(a.k.a. False Witness)
This is a Vivendi Entertainment Bluray release of the 2008 made-for-HDTV film made by Screen Australia, for UKTV. The program stars Dougray Scott, Rachael Blake, Jeremy Lindsay Taylor, Richard Roxburgh, and Claire Forlani, and was directed by Peter Andrikidis.
The feature is a full-frame, 1.77:1 HDTV program, 1920x1080x24p, with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, and English subtitles for the hearing-impaired — and those who have trouble with the mumbled Australian, English, or Russian accents. The feature runs approximately 197 minutes, and is presented in two roughly equal parts. The disc loads very quickly, with an FBI warning and a Vivendi slate before going to the main menu. The packaging is a standard 2-disc Bluray case (one on each side,) with a standard definition DVD included.
Retail price for this Bluray title is $19.93, and will be released in the United States on August 10, 2010. The program itself was classified in Australia as either M or MA, but has not been rated by the MPAA . (Note that according to Wikipedia, an Australian “M” is roughly equivalent to an MPAA “PG-13,” while “MA” is similar to an “R” rating, except that it is restricted to age fifteen and up.)
The Feature —
The story starts “messy,” and stays that way. A drug-bust gone wrong has Scotland Yard pursuing a British diplomat Porter (D. Scott) for drug smuggling. And with links to a big-time scary Russian based out of Tajikistan. While they really want Porter’s blood, they’re really interested in the Russian. The Secret Intelligence Service (more commonly known as MI-6) is involved, although it isn’t initially clear why. Once the Russian makes threats against Porter’s ex-wife (C. Forlani), Scotland Yard sends Porter and his ex-wife, along with the Detective Chief Inspector (R. Blake) to Australia — far from London, and far from Tajikistan — in their Witness Protection program. The ‘mess’ then proceeds to spin out of control with the addition of weapons smuggling, corrupt ambitious officials, family influences, regret, death, lies, honor, pride, dishonor, cowardice, nuclear weapons, and prostitutes with hearts-of-gold. I guess about the only thing it lacks from being a proper Alistair MacLean thriller is the lack of a big cache of stolen Nazi gold.
Unfortunately for the story, there seems to be a bit too much that they are trying to stick into the show — far beyond the kitchen sink (of which there are at least three different kitchen sinks featured in the film!) — that help create a sense of confusion as to just what is going on. A second issue comes from the photography and composition — people tend to be shot in tight close-ups, and many of their male leads are dark-haired men who haven’t shaved in a couple of days, speaking with strange accents — making it a little difficult to keep all of our crazy guys straight. At least some of them wear glasses. The ladies, however, tend to have different hair colors, and are relatively easy to keep sorted out.
There are some nice vistas of Australian country-side and of Sydney. Perhaps some prominent Australian buildings are featured, but — apart from the Sydney Opera House — they are not quite as distinctive as, say, the SIS building at Vauxhall Cross, or The Gherkin at 30 St Mary Axe — which are both featured along with many other, more traditional great classics of London architecture.
The Picture — ½
I am fairly certain that the feature was shot in HD (that is, electronically, or direct-to-video.) Often times without much supplemental lighting, this makes for some contrasty scenes, and, in low-light, sometimes fairly noisy scenes. This may have been intentional, given a tendency for a lot of the shots of people to be hand-held, or at least simulating hand-held, perhaps to give a sense of “being there.” Which is odd, because these shots are often intercut with beautifully smooth dolly shots, helicopter shots, and it makes for a bit of odd juxtaposition.
That said, there are also a couple of shots that are not HD — and they show. One shot, used twice in the second part, is a tracking land-scape shot that looks like an upconvert from standard definition. A few other standard definition shots look to be ‘found footage’ — particularly of the Kuwait Air Force F-18 Hornets ‘standing in for’ the Royal Australian Air Force. And there was at least one shot, in HD, that look like it started at 30fps and was converted to 24fps — badly — or the other way around. Or there and back again. But for the most part, there is no significant or excessive use of noise-reduction, edge enhancement, or other digital abuse — other than, perhaps, excessive use of image-processing for flashbacks.
The disc is encoded with the VC-1 codec, and while it floats around 25megabits/second, it peaks as high as 40megabits/second in the action scenes.
The Sound —
Compared to the visual style of the piece, or how such a piece might have been mixed in, say, America, the sound-track is fairly ‘low key.’ Dialog is reproduced fairly clearly — at least when the actors aren’t mumbling! Most of the sound-stage of dialog and foley is front-and-center. Ambience spreads out through-out the full surround-stage, but, for the most part, remains ambience. Music is primarily atmospheric-thematic, and front-stereo. Gunshots are not overly enhanced — they are actually surprisingly ‘quiet’ on the sheer SPL front. But, like the rest of the foley and atmospheric sound, they are not really trying to drive the show, but support the show. There are only a few places where the feature makes any significant use of the subwoofer.
In The End — ½ (technical only)
As a feature, in my opinion, it tried to shove too much in, too quickly, without giving enough ‘hooks’ for a viewer to grab on to and keep up with the story. So in this case, and perhaps because I found the story lacking in humanity, I specifically rate the technical presentation much higher than, and separate from, my rating of the story itself. Maybe it is a realistic presentation of how people are, but even when I want to escape into a thriller/suspense film, I would prefer to have some characters that I care about.