Senior HTF Member
- Feb 12, 1998
- Real Name
- Michael Reuben
(Blu-ray Combo Pack)
To paraphrase The Matrix’s Agent Smith: “Welcome back, Mr. Manly Man! We . . . missed . . . you.” Usually when someone revives a genre, it’s an exercise in nostalgia (see “Grindhouse”; subchapter: “Tarantino and Rodriguez”). But when Sylvester Stallone sets out to make an old-fashioned action flick with guns, explosions, muscles and attitude, it’s the real deal. Stallone’s instincts as a populist entertainer have always been astute. At some point he realized that he’d been a comic book action hero long before comic books ruled the movies. Maybe the audience was ready for a real man of action. So back he came, proudly dripping blood, sweat, testosterone and steroids. For any Stallone fan (including me), The Expendables is a trip down memory lane that also feels contemporary. It’s loaded with signature moments, gestures and nods to The Sly One’s previous work, but it also showcases younger (obviously younger) faces from the action world, thereby establishing a bridge to the future.
Warning: As with a previous Lionsgate disc, [COLOR= #0000ff]Daybreakers[/COLOR], I had to disconnect my Panasonic BD-50 from the internet to get The Expendables to play. Otherwise the disc refused to load, after an unusually long wait time while large amounts of BD-Java code were being processed. Unfortunately, unlike the Daybreakers Blu-ray, The Expendables doesn’t give you the option not to load the internet update. It just tells you it’s checking the internet, then pulls down whatever code is apparently causing the problems. Since most people don’t connect their players to the internet, they won’t even notice, but if yours is connected, I suggest disabling the connection. (Of course, some players may not have problems with the “update”.)
Film Length: 103 min.
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
HD Encoding: 1080p
HD Codec: AVC
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 7.1; French DD 5.1
Subtitles: English; English SDH; Spanish
Disc Format: 1 50 GB + 2 DVD-5
Theatrical Release Date: Aug. 13, 2010
Blu-ray Release Date: Nov. 23, 2010
Reviewers complained that the plot of The Expendables makes no sense. To which my reply is: “Have you ever seen a Stallone film?” Querying the plot logic is as pointless as questioning the physics of Superman’s powers of flight.
The Expendables are mercenaries for hire, led by Barney Ross (Stallone). They’re an international assortment of badasses with checkered pasts and sketchy backstories. To the extent we see any of them with a private life, it’s Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), whose girlfriend Lacy (Charisma Carpenter, displaying the gift for playing trashy that served her so well on Veronica Mars) dumps him for another guy, because he disappears for weeks at a time and won’t talk about what he does for a living. (The other guy turns out to be a loser. Big surprise.) In general, though, private life for these guys consists of a “cover” as a motorcycle club, and life revolves around the New Orleans garage/tattoo parlor run by “Tool” (Mickey Rourke), a former military comrade of Barney’s, who acts as their liaison to prospective clients.
Other members of the group include Ying Yang (Jet Li); Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), who’s beginning to enjoy his work too much; Toll Road (mixed martial arts champion Randy Couture); and Hale Caesar (NFL player turned actor, Terry Crews, in a role originally offered to Stallone’s old co-star, Wesley Snipes). Yes, the names are jokes. You got a problem with that?
As the film opens, the Expendables are taking down a gang of Somali pirates. They’re grossly outnumbered, but hardly overmatched, and a bloody good time is had by all (except for the pirates, of course). Back at Tool’s place, Barney gets word of an especially challenging job being offered by a client who calls himself “Mr. Church”, because his meeting with Barney is in a church. Mr. Church is played by Bruce Willis in a role that’s uncredited but hardly unadvertised, since it was featured in every trailer, along with the third character in the scene: Trench, played by an uncredited (and still Governor) Arnold Schwarzenegger. As anyone familiar with Last Action Hero and Demolition Man should know, Trench and Barney are old rivals. Quicker than you can say “somebody put me back in the fridge!”, they’re sparring over who is and isn’t qualified to take on Church’s job. But it’s Stallone’s movie; so Trench declines (no doubt because he has to catch a plane back to Sacramento, where disaster is truly imminent).
Church’s job involves the assassination of one General Garza (Dexter’s David Zayas), who has seized control of the Carribean island of Vilena. But as Barney and Christmas quickly discover during a recon mission posing as wildlife experts, the general has outside help. A menacing figure named Munroe (Eric Roberts) seems to be pulling the general’s strings, and Munroe has plenty of muscle to back him – notably, his chief lieutenant, aptly named Paine (world champion wrestler “Stone Cold” Steve Austin). You don’t need a scorecard to see the match being arranged.
