Taken (US - BD RA)
Gabe has a special set of skills that won't help him in hostage situations...
Retired CIA operative Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) has taken a civilian’s life in hopes of developing a relationship with his estranged daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). Kim lives with her mother and stepfather in the lap of luxury and doesn’t have much need for her father, until she needs his permission to leave the country. Mills is uncomfortable with his innocent daughter seeing the sights of France without an adult escort, but agrees. Sure enough, Kim and her friend are kidnapped by slave runners, and Mills has to take an unscheduled trip to Paris to kick ass and take names.
Luc Besson really needs to stop writing a script every weekend. He’s got a few basically good ideas in mind (ideas that can be easily summed up in a thirty-second TV spot), but he and his co-writers are seemingly obsessed with blatant character clichés (and not just action clichés, slasher and rom-com clichés too), and have no faith in their audience’s ability to absorb exposition without it being specifically told by the characters in the most awkward and insulting manner possible. Taken is a much ‘classier’ movie than the Transporter films, and reasonably realistically rendered by cinematographer turned director Pierre Morel (who directed the Besson produced District 13, which was actually two good action scenes stretched into a feature length film), but it’s still incurably stupid, and teeming with unoriginality.
Besson does, however, have a great eye for casting. He doesn’t have the most original folks in mind all the time, but he knows how to use them, especially those awesome character actors that don’t normally get a chance to shine in a physical role. The supporting cast is filled with familiar faces doing their thing. Liam Neeson is slumming it by participating in this production, let’s be honest, but he’s really on his game, and seems to have participated in a surprisingly large number of the physical stunts and fights. Save a few reasonably exciting action sequences, and one hard shock towards the end of the second act, Neeson really is the only reason to enjoy the film. I’m not a fan of the movie’s teenage girl population (who appear to be in their late twenties), but they don’t overwhelm the runtime, so it’s easy enough to continue going along for the ride, which is, by the way, reasonably brief.
Taken is shot through surprisingly soft and colourful lenses considering the subject matter and the advertising material, and the majority of the print looks positively fantastic. Cinematographer Michel Abramowicz shoots a lot of the film like a semi-Noirish children’s film, including that kind of caramel colouring that Disney movies use (though the number of hues per scene does deplete as Neeson works his way through the underground). The European scenes are a little harsher, and a little muted, but still pretty bright for what’s basically an emotionally dark film. The night scenes are a bit hit and miss, but are mostly very high quality, featuring clean colours, sharp details, and an even consistency. The one constant through the entire film are the perfect blacks, which do not bleed or absorb other colours, and do not lead to any noticeable edge enhancement. The film does get a bit grainier and a bit darker as it progresses, but the contrast remains pretty soft throughout. The really dark scenes are definitely noisier than the bright scenes, but overall things remain consistently, relatively clean.
Taken comes fitted with an effective, if not totally overwhelming DTS-HD Master Audio track. There isn’t an excess of action in the film, but the sound design is pretty intense when called for. The car chases are the most indelible moments, but the shoot-outs and fist fights are pretty intense too. The track is noticeably lacking in rear channel effects, even when the front channels are pumping with over-the-top, hyper-reality. There’s no distortion or hiss to speak of in the mix, the dialogue is perfectly centred, and the overall composition is very natural. Taken features one of the most unassuming and easy to ignore scores in recent ‘budget’ film history. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing, but I suppose that ignorable is almost always preferable to obnoxious. The music features several surround and stereo elements, like floating electric drums and strings, and is the main source of heavy bass. The LFE is punchy when it needs to be (gun shots, car crash impacts), but also plenty throbby on occasion (musical bass, explosions).
In the interest of time (I didn’t get my review copy until the day after the Blu-ray’s official release) I’ve admittedly skimmed the disc’s two commentary tracks. The first, which features director Pierre Morel, cinematographer Michel Abramowicz, and car stunt supervisor Michel Julienne, is dreadfully boring. The whole thing is spoken in whispered French, there’s no way to tell the speakers apart due to a lack of inflection, and the information is text book commentary stuff—some days were unpleasant, the actors were amazing to work with, etc. The second commentary, with co-writer Robert Kamen, is in English, and delves slightly further into the behind the scenes story, but still mostly devotes his time to praising the cast and crew, and filling the audience in on obvious aspects of the plot. There’s not much mention of what was added for the unrated version either, unfortunately.
The extended cut also features the ‘Black Ops Field Manual’, a picture in picture, text-based informational essay on some of the real life stuff that inspired Neeson’s character. It also keeps track of the distance the character has travelled, the time remaining in his quest, the number of people he’s injured, and the number of people he’s killed. That part is pretty fun. Spoiler Alert! Final toll: thirty-three dead, thirteen injured, and 11773 miles travelled.
The extras are completed by a trilogy of featurettes and some trailers. ‘Le Making-of’ (18:20) is the film’s European EPK, and it’s pretty darn fluffy. Select money shots are cut together with raw behind the scenes footage and interviews with the cast and crew are crammed between. The majority of time is spent describing the plot, teasing the prospective audience with a few exciting visuals, and a bunch of mutual back-patting. ‘Avant Premiere’ (04:50) is an even more fluffy bit of behind the scenes at the film’s French premiere. More back patting is interrupted only by a sad appearance from Neeson’s late wife Natasha Richardson. ‘Inside Action’ (11:00) is a collection of six side by side comparisons of the final film and the filming process.
I was going to say something snide about the presence of baguettes in Taken (it denotes Frenchness), but apparently many critics (including DVDActive’s own Scott McKenzie) have already made a deal about it. Well, I suppose I just mentioned it anyway, but that says something about the strangeness of the whole thing. I don’t understand why Taken was such a big head in the States, it’s pretty generic, and relatively stupid. I suppose I just shouldn’t underestimate the drawing power of a pissed off Liam Neeson (though if that were true Dark Man would’ve been a runaway hit). Anyway, the disc looks great, sounds good enough, and features enough extras to pacify the film’s fans.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 12th May 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish, Dolby Digital 5.1 French
Subtitles: English SDH and Spanish
Extras: Director, Conematographer, Car Stunt Supervisor Commentary, Co-Writer Commentary, Le Making-Of, Avant Premiere, Inside Action, Trailer, Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Pierre Morel
Cast: Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace
Genre: Action, Crime and Thriller
Length: 93 minutes
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