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Blu-ray Reviews

HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Insomnia



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#1 of 8 Cameron Yee

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Posted July 06 2010 - 07:10 PM

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Insomnia
Release Date: July 13, 2010
Studio: Warner Brothers
Packaging/Materials: Single-disc Blu-ray "eco" case
Year: 2002
Rating: R
Running Time: 1:58:00
MSRP: $24.98


  THE FEATURE SPECIAL FEATURES
Video 1080p high definition 16x9 2.40:1 Standard definition
Audio DTS-HD Master Audio: English 5.1 / Dolby Digital: French 5.1, Spanish 2.0, German 2.0 Stereo
Subtitles English SDH, French, German SDH, Spanish, Portuguese Variable

The Feature: 4/5
Los Angeles detectives Will Dormer (Al Pacino) and his partner Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan) have been sent to the isolated fishing town of Nightmute, Alaska to help solve the murder of a 17-year old girl. Though the cause is just, they've been given the out-of-the-way assignment to deflate a growing scandal back home around Dormer's investigative methods. Internal Affairs is clamping down hard and has already gotten to Eckhart to effectively turn on his longtime partner. Though so far it's affected their friendship more than their working relationship, the attempted capture of the Alaskan girl's killer goes horribly awry, resulting in Dormer shooting and killing Eckhart in the confusion. Knowing the incident would seal his fate, Dormer covers up what happened and places the blame on the still-to-be-captured murder suspect. Unfortunately the killer also saw everything that happened, and tries to form an alliance with Dormer that will benefit them both. Though it's an undeniable deal with the devil, Dormer seems to have little choice, his ethics having been compromised long ago. His inability to adjust to the region's constant sunlight is also quickly degrading his judgment, making him even more vulnerable to the killer's influence. His one salvation may be the eager but inexperienced Nightmute detective Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank), who's been assigned to do a perfunctory investigation of the Eckhart shooting. Though she'll learn the truth of what happened, how far will she go to help a man she once idolized but who has so clearly lost his way?

Remade from the 1997 Swedish film of the same name, Director Christopher Nolan's "Insomnia" is much more straightforward compared to the atmospheric and morally ambiguous original. Normally I would enjoy the original film more, but I actually found the English language version more satisfying. Though I do understand if some dislike its well-wrapped conclusion and overall commercial quality, I was just not particularly moved - in any direction - by the Swedish production. At least with Nolan's film I was skillfully lead through the requisite "thriller" hoops. So while there's not much in the way of surprises in his version, I can say it entertained - with its exciting foot chases, solid performances from the cast, and even some humor at times - where the other film merely played and then was largely forgotten. With other English language remakes of Swedish films on the horizon (like "Let the Right One In" and "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo") - and generally speaking any Hollywood remakes of international films - I don't expect to have the same reaction. But even if I do - let's face it - it won't be keeping me awake at night.

Video Quality: 4.5/5

The film is accurately framed at 2.40:1 and presented in 1080p with the VC-1 codec. Sharpness and detail are the most striking aspects of the transfer and help make the panoramic views of Alaska's glaciers and wilderness quite breathtaking. The more eagle-eyed, however, will note some subtle edge enhancement applied to the image, which makes it look tack sharp, but may ultimately bother those sensitive to the slight haloing effect that results. Noise reduction is absent, however - consistent and healthy levels of film grain being present throughout. Likewise, contrast exhibits the full range of values, with color that is beautifully deep and saturated. Black levels are consistent overall, with a handful of shots looking a little too opened up, but otherwise they exhibit excellent depth and shadow detail.
Audio Quality: 4.5/5
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix starts off with few frills, providing mostly support for the score. However as the main character's emotional state becomes compromised, the full array is put to use, providing a powerful blend of atmospheric and directional effects to reinforce his disorientation and insecurity. LFE is deep and robust, high frequency tones are clear and detailed, and panning and ambient effects are balanced and enveloping. Viewers will detect the greatest amount of detail in the dialogue, Pacino's gravelly tones being particularly noteworthy, but the score is also a great example of the lossless track's depth and dynamic range.

Special Features: 4.5/5
The special features package carries over all the material from 2002 DVD release and offers a satisfying breadth of information, the commentary tracks being particularly rewarding. A movie voucher to see the director's upcoming film is a nice bonus.

Commentary with Director Christopher Nolan (1:45:32): Taking a different tack than usual (and in a subtle nod to Nolan's previous film "Memento"), the film is presented in the order it was shot, giving the viewer an excellent perspective on the 53-day production. The commentary offers some engaging observations and insights, making it one of the more unique and valuable tracks of its kind.

