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DVD Reviews

HTF REVIEW: Paycheck

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#1 of 26 OFFLINE   Scott Kimball

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Posted May 17 2004 - 02:05 AM

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Studio: Paramount

Year: 2004

Rated: PG-13

Length: 118 minutes

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1, anamorphic (also available in fullscreen format)

Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, French 5.1, English Dolby Surround

English Subtitles, English Closed Captioned

Special Features: 2 commentaries, 2 featurettes, deleted / extended scenes, alternate ending

No S.R.P. Minimum Advertised Price: $19.95
Release Date: May 18, 2004

John Woo can make stuff blow up real good. He’s great at directing action sequences, but I’ve never been a big fan of his work. His films are great assemblages of interesting set pieces, camera work and action - but, on the whole, they are often devoid of soul.

Paycheck is loosely based on a Philip K. Dick story. Woo manages to develop the action sequences with his usual competence, but leaves the plot to languish on the vine - never really developing the characters beyond their need to be there in order to advance the action. The film is mildly enjoyable while it unfolds in front of you, but it is ultimately unsatisfying and forgettable.

So, here’s the basic plot: Michael Jennings (Ben Affleck) is an engineer who hires himself out to unscrupulous employers to reverse-engineer products developed by other companies. In order to maintain plausible deniability, after two months developing a project, his memory of the past two months is erased. For this work, he is paid very well.

He is hired by an old friend and the wealthy head of Allcom (Aaron Eckhart) to do a 3 year job, after which, his memory will be erased again. He accepts the job, only knowing that it involves optics. The payoff is a paycheck of over 90 million dollars.

Before he knows it, Jennings wakes up - the job is finished, his memory wiped. He goes to the bank to check on his portfolio and finds that he relinquished his shares before his memory wipe. He is left only with an envelope full of items that mean nothing to him, which he sent to himself. He also has no memory of the relationship that developed between him and Rachel Porter (who he met shortly before he took the job at Allcom).

After some intruders in his home attempt to kill him, Jennings contacts his only true friend, Shorty (Paul Giamatti) for help.

Some spoilers ahead...

Jennings figures out that the strange items in the envelope all play key roles in events, if used at the proper time. It’s as if he sent himself these items, having seen the future, so that he could use them to help escape from the cronies from Allcom, who are still out to kill him. Like assembling parts of a jigsaw puzzle, Jennings figures out that he sent himself a can of hairspray and a lighter, for instance, so that he could make a flame-thrower to fight off an assassin. Yeah, right.

It seems that Jennings was hired to make a device that could see around the curvature of the universe, ultimately to see the earth of the future. Huh?

This prediction device threatens the entire world, and so Jennings, with the help of his girlfriend Rachel (who he can’t remember) must sneak back in to the high security labs at Allcom to destroy the device before it causes World War III.


Woo uses pretty sets, and cool special effects - but more for the “wow” effect than for their appropriateness in the film. He rips off the 3d holographic computer with gestural interface which we saw in Spielberg’s Minority Report, but it seems out of place in the present day / near future setting of Paycheck.

I find it annoying when key moments are telegraphed in advance - all too common in this kind of action flick. For instance, it is established early on that Jennings practices fighting with a quarterstaff. Hmmm... might he use this in the climactic fight scene? There are a few other instances when this sort of thing happens.

And what’s with all the fog in the corridors at Allcom? Conveniently, it has a purpose in the film, though its presence makes little sense in practice.

If you want to see an “amnesiac-on-the-run” film, I can recommend The Bourne Identity with Affleck’s friend Matt Damon. Better still, find a copy of Mirage with Gregory Peck and Walter Matthau (1965) - one of my favorite films from the 60’s. Either of these is more satisfying than Paycheck.

