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HTF REVIEW: Steven Spielberg Presents: Taken

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#1 of 15 OFFLINE   Michael Elliott

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Posted October 08 2003 - 01:05 PM

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Steven Spielberg Presents: Taken

Studio: Dreamworks
Year: 2002
Rated: NR
Film Length: 14 hours 45 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Widescreen 1.85:1 (16x9)
Audio: DD 5.1, DD Surround
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish

Only someone like Steven Spielberg could have brought Taken into your living rooms and that’s exactly what he did. This fourteen-plus hour mini-series is without a doubt the most ambitious film to deal with alien abductions but in the end there really isn’t anything that separates this from any other film dealing with the subject. After going through this epic mini-series I couldn’t help but feel that something was wrong from the start of Episode 1, which just happened to be directed by Tobe Hooper.

The first episode deals with fighter pilot Russell Keys (Steve Burton) who is about to die in a plane crash over France when a strange blue light appears. Somehow he along with his other troops survive but none of them know what happened after flying into that blue light. After the war Russell returns home but soon starts suffering from strange nightmares, which might hold the secret to what happened during the war. He begins to investigate things and learns that all the other crewmembers were killed mysteriously and those blue lights could be behind it.

This premise is wonderful and should have led to a terrific mini-series but sadly that doesn’t happen because the film is full of various things we’ve seen plenty of times before. For starters, I just love seeing another square jawed, blonde haired hero in the war, which seems to be the same character in every science fiction film. I also love the fact that every myth about UFO’s and those green men are on hand in this series. In fact, I was a little disappointed that the writer didn’t try to add anything new to the subject. Instead we are left with stories that any sci-fi buff has seen countless times over the pass five decades.

The biggest problem I had with Taken is its runtime. I understand they wanted an epic film but the story here just isn’t good enough to keep anyone interested for ten long episodes. Perhaps five episodes would have been better but for this film its double the time and sadly double the boring episodes, which makes it tough to check the next one out. Episode 3: High Hopes appears to be something Oliver Stone would have directed. In this episode we’ve got to wonder if aliens had something to do with the Cuban missile crisis or JFK’s assassination. I’m sure Stone could have made this believable but that’s not the case here. The second episode was a little boring and with the silliness of episode three I really wasn’t looking forward to any of the future episodes.

The rest of the episodes take us up to present time but none of them really stand out as being the best. There are a few good ones including Episode 7: God’s Equation and Episode 9: John but these aren’t enough to make you sit through the entire ten episodes. Throughout the mini-series we get some wonderful visuals but again, the story is nothing we haven’t seen before. Instead of one mad house sci-fi film we get ten short films of stuff we’ve seen countless times and when you put them together, in the end you aren’t really left with anything worth a second viewing. I’d have a hard time recommending this for a first viewing except for the biggest of sci-fi fans. The rest would be better off spending time getting to know sci-fi classics of the past. I certainly respect and admire what Taken was trying to do but once again a great opportunity is blown due to some unimaginative writing.

Episode 1: Beyond the Skies Russell Keys (Steve Burton) returns from the war suffering mysterious nightmares and decides to start an investigation, which will lead to fifty years woth of aliens. Meanwhile there's a mysterious crash in Roswell, NM, which is being investigated by Capt. Owen Crawford (Joel Gretsch).

Episode 2: Jacob and Jesse Russell Keys finds himself in for another shock when he learns that his son Jesse has been taken by aliens. In Roswell Owen Crawford continues to try and find answers about the mysterious crash.

Episode 3: High Hopes When the President tries to cancel the alien investigation, Owen Crawford decides to go hunting for the proof he needs, which leads him to Russell and his son.

Episode 4: Acid Test Owen Crawford's career goes down the drain but his two sons, Eric and Sam, are there to help him through it. However one of the boy's has his own thoughts about the truth behind aliens.

Episode 5: Maintenance Jacob Clarke (Chad Donella) returns home to say goodbye to his mother and this leads him to telling his story of aliens. Meanwhile Eric Crawford is now investigating the alien's his father was but this leads to a showdown between families and certain visitors.

Episode 6: Charlie and Lisa After the death of two targets, the aliens must find new subjects to work on and find these subjects in two children who hold more secrets than they know.

Episode 7: God’s Equation After finally accepting a lifetime worth of abductions, Charlie (Adam Kaufman) learns a secret, which will drive him deeper into the mystery surrounding his past and his connection to space.

