Salt (UK - BD)
Chris checks out the Blu-ray release of the recent Angelina Jolie action feature
Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) is a trusted and loyal CIA operative, but when a Russian defector convinces her superiors that she is actually a Russian sleeper agent assigned to assassinate a high-profile political target she is forced to go on the run. As the chase intensifies, Salt must use all of her skills to elude capture and uncover the secrets of her past. Is Salt the victim of an elaborate ruse, or is she really the product of a clandestine initiative designed to bring about the downfall of the United States?
Well I guess I better just come out and say it—I didn’t go much on Salt when I saw it theatrically earlier in the year. Apparently it was originally written with Tom Cruise in mind, but when he backed out the script was re-written for a female lead. While I have no problem with films in which women take the starring role, I do have a problem with Angelina Jolie portraying this particular action hero. Back in her curvier Tomb Raider period she at least looked the part, but these days she’s so thin she looks like a stiff breeze could knock her over. She just isn’t convincing in the role of an arse-kicking super-spy, especially when she runs like a new-born foal, her arms and legs flailing this way and that. I had a really hard time watching her beating down hoards of larger, stronger male opponents considering it looks like picking up groceries would cause her radius to shatter into a million pieces…
The other big problem is that the script crashes from one overblown set-piece to the next, barely pausing for breath or to take the time to provide some insight into the inner workings of Salt’s mind. The end result of this was that I never cared about the character or her motivations. Salt follows an all-too-predictable path; there’s very little suspense, and even the ‘twist’ ending is fairly well telegraphed for anyone even remotely familiar with the genre (and Liev Schreiber’s back catalogue). Although Salt has pretentions of imitating superior spy-thrillers like The Bourne Identity, it is lacking the very things that made that film enjoyable—a strong narrative and an interesting central character.
The disc includes three separate cuts of the film, including the original theatrical release, a director’s cut, and an extended cut. It also includes a handy marker to point out new footage. The director’s cut adds more violence, fleshes out certain characters' backstories and changes several key plot elements, including the ending. The extended cut is similar, although different enough from the others to warrant a viewing. I think the director’s cut is the best of the three, but it’s nice to be offered the choice.
Salt arrives with one of Sony’s customarily attractive high-definition transfers, presented at its theatrical ratio of 2.40:1 (1080/24p AVC). As one would expect from such a recent theatrical release, detail is generally very strong throughout. This is particularly true of facial close-ups, which allow you to pick out every pore on some of the craggier faces, but wider shots are also impressive. It’s not as sharp as some films, but I remember Salt looking pretty soft theatrically, with a fine layer of unobtrusive grain that’s reproduced accurately here. Colours are strong, if stylised, while contrast is finely tuned. There’s not a whole lot in the way of visible artefacts either. On the whole it’s a fairly impressive video presentation. It’s not what I’d call reference, but it’s definitely what I’d expect for a film of this vintage.
Oh, I should probably mention that I noticed a ‘SBMV’ logo on the back of the case. I was curious so I did a bit of Googling and learned that it relates to Sony’s Super Bit Mapping technology. Basically, when combined with a compatible player you should see better colour gradation and less picture noise. I don’t own one of said machines, so I couldn’t test it.
Salt’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is no less impressive than the video; in fact, I think it’s probably more impressive. The film is full of showcase action moments, which are ably handled by the DTS-HD track. Helicopters traverse the soundstage, gunfire ricochets from speaker to speaker, empty shell casings hit the floor with pin-sharp clarity, Salt’s heartbeat fills the room and powerful explosions rock the sofa with an authoritative rumble from the subwoofer. Thankfully dialogue is clear during even the liveliest of moments, usually taking centre stage, but occasionally finding its way into the other channels. James Newton Howard's score is effective, if not particularly memorable, but at least it’s not detrimental. Again, this isn’t reference stuff, but it’s a pretty good effort.
Spy-Cam: Picture-in-Picture (01:40:00 HD): This BonusView track is only available while watching the theatrical version of the feature. As is usual for this type of track, a small window plays over the main feature offering cast and crew interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. Apart from one or two standout examples I’ve yet to be impressed by PiP tracks, and while this one offers pertinent information it doesn’t deliver a ground-breaking viewing experience.
Filmmakers’ Commentary: The director delivers a commentary track packed with technical and anecdotal information, often recounting stories of his youth growing up in a remote Australian town and his father's involvement with Z Force (the Aussie CIA). The track makes for a reasonably good listen, but it sounds to me like he's reading from a script so it doesn't flow quite as naturally as most commentaries.
The Ultimate Female Action Hero (08:05 HD): This piece concentrates on Angelina Jolie’s transformation into a kick-arse action heroine. Director Phillip Noyce is on-hand with some of the other cast and crew to praise Jolie’s commitment to her art, while the actress herself appears to talk about her performance.
The Real Agents (12:33 HD): A number of ex-KGB and CIA officers (both male and female) appear to discuss their experiences. They recount stories of double lives, disguises, false identities, deceit and more. It’s a pretty interesting piece for what it is.
Spy Disguises: The Looks of Evelyn Salt (05:26 HD): The short featurette examines the various looks adopted by Jolie’s character throughout the movie. Much of the running time is devoted to the development of the male prosthetic makeup, which doesn’t look particularly convincing in the completed film.
The Modern Master of the Political Thriller: Phillip Noyce (09:125 HD): The director pops up once more to talk about his love of the genre. There’s quite a bit of overlap with his comments in the commentary track, but it’s probably worth watching once.
False Identity: Creating a New Reality (07:14 HD): This featurette takes a look at some of the digital effects work necessary to bring a film like Salt to life. It’s actually a pretty interesting look at the work involved in transforming a deserted car park into Washington D.C., with lot of composite effects used to bring the city to life. There’s also footage detailing the work performed to enhance crowd scenes and one of the key shootouts, among others.
Salt: Declassified (29:47 HD): This is the longest featurette on the disc, although it treads familiar ground to the other, shorter segments. To be honest it’s your typical run-of-the-mill fluff piece, with interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and clips from the film. Some of the material is also repeated from the PiP track, which somewhat devalues the featurette as a whole.
The Treatment: Radio Interview with Phillip Noyce (27:12): This interview is accompanied by a static shot of the director as he discusses the film, his family history (Noyce’s father worked in espionage),and a host of other topics. Once again there is a fair bit of overlap with the other features, but it’s still worth listening to.
BD-Live: A collection of trailers and previews are available online, but as usual there's no film-specific content relating to Salt.
After watching so many different versions of the film and so many similar featurettes, not to mention listening to the director repeat his comments over and over again, I think it’s fair to say that I’m done with Salt for a while. To be brutally honest, when I’m next in the mood for a spy flick I’m far more likely to reach for something featuring our friends Bond and Bourne than I am this film. On the plus side the set is technically impressive, with accomplished A/V and a decent, if slightly repetitive, collection of bonus material. This should please the film's fans, but unfortunately I’m not one of them.
* 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 15 years and over
Release Date: 13th December 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 German, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Japanese, Dolby Digital 5.1 Hindi, Dolby Digital 5.1 Turkish, Audio Discriptive Track English
Subtitles: Dutch, English, English HoH, German, Hindi, Japanese, Turkish
Extras: Multiple Versions, Picture-in-Picture Track, Audio Commentary, Featurettes, Documentary, Radio Interview
Easter Egg: No
Director: Phillip Noyce
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Daniel Olbrychski
Genre: Action and Thriller
Length: 104 minutes
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