Blu-ray Disc Review
Release Date: January 20, 2009.
Starring: Mark Wahlberg (Max Payne), Mila Kunis (Mona Sax), Beau Bridges (BB Hensley), Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges (Lt. Jim Bravura), Chris O’Donnell (Jason Colvin), Olga Kurylenko (Natasha Sax)
Screenplay by: Beau Thorne
Directed by: John Moore
“Here comes the Moon again”. I couldn’t stop my desire to start writing this review while playing If I Was Your Vampire by Marilyn Manson. This downbeat song served as the music in the Max Payne trailer that I’ve seen on so many Fox Blu-rays up to this point. It sets the dark and gloomy mood of the film, and while the song wasn’t actually used in the movie, the mood was certainly set and remained. Having ignored most of the movie reviews of Max Payne, I was a bit surprised as to what I found with this little package from Fox.
Max Payne is a cop who works desk jobs in the cold case unit. Life hasn’t recently been kind to him since his wife and baby were brutally murdered by a bunch of junkies in his own home, just ten minutes prior to him arriving. Since this day three years ago he’s been prepossessed with finding the third killer, the one who got away from his gun. Max is friends with a snitch who has been giving him leads with no end, but after the death of one of his snitch’s party guests, Max is discovers a series of mysterious connections of winged tattoos, the hallucinogenic drug Valkyr, and murders that only an understanding of mythology can answer. But Max has now become a suspect in one of these murders and rather than setting off on a mission to prove his innocence to the men on the police force, he decides to continue taking matters in his own hands alone. Neither the perpetrators of this wife’s murder nor demonic effects of the drug will stop his vengeance.
Based on a hit video game, Max Payne translates well on film. I’ve never played the game nor am I intimately familiar with its story line, but from what I’ve read it seems that purists to the game are not happy with this incarnation. Putting that aside, I thought Max Payne was a blast for Friday night entertainment. The story was easy to follow, Wahlberg plays Payne’s character with such intensity that it was developed enough to feel his suffering, and the action was well paced and occurred at relative points within this drama with worthy praise for a lone man on his personal mission. The movie isn’t perfect. I think there were some aspects of the drama that could have been developed much more. There are several miscasts such as Mila Kunis as a supposedly tough Mona Sax. While she has the right "look" but a toughness that I thought was inherent in her character didn’t come across; something didn’t quite mesh when she spoke her lines. I feel bad saying it because she seems genuine on this disc's special features and would probably strike up good conversation over a drink, but she needs to be a bit more confident and forceful in her role. (as actors, they’ll have to take their roles up a few notches to be truly believable in the sequel). But as a whole, this Max Payne film is not a dud. When the end credits rolled, I nodded with approval.
VIDEO QUALITY: 5/5
This is another good transfer from Fox as this image doesn’t exhibit anything notedly problematic. This dim film with some exceptions, but for the most part there are many night scenes or scenes in low lighting with details easily noticed. The HD image on this Blu-ray demonstrates all areas of image quality nicely as rendered by the filmmakers. Like so many films these days, the image has an altered hue to set the look of scenes. I don’t find it objectionable if it’s blaring in my face, but when done reasonably, whatever reasonable is by judgment (and by who’s judgment), the final look is effective. Resolution is very good exhibiting good depth even with CGI present. The scenes with the Valkyries look great with their dark winged figures against the roaring flaming orange-red sky. Grain is surprisingly absent throughout (it appears that both film and HD source cameras were used), and there are no issues with compression or edge enhancement. All subtitles are all within the 2.35:1 safe area for those using 2.35:1 screens.
AUDIO QUALITY: 5+/5 +
After “experiencing” Max Payne in my home theater, I sat back and thought that I may have been too generous giving previous Blu-ray releases five-star ratings for sound design. As respectable as they are, for so many reasons they do not give me the same thrill and excitement as Max Payne. Max Payne is commendable for my first 5+ rating in my six years as a DVD/BD reviewer at Home Theater Forum. Simply put: I was blown away.
