Directed By: Jimmy Hayward
Starring: Josh Brolin, John Malkovich, Megan Fox, Michael Fassbender, Will Arnett, and Michael Shannon
| Studio: Warner Bros. |
Film Length: 81 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.4:1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Release Date: October 12, 2010
The Film **Josh Brolin plays Jonah Hex, a scar-faced Confederate Army veteran around the time of the USA's centennial who turned to a life of bounty hunting after his family was killed by his former comrade in arms, Quentin Turnbull (Malkovich). Turnbull and his henchman Burke (Fassbender) burned down Hex's home with his wife and child in it, leaving Hex tied up outside to watch it and die slowly himself. Subsequently rescued from the brink of death by a Native American ritual, Hex was left with a terribly disfigured face, an ability to commune with the dead, and a strong thirst for revenge. Turnbull having been reported dead, Hex takes his anger out on the fugitives he pursues for bounties, and has few friends aside from a prostitute he occasionally visits named Lilah (Fox). His solitary existence is interrupted when he is asked by the US govrnment to aid in tracking down a fugitive seeking to commit an act of terrorism on US soil: the recently discovered to be not deceased Quentin Turnbull. Hex pursues Turnbull and Burke relentlessly with minimal regard for the direction he is given by his Army contacts Lieutenants Grass (Arnett) and Evan (Gallagher).
Jonah Hex is a film with so many interesting sounding individual elements that a reviewer has to choose his or her words carefully in order to avoid giving the false impression that the film would actually be worth watching. Leone western homage? Yes! -- A mix of western and supernatural horror? Cool! -- John Malkovich as the villain? I'm in! -- Megan Fox in a tight corset? I'm intrigued -- Horse mounted Gatling guns? Warner Bros., have you been reading my diary? Unfortunately, the filmmakers find a way to make all of the above deathly dull. The plot mixes a standard antihero revenge trope with a "mad terrorist deploying a super-weapon" plot recycled from a million bad (and a few good) comic books and movies.
The film is cut to the bone at 81 minutes allowing no room for any actual character development. As a result, the characters become sketchy archetypes about whom the viewer has a tough time caring. In the few precious minutes of screen time they do devote to establishing character motivations, the filmmakers make odd choices like having the events that led to Hex being a conduit between the land of the dead and the living play out twice, both in his flashback origin story and in the film's main plot. This is executed such that it does not work so much as an illustration of parallel construction as an exercise in redundancy with the unfortunate side effect of undermining the stakes of the Hex's struggle with his nemesis. Clint Eastwood's "Man with no Name" was reticent and mysterious. Jonah Hex tries to tap into that mystique, but explains almost everything there is to know about the title character in the prologue, after which point it is all over but the shooting. Subsequent flashbacks reveal some of the particulars, but nothing the viewer could not have guessed based on what has already been over-explained.
Overacting abounds, whether due to a lack of directorial restraint or simply an effort to make characters register with viewers given the limited opportunities afforded by the screenplay. Michael Fassbender is the prime offender in this regard, but he is by no means alone. Megan Fox has about as thankless a role as a woman can have in a movie. Were it not for a somewhat wonky attempt at a southern accent, her role would be completely forgettable. John Malkovich is John Malkovich, so he is at least watchable, but this will hardly stand as one of the highlights of his film acting resume. Brolin gives a sturdy performance in the title role, but is ultimately sabotaged by the complete lack of anything interesting to do.
The Video ****The VC-1 encoded 1080p video presentation is letterboxed to the film's theatrical aspect ratio of 2.4:1. Some minimal digital artifacts will be noticeable to very critical viewers, but nothing beyond what one might expect to see when viewing a digitally projected film in a cinema. Contrast and shadow detail are very impressive with no significant noise or banding apparent during several extremely dark passages. The color palette has been noticeably manipulated in post production with significant goosing of saturation during most brightly lit exteriors to create an intentionally arid and/or eerie effect depending on the given sequence. This look is faithfully conveyed on video.
The Audio ****½The DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track presents the very active and dynamic sound mix with outstanding fidelity and depth. Explosions are given the appropriate amount of LFE "oomph" and directional effects are used cleverly to immerse the viewer in environments involving flying bullets and unseen assailants moving through darkness. Fidelity is solid with even the mumbled growls of Brolin's character being completely understandable. The score tilts heavily towards guitar driven hard rock and is anything but subtle. That being said, the mix is appropriately balanced.
The Extras ***½When the disc is first inserted into a player, the viewer is greeted with a 30 second anti-smoking PSA that targets how advertisers try to make smoking look cool, but emphysema and cancer make you look pretty uncool. This promo seems to run with any WB title that features a protagonist who smokes.
