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HD DVD Reviews

HTF HD DVD Review: Inside Man (Recommended)

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#1 of 1 OFFLINE   Sam Posten

Sam Posten


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Posted November 07 2007 - 03:15 PM


HD DVD Title: Inside Man
Rated: R
Screen format: 1080P 2.35:1 VC-1 Encoded High Definition
Studio: Universal
First theatrical release: March 2006
Previously released on other media: Anamorphic Widescreen August 8, 2006
Director: Spike Lee
Starring: Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, Christopher Plummer, Willem Dafoe, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Sound Formats: English Dolby TrueHD 5.1, English & French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1, English DVS DD 2.0
Length: 2 Hours 9 Minutes
Subtitles: English, French

Plot: 4/5
(Note that this review is based heavily on my review of the original Standard Def DVD review of this film)

Spike Lee returns to Studio films and reinvents the heist genre with Inside Man. Denzel Washington enlists for his fourth starring role in a “Spike Lee Joint” as Detective Keith Frazier, a hostage negotiator in training, up for his first solo assignment without his mentor. Clive Owen is the hostage taking bank robber Dalton Russel. Russel masterminds the heist with a crew all named Steve, but it immediately becomes clear that the bank’s cash isn’t his main concern, perhaps there are more lucrative things to be found. Complicating the heist is bank owner Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer) who protects his interests by hiring ‘fixer’ Madeline White (Jodie Foster) to exploit both Russel and Frazier to save Case’s bank, and his reputation.

While the heist movie has been mined to death, Lee’s reference to many of them and multiple homages to the genre keep this fresh, and while none of the cast makes great leaps out of their usual territory, all are superb in what they bring to the table and play off each other to great effect. This is perhaps Lee’s most ‘commercial’ film ever, yet it retains his characteristic humor, amazing teamwork with Washington, and above all, his love of NYC, warts and all.

Sound Quality: 5/5

Inside Man features a very wide sound stage with holosonic effects used to great delight. The 5.1 is particularly noteworthy in the opening and closing themes, a Bollywood bubblegum pop number featuring rap scratches and other sound effects that swirl like boomerangs to all corners of the room. Bass effects are likewise pleasing, multiple deep rumbles of explosions combine with the strange mix of Indian pop and a modern cop rock. In fact, the theme is almost a clue, or red herring, it is so dramatic and over the top once the final music hits you have to say to yourself ‘that sounded GREAT, but I have no idea why they chose to use that kind of music’. Nonetheless the soundtrack is interesting and crisp from start to finish.

To see what I’m talking about, search for “Chiayya Chaiyya” on Youtube, here is one example:

Terence Blanchard provides the rest of the sountrack, with broad sweeping and moody orchestral movements punctuated by synthesized undertones. This is a much more traditional soundtrack fare than the opening and closing tracks would suggest, and it both evocative and very much in line with the themes of film and for the 'cop' side of the action in particular. There is just something about the score that links the characters together perfectly, giving the somewhat pedestrian characters a more epic backdrop.

This HD DVD goes beyond simple Dolby Digital and features a Dolby TrueHD encoding as well, and I am happy to report that all of the aforementioned audio wizardry from the DVD version are intact and, if possible, even more clean, positional, and smile inducing. In particular the scene late in the film where the SWAT team does a search sweep of the now empty bank has each team member report in to the leader, and the viewer really feels like they are in the center of this highly dangerous maneuver. Like the standard 5.1 mix, there isn’t a whole ton of low frequency content, but it is notably present in the theme music and a few short bangs and holds its own in those segments.

Visual Quality: 4.5/5

On standard DVD Inside Man was pretty decent, but one fatal flaw made it not as noteworthy as it could have been. I noted that many of the outside scenes almost had a ‘tearing’ effect especially in fast pans. While it had to be intentional, I found it terribly distracting and noted that it gave the film a very cheap look, especially when compared to the interior scenes which have pretty decent sharpness. This HD transfer somehow manages to completely remove any trace of that tearing and cranks the sharpness up at least two notches. Gone is the softness I noted and both exterior city shots and direct facial close-ups are incredibly detailed, colorful, and knife sharp. Despite being a dark film and using the dull grey/black palette of city life, grain was well under control, much better than what I recall on DVD, tho still a factor, and I never noted any kind of edge enhancement or other artifacts at all.

In my original review I wrote “The inevitable HD release probably won’t do much for the colors of this transfer, but more detail is almost certain to be uncovered.” And that was both right and wrong, the coloring is even better than I guessed it would be, especially in exterior shots, and the detail is cranked up quite a bit, which is especially notable in the grimy, beaten and tear stained faces of the hostages once they are back at the police station. This is, overall a great transfer and without a doubt I can say it looks better than what I saw in the theater.

Extra Features: 3/5

The extras here are identical to the original DVD, there are No U-Control or other new features on this release. While there is a short list of extras, all are worthwhile. Starting off we have a collection of 5 deleted scenes, one of which was the longest deleted scene I have ever seen put onto a disk. In this scene, a 15 minute long collection of the interviews with the hostages, it becomes clear just how much choice the editors had and that the film benefited immensely from sparingly selecting from this material. The other four deleted scenes don’t hold up as well, but they are interesting and flesh out the characters a bit without really adding to the story. In a featurette titled Number 4, Denzel and Spike discuss their collaboration on their 4 films together. There is also an extensive Making Of featurette which was fairly interesting tho I wished they went into more detail into the choice of the main theme and 5.1 audio production, which as I said were great but didn’t really fit in with the rest of the film. Perhaps they did that on the full length commentary with Lee, although I have not sat down and listened to that track on either disk.

Overall: 4/5 (not an average)

Smart and witty dramas are in short supply these days, and Inside Man fills this gap nicely. The terrific acting, slick editing, over the top sound, and a script that keeps you guessing combine to form an engrossing package. Lee combines elements from many great robbery classics without ever feeling cliché, puts characters of differing races head to head where their racism is evident but never the driving force in their actions, and simply has the smarts to let a half dozen great actors feed off each other and entertain us in the process. It is a rare combination and worthy of a view, made even better by an HD transfer that blows the DVD version away and even manages to bump up the sound by including a TrueHD audio encoding to boot. No real shocker that the extras are all dupes from the DVD version, but that doesn’t come close to stopping this from being “Recommended.”

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