initially intolerant of the precocious child, as time passes she chips away at his defences and he finds himself opening up to her. The pair become friends, with Creasy helping Pita with her swimming competitions and acting as a surrogate father in her parents' absence. One day, during a seemingly routine journey to a piano lesson, a gang makes an attempt to snatch Pita. The ensuring gunfight claims the lives of four of the would-be kidnappers (including two corrupt police officers) and Creasy himself is badly wounded while attempting to prevent the abduction.
Shortly after the kidnapping the leader of the gang, known only as the 'Voice', demands a ransom of ten million dollars in exchange for Pita's life. However, the exchange turns bad when the kidnappers are ambushed by a corrupt group of police called 'La Hermandad', who steal the money. In retaliation, the Voice tells Pita's parents that she will never be returned. At this time Creasy, who was falsely accused of murdering two police officers, is visited in hospital by his friend Paul Rayburn (Christopher Walken). Rayburn helps Creasy to escape, after which he visits Pita's mother (Radha Mitchell) and promises that he will do everything in his power to bring those involved in Pita's abduction to justice, no matter who they are or how powerful they might be.
Man on Fire arrives with a 2.40:1 1080p/24 AVC transfer that does an admirable job of recreating the intended look of Scott's film. Colours are artificially enriched, accurately replicating the intentionally oversaturated, stylised look of the picture, and while black levels are deep and stable, the filming process has resulted in a lack of shadow detail and slightly brighter than average whites, with the final image being somewhat detached from reality. The image is exceptionally sharp though, revealing even the tiniest detail in the frame, from the pores on the actors' faces, to the elaborate decorations in Pita's house. The quality of the print is also excellent. It's free from any particularly noticeable damage and although the grain is more prevalent then some might like (again because of the cinematographic process), it serves to enhance the gritty nature of the film. I'm sure that this transfer won't be to everyone's tastes simply because it faithfully reproduces the 'hyper-reality' of Scott's world so well, but I thought it looked stunning.
As is the norm for Fox home releases, Man on Fire features a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. I think the track is best described as 'lively', especially during the later scenes, but even from the earliest moments it comes alive with the sounds of Mexico City. All five channels are used to draw the viewer into the bustling city, with the sound of pedestrians and traffic heard all around you. As things progress and Cresy begins his crusade, the track kicks things up a gear and becomes almost overwhelmingly aggressive. The viewer is literally assaulted from all angles, with some deep, powerful bass adding weight to the gunplay and explosions.
The score also plays and important part in creating the film's atmosphere. I generally found it to be very effective, even if it did go a bit ' Gladiator' on more than one occasion. However, the was one slight flaw with the mix (I say flaw, it might actually be an entirely intentional thing). Basically there are times when the track transitions from moments of relative tranquillity to almost uncomfortably loud action, which had me reaching for the volume control. However, any adjustment rendered the dialogue unintelligible, so one has to conclude that Scott intended the viewer to be shell shocked. To be fair, it's not a massive problem, but I would have liked the dialogue to have more presence in the mix. Even so, all things considered this is a great track by any standards.
Audio Commentary by Director Tony Scott: The director is on hand to talk us through the film with this informative track. Although there are a few pauses here and there, the track generally flows fairly well and Scott provides some interesting background info on the creative process. Discussion ranges from the film's convoluted history to the practicalities of filming in Mexico City, with at least one of the anecdotes sure to make you think twice about visiting a certain bar.
Audio Commentary with Lucas Foster, Brian Helgeland and Dakota Fanning: Well, this was certainly a pleasant surprise. Normally I find production tracks to be entirely too dry for my liking, but I found this commentary to be every bit as entertaining as Scott's solo effort. This is due in no small part to the presence of Dakota Fanning, whose youthful exuberance manages to overcoming the slightly annoying antics of the producer and make up for the limited participation of the writer. It strikes a good balance between the technical and the anecdotal, although a lot of the track is spent telling the young actress how good she is in the role (but credit where credit is due and all that).
Vengeance is Mine: Re-inventing Man on Fire (01:12:42 SD): This is an exhaustive documentary that covers virtually every aspect of the production. Cast and crew ware on hand to discuss everything from the film’s inception (Scott originally wanted to make it twenty years ago), real-life cases of abduction, criminal methodology, weapons training, casting, performance, location shooting, filming techniques and more. The documentary is divided into five handy chapters, each of which focuses on specific topics.
Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary (32:31 SD): The disc also includes fifteen deleted scenes with optional commentary from Tony Scott. There’s some good content on offer here (including the opportunity to see Radha Mitchell in her bra and pants), some of which demonstrates how much more violent the film was originally going to be. There’s also a rather explosive alternate ending.
Pita’s Abduction: This section is divided into three parts. The first is a multi-angle sequence (04:17 SD) that allows you to switch between four camera angles or view a composite shot of all four. It also features optional commentary by the director. The second and third parts take the form of Tony Scott's storyboards (forty-four images) and a script excerpt (fourteen pages).
Photo Galley: As the name implies, this is a series of sixty still images. As I've said many times before, these aren't really for me, but I'm sure there are many people who enjoy them.
'Oye Como Va' Music Video (03:24 SD): As the name suggests, this is a short music video for one of the tracks featured in the film (by the artist Kinky).
Trailers (07:44 SD): Finally, three theatrical trailers are included, all of which are fairly similar. If you've seen the film I'm not sure how much pleasure you'll get from these, but the obsessive completists will be happy.
Man on Fire is an enjoyable film with strong central performances from its two leads. Now you would expect nothing less from Denzel Washington, but I am consistently amazed by how natural and gifted young Dakota Fanning is. I say 'is', but I really should be saying 'was', because Fanning is now fifteen and Charlotte's Web is the most recent performance I've caught from the young actress, so I've no idea if her remarkable talent has survived the transition from childhood to adolescence. Whatever the case, her chemistry with Washington is excellent and I really bought into the relationship between the damaged assassin and the fragile young girl who offers him a chance at redemption.
The Blu-ray itself is pretty damn good. I was expecting great audio-visual quality after reading the reviews of the US release, but unlike our American cousins we actually get quite a large amount of interesting and informative bonus material. The commentary tracks are good (if not great), the documentary tells you all you realistically know and the deleted scenes/storyboards add to the overall value. It would have been nice to have the bonus material in high definition, but it seems that only Paramount are really championing that cause at the moment. Even so this is a great release of a very worthy film and I urge you to give it a go.
* 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.
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Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 9th February 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: Chinese, English HoH, Indonesian, Korean, Thai, Tagalog
Extras: Audio Commentary by Director Tony Scott, Audio Commentary by Lucas Foster, Brian Helgeland and Dakota Fanning, Vengeance is Mine: Re-inventing Man on Fire Documentary, 15 Deleted Scenes with Optional Audio Commentary by Director Tony Scott, Pita’s Abduction: Multi-Angle Sequence with Optional Commentary by Director Tony Scott, Pita’s Abduction: Tony Scott’s Storyboards, Pita’s Abduction: Script Excerpt, Photo Gallery, Music Video: Kinky ‘Oye Como Va’, Theatrical Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Tony Scott
Cast: Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning, Christopher Walken, Giancarlo Giannini, Radha Mitchell, Marc Anthony, Rachel Ticotin, Mickey Rourke
Length: 140 minutes
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