Episode 8: Dropping the Dishes General Beers (James McDaniel) kidnaps a child belived to be an alien-hybrid in order to use her as bait for aliens to come. Meanwhile Charlie must try and find the child before her life is in danger.

Episode 9: John A spaceship is brought down by the Army but this is just an act. The alien-hybrid tries to make an escape so she can be reunited with her family.

Episode 10: Taken Everything from the past fifty years is going to come full circle as the three families will learn their connection and learn their fate.

VIDEO---The film is shown widescreen (1.78:1) and is enhanced for 16x9 TVs. Like the theatrical releases from Dreamworks this mini-series is top of the line as far as the video quality is concerned. I was rather shocked at how wonderful this looked, although it is a rather current release. I’d certainly call this a reference quality disc with the image so razor sharp that I didn’t detect any flaws. The colors are very vivid and full of wonderful detail without any EE to be seen. The highlight of the transfer comes with various special effects, which use light to give the scene life. The opening episode is the perfect example with the blue light, which looks wonderful well.

AUDIO---We get a Dolby Digital 5.1 track in English or French. Once again I was pleasantly surprised at how good the track was considering this was made for television. The audio track is full of wonderful detail and captures the film perfectly. There’s a lot of talk in the movie and these scenes have the vocals up front and very strong. The action scenes also sound wonderful with all the speakers used to give you the full “visual” of space travel and other aspects of the story. Sound effects are also used throughout the film and these come off wonderful as well.

EXTRAS---Inside Taken is a 17-minute look at the making of the film, which shows plenty of behind the scenes footage as well as interviews with the cast, directors and producer Steven Spielberg. It’s interesting hearing how this film came to be and what exactly they were trying for when all the talent signed on. The Cast of Taken runs four minutes and is pretty much the same as the previous featurette. We get a few cast members talking about the film and real UFO’s but nothing really stands out here. This is basically actors talking about how great the film is. A New Reality: The Visual Effects of Taken runs just over four minutes and this segment has Effects Supervisor Jim Lima talking about the ideas behind the aliens. This is somewhat interesting but you can’t help but think there’s a lot more detail that was left out of this. A Singular Vision: The Directors also runs just over four minutes and this is the best segment but it’s a shame it didn’t last a bit longer. All the director’s are interviewed and they talk about how the ten of them had to come together for one vision. Time Warp takes a look at the cultural and social changes that happen throughout the film and how the production team brought them to life.

The sound is Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround and English, French and Spanish subtitles are included. You can watch each episode on their own or there’s a “Play All” option, which will let you skip going back to the menu to select a segment. Each segment features its own chapter stop. All of this is on the sixth disc of the set.

OVERALL---I’m sure Taken has several fans out there but I’m not one of them. I was really looking forward to this series but afterwards I pretty much felt cheated and disappointed that more wasn’t done. With the huge running time a lot of stuff is covered but sadly none of it is very original and better stories have been told on Unsolved Mysteries. If you are a fan however then Dreamworks has delivered a wonderful disc with reference quality video and a very nice Dolby Digital 5.1 track. The film is spread out on the first five discs with each disc getting two episodes with chapter stops. The extras, which run nearly forty-minutes, are on the sixth disc.

Release Date: October 21, 2003

#2 of 15 OFFLINE   johnbr


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Posted October 08 2003 - 02:07 PM

Good review it look's like a commentary by the Dir's on there episode would have help.The set and more detailed making of documentaries.

#3 of 15 OFFLINE   Adam Lenhardt

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Posted October 08 2003 - 02:16 PM

My opinion was the polar opposite of yours. While the middle episodes do admittedly drag, I think the payoff is one of the most spectacular in television history. This is science fiction on film done with the level of detail and complexity and drama that until this were only acheived in books.

You're right again that it doesn't offer us anything spectacularly new in terms of visuals. But this is a character drama, and one of the best.

I do appreciate your long, detailed review however.Posted Image Such a set must have been a mammoth undertaking.

Also, can you tell us what's going on with the apparent interlacing issue that Bill Hunt pointed out?


#4 of 15 OFFLINE   Kyle McKnight

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Posted October 08 2003 - 02:23 PM

[quote] I’d certainly call this a reference quality disc with the image so razor sharp that I didn’t detect any flaws [quote]

Isn't there a thread talking about how this has wrong progressive scan flags?
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#5 of 15 OFFLINE   Michael Elliott

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Posted October 08 2003 - 03:43 PM

I hadn't heard about the interlace issues until you guys brought it up. I certainly didn't know about any "problems" when I started watching the set two days ago and I didn't notice any issues while watching it. I'll take the discs to a few friends houses tomorrow and see if I notice anything different on their players. After hearing your feedback I checked the first episode again on a different player but didn't notice anything different.

