Release Date: December 2, 2008
Starring: James McAvoy, Morgan Freeman, Terence Stamp, Thomas Kretschmann, Common and Angelina Jolie
Written by: Michael Brandt & Derek Haas and Chris Morgan
Based on the Comic Book by: Mark Millar and J.G. Jones
Directed by: Timur Bekmambetov
Wanted qualifies as a truly guilty pleasure. It strays in every way imaginable from its source material, it grabs more than inspiration from John Woo films as well as The Matrix, it racks up a sizeable body count without really blinking an eye, and yet it’s undeniably entertaining. The story follows young Wesley Gibson (McAvoy), who goes from a dreary ordinary life to working with the most effective assassins in the world in an attempt to unravel the death of his father. But of course, it’s more complicated than that, with the assassins capable of superpowers similar to those seen in The Matrix, and with the numerous big action set pieces played with a real tongue in cheek sensibility. (An early chase sequence has the bad guy driving a “Nibblers” kitty & doggy treat truck with frisky bobbleheads in the front cab, a later showdown goes even farther than Paul Verhoeven in having the hero use a dead bad guy as his shield from a hail of bullets, etc.) It’s really the execution of the story that makes this all work, pun aside. I can’t really point to the performances, the script, or even the design work as being all that memorable. But the visceral thrill of the combat, slowed down many times to something like the “Bullet Time” of The Matrix can be irresistible.
The edition under review here is the 2-Disc Special Edition, which for a limited time, will contain a digital copy of the film on the 2nd disc. (There was apparently enough room to do so, rather than making a 3rd disc, as has been happening more and more lately.) The film itself is contained on the first disc, in a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer and an engaging 5.1 mix. Special features are found on the 2nd disc, including multiple featurettes about the film and the comic book on which it is loosely based. There is no commentary on the film, but some of the same material is covered in the special features. I have to say that for all the featurettes, there isn’t much of an in-depth look at either the making of the film or of the way it was adapted from Mike Millar’s comic book series. We do see a lot of the usual interview snippets of cast and crew, with lots of video from the set and clips from the film. But there are a lot of questions that don’t get answered here, including why the film diverged so far from the comic, why the casting choices were made so far from the original idea, how the production juggled filming in Prague and Chicago, etc. So there’s a host of materials here to examine – most crucially an animated excerpt from Millar’s comic books, but not a lot of meat between the bread, so to speak. In my section here on the Special Features, I go into what there is to be found, and where I think the problems are. (As well as a possible reason...) There is also an Easter Egg on the 2nd Disc for viewers to try to solve, assuming they have experience breaking 8 digit binary codes...
VIDEO QUALITY: 3 ½/5 ½
Wanted is presented in an anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen transfer that has a bit of grit to it, but delivers a wide range of colors and flesh tones accurately. Most crucially, the numerous CGI effects are integrated well enough that they don’t announce themselves any more than absolutely necessary. There’s a lot of darkness in the film, and accordingly the black levels look solid. This is a handsome transfer.
AUDIO QUALITY: 4/5
Wanted is presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix in English, French and Spanish that will literally rock your house. The surround channels get a full workout here in the numerous combat and chase sequences, and the subwoofer gets used not only for impacts, and explosions but also to keep a steady bass line going on the musical soundtrack. (When the film gets to the end credits and Danny Elfman’s “Little Things” kicks in, just listen to the subwoofer purring through the song as one example.) Cars, bullets, rats, and doomed assassins make their way through all the channels of the home theatre, although dialogue lives in the front. This is yet another film not to be watching in the wee hours, unless you wish to discover which of your neighbors really are assassins... A DVS track is included in English.
SPECIAL FEATURES: 2/5
Wanted has some non-anamorphic previews on the first disc of the set, but it’s on the second disc that all the featurettes and goodies can be found. These include an extended scene, featurettes covering the director, casting, mechanical effects, CGI effects and stunts, a featurette discussing the adaptation of the comic book, a music video for Elfman’s song, and an animated excerpt from the comic book. There is also an Easter Egg that involves entering a code for more features, but I was not able to solve the puzzle before submitting this review.