I was amazed with how the film seemed to convey a level of depth and detail not generally heard in movie soundtracks. This is in contrast to my somber audio comments about that in my recent reviews of Babylon A.D. and Mirrors. Film soundtracks rarely have an edge in audiophile circles. They are manufactured to death and put together on huge sound stages where attention to the finest details aren’t exactly possible despite the best intentions of the sound designers behind the controls. Somehow, Max Payne seemed to tiptoe past this. With the two front speakers alone, I found the depth of the audio atmosphere deep and convincing. Whether it was music or effects, it did not have a dry “from that speaker” sound that is all too common. Sounds reached far beyond the main channels and I was constantly turning my head to the back channels just to see if they were helping to provide a wrap-around extension for the mains, but they weren’t. Many simple effects (such as a knock on the door) are directional to screen placement, something that I hear too often collapsed into the center channel. Ambiance around all sounds, even if arteficially created, breathed more life into the soundtrack and made that more real. Dialogue and effects from the center channel had a life of it’s own; it was organic and integrated seamlessly with the main channels. Dialogue was never intrusive. Tonality was comfortable.
The surround channels were very alive! Never intrusive but utilized for exactly what I expect them to be used for. People running behind Max and shouting? – it’s here. Any time the actor is facing forward and an important effect is necessary to be heard behind him (like an elevator door closing), it comes from the surrounds rather than the mains. If your 5.1 home theatre has its channel levels set correctly, then your front channels will blend in seamlessly with the surrounds and the sides will be filled in with phantom imaging. There are a few moments when all channels are actively involving and suddenly we are in a vacuum without sound – dead silence only interrupted by a few key effects. While many soundtracks use the surrounds with a lot of effectiveness, it’s been a long time since I’ve heard a truly discrete and effective 5.1 soundtrack. F**kin’ A.
Note that I did use re-EQ when I listened to this soundtrack. I’ve been blanketing it on all Fox releases since I’ve been told they do not re-EQ, so until I’m informed otherwise I’ll keep adding it. The only drawback for this film is the bass intensity. It’s crazy. I’m sure many people out there will absolutely love it, for me, even with all of the bass capability in my system, I found it too much. When filling a huge movie theater I can see why it can be necessary, but for home theater playback it’s just got too much thump for no reason whatsoever. Too much bass also drowns out other sounds and can choke the amplifiers running full range and potentially limiting detail in other areas, especially when reproducing it on 2-way designed speakers.
As for the LFE, it’s very strong and powerful on it’s own. I can’t imagine how crazy it would be if listening to it with the bass from all other channels being routed to it. I’m currently using one of my Paradigm PW-2200s for my LFE and I can honestly say that the sub just wasn’t enough to deliver clean powerful bass from this soundtrack. The bass felt restricted in the box and made me want to install my Dunlavy TSW-VI subwoofer pair now! But due to their enormous size and the current pathway to the room, I can’t get them in here so all 8 15” drivers split among two sealed enclosures are waiting patiently in their boxes offsite. Grrrr…
TACTILE FUN!!: 4/5
TRANSDUCER ON/OFF?: ON
Using a bass shaker is a hell of a good time! Good gut shaking effects, music, etc. makes this soundtrack even more exciting to experience, and the use of a D-Box motion control simulator would probably enhance this much more. Anyone here with one care to chime in?
SPECIAL FEATURES: 4/5
A selection of the theatrical or unrated versions of the film is the first choice when the disc is first inserted (and it also appears as the first choice in the special features menu.)
Following are in order, selectable by the floating red sniper dot over the cool gun-loaded animated menu:
A well-done featurette called Picture (1.78:1, SD, Part 1: 29:01, Part 2: 29:39) is split into two parts and shot on location in Toronto, Ontario. I could mistake it for a documentary because of the way it was put together - it is constantly engaging. I will tell you that if every featurettes was made like this one, I wouldn’t find them so tedious to get through because I’ve always agreed with the director: WHO CARES! regarding “this is how we do this, and this is how we do that.” It’s definitely not the kind of “making-of” that John Moore can’t stand, as clearly stated in the beginning of it while rambling on set. Be careful with the kids: F-bombs galore and much discussion about how much film production exhausts everyone involved.
A digital copy of the extended cut is provided for portable media players.
Trailers of Babylon A.D. and Mirrors are here. Where is Max Payne?
IN THE END...
So far all three titles from Fox this year (Babylon AD, Mirrors, Max Payne) have been released as an “unrated” BD. Even though the differences are slight, it’s nice to still have the option to restore cuts forced by the studio or the MPAA before the theatrical release. This also marks the third Fox D-Box motion code title for 2009. Even though that technology hasn’t hit mass market yet, there will be a time when there is greater acceptance and the software will be then ready to use. In sum, Max Payne exceeded my expectations in audio, features, and film presentation. If you aren’t a Max Payne video gamer who is on a mission to trash the movie, I think it’s worth looking into and even worth a blind buy. I’m looking forward to the sequel. Come back to Hamilton for the shoot and I’ll see you around.
January 25, 2009.