As a screenwriter, Stallone has never been known for subtlety. As in Rambo II, he finds his hero a woman to care about in the most improbable of circumstances. Barney’s contact in enemy territory is a woman named Sandra (Giselle Itié). She has her own secrets, which results in a harshly realistic scene of torture at the hands of Munroe. But Sandra provides the emotional connection that prompts Barney to finish the job – his way – when things turn out to be not quite what Mr. Church described. In a wise directorial move, Stallone lets Tool deliver the speech that explains Barney’s decision, thereby ensuring that an actor of sufficient range (Rourke) will carry the film’s emotional weight. As much as he’s developed as a filmmaker, Stallone’s vocal delivery has never progressed beyond the limited register that makes him so ripe for parody (see Rob Schneider in Judge Dredd).
The pyrotechnics are plentiful and extreme. There’s a sequence with a seaplane and a dock full of soldiers (improvised on location according to the special features) that’s so gratuitously destructive that I found myself giggling. The final assault on the general’s palace involves an almost endless succession of beatdowns, explosions, fireballs and gunfire that’s designed to outdo every piece of CGI violence you’ve seen in the past ten years (and then some). And throughout the film, there are little reminders of Stallone’s earlier movies in ways that sharpen the experience and make it more fun, whether it’s the sight of Barney racing against time in slow motion (just like John Rambo), or Dolph Lundgren looking menacing (hello, Ivan Drago!), or Eric Roberts curling his lip as Munroe (just like the psycho coke smuggler he played in The Specialist, where his main victim just happened to be named “May Munro”), or, maybe best of all, a wisecrack during Schwarzenegger’s scene about how he wants to be president. [COLOR= #0000ff]IMDb[/COLOR] says this is a reference to Arnold’s “political ambitions”, but true fans know it’s a reference to Demolition Man:
Lenina Huxley: I have, in fact, perused some newsreels in the Schwarzenegger Library, and the time that you took that car...
John Spartan: Hold it. The Schwarzenegger Library?
Lenina Huxley: Yes. The Schwarzenegger Presidential Library. Wasn't he an actor when you...?
John Spartan: Stop! He was President?
Lenina Huxley: Yes! Even though he was not born in this country, his popularity at the time caused the 61st Amendment which states...
John Spartan: I don't wanna know.
Sandra Bullock played Huxley. It launched her career. She’s rumored to be lined up for The Expendables II, and I can’t wait.
Cinematographer Jeffrey Kimball has a long and distinguished history with action films, including Top Gun, The Specialist and Mission Impossible 2. He gives The Expendables a glossy, polished surface that might seem at odds with the “down and dirty” subject matter, but is really its best friend. If you’re going to take all that trouble to do real stunts in real locations with real practical effects, you want it all to be seen, and you want it to look good. The image on the Blu-ray is detailed, stable and colorful, with excellent black levels, no visible noise and no evidence of inappropriate digital tampering. In the nighttime attack scenes, the frame is able to accommodate both bright orange-yellow flames and areas of darkness and shadow without losing detail or “blowing out” part of the image. Leaves in the jungle are every bit as distinct as the tattoo paraphernalia in Tool’s workshop. One expects a superior image from the Blu-ray of a contemporary production, and in this case one gets it.
Sound mixer Chris David summed up Stallone’s instructions for The Expendables soundtrack as follows: “By all means be a fine artist, but not on my movie.” The soundtrack is an assault on the senses, and realism be damned. Starting with the motorcycles on which the gang arrives at the film’s opening, every sound is amped up for maximum impact. Your speakers will get a workout, and so will your sub. If you play at high levels, the neighbors may complain.
Not that anyone is likely to notice, but Brian Tyler’s score is actually pretty good, when you can hear it. The track is DTS lossless 7.1.
Features marked with an asterisk are exclusive to Blu-ray.
Commentary with Director/Co-Writer/Star Sylvester Stallone. Stallone tends to focus on the characters, the performances and the script (I refuse to call it a “story”), with occasional observations on the locations and circumstances of particular scenes. Among other interesting details is the fact that all of Mickey Rourke’s work on the film was done in 48 hours, during a break from filming Iron Man 2 (which is why Tool has the same hair as Ivan Vanko). Stallone goes uncharacteristically quiet at times, but what he does have to say is interesting. Since most of the commentary has been incorporated into the “Ultimate Recon Mode”, anyone who’s just finished watching the film may want to skip ahead to that.