Proper special features accesible from the disc's menu are as follow and are presented in VC-1 1080p video with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound:
The Inside Story of Jonah Hex(10:53) is a featurette providing an overview of the chracter's comic origins and history in that medium. It mixes comic art and occasional historical photos with talking head interviews of various experts. Topics covered include Hex's original appearances in the pages of DC's "All-Star Western" comics in 1972 as written by John Albano and drawn by Tony Dezuniga, the novelty of a spaghetti-western style comic book anti-hero for that time, the end of his initial comics run and an odd "Jonah Hex in Space" variation, the character's re-imagining with a supernatural bent for DC's "Vertigo" line of comics in the 1990s written by Joe Lansdale and drawn by Timothy Truman, and his return to the main DC universe in the 2000s with a self-titled comic written by Justin Gray and drawn by Jimmy Palmiotti. It is a bit brief, but offers an efficient primer for viewers unfamiliar with the character's origins. On-camera comments are provided by DC Comics Co-Publisher Dan Didio, Illustrator Timothy Truman, Illustrator Tony Dezuniga, writer Jimmy Palmiotti, writer Joe Lansdale, Writer Justin Gray, Director Jimmy Hayward, and Actor Josh Brolin.
The Weird Western Tales of Jonah Hex is a picture-in-picture commentary track that runs the entire length of the film. It is a nicely comprehensive overview of the film's production that mixes the usual "electronic press kit" happy people saying nice things about each other interview material with a decent amount of legitimately interesting behind the scenes information. I actually enjoyed this picture in picture feature better than the film itself, which is, I suppose, an illustration of the fact that people frequently work just as hard to make bad films as they do to make good ones. Topics covered include casting, the character's origin in comics (including mild overlap with the The Inside Story of Jonah Hex), stunts, practical special effects, actor's notes on their characters and each other, make-up effects, props/weapons, art design, and locations. Behind the scenes material includes production footage (which is always interesting to see in parallel with the finished film to illustrate how color and contrast were manipulated via filtering and timing), stunt tests, and concept art. Interview participants include Brolin, Hayward, Producer Akiva Goldsman, John Malkovich ("Turnbull"), Pproducer Jon Lazar, Didio, Production Designer Tom Meyer, Stunt Coordinator Steven Ritzi, Supervising Art Director Seth Reed, 1st AD Milos Milicevic, Special Effects Coordinator Davivd Waine, Costume Designer Michael Wilkinson, Location Manager Elston Howard, Will Arnett ("Lieutenant Grass"), Megan Fox ("Lilah"), John Gallagher Jr. ("Lieutenant Evan"), Wes Bentley ("Adelman Lusk"), Michael Fassbender ("Burke"), Michael Shannon ("Doc Cross Williams"), Makeup Department Head Christian Tinsley, Stunt Performer William Spencer ("Freak Boy"), Stunt Coordinator Christopher O'Hara, Executive Producer Ravi Mehta, and Property Master Scott MacGinnis.
Deleted Scenes (5:11) presents a reel of three brief scenes cut from the finished film. They are not selectable individually from the player's menu:
- Jonah Walks through a spooky New Orleans grave yard (1:06)
- Lieutenant Evan and a contingent of soldiers intercept Hex to bring him to Lieutenant Grass (1:45)
- Lilah rides a stagecoach seated next to an overly chatty passenger (2:20)
The disc also provides access to the Warner BD-Live portal, although no unique material related to Jonah Hex was available at the time of this review posting save for the ability to host and participate in a screening.
A separate DVD includes SD DVD and Digital Copy versions of the film as has been the case for all Warner theatrical new release titles in 2010. The bare bones SD DVD is without extras and includes only a 384kbps English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track with available English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles. While occasional mpeg artifacts were noticeable, this is an above average SD presentation that holds up well even under large screen projection. The digital copy is compatible with either iTunes or Windows Media and downloads from the disc directly with a code provided on a physical insert in the disc case.
PackagingThe disc is packaged in a standard sized Blu-ray case with holes in the hard case to reduce plastic use. The interior of the case has a paper insert with information and an access code relating to the digital copy of the film. The hard case is placed inside a cardboard slipcover with identical artwork aside from some added text promoting the DVD and digital copy.
Capsule/Summary**Jonah Hex is a live action adaptation of a cult comic book character which blends aspects of the western and supernatural horror genres. The film proves to be a poor example of either genre due to some severely under-developed characters and a disappointingly unoriginal plot. It is presented on Blu-ray disc with very good audio and video and some interesting extras highlighted by a picture in picture commentary that delves into many different aspects of the film's production. An SD DVD and digital copy are bundled on a separate disc in the blu-ray package.