The Look
This transfer is solid, with just a few minor quibbles. The anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer is sharp, with good detail. The picture is bright and high in contrast. Black levels are strong, and there is excellent detail in the shadows. The colors are a bit on the warm side, and midtones in the skintones seems a bit squashed at times. Saturation is strong. There is occasional flaring of bright whites, by design. The print exhibits occasional black dust spots - some quite noticeable. I found this surprising for a new print. There are no overt or distracting signs of edge enhancement or compression artifacts.

The Sound
A bit unusual for a John Woo film, the first act is mostly dialog driven. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track gives good frequency response, here. Dialog is always clean, clear and intelligible. The second act kicks things up a notch with a motorcycle chase. Good directional effects can be heard, here. It is the third act where the sound starts to sizzle, showing off great frequency response, stereo and surround effects and low frequency effects. It’s a solid soundtrack, lending an immersive experience for the climax of the film.

Special Features

Special Features are not anamorphically enhanced.

Commentary by director John Woo
Woo confesses to having not read any P.K. Dick books, not being a “sci-fi” director (or fan), and to removing 80% of the sci-fi from this film - making it his own way.

Wow... three strikes and you're out, in the first 3 minutes of the commentary. I suppose that’s a bit unfair. Directors and writers should work in the genre and style where they are conformable - but perhaps Woo wasn’t the best choice to direct this project, necessitating a change in the project to fit his comfort zone.

Woo talks about changing the time period to present day, yet he also talks about the decision to use the holographic gestural computer (as seen in Minority Report) just as an interesting way to introduce the film. Woo: “I just shot Ben Affleck doing some action, and they put all those graphic images afterward.” He makes it well known that he has little knowledge of effects work, and the lack of leadership in this area shows.

Woo mentions the fact that the first person under consideration for the role of Jennings was Matt Damon. Aside from being busy on another project, Damon didn’t want to play another role so similar to that in The Bourne Identity, so Damon recommended Affleck for the part.

Woo talks mostly of techniques used to create suspense (talking about his love for Hitchcock films), with some focus on the nuts and bolts of creating the feeling of suspense through camera moves and props. Differing from Hitchcock, however, is Woo’s desire to change directions on the fly, following his instincts on the set (whereas Hitchcock is renowned to have so meticulously storyboarded his scenes ahead of time - his films could almost make themselves).

I think if I had found the film more interesting to start with, I could have found Woo’s commentary of interest. He is animated and informative throughout - during the portions of the commentary that I sampled.

Commentary by Screenwriter Dean Georgaris
Georgaris describes how the script evolved after John Woo came on to direct. While the basic story remains the same, more physical and visual elements were added in rewrites before and during shooting. This is a competent, if not engrossing, writer commentary.

Paycheck: Designing the Future (18:13)
A by-the-numbers featurette... about half of which is interviews with actors and director about the characters and story. The other half deals with the near-futuristic set design of the film, which apparently attempts to represent a world of about 5 years from now.

Tempting Fate: The Stunts of Paycheck (16:46)
This includes discussion of the motorcycle chase, subway sequence and the hydroponic garden from pre-planning to production, with comments from director, cast and crew.

Six Deleted / Extended Scenes
Offered up with a “Play All” feature, these scenes total less than ten and a half minutes in length. Two of the scenes actually offer up some interesting and relevant exposition - one between Eckhart and Thurman, and one between Eckhart and Affleck. I imagine these two scenes were deleted for pacing reasons, while the rest were very brief throwaway scenes.

Alternate Ending
This is about two minutes long, and alters the post-climax portion of the film. Nothing of interest, here.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
The Perfect Score
Against the Ropes

Final Thoughts
It is probably obvious that I wasn’t impressed with this film (and that I’m generally not impressed with John Woo’s style). Even if you do like Woo’s work, this film is a bit different - a bit more mainstream - than much of his other work. This may be a disappointment even for Woo fans.

In my view, this film continues Paramount’s recent track record of so-so action / sci-fi films. The film itself is of similar quality as The Core and Timeline. It passes a couple of hours with a stream of action on the screen, but has little to offer the sci-fi fan.

