Blu-ray Review HTF Blu-ray Review: RED HEAT (not recommended but not a complete disaster)

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Michael Reuben, Nov 26, 2009.

  1. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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    Red Heat (Blu-ray)


    Studio: Lionsgate
    Rated: R
    Film Length: 104 min.
    Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
    HD Encoding: 1080p
    HD Codec: AVC
    Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1; French DD 2.0
    Subtitles: English; English SDH; Spanish
    MSRP: $19.99
    Disc Format: 1 25 GB
    Package: Keepcase
    Theatrical Release Date: July 17, 1988
    Blu-ray Release Date: Nov. 10, 2009




    Introduction:

    Lionsgate continues its Sherman’s March through the Carolco catalogue, laying waste to everything film-like in its path. The latest victim of its apparently limitless appetite for the removal of grain and fine detail is Red Heat, which I’ve always considered one of the better entries in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s filmography between the two Terminator films. The only good news, relatively speaking, is that this film suffers less from Lionsgate’s “brigandage” (to use a term from the film) than the last one I reviewed, Near Dark. Partly because of the nature of the original photography, and partly because of the type of extras, Red Heat survives the studio’s assault with somewhat less damage, and the Blu-ray is a watchable experience, if not a great one.



    The Feature:

    Capt. Ivan Danko (Arnold), one of the Soviet Union’s top cops, is determined to stop the country’s nascent cocaine trade by capturing its top distributor, Viktor Rosta (Ed O’Ross). But Rosta escapes during a bloody shootout that claims the lives of people on both sides of the law. Eventually, Rosta makes his way to America, where he sets about organizing the export of cocaine to his homeland. However, when he is apprehended at a routine traffic stop in Chicago, the local authorities identify him, and Danko is dispatched from Moscow to bring him home.

    Assigned to escort Danko in Chicago is Det. Art Ridzik (Jim Belushi), who hates the job, because he considers it “babysitting”. But Ridzik is one of those cops, familiar in the movies, who always gets stuck with such assignments because a rebellious attitude has made him unpopular with by-the-book superiors like Lt. Stobbs (Laurence Fishburne) and commanding officers trying to avoid hassle like Cmdr. Donnelly (Peter Boyle). Ridzik’s best friend on the force is his partner, Gallagher (the late Richard Bright, best known as Neri in the Godfather films), who does his best to persuade Ridzik to play ball with the brass.

    Danko’s mission doesn’t go smoothly, because Rosta has an assortment of new local allies, notably the gang of Abdul Elijah (Brent Jennings), the Chicago drug lord who runs his empire from the penitentiary at Joliet. (The scene where Danko and Ridzik go to interview Abdul Elijah at Joliet – filmed in a real prison with real inmates as extras – is one of the most memorable in the film.) Between Abdul Elijah’s minions and the young dance instructor, “Cat” Manzetti (Gina Gershon, in one of her first film roles), that Rosta has seduced into helping him, Rosta has no trouble evading both Danko and the entire Chicago police department, leaving plenty of carnage in his wake.

    Anyone familiar with director and co-writer Walter Hill’s 48 Hours will quickly recognize the template for Red Heat: a mismatched pair of investigators have to apprehend a dangerous villain, each for his own reasons. They don’t much like each other, but they grudgingly come to respect each other. The film is a series of encounters from which the villain manages to escape until a final showdown, when he doesn’t (and believe me, that’s not a spoiler). The longer that matters go unresolved, the further our heroes are forced to operate outside official channels until, in the end, they can rely only on each other. Hill even recycles 48 Hours’ terrific set piece of a bus chase on a crowded city street, except that this one involves two buses.

    While few films can boast the explosive chemistry that Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy brought to 48 Hours (the film made Murphy a star), Arnold and Belushi do have an amusing rapport, because the script (by Hill and two co-writers) was clever enough to play to Arnold’s strengths as a dramatic actor, which is that he has none. Capt. Danko is essentially the Terminator with a bizarre haircut, a Soviet uniform and some Austrian-accented Russian dialogue. Place that taciturn, emotionless character next to Belushi’s ornery puppy-dog routine, and the comedy happens naturally. The passage of time has added extra laughs, such as when the future Governator of California suggests to Ridzik that the best way to deal with politicians is to line them all up and shoot them in the back of the head.