I should note that while there is nearly 90 minutes of featurettes and material on display here, there’s not a lot of substance to it. Almost all the material is either cursory glances at deeper material, or just the usual intercuts of director and cast complimenting each other. Given that there is some interesting material that could have been discussed, this is unfortunate. To be sure, there is some interesting material, which I have tried to spotlight, but there have clearly been missed opportunities here. The last time I had this reaction was in my evaluation of the John Hughes collection a while back, and a quick check of the credits here confirmed that Jason Hillhouse is one of the producers of this supplement package. There are two other producers listed, but that piece of information cleared up my confusion. I continue to hope that he will produce a DVD package that I can wholeheartedly recommend, but it hasn’t happened yet.
When the first disc is put into the machine, a series of non-anamorphic trailers are presented for the video game of Wanted: Weapons of Fate, the DVD release of Burn After Reading, the now-cancelled NBC TV series My Own Worst Enemy, Slap Shot 3: The Junior League, the Universal Blu-ray trailer, and The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior.
The second disc is home to the special features assembled here:
• Extended Scene (1:57, Non-Anamorphic) – This is a comic extension of some early training scenework for Wesley. There’s nothing essential to the story here, but he does get one good sarcastic line before the Fraternity’s “Repairman” lays into him again.
• Cast & Characters – (19:58, Anamorphic) - This featurette sounds more thorough than it really is. We are presented with interview snippets discussing each major cast member and the character each plays, with the cast discussing their own work amid clips from the film and video from the set. This is all well and good, but it doesn’t really address how all of these characters diverge from the original source material, or why director Timur Bekmambetov and his producers chose to make those changes. The one clear interview presented is with Angelina Jolie, who openly states that for her first film back after taking some time off for her family, she was happy to do something simple and action-oriented and not too deep. Otherwise, the interviews mostly consist of the usual mutual compliments between director, producer and cast.
• Stunts on the L Train (2:29, Anamorphic) –This brief featurette covers a sequence where characters standing on a moving L train jump over a bridge overpass, showing how this was filmed on the stage. Appropriately, the shot was accomplished with a stationary train and a moving bridge, with stuntmen on wires. This is interesting stuff, but it’s very brief. Once you complete the featurette, a screen appears with an unlockable code for the Wanted video game. (for Adrenaline Rush Mode, for those keeping track)
• Special Effects: The Art of the Impossible (8:25, Anamorphic) – This is a short segment discussing the mechanical on-set effects used in the film, including explosions, bus flips, wind, smoke, fire, etc. Some on-set footage is shown of the work, but nothing particularly in depth. Once you complete this featurette, you get another screen with an unlockable code for the Wanted video game. (This time you get the code for Unlimited Adrenaline)
• Groundbreaking Visual Effects: From Imagination to Execution (8:04, Anamorphic) – This featurette covers the extensive CGI work in the film, with interviews with the programmers intercut with animatics, rough effects and finished shots. What makes this interesting are the specific details about the various shots, including animation of hordes of rats in one sequence or extreme close-ups of a bullet in another. There’s just enough material here to keep things interesting, but not so much that it devolves into jargon.
• The Origins of Wanted: Bringing the Graphic Novel to Life (8:03, Anamorphic) – This featurette covers the adaptation of Mike Millar’s comic book into the film. Mike Millar gets a couple of minutes to discuss the basis of the comic book (making up a world where supervillains have taken over, showing how an ordinary person becomes a supervillain, and acknowledging how J.G. Jones’ art made the comic a series of potential storyboards for a future movie). The screenwriters comment that they wanted to keep the hard edge of Millar’s often profane dialogue in their script, but don’t go any farther than that. Bekmambetov deadpans that he enjoyed the style of the comic book and one of the producers talks about maintaining the “tone” of Millar’s work. The problem here is that this featurette really should have addressed the radical changes between Millar’s work and the movie. While the “Cast & Characters” featurette is problematic for not addressing differences on that end, this featurette is rendered almost pointless for its inability to address the complete changes in the premise of the comic book for this adaptation. Nothing is voiced about the “Supervillains Rule The World” being dropped completely from the film, nor is anything mentioned about the comic showing Wesley’s transformation to a villain being morphed into his transformation to a hero. These are crucial matters for this film, and a standard featurette of mutual compliments cannot change that.