Paramount gives us a good transfer, with good sound quality, of a film which may be better left unseen. Check it out if you’re a John Woo fan. Avoid it if you’re interested in a smart treatment of a P.K. Dick sci-fi story.

#2 of 26 OFFLINE   Jeannette Walsh

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Posted May 17 2004 - 02:25 AM

thanks Scott I'm interested in seeing this and will probably pick it up. "The print exhibits occasional black dust spots - some quite noticeable." I'm surprised to hear this too for a brand new film this is uncalled for.

#3 of 26 OFFLINE   Jeff Adams

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Posted May 17 2004 - 02:48 AM

This will definitely be a rental but I still want to see it. How was Uma in it? I love watching her on screen, she is such a talented actress.
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#4 of 26 OFFLINE   Zen Butler

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Posted May 17 2004 - 03:28 AM

Boo-hoo(whine, snivel) Scott, how dare you give my movie a negative review? Horrible, the worst...Just kidding. Very nice review Scott, thank you. Being a huge PKD fan, I was not very happy to find Woo on this film. Although curiosity will no doubt merit a rental.
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#5 of 26 OFFLINE   Adam Portrais

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Posted May 17 2004 - 03:53 AM

Well, I'm a big Woo dork and I liked Paycheck . It wasn't his best but I still enjoyed it. My biggest beef is how Paramount puts out such crappy DVDs (at least from a special feature standpoint). With so many other studios doing such top notch DVD work (WB I'm looking in your direction Posted Image ) you would think that others like Paramount would want to do the same. That being said I will most likely wait and get Paycheck when it's Pre-viewed at Hollywood Video and I can pick it up for around $10.

#6 of 26 ONLINE   TonyD


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Posted May 17 2004 - 04:25 AM

this movie was a huge dissapointment for me. every thing that happened was all typical movie cliche' and simple coincidence(plot device). he was like felix the cat with his magic bag. anytime he needed help with something he looked in his bag and there it was. did it ever reveal why or what caused him to forgo his "paycheck"? or was that the plot device that led to him needing a magic bag of tricks?
the thing they built for 3 years was the most interesting thing in the movie and they barely used it. this laser was able to go around the universe and go to pinpoint spot in time and watch what was about to happen only seconds into the future? huh? oh i forgot. a birdcage with no bird poop on the paper? i have birds, that is an impossibility even after only a few minutes.


#7 of 26 OFFLINE   Jason Hughes

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Posted May 17 2004 - 04:48 AM

You forgot. He reverse engineered Vapoorize so it could work on birds as well Posted Image .
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#8 of 26 OFFLINE   Jason Walstrom

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Posted May 17 2004 - 05:53 AM

John Woo can make stuff blow up real good. He’s great at directing action sequences, but I’ve never been a big fan of his work. His films are great assemblages of interesting set pieces, camera work and action - but, on the whole, they are often devoid of soul. ______________________________ Are you speaking of his American films or Hong Kong films? Or both? Because the difference between them is night and day.
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#9 of 26 OFFLINE   MikeEckman



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Posted May 17 2004 - 07:09 AM

Although I dont disagree with anything the reviewer said, I still liked this film in the theater. I see the correlation with drab like The Core and Timeline, but I feel this movie was quite a step above those two films. I will definitely pick this up. Even though it wasnt the best example of the genre, it still was an interesting story and offered a couple cool "what if" scenarios. Thanks for the review though!
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#10 of 26 OFFLINE   Vincent_P



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Posted May 17 2004 - 10:11 AM

Agreed Jason re: Woo's American and Hong Kong work, the Hong Kong films are FULL of "soul". They are very rich and rewarding works even beyond the wonderful style. Hell, I'd even argue that FACE/OFF is a very rich film in that area, too. Vincent

#11 of 26 OFFLINE   Chris


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Posted May 21 2004 - 12:01 AM

Hmm.. for some reason, my disc doesn't seem to get the anamorphic bit.. my Sony set doesn't see it as anamorphic, and "full" just leaves it looking stretched.. strange, all other anamorphic discs work great.. just not this one. The movie itself is better then I expected.
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#12 of 26 OFFLINE   Shane Martin

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Posted May 21 2004 - 01:33 AM

I'm in agreement here. The movie is better than I expected and I did enjoy it. I do realize the story is pretty out there but It's pretty intriguing that it was developed so long ago. That might explain why I appreciated it more than some.

