- May 9, 2003
Lucy Blu-ray Review - Recommended
Lucy expands its intelligence on Blu-ray with an edition that presents this high-octane action ride in solid high definition picture and sound. Luc Besson’s latest thriller stars Scarlett Johansson as Lucy, an innocent woman who winds up at the center of a wild comic book adventure as her brain power is expanded toward infinity and the bodies of the bad guys pile up around her. There are nods here and there to scientific theory about brain capacity, but that’s just an aperitif for the controlled chaos Besson spreads with Lucy as she blasts through Taipei and Paris. It’s all silly stuff, but it’s undeniably fun. Besson’s enthusiasm for the mayhem becomes infectious – and he’s smart enough to keep the running time down to 90 minutes. The Blu-ray includes two featurettes totaling about 25 minutes, but the real attraction here is Besson’s action aria, well-represented in high definition. This release is Recommended not only for Scarlett Johansson and Luc Besson fans but also for action movie buffs in general. Given how many unsatisfying oversize action movies have been thrown around, it’s a pleasure to see Luc Besson give a bit of a master class in ruthless economy.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, English DVS 2.0, Spanish 5.1 DTS, French 5.1 DTS
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Run Time: 1 Hr. 30 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy, UltraViolet
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 01/20/2015
The Production Rating: 3.5/5
“Lucy, you got some ‘splaining to do!”
-Bill Reimers (Emilio Estevez) in Stakeout (1987)
Subtlety, thy name is not Lucy. Luc Besson squashes any thoughts of that within the first five minutes of his latest action opus. Within that time, we’ve gone from an odd conversation between Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) and her boyfriend to a standoff to all Hell breaking loose. Once Lucy is thrown into the situation, she and the audience go down the Besson rabbit hole, not to emerge for another 90 minutes or so. That description may not do the movie justice – it’s actually a lot of fun. Johansson is clearly enjoying playing this character – who starts out in hysterics and very quickly cycles into a complete deadpan monotone as she acquires impossibly high intelligence and dispatches the bad guys. Besson’s skill as a director is demonstrated at multiple levels throughout. There’s his action sequences, which may rival John Woo’s abilities when it comes to coherently staging mass chaos – there are some fairly complicated shootouts and one extreme car chase in Paris that would be the centerpiece of another man’s movie. There’s the strength of his casting – Besson puts his trust in Johansson for the lead, and then adds Morgan Freeman as a voice of reason for her and the audience, as well as Korean superstar Choi Min-sik (Oldboy) as the movie’s villain. And of course, there’s Besson’s sense of humor. He doesn’t just go over the top in many sequences – he makes sure you know he’s going WAY over the top. He’s happy to intercut Lucy’s initial situation with nature footage of predatory cats stalking their prey, and even happier to cap off a university shootout with footage of a statue’s head literally being blown apart. Like I said, not exactly subtle. But if you’re in the mood for a wild action ride, Lucy is a great way to spend 90 minutes. It’s easy to Recommend this movie, not only for Besson and Johansson fans but more broadly for action fans on general principle.
SPOILERS: The central conceit of the movie is a wild one, but I would expect nothing less from Luc Besson. The idea is that Lucy has been implanted in the tummy with a bag of experimental mind-expanding synthetic drugs. Somehow, one of the bad guys’ minions decides to attack Lucy by repeatedly kicking her in the stomach, which of course breaks the bag and causes an unbelievable amount of the stuff to metabolize into her bloodstream. Which we get to see through some nifty CGI that shows the drugs literally blowing up her mind as they begin to take effect. (Now, we could very well ask what kind of idiot would kick this woman in the stomach right after they just put the very expensive synthetic drugs in there, but Mr. Besson is counting on us not going there…) While Lucy is undergoing an instant evolution, we get multiple cutaways to Morgan Freeman teaching a class on human brain capacity and potential. As he explains, humans only make use of 10% of the brain’s processing capacity in their regular lives. If we were to expand to, say, 20%, we could be capable of all kinds of incredible things, including telepathy, ESP, etc. If we were to expand to 40%, the abilities become more than superhuman. And one can only wonder what would happen if we got to 100%. The fun of this movie is watching what happens as Lucy passes through all those stages within a period of a single day. (And yes, before someone points it out – that 10% brain theory is a myth. But it’s a fun one for purposes of this movie.)
