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Blu-ray Review HTF Blu-Ray Review: Face/Off (1 Viewer)

PatWahlquist

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Face/Off (Blu-Ray)

Studio: Paramount Home Video
Rated: R (For intense sequences of strong violence and for strong language)
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
HD Encoding: 1080p
HD Video Codec: MPEG4-AVC
Audio: English 6.1 DTS; English 5.1 Dolby Digital EX; Spanish, French 5.1 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish; English SDH+
Time: 140 minutes
Disc Format: 1 SS/DL Blu-Ray
Case Style: Keep case
Theatrical Release Date: 1997
HD-DVD Release Date: May 20, 2008

NOTE: Paramount is in the process of re-releasing a bunch of titles on Blu-Ray that are already out on HD-DVD. Since I have done the HD-DVD reviews, I am utilizing the same review and making any necessary changes specific or different to the Blu-Ray release. Paramount is using a dual layer Blu-Ray for this release, cutting it down to one disc instead of the two HD-DVD’s.


After the ho-hum showings of Chinese action director John Woo’s first two American productions, Hard Target and Broken Arrow, I was prepared for a let down with Face/Off. Here Woo had once again teamed with John Travolta as he was riding the wave that only Quentin Tarantino could set off, and Nicholas Cage may or may not be willing to be edgy in his performances. After about thirty minutes into Face/Off, I knew Woo had remembered to do what made him famous in the first place: make the heroes and the villains look cool and show their deep angst, give us action like we’ve never seen before, and have the story culminate in a religious setting with doves flying all over the place. Travolta and Cage also bought into it bringing out manic and impassioned performances.

The story is borderline sci-fi: FBI agent Sean Archer’s (Travolta) son is mistakenly killed by Castor Troy (Cage) in an assassination attempt on Archer. Archer makes it his mission to catch Troy and his brother, Pollux (Alessandro Nivola) in any spectacular fashion necessary. And speaking of spectacular fashion, Troy loves to look good and he loves to be around good looking things: guns, women, etc. As the Troy’s try to escape Archer once and for all, he captures them with Castor almost dying in the process. Intel soon discovers the Troy’s have planted a bomb somewhere in LA that will wipe out a square mile, and the only way Pollux will talk is if he can be reunited with his brother. The problem is, Castor is in a coma. Archer’s aids tell him of a revolutionary process where two people may exchange faces (and haircuts, and voices) so that Archer may wear Castor’s face into the prison where Pollux is to find the location of the bomb.

This plan is fool proof until Castor wakes up missing his darn face, and he subsequently forces the lab to put Archer’s face on him, and then he assumes Archer’s identity and life. Archer and his wife, Eve (Joan Allen) live in a borderline dead relationship with intimacy replaced by the anger and hurt of the loss of their son. Castor, now as Archer, brings some spark back into the Archer house, even going so far as to almost seduce Archer’s teenage daughter. Archer, as Castor, soon escapes the prison and he sets out to catch Castor once and for all, not letting property damage or believability get in the way of a good story!

Although Face/Off seemed fresh and new at the time, I now find it to be more over the top than I originally remember. Maybe it’s the language barrier, but when you compare this picture and its characters to Woo’s masterpiece, The Killer, it comes off as a more successful fraternal twin. The shots are very similar, as are the locales for the shooting, but yet it still works, and if I had to introduce a regular Joe into the world of Woo, this is where I’d start. To start them off with any of Woo’s later Hong Kong pics demands more from a viewer than simply reading the subtitles. Woo’s flair for teeth-clenching, angst ridden characters is in full bloom here, only the stunts and action pieces benefit from a bigger budget. And bigger is not always better, as Woo was able to convey the same themes in Hong Kong, but with less yen. It leaves me to wonder if Paramount told Woo, “We love what you do now here’s a pile of cash to do it bigger.” Face/Off comes in at a verbose 140 minutes, and Woo explains in the commentary to the deleted scenes that he wants his action scenes as long as they can be so the work of the stunt people can be appreciated. That’s all well and good, but you can’t let the picture as a whole suffer to appease the ego. In Woo’s later American films, we have seen the plots and characters become less and less important in the shadow of bigger action pieces (yes, Mission: Impossible II I’m talking to you).