*Bonusview™: The Expendables Ultimate Recon Mode. When activated, this feature takes over your screen the same way the Expendables take over a battlefield. Sometimes there’s just picture-in-picture area in the lower right with footage from behind the scenes. Sometimes that’s joined by Stallone or producer John Thompson or a cast member, each of whom sidles onto the screen from left or right, squeezing the main feature into a tiny space and addressing the viewer with additional information (Stallone’s is mostly borrowed from his commentary). And sometimes the behind-the-scenes footage expands to fill the entire screen. There’s a lot of interesting material, but forget about watching the movie.
*Comic-Con 2010 Panel (HD) (45:29). In a brilliant marketing move, Stallone brought Crews, Austin, Lundgren and Couture to Comic-Con for a panel moderated by Harry Knowles on July 22, 2010, just a few weeks before the film’s release. To say that they received an enthusiastic reception would be an understatement. The only thing that made the crowd more excited was when Bruce Willis suddenly appeared onstage, unannounced, to say hello. (After he left, Stallone said: “If Arnold shows up, don’t let him in!”)
To his credit, Knowles asked decent questions and stayed out of the way of the answers. The result is one of the more entertaining panel discussions I’ve watched since I’ve been reviewing special features, as Stallone and his co-stars warm to the crowd’s obvious enthusiasm. You can almost see it dawning on them that they have a hit on their hands.
*Inferno: The Making of The Expendables (HD) (1:31:42). Yes, folks, it’s a feature-length documentary covering the entire movie shoot on location in Brazil and Louisiana. Directed by John Herzfeld (who’s an established player in his own right), and narrated by Stallone, it’s very much the Sly Show, with everyone else a supporting player. If you’re looking for interviews with other notable names in the cast, be prepared for disappointment; they appear in snippets, if at all. Mostly the documentary sticks with Stallone as he writes (and rewrites), choreographs, improvises, throws punches, falls – and gets hurt. A lot. At the end we see his wife and daughters wishing him luck as he preps for surgery to repair a broken neck, courtesy of Steve Austin (a subject of much discussion at Comic-Con).
Inferno makes for compelling viewing, despite the narrowness of its focus. Rarely do we get such a close-up view of the making of major action sequences, and Herzfeld and his crew enjoyed unique access.
*From the Ashes: Post-Production Documentary (HD) (26:36). Essentially a coda to Inferno, this feature takes us through editing, scoring and sound mixing. Here we get contributions from the technical people, who are informative and entertaining, especially Ken Blackwell and Paul Harb, the latter a veteran of both Rambo and Rocky Balboa.
Gag Reel (SD; 2.35:1; centered in 4:3). One of the better ones I’ve seen recently. My personal favorites were from Bruce Willis.
Deleted Scene (SD; 2.35:1; centered in 4:3) (0:45). More accurately, this is a portion of a scene deleted from the early sequence involving the Somali pirates. After you’ve watched it, you will know why it was removed.
Marketing Archive. Included is a trailer (HD; 1:12), two TV spots (SD; 0:49) and a poster gallery with three images.
Metamenu ® and BD-Touch. These features are meant to work with an iPhone or iPad, neither of which I possess.
D-Box™. For those with the appropriate hardware.
Also from Lionsgate. The following trailers play at startup and are also available from the features menu: The Next Three Days, an “anthology” trailer for films by the cast of The Expendables, Rambo, Apocalypse Now on Blu-ray, Highlander 2 and the Epix Channel.
LG-Live. For reasons noted above, I was unable to explore Lionsgate’s BD-Live option for this disc.
Standard DVD version. A separate DVD version is included, with no special features other than a trailer.
Digital Copy. A digital copy is provided on a separate disc. It has an expiration date of November 23, 2011.
It’s easy to make fun of The Expendables, but consider this: Luc Besson’s operation has been doing well for years cranking out stylized action films featuring preposterous plots and hokey dialogue – many of them kept afloat by the screen charisma of stars who appear in The Expendables (Statham, Li and even Willis). Clearly the appetite for these films still exists. So why not go back to the source?
Equipment used for this review:
Panasonic BDP-BD50 Blu-ray player (DTS-HD MA decoded internally and output as analog)
Samsung HL-T7288W DLP display (connected via HDMI)
Lexicon MC-8 connected via 5.1 passthrough
Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier
Monitor Audio floor-standing fronts and MA FX-2 rears
Boston Accoustics VR-MC center
SVS SB12-Plus sub