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HD DVD Reviews

HTF HD DVD Review: Sneakers

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#1 of 5 OFFLINE   Neil Middlemiss

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Posted June 23 2007 - 01:52 PM



Studio: Universal Studios
Year: 1992
US Rating: PG-13 - Brief Sexual References
Film Length: 126 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Video Resolution/Codec: 1080p/VC-1
Audio: English 5.1 Dolby Plus, French Dolby Digital Plus 2.0
Subtitles: Optional English SDH and French subtitles

US Release Date: June 12, 2007

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"You know I could have been in the NSA, but they found out my parents were married”

In 1969, two free-thinking, computer savvy college students, Martin Brice and Cosmo, are happily trying to save the world, one prank-like hack at a time. When Marty heads out for pizza, the feds arrive and take Cosmo away.
Twenty-plus years later, Martin Brice is now Martin Bishop, the head of a small band of ‘sneakers’, a team of hackers, ex-CIA and conspiracy nuts, each with a past, that are hired to break into banks and other highly guarded facilities to point out weaknesses in the security measures.

When two mysterious NSA agents show up with a proposition for Marty, offering to clear his name and give back his life if he obtains for them a highly sought after ‘black-box’, the group decide to take the job.
But in this cloak and dagger world, set just after the fall of the Soviet Union, things are never quite as they seem and now Marty and his talented team of sneakers, find themselves in a heap of trouble.

Sneakers is a great deal of fun. This often overlooked little gem from the early 90’s is clever, funny, thrilling and filled with a large and talented cast. A full 15 years after its release, it also manages to remain relevant, in both the story’s subject and execution.

Starring as the long-time fugitive, turned professional ‘sneaker’ is Robert Redford. His smart and warm portrayal of the likable Bishop is spot on. His able team is filled with great talents like the incredible Sidney Poitier, the under-appreciated David Strathairn, the now off the radar Dan Aykroyd, and the young River Phoenix. Rounding out the cast as Marty’s friend Cosmo, who was thought to have died in prison, is Ben Kingsley, giving a solid performance as a computer geek who gained some power and lost a few of his marbles. Finally, Mary McDonnell, now starring as President Roslyn on the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica, is sweet, strong and marvelous as Marty’s once love interest, who has agreed to help him absolve the record of his criminal past.

Phil Alden Robinson (Field of Dreams) directs from a screenplay he co-wrote with ‘War Games’ writers Lawrence Lasker and Walter Parkes. With Sneakers, Robinson uses his subtle and insightful directing style, something that was finely displayed with Field of Dreams, to create some real characters under amazing circumstances. With an often deft touch, he has taken this crime caper of high-tech Robin Hoods and instilled a relatable quality to it that helps balance the leaps of faith that are required at times for the plot.

What makes Sneakers such a loveable film is the wonderfully light and clever tone applied to a plot that is really quite serious. It never over-dramatizes those darker elements, preferring rather to channel that scary, ‘big-brother, too many secrets’ paranoia into plot twists and thrills. Sneakers brings the shadows of ‘information as a weapon’ down to the character level, exploring that concept through the relationships between the characters; between the good guys and the bad guys and between old friends. The solid cast lends an undeniable credibility to the film and many of the ideas discussed in the film, even the most absurd sounding ones.

Sneakers also has one of my all time favourite film scores by Composer James Horner. This superbly playful and aptly inquisitive score is a real strength for the film.

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Sneakers is correctly framed at 1:85.1 and encoded VC-1. Let me start off by saying that sneakers looks really good, it has never looked this good. It is, however, a little dark – a complaint I had with the Standard DVD edition when it was released a few years back. And there is some softness to the image that shows up in a few scenes, but overall this is a great improvement. There are scenes that have such a lovely clarity to them that they look like they could have come from a much newer film. Most notably, the close ups of David Strathairn in the first act of the film and Ben Kinglsey during the final act. Those close ups show off just how good this HD-DVD is compared with the standard DVD version. The color in the film is sharper and overall it has a refreshed feel to it.

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The English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 audio track is a decided improvement over the Dolby Digital Digital 2.0 surround track that came with the SDVD release. But, having said that, it is not as active in the surrounds as it should have been and on many occasions, seems to be at a level too low compared with other films.
The speech, mostly focused in the center channel is nice and clean, no issues to speak of and the subwoofer is given something to do, especially during the great scene where the blind soundman (Strathairn) must drive through the empty parking lot to come to the rescue. Overall, the audio is just adequate.

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The extra features are light on ‘Sneakers’ and are encoded MPEG2.

The Making of Sneakers – (40:02) - Comprised mostly of several different interviews with Director Phil Alden Robinson and writers Lawrence Lasker and Walter Parkes, this is a fascinating exploration of how the film was developed, taking them 10 years and multiple revisions (as they worked on other projects) to finally come to a draft that they shared with Universal, who picked it up right away.
As they reminisce about the inspiration of each of the characters, it becomes clear that before they even cast a soul, the band of technical/criminal minds were well rounded, thought through and developed.

One great quote came from their discussion, one that is as accurate today as it was when the film was made, that “high concepts sell very easily but good films are about characters and story.” That is something that many execs in Hollywood, who often choose to sacrifice such intrinsic necessities in favor of getting ‘high concept eye candy’ into our multiplexes, could yield.

Theatrical Trailer – (2:49)

Feature Commentary with Writer/Director Phil Alden Robinson and Director of Photography John Lindley - Ported over from the laserdisc, this is a friendly commentary track between two people who are obviously friends. As such, it remains lighthearted and contains a lot of good information about how certain scenes were lit, staged and filmed. There are a few quiet spells, mostly toward the end of the film. Generally, another solid commentary track from another good Universal catalogue HD-DVD release.

Note: The cover of this HD-DVD mistakenly lists the commentary as being with the Director and co-writers Lawrence Lasker & Walter Parkes.

Final Thoughts
I find it impossible not to like Sneakers. It has a great story, a wonderful set of characters and a fine cast that bring each of them to life. Working from a tight script, Director Robinson shoots some excellently crafted scenes, including several ‘one-shot’ scenes, that display a solid directorial hand and his ability to build really good characters with understated moments and an innate ability to have the moving camera end up in exactly the right spot.

This is a worthy upgrade from the previous DVD edition and, while light on extras, is as entertaining in 2007 as it was when it was released fifteen years ago. Do yourself a favor, pick this one up and enjoy.

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Neil Middlemiss
Kernersville, NC
"Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure Science" – Edwin Hubble
My DVD Collection

#2 of 5 OFFLINE   Jason Roer

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Posted June 23 2007 - 04:14 PM

Great review, Neil. Loved this movie when I saw it years ago and I'm looking forward to catching it again with this new HD-DVD release. Definitely one of those "hidden" gems. Cheers, Jason

#3 of 5 OFFLINE   Douglas Monce

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Posted June 23 2007 - 04:23 PM

I had this movie in my hand tonight and then put it back......stupid stupid stupid!!!! Posted Image
"I'm in great shape, for the shape I'm in."
Bob Hope in The Ghostbreakers

#4 of 5 OFFLINE   Tim Glover

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Posted June 24 2007 - 03:51 AM

Nice review Neil. Looks like a worthy addition to our HD DVD collections. Posted Image

#5 of 5 OFFLINE   Jordan_E



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Posted June 24 2007 - 08:18 AM

I agree with you on every point, Neil. Don't know what those who complain about this edition want, but it is perfectly acceptable to me, and a highly enjoyable movie to boot!
And you believe, at heart, everyone's a killer...

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