• Through The Eyes of Visionary Director Timur Bekmambetov (9:02, Anamorphic) – This short featurette focuses on the director, with on-set footage intercut with interview snippets with the cast and producer Mark Platt. The usual complimentary bits are put together to talk about his vision and depth, but there is very little in-depth examination of his thoughts or themes. In other words, it’s all well and good to hear about how visionary the man is, but it helps to get the why, and this featurette doesn’t bring that. The featurette’s title is misleading – this brief assemblage simply does not let you see through the man’s eyes, or even tell you much about what he’s thinking. Once you complete this featurette, you get yet another screen with an unlockable game code. (This time, it’s for Headshot Mode.)
• Wanted: Motion Comics (13:53, Anamorphic) – This is one feature that absolutely illuminates the difference between Millar’s vision and what wound up in the film. What we have here is a series of brief scenes from the comic book, with still frames presented with music from the film and new voiceovers. Millar’s dialogue is much harder-edged than the film’s script, and it becomes clear that there are specific character and cast types used for the comic. Wesley’s horrible boss is of a different ethnicity, he himself is modelled after Eminem, the Angelina Jolie character is a dead ringer for Halle Berry, etc. In the comic, Wesley’s response to his girlfriend’s infidelity is blood-chilling. All of this goes to show that we’re probably not seeing a true blood adaptation of the comic book, although Millar is clearly happy to have seen some version of his work on the screen.
• The Little Things Music Video Mash-up (3:34, Anamorphic) – This is a music video for Danny Elfman’s song, using footage from the film to background the song. This isn’t a typical video in that there is no inset footage of Danny Elfman singing – just film footage. It’s effectively a long preview for the film, but the song works and it’s good to hear Elfman recording a rock song for the first time in many a moon. (The postscript on the video indicates it was created by “Mash-up contest winner Kari Jo Skogquist”. Sounds like there was a competition involved...)
• The Making of Wanted: The Game (10:00, Anamorphic) – This featurette focuses on the creation of the video game made by the GRIN software company in Europe. It also appears to have been made separately from the rest of the featurettes, as it has its own credit roll for the interactive company. At the end of this, there is another hidden code for the video game. (This one is for “Special Suit Mode”...)
• Digital Copy – This digital copy can be downloaded to your PC, Mac or portable device. Instructions on how to do this are included in the packaging. One warning – you cannot access this via the regular menus. In order to get it, you need to put the disc in your computer and follow the autorun menu that should come up. (If all else fails, use the instructions on the insert in the DVD case. But for my computer, an autorun popup appeared that asked if I wanted to access the digital copy or just play the DVD.)
There’s one other thing on the 2nd Disc, an Easter Egg I haven’t been able to crack. On the main menu screen, just below the two regular options, there is a hidden option for “Code of the Fraternity” which you can click. Once you do this, you are taken to a screen where you can enter an eight digit binary code composed of zero or one. (There’s a handy 0 and 1 on the screen you can click to make your code.) The screen says that this will unlock more features. If anyone reading this actually comes up with the code, let me know and I’ll be happy to post it here. As it is, I tried a few combinations and got nothing.
Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish for the film itself, as well as for the special features. A standard chapter menu is included for quick reference.
IN THE END...
Wanted is certainly a fun movie, with some rousing stunt sequences to keep the viewer more than interested through its running time. It’s not a particularly deep film, but it has no illusions about that, and is actually able to use its own tongue-in-cheek nature to keep things fun and light in spite of the fact that it’s about a bunch of hired killers. I still have issues with the special features offered here, but there’s a few things you can find that will be of interest. Fans of the film will want to grab this, while fans of the comic book may be a bit more wary. Casual viewers are encouraged to rent this as a fun action piece.
November 10, 2008.