The over the top performances of Travolta and Cage make this picture succeed, and it was great to watch both the actors picking up little traits from each other. They both realize the suspension of disbelief (and, boy, does this picture demand it) rests on their shoulders and both prove willing to do the job. As I said, the plot truly has a sci-fi core with a severe psychological leaning, but it always gets lumped in with action films. Such is the mark of Woo, and we and the picture are just fine with it.


Video:
Note: I am watching this title using a Marantz VP 11-S1 DLP projector, which has a native resolution of 1080p. I am using a Sony Playstation 3 Blu-Ray player while a Denon 3808CI does the switching and pass through of the video signal. I am utilizing the HDMI capabilities of each piece of equipment.

Face/Off is encoded in MPEG-4 AVC at 1080p with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. This is a nice looking transfer, with crisp lines and good detail. Fine background detail comes through and edge enhancement was rarely noticed. Colors are good, but they seem to be just slightly toned down. I really expected the scenes in the Walsh Labs to pop more. Flesh tones are accurate, and there is excellent separation of colors without any bleeding. Black levels are good and deep with some good detail in the shadow and darker parts of the image. I was really hoping for a new HD transfer for this edition, but it appears to be an up-convert of the previous SD-DVD edition: there is some video noise evident from time to time and I noticed minor amounts of dirt throughout the feature. This is a very small complaint to an overall great picture. While the HD-DVD used the VC-1 codec, the two transfers are virtually the same.


Audio:
The Dolby Digital EX soundtrack was attained by the HDMI connection of the PS3 to the Denon 3808CI.

Paramount is already being inconsistent with their BD re-releases. The HD-DVD had the DDEX track as a DDPlus EX track, but that Plus encoding has been dropped here. While it is a minor complaint, I don’t understand why they just wouldn’t port over the audio tracks. The Dolby Digital EX soundtrack is forward heavy through most of the movie, with the surrounds engaging during the action scenes. When they do engage, they provide a good sound field. Fidelity is average producing a somewhat muted high end. There just seems like there should have been more brightness to the ricochets of the bullets and the crack of the explosions, almost making this soundtrack sound dated. Bass effects come alive in the action scenes, obviously, but they do not overshadow the rest of the soundtrack. Voices are marred by the same muffling of the highs and ADR is noticed in a couple scenes. The DTS track is noticeably louder and it provides a better sound field. The issue I had with the muted highs seems to not be quite so bad on the DTS track. Bass effects are also…bigger, is about the best way to describe it. I watched several scenes with the DTS track and I jumped back and forth between it and the DTS track. If I watch this disc again, I believe I will prefer the DTS over the DD EX. The BD’s DDEX track is very similar to the HD-DVD’s DD+EX track, but there is a slight lack of presence the Plus track exhibits.


Bonus Material:
All of the bonus material is presented in HD.

This release ports over the material that was on the two disc SD-DVD release and HD-DVD releases of 2007:

One commentary by Director John Woo and Writers Mike Werb and Michael Colleary, and a second one by just Werb and Colleary: I don’t quite understand why the writers have their own separate and different commentary track as they really don’t tell us much alone as they did with Woo. As such, both commentaries have the participants talking about the usual stuff, and Werb and Colleary come across as a bit geeky at times, not only about the fantastic elements of the story, but to be working with Woo as well.

Deleted Scenes (8:18): These scenes, available with or without the commentary from Woo and the writers, really don’t add much to the film. Woo seems a bit put off by having to edit, but such is life in Hollywood. There is also an alternate ending.

The Light and Dark of Making Face/Off (1:04:17): this is a pretty comprehensive piece that can be watched in parts or all together. Woo, the actors and the crew all contribute and discuss the story, Woo’s style, stunts, effects.

John Woo: A Life In Pictures (26:02):this is a short biographical piece as told by Woo. He talks about his rough childhood and formative years and how this contributed to his films. This also goes into a study of his work as well as interviews with those who have worked extensively with him.

Theatrical Trailer


Conclusions:
This is the Hollywood picture John Woo was destined to make, and I hope he gets back on track with more pictures like it soon. Paramount’s BD looks and sounds great, highs aside, and there is a great set of extra’s to delve into. I just wish they would be consistent with the soundtracks.
 