Scene Specific Commentary with Hilary Swank, Production Designer Nathan Crowley, Editor Dody Dorn, Cinematographer Wally Pfister, and Screenwriter Hillary Seitz (41:24): I've always appreciated the scene-specific approach to commentaries for its focus and specificity. Highlights from the participants include:

  • Seitz (total commentary time 11:23) describing the challenge of remaking an already excellent film, refining the main characters, and constructing realistic dialogue.
  • Swank (total commentary time 2:37) describing her excitement working with Pacino and preparing for her role.
  • Pfister (total commentary time 8:09) commenting on lighting the police office set, the alley scene, and Dormer's hotel room.
  • Dorn (total commentary time 14:30) describing cutting scenes and sequences to get the right tone and subtext.
  • Crowley (total commentary time 4:42) commenting on the office set, cabin set, and working with Pfister.
Day for Night: The Making of Insomnia (7:57, SD): The piece provides a brief overview of the production, actor dynamics, and recurring themes and storytelling elements.

180°: A Conversation with Christopher Nolan and Al Pacino (17:08, SD): Nolan and Pacino, six months after production, sit down for an informal conversation about the production process and experience working together. Given their depth of expertise and knowledge it makes for a fascinating piece.


In the Fog: Cinemtographer Wally Pfister (6:07, SD): Pfister provides commentary for location scouting footage and behind-the-scenes video from production, specifically related to the filming of the rocky beach location and its fog-filled atmosphere.

In the Fog: Production Designer Nathan Crowley (5:45, SD): Crowley comments over the same footage as Pfister, but offers his own memories about the experience.

Eyes Wide Open (7:32, SD): Chronic insomniacs and physicians talk about the perils of the sleep-deprived condition and its representation in the film.

Stills Gallery: Twenty-eight stills from production and promotion.

Additional Scene (3:02): An extended interaction between Dormer and Rachel (Maura Tierney) at the hotel, with optional commentary by Nolan.

Theatrical Trailer (2:25, SD)

Hollywood Movie Money: Good for up to $7.50 off one admission ticket to Christopher Nolan's upcoming film, "Inception" (in theaters July 16, 2010). Coupon expires August 1, 2010.

Recap
The Feature: 4/5
Video Quality: 4.5/5
Audio Quality: 4.5/5
Special Features: 4.5/5
Overall Score (not an average): 4.5/5

Warner Brothers turns in an excellent presentation of a straightforward but well told thriller, remade from a more atmospheric Swedish film. The special features package offers solid behind-the-scenes material, with the commentary tracks being the most interesting and informative. With the great technical quality and retention of all the previous extras, this new Blu-ray edition of "Insomnia" is a worthwhile upgrade for those who already own the DVD, and an obvious choice for first-time purchasers.


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#2 of 8 Southpaw

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Posted July 07 2010 - 12:55 AM

Thanks for the review Cameron.

For me, this was one of those films that after watching it, I remember feeling sort of underwhelmed. But it's been so many years since I viewed it and I've come to respect Nolan as such a great filmmaker since The Prestige, and the two Batman films and I'm very much looking forward to Inception.

I'm going to have to revisit this one.



#3 of 8 Cameron Yee

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Posted July 07 2010 - 02:49 AM

If you felt underwhelmed about it, I'm curious how you'd feel about the original, because that was pretty much how I felt about it. It has been some time since I watched Insomnia, so putting it in light of Nolan's more recent work was interesting.


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#4 of 8 TravisR

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Posted July 07 2010 - 03:12 AM

Insomnia was a really good movie before Nolan made his Batman movies.



#5 of 8 robbbb1138

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Posted July 07 2010 - 03:21 AM

Given the high marks in the review, I'd consider this for a purchase for the right price.  I think this movie just got a bad rap because it's not Memento.  While I think he's become overrated, Nolan's movies always have a baseline level of competence for me that only a handful of others can match.  Also, at this point, it looks like this could go down as the last really solid Al Pacino movie.



#6 of 8 David Wilkins

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Posted July 07 2010 - 05:26 AM

I had seen the original when it was first released on DVD, and liked it very much. When I heard sometime later that an American version was going to be made (no solid details other than Pacino), I suspected that any Americanized remake would get bastardized all to hell, but ended up very pleased with the result. Different, yes, but not in a bad way.


Given the high marks for picture and sound, I'll definitely pick it up.  


#7 of 8 Neil Middlemiss

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Posted July 09 2010 - 02:30 AM

Thanks for the review, Cameron. I have long appreciated the atmosphere and performances in this film - my second experience with Nolan (following Memento) and it cemented my love of his skill and style. It also has an eery and superbly atmospheric score by David Julyan (who Nolan worked with before switching, it seems, to Zimmer (and Newton Howard). Its a great, understated score.


So, I will now do what I said I would try not to - order this film today!

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#8 of 8 Keith I

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Posted July 12 2010 - 08:26 PM

Excellent review and movie, rare for a "remake."  I can't wait to get this.  It would have been nice to get a few new HD extras but I'm not complaining.


Is the hidden easter egg from the DVD on the Blu-ray?  Your review says "all" ported over from the DVD but it's tricky with hidden extras.







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