    Hill’s films of the 1990s often seemed labored and stilted, but in the 1980s he knew how to frame shots effectively and choreograph action efficiently. Red Heat’s fight scenes and shoot-outs still work, and its atmosphere strikes the right balance between the cartoonish and the realistic. When a film opens in what’s supposed to be a Russian bathhouse that just happens to be full of barely clad bodybuilders, you know exactly what kind of film you’re in for. Those were the days when “popcorn movie” meant something other than “too much CGI”.



    Video:

    Whether because of space constraints caused by stuffing the film and its extras onto a BD-25, or because some philistine in the executive suite thinks this is how films should look, Lionsgate has once again elected to smooth off the grain and fine detail from a transfer that was probably quite good to start with. Black levels appear to be accurate, and sufficient detail remains in many parts of the image to suggest that a very detailed image is possible (and probably existed at some point). However, there is no sense of depth or dimensionality to the image, and a good example is the early scene in which Danko enters a bar for his first encounter with Rosta. As the camera pans around the interior from Danko’s point of view, taking in everyone and everything before approaching the group containing Rosta, the image is too clean and, on closer inspection, the fine detail is slightly smudged. While faces never quite achieve the mannequin look displayed in the worst victims of DNR, they are too smooth and shiny for the rumpled and weather-beaten characters of this film, and this phenomenon worsens as the film progresses.

    In a film with dark scenes, this kind of detail stripping can be disastrous. Fortunately for the viewer, Red Heat is a film that was well-lit. Hill generally preferred a colorful, almost fluorescent look to his urban dramas, and cinematographer Matthew Leonetti obliged. Since noise reduction (or high frequency filtering, or “clean-up”, or whatever term is being used in the executive suite these days) generally leaves colors and brightness unaffected, Hill’s colorful compositions remain unaffected, and one is never in doubt about what is happening on screen. It just isn’t the film-like experience it could be (and should have been).



    Audio:

    This is the disc’s real revelation. The DTS lossless track offers a wonderful presentation of James Horner’s score, which I don’t remember ever hearing with such fullness and musicality. (Full disclosure: It’s been some years since I’ve watched the film.) The score often echoes Horner’s score for 48 Hours, but so what? It’s not as if the plot won’t remind you anyway. The lossless track spreads the score luxuriously across the front soundstage and gives it an orchestral richness that I don’t usually hear in soundtracks from this era. Still, the dialogue remains clear, intelligible and well-balanced. The surrounds figure appropriately for gunplay and chase scenes, though by contemporary standards, the mix would be considered tame.



    Special Features:

    All of the special features are taken from the 2004 special edition DVD previously released by Lionsgate.

    East Meets West: “Red Heat” and the Kings of Carolco (9:40) (SD; 16:9 WS). The history of Carolco, as told by its two partners, Mario Kassar and Andrew Vajna, in separate interviews. Before it crashed and burned in lawsuits and bankruptcy, Carolco was a high-flying production company that took bold risks and reaped big rewards. It was responsible for some of the biggest hits of the 1980s, including the Rambo franchise, Terminator 2, Basic Instinct and, of course, Red Heat.

    A Stuntman for All Seasons (12:27) (SD; 16:9 WS). A tribute to stunt coordinator Bennie Dobbins, who died of a sudden heart attack during the last week of filming on Red Heat while choreographing a fight sequence. The film is dedicated to Dobbins, who had worked with Arnold throughout his previous movie career. According to the many stuntmen interviewed for the tribute, he was already a legend in the business at the time of his death.

    I’m Not a Russian (But I Play One on TV) (5:14) (SD; 16:9 WS). A brief portrait of Ed O’Ross, for whom the role of Viktor Rosta was a major breakthrough. A trained theater actor, O’Ross played such a convincing Russian in Red Heat that, even today, people who meet him are shocked to discover that he’s an American born in Pittsburgh. It no doubt cemented his reputation that, thirteen years after Red Heat, he accepted the role of Nikolai on Six Feet Under, in which he was equally convincing playing yet another Russian.

    Original Making of TV Special (15:58) (SD; 4:3). Roughly the quality of a videotape, this promotional piece has somewhat more personality than a contemporary EPK, primarily because it relies heavily on interview footage with Arnold and Belushi – and it’s easy to forget how entertaining Arnold could be before he went into politics and insisted on being taken seriously.

    One item of note: Listen to how the voiceover carefully suggests, without actually saying, that much of the film was shot in the former Soviet Union. In fact, as Andrew Vajna reveals in East Meets West, a skeleton crew and Arnold snuck into Moscow for a day’s unauthorized shooting in Red Square after Soviet authorities refused permission. The other “Russian” scenes were shot in Hungary and Austria.