#13 of 26 OFFLINE   Lars_J


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Posted May 21 2004 - 02:24 AM

How the mighty have fallen - I'd have to say that this is by far the worst Woo movie I have seen. By far. I rented this two days ago, and I'm still in disbelief. Why did Woo direct this? Or did he? The whole thing was shot in such a "paint-by-numbers" fashion that it could by any director who did this. The film has none of the typical Woo stylishness that is so much fun, nor does it contain any of the themes that usually permeate his films. (like duality, honor, etc...) This is the worst film I have seen this year, IMO. (And that includes Timeline)
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#14 of 26 OFFLINE   Chris


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Posted May 21 2004 - 03:49 AM

Ok, I tried this on another 16:9 display with another disc at Ultimate Electronics, and their display also didn't show it as anamorphic.. ??
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#15 of 26 OFFLINE   Chris


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Posted May 21 2004 - 09:31 AM

Tried a different disc, different setup at Best Buy. Still not anamorphic. Therefore, my conclusion is the review is wrong, and this disc is not issued in anamorphic.
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#16 of 26 OFFLINE   Scott Kimball

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Posted May 21 2004 - 10:55 AM

Paramount hasn't released a non-anamorphic widescreen disc in over a year, that I can remember. The disc I reviewed was 2.35:1 anamorphic. Are you sure you have the widescreen version of the disc? There is a full-screen version, as well... "Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1, anamorphic (also available in fullscreen format)"

#17 of 26 OFFLINE   Paul Hillenbrand

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Posted May 21 2004 - 11:28 AM

Chris wrote:
The Widescreen Enhanced version of PayCheck has the UPC # 0-9736-33803-44. This disc is definitely anamorphic, playing the entire width of my 16x9 screen without zooming. Even the menu is 16x9 Enhanced. Paul
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#18 of 26 OFFLINE   Chris


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Posted May 21 2004 - 12:06 PM

Hmm. No, I have a disc purchased that is the same UPC code. Every other disc I have plays wide, without zoom.. except this one.. Player in use is a Panasonic F85 (Prog.) on a Sony KP57WV700. At Ultimate Electronics we tried it using a Pioneer Plasma Display, Pioneer DVD-R machine At Best Buy, used a Samsung (I think) 16:9 set and a Panasonic player. Same results.. Hmm. The disc I have is definitely widescreen (I still letterboxed picture and correct aspect ratio) Strange. Every other widescreen disc I have (anamorphic) plays fine. Wierd. EDIT: I tried my disc, which is labeled: PAYCHECK_16X9 in my DVDROM drive on my PC, and it shows up as 16X9. I wonder what the dealio is.. Tried a method involving a formerly blank DVD-R, and that method worked. STRANGE!
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#19 of 26 OFFLINE   Stephen_L


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Posted May 21 2004 - 01:33 PM

Tony, as I recall the Affleck character realizes that he forfeited the shares so that he would pay special attention to the one thing he left for himself from the missing three years, the bag of objects.
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#20 of 26 OFFLINE   Lewis Besze

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Posted May 21 2004 - 02:01 PM

A really bad movie,and Woo isn't the only one to blame here IMO.Actually his signature style from Hon Kong was really absent here.Both Face Off and MI2 were full of that,for a good measure,and they were far superrior in every way.
I still wonder that who ever thaught that Ben Affleck is a good actor "let's give him work". Posted Image

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