#6 of 15 OFFLINE   Sam Davatchi

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Posted October 08 2003 - 08:33 PM

If you check the other thread or the digital bits, they say it's a progressive flag problem. It should be checked on progressive players in progressive mode.

#7 of 15 OFFLINE   Michael Elliott

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Posted October 09 2003 - 12:39 PM

Sorry for the long delay but I've been working 10-12 hour days so.... Anyway, I went and tried the first episode on two more players and didn't notice any problems at all. With the four players I tried the disc on each of them played perfectly and IMO the transfer was brilliant. I skipped through the second episode again on my setup to make sure I wasn't crazy and my opinion is the same. Perhaps certain players will have a problem but with the four I checked, the transfer is certainly highly recommended.

#8 of 15 OFFLINE   Joseph J.D

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Posted October 09 2003 - 01:15 PM

Good review. The story sounds like stuff that was covered much better on the likes of The X-Files and Close Encounters Of the Third Kind. I'll pass on this as I cannot justify picking this up......maybe I'll watch it on TV if they ever repeat it.
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#9 of 15 OFFLINE   CarlosL


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Posted October 09 2003 - 01:29 PM

Here's a blurb from The Digital Bits concerning the interlacing problem: Well folks, we've been checking in with DreamWorks about this issue with Taken, and now it looks like it might not be the disc at all, but rather a player issue. Here's their latest report: "We have tried (exhaustively!) to re-create this problem using a variety of DVD players and monitors, but have not been able to. Our C&A facility has tested the streams and confirm everything was encoded and flagged correctly, and that there is no corruption to the stream. Plus, our independent third party QC facility that tests DVDs on a vast array of DVD players that best mimics the consumer marketplace also cannot recreate this anomaly. We have researched this from a hardware perspective and have found that the Pioneer DV-45A, among a few others, has a problem deinterlacing video (it doesn't have motion-adaptive video deinterlacing). There is a special report on hometheaterhifi.com that you can reference." So it turns out that some progressive scan de-interlacing problems are player specific, at least in the case of Taken. At least two of the players we use at The Bits are having this problem. Here's a link to hometheaterhifi.com's progressive scan primer and a searchable database of players tested for this problem (as well as the guide explaining how the tests were done). Here's the problem - certain players are going to have trouble with certain discs only, so when you have a problem, we recommend that you contact your player manufacturer for an update. Our thanks to the folks at DreamWorks and Deluxe for responding on this so quickly.

#10 of 15 OFFLINE   Luis Esp

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Posted October 10 2003 - 01:17 PM

I taped and watched the first few episodes and really enjoyed this series, but could not stand to see it chopped up with the commercial breaks. Its definitely one to get on dvd, but what happened to the dts track Steven?
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#11 of 15 OFFLINE   Adam Lenhardt

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Posted October 10 2003 - 02:10 PM

Packing 20 hours of content onto disc requires significant disc space. I'd imagine that it would have been extremely impractical to try fitting DTS on there too.

#12 of 15 OFFLINE   Brian L

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Posted October 10 2003 - 02:32 PM

I have not followed this, but what exactly is the problem with Taken? Since they mention the 45A, I will offer that I own that player as well, and there is at least one title I own that combs severely; 101 Dalmatians II. And since the 45A, will let you see how that disc is flagged, I can say that it is random and intermittent. The only way to stop combing is to turn off 3.2 detection, which locks the 45A into video mode. If Taken is flagged that way, I would expect any pure flag reader (no cadence mode) would have a hard time with it. BGL

#13 of 15 OFFLINE   Nate Anderson

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Posted October 17 2003 - 05:11 AM

I also really enjoyed the series. Can't wait for the DVD set!
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#14 of 15 OFFLINE   Louis C

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Posted October 17 2003 - 08:35 AM

I've got this set on order. Only caught part of one episode on TV, but what I saw I really liked. I bought this because everyone I know that did watch this on TV raved about it. So I am taking the reviewer's negative comments a bit of skepticism...

#15 of 15 OFFLINE   Gordon St Pierre

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Posted October 17 2003 - 08:41 AM

I'm another one who watched the TV run & Loved this series..Can't wait for the DVD ...Wish it had of been 20 hours longer than it was Posted Image ..Great story

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