Release Date: January 08, 2008.
Film Rating: /
Starring: Denzel Washington (Creasy), Dakota Fanning (Pita), Marc Anthony (Samuel), Radha Mitchell (Lisa), Christopher Walker (Rayburn), Giancarlo Giannini (Manzano), Rachel Ticotin (Mariana), Mickey Rourke (Jordan)
Directed by: Tony Scott
Screenplay by: Brian Helgeland
Novel by: A.J. Quinnell
Released twice on DVD and bundled with many other films in gift packs, Man on Fire finally arrives on Blu-ray disc after a relatively long delay. Since I was impressed with the film’s previous releases, I was eager to slip this disc in and give it a spin. Was it worth the wait?
Director Tony Scott, the producers and the writers went into a lot of research into updating this old story for a new film. This film is based on a book with kidnappings in Italy when it was the kidnap capital of the world. Instead of doing a retro-flashback story (as well as a direct remake of another film based on the same story), this story was upgraded to reflect the events in Latin America today, where the second biggest illegal business next to drugs is kidnapping. Loosely based on a novel by A.J. Quinnell, Tony Scott’s film Man on Fire exposes kidnapping as the rising crime in Latin America. It is said that it’s a place where several people are kidnapped every hour with a victim survival rate of less than 70 percent. The motives of the kidnappers: business as usual. They demand ransom money from the wealthy citizens whose family member has been abducted. Sadly, because of their inability to fight back, most of the abductees are children.
Kidnapping has become a problem in Mexico City where Man on Fire is based. It’s an organized crime and a quick way for these kidnapping rings to get rich. It’s safer than dealing drugs and yields higher returns – more money than what the criminals know what to do with. It’s also easier for these groups to accomplish this because of the corruption within the country. Cops, lawyers, and government officials – many are all a part of the scheme, and police forces do what they can to cover their cops from public scrutiny. It’s almost impossible for the victims to look to their law enforcers and plead for help to officials when they are a part of the problem.
Man on Fire exposes the problem of kidnapping around a wealthy Mexican family and an ex-CIA operative and assassin named John Creasy. Creasy’s old friend Rayburn is living in Mexico after he retires from the CIA. He calls on Creasy from the U.S. to give him a job to protect the daughter of a wealthy man named Samuel Ramos who owns a financially strapped auto plant outside of the city. Creasy takes the job; after all, he’s given up on life. He’s depressed, he drinks too much, and he’s alone. It’s a stark contrast to Rayburn’s life that’s taken a different path to happiness. He’s retired, happily married and has children in a free Mexico.
The first fifty minutes of the film establishes the relationship between Creasy and Samuel’s family, mostly the main character, Samuel’s 10-year old daughter Pita whom Creasy is to protect. In contrast to Pita, Creasy isn’t much of a socialite. He doesn’t want to be her friend and just wants to do his job. But soon after Creasy survives a breaking point in his life he begins to warm up to her. Time gives them a newfound relationship and Creasy cares deeply for her. She gives him new reasons to live again and he feels happy once again. Despite their new bond, there is a looming sense of uncertainty surrounding them. Strangers follow with cars and danger is apparent. Suddenly, an assault on the two of them leaves Creasy injured and Pita is taken away by kidnappers.
Creasy and the family are devastated at the events. Having felt the happiest he’s ever been, he’s crushed by the kidnappers’ actions and he turns it into a rage where he unleashes a brutish side of his personality. He sets out hunt down the people who he believes are a part of it. With the help of a local reporter and by those he intimidates, he puts the pieces together to progress further into the ring stopping at nothing to save her.
It’s difficult to get through the kidnapping rings. During his research, Tony Scott interviewed many Mexican kidnappers to know how they operate and he wanted to show the complexity these rings have in order to protect the person behind it all. Much like Al-Queda in the Middle East, kidnappers operate with several cells. Each doesn’t know the other faction, yet all a part of the organized plan. This segregation helps reaching the leader of the kidnapping almost impossible since there are so many people to go through and they don’t have a whereabouts of the leader. There are no phone numbers to reach the “master”. One can only page him and he makes the makes the phone calls. It’s a scary scenario that’s left too many people in fear, hence prompting people to hire bodyguards. It’ll leave you on edge too as Man on Fire explodes on screen as a story of love, rage, and retribution.
VIDEO QUALITY: 4/5
It’s highly likely this is the same transfer used for the previous DVDs. This film is shot with some reversal stock to heighten the “reality” of the image. This gives it more contrast, brings up colours and grains. The blacks become extremely deep and crushed and the white levels are extra-bright. The image looks more like an abstract painting using pastels and in my opinion isn’t close to reality at all. Greens and oranges are very dominant on this stylistically edgy picture and pop out even more in HD. This Blu-ray disc delivers some of the detail expected with high definition delivery and does not have artefacts common to DVD (compression noise or player artefacts).
What I found somewhat distracting with this HD release (and I’ll withhold using the term “problematic”) was the crushed blacks. Knowing the film was delivered this way intentionally (as mentioned on the DVD commentary) I seemed to be more forgiving of it on DVD. In HD, shadow detail becomes less striking and small details are lost in the thick of things. A good example is the scene first showing Creasy watching Pita at swimming practice. There is a wide shot over the pool with Creasy and other bystanders against a wall. The dark image has thick blacks and is undefined in detail; faces are almost impossible to distinguish on my 110” screen. This is not the exception as it is quite frequent throughout the film. In the end I appreciated the clean transfer but was left in the dark – literally – with the film’s dim image.
AUDIO QUALITY: 4.5/5
Still one of my favourite soundtracks, Man on Fire delivers heart pounding aggressive bass that is never over the top, but it’s awesome when it’s used to complement to visuals. The soundtrack is front-heavy and recorded so that sounds in the main channels extend well beyond their boundaries without the use of surround channels. The latest DVD edition featured a half-bitrate DTS soundtrack that offered some improvements over Dolby Digital that was used exclusively on the first release. This Blu-ray disc delivers all of the resolution at 24/48 using DTS-HD Master Audio. The DTS core is slightly more involving that the DVD release, and without doubt the lossless audio will triumph (at this time I cannot decode it).
As mentioned in my previous review, music is a dominant factor for the visuals on screen, carrying the pace of the actions and feelings of the characters. The piano creates the mood of peace and tranquility Creasy feels from Pita since it’s the instrument she plays. Electronic-rock provides the fast paced tunnel-vision action that is run throughout the film. Trent Reznor was the music consultant for this film, so it’s no surprise that songs from his creation Nine Inch Nails were used throughout this film.
As you can imagine, the rest of the soundtrack is stellar. Surround channels are active throughout but never ever add much attention to them. Be aware that if your main channels are set to “large” you will be sending very deep and powerful bass to them. Be sure your speakers can handle it!
TACTILE FUN!! /
TACTILE TRANSDUCER ON/OFF?: ON
My tactile transducer sent pulses of bass through my sofa and into my body. This film has as much dedicated LFE as a constant test tone and will sure shake the walls of your house down.
SPECIAL FEATURES: 0/5
Gone are all the features on the all-access edition. We don’t even get to hear an audio commentary. While Fox has been making a bit of an effort at adding features to their catalogue titles, this one gets nothing. It doesn’t surprise me either since this title was planned for release almost a year ago when the bare-bones discs were common.
IN THE END...
I thought the DVD served the film well but I was a bit under whelmed while watching it in high definition. I found the stylish video a bit too much this go around just because of the revealing nature of HD. The audio quality definitely got the boost with the DTS-HDMA soundtrack; the sound mix is terrific and engulfing for a fun home theatre experience.
January 8, 2008.
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