    TV Spots (SD; 4:3). There are four, and each of them has footage shot specifically for promotional purposes, in which either Arnold or Belushi address the camera. They’re good fun.

    Trailer (SD; 4:3). It’s in remarkably poor shape.

    Also available both at startup and from the special features menu are trailers for Lionsgate’s Blu-ray release of the Stargate 15th Anniversary Edition and a general trailer for Lionsgate Blu-ray. Mercifully, whoever authored this disc had the good sense to make these trailers skippable at startup with the chapter skip button (unlike the oafs who authored Near Dark).



    In Conclusion:

    Lionsgate can produce excellent Blu-rays when they want to, both of new material (Mad Men, The Haunting in Connecticut) and catalogue titles (the aforementioned Stargate 15th Anniversary Edition). But they can also produce clunkers, and the clunkers are multiplying. Folks, if you want your fancy-looking Blu-ray promos to mean something, you have to make discs that live up to those promises of perfection. For starters, stop squishing films and extras onto BD-25s. We don’t buy Blu-ray to get the tightest compression at the lowest price point. We buy them to get the best image, and you are nowhere near providing it.





    Equipment used for this review:

    Panasonic BDP-BD50 Blu-ray player (DTS-HD MA decoded internally and output as analog)
    Samsung HL-T7288W DLP display (connected via HDMI)
    Lexicon MC-8 connected via 5.1 passthrough
    Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier
    Monitor Audio floor-standing fronts and MA FX-2 rears
    Boston Accoustics VR-MC center
    SVS SB12-Plus sub
     
  2. Adam Gregorich

    Owner

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    Thats too bad. I hope its not the start of a trend with LG.
     
  3. Stephen_J_H

    Stephen_J_H All Things Film Junkie
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    I'm suspecting this has something to do with StudioCanal, as they have produced problematicproduct before, and LG may just be lumped with whatever they're given.
     
  4. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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    That's the very reason I cited the example of Stargate, which is also a Studio Canal property but came out fine on Blu. If you read between the lines of the posts contributed to that review thread by the person who worked on the Stargate Blu-ray, there's a strong suggestion of SC's interference in the preparation of the discs, but as the final product shows, it doesn't have to result in a compromised image.
     
  5. Derrick King

    Derrick King Supporting Actor

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    SudioCanal = enemy of quality. I really wish Lionsgate would start demanding better quality transfers (or the elements to do their own transfers) from StudioCanal.
     
  6. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    There is a phrase in the QC area of the industry that could used far more these days. In a general sense...

    "Rejected for image quality."
     
  7. Guest

    :) Thanks Michael. I like your heading, but I'm pretty sure visitors of the HTF would have to be pretty big fans of this movie to want this disc after hearing it was being put out by Lionsgate.
     
  8. cineMANIAC

    cineMANIAC Cinematographer
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    Another disappointing Lionsgate release. Makes you wonder what kind of people are running a movie studio that they're so clueless as to what constitutes a quality product. Or maybe its just that they don't care?
     
  9. Stephen_J_H

    Stephen_J_H All Things Film Junkie
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    The argument can be made that Lionsgate is just putting out what is provided to them by StudioCanal, but at the same time, do they really need the money so badly that they're willing to put out whatever's thrown at them?
     
  10. Dave H

    Dave H Producer

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    I watched this last night and thought it looked pretty decent. Unfortunately, there is some grain reduction, but it seems mostly contained in the first 20-30 minutes of the movie and I didn't think it was that bad - nothing like the notorius DNR titles always mentioned. The rest of the movie generally has grain intact. There are some softer shots, but many scenes have pretty good detail. It all seems just the way the movie was filmed, etc. Of course, I'm only viewing on a 60" display, so maybe the issues are worse with a larger display.
     
  11. Cees Alons

    Cees Alons Moderator
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    Michael,

    Thanks for the review.
    Clear situation, fortunately the price on Amazon isn't too bad....

    (It seems that a remastered Gangs of New York BD will appear Feb. 2, 2010, but I'm not so sure Red Heat will soon see a remastered version.)


    Cees
     
  12. Neil Middlemiss

    Neil Middlemiss Producer
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    This was worth the $7.99 I paid at Costco yesterday to hear James Horner's score in lossless DTS (he's my favourite composer).
     

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