Brad Vautrinot

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Thanks for the great review, Pat. Unfortunately, Amazon does not even list this for pre-order yet - just a "sign up to be notified when this title is available".

Brad
 

Michael Reuben

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Thanks for the review, Pat. Those familiar with my comments in the Paramount Blu-ray announcement thread will understand my disappointment (though I'm not surprised) that the transfer replicates that on the HD DVD. I'll just have to wait until the next time.

M.
 

JoshB

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Yea, Tuesday is lookign to be a very good, albeit expensive day, for alot of us...

I also havent seen this for preorder on Amazon either, just the other Paramount titles, Cloverfield and There Will Be Blood, both of which I have preordered. I hope Amazon doesnt drop the ball liek they did, at least for me, with Master and Commander and not offer it for preorder until a day or so before its actual release date. But then again, I have yet to see M+C in any retailers in my area.
 

Ronald Epstein

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If I remember correctly, the HD-DVD of Face/Off was not well
embraced for its transfer quality.

The Blu-ray, I would presume is off the same transfer, but I wonder
if it will be plagued with the same problems (if indeed there were such).
 

Paul Arnette

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Sounds like the Blu-ray Disc UK import is still the way to go for the best video presentation. Unfortunately, a weak dollar makes it an expensive proposition.
 

Michel_Hafner

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If it's an SD upconvert it's not HD. I guess you mean it's the same HD transfer that was used for the DVD (downconverted, of course).
If it's not a new transfer it's the dubious old HD transfer. You can see for yourself here what a mess some of it is (the DNRed part):
Face/Off | BD vs HD | Image 1
HD / SD Vergleiche (beta)
The DVD is garbage, of course. The HD is far better.
 

Michael Reuben

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That's a fascinating comparison. Clearly they tried to compensate, in the Blu-ray, for some of the criticisms about lost detail by cranking up the contrast. But you can see in the magnified shot that the apparent increase in detail isn't real, just a "roughening" of the surfaces that remain after the application of DNR.

M.
 

Michael Reuben

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(Oops. There seems to be a problem with that AVS link. I couldn't make it work either. :frowning: Try cutting and pasting, but delete the spaces: http: // www. avsforum. com/avs-vb/showthread.php?t=929853)

You are correct about the sources, Paul, and yes, we do need a similar comparison of the U.S. BR vs. other discs. But if you read the whole thread, the prior comparison is still revealing:

M.
 

Paul Arnette

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Yes, it definitely is revealing, Michael. I would expect a Paramount BD/HD DVD comparision to yield little or no differences. This looks like a case of garbage in and garbage out no matter the encode.

That said, if you feel you must own it now (I don't for the record), you might as well go with the cheapest option available to you.
 

Ronald Epstein

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My apologies for steering this conversation in the wrong
direction.

I bought Face/Off last year on HD-DVD. It still sits
in the shrinkwrap.

I have heard through posts here and there that the transfer
was not good. I had no idea what it was being compared to.

The end game here, if I read correctly, is that the BD version
will look the same as the HD-DVD version.
 

RickER

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I got the 2 disc SE last year when the Blu was cancelled. So is the Blu good enough to ditch the SD SE, or does it suck in enough ways that i can be happy with the SD version?
 

Michael Reuben

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There's no question the Blu-ray will have more resolution. It's an upgrade, just not as much of an upgrade as it should have been. If I didn't already have the HD DVD, I'd probably be ordering the Blu.

M.
 

JoshB

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It seems this transfrer has been problematic from day one, starting with the original Paramnount single disc, then the 2-disc CE, then the HD-DVD, and now the blu-ray. Is there something wrong with the transfer and the source material itself, or is Paramount just being lazy and continuing to neglect this title each time around when they master it for home theater viewing? After four tries if they havent gotten it right, I doubt we will ever see any improvement.

At least the audio still rocks... :)

This is still a favorite of mine for the past 10 years (I have bought virtually every incarnation of it, except of the HD-DVD) and this one is still on pre-order. I will let my eyes be the judge...
 

PaulDA

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Well, I recently got the HD DVD version of this (really cheap--8$) and as my only previous copy was the widescreen VHS, I expect it to be a step up. But from all the comments here and elsewhere, I guess I won't use it as a demo disc (when I get around to watching it).
 

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