MORE SPOILERS: As noted above, Scarlett Johansson starts the movie playing Lucy at her most vulnerable and emotional. If anything, she goes as far over the top doing this as Besson goes with his action sequences. Against her will, she’s handcuffed to a briefcase containing something that must be delivered to a major Taipei crime boss (Choi Min-sik). And we know these are bad guys right away. If we even doubted that, the sight of some poor guy they just killed is enough to tell Lucy and the audience that we’re not dealing with choirboys. At the same time, one has to give Besson points for playing a fair amount of the early activities around the briefcase and its mysterious contents – a happy nod back to Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. Of course, this briefcase doesn’t contain Marcellus Wallace’s soul – it contains several large packets of a blue synthetic drug – another fun in-reference, this time to Walter White’s famous Blue Meth from Breaking Bad. Initially, it just looks like Lucy is an unhappy pawn in this whole situation, going from carrying the briefcase to having one of those packets sewn into her body. Unfortunately, one of the minions gives her those kicks, and from that point forward, we’re off to the races. Among other tricks, Besson uses CGI close-ups of Lucy’s eyes to show the drugs taking effect and taking over her system. He turns a set into a giant gyroscope rig so that Lucy can literally crawl up the walls. And then he unleashes her on the bad guys, with Johansson’s performance tightening down to a minimum of expression and inflection. As Lucy goes from 20% to the higher levels, she loses more and more of her humanity – first shedding emotion and then moving to an intentionally flat delivery and an expressionless visage.
LAST SPOILERS: Paradoxically, the more contained and controlled Johansson’s Lucy becomes, the more out of control and chaotic her surroundings become. As in most John Woo’s movies, the bad guy body count starts out in the high single digits and then quickly, exponentially multiplies. By the end of the movie, we’re left with a massive body count, a bombed out ruin of a university, and a single tiny computer chip that may contain the secrets of super-intelligence. And did I mention that Besson throws in a sidetrip by Lucy through several million years of evolution, all with a flick of her wrist? I can’t say that I’ve seen that many elements piled up in a 90 minute movie in a while – and Besson is smart enough to know that most of them only need to be seen as throwaway lines. He knows his audience isn’t here to see a lecture on high-level brain capacity. They’re here to see Lucy take Taipei and Paris apart – and Besson is only too happy to comply. As one great example of his approach, we can look at the crazed car chase through Paris, with Lucy driving the wrong way down major streets. In the midst of multiple shots that combine real stunt driving teams and CGI traffic, there’s a throwaway exchange between Lucy and Detective del Rio (Amr Waked) in the car. Del Rio mutters “I don’t want to die!” as they evade the latest of 100 crashes and Lucy tosses back an emotionless “We never really die”. That in the middle of a sequence where it seems like every other driver in Paris is flying directly at them… It’s important to note that Lucy is an example of ruthless economy not only of story but also of budget. For this movie, Besson chose to put most of his eggs in the basket of having Johansson in the lead, surrounding her with Freeman and Min-sik but not breaking the bank on any of them. Most of the budget of this 40 million Euro production really is up on the screen – in terms of the locations, the action and the extensive CGI. Which makes for a solid production that did not need to spend 200 million dollars to achieve the same result.
Lucy has been released this week on Blu-ray and DVD. The Blu-ray includes the movie in high definition, along with two featurettes totaling about 25 minutes. The DVD includes the movie and one of the featurettes in standard definition. The Blu-ray includes the DVD edition in the packaging, along with instructions for downloading a digital copy.
Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA
Lucy is presented in a 2.40:1 1080p AVC encode (@ an average 32 mbps) that presents the Taipei and Paris locations in glorious detail. There is a rich variety of flesh tones on display here, with such an international cast, and the transfer has no problem with any of them. Further, there is extensive use of CGI throughout the movie, and the transfer renders it seamless. I should note that some of Lucy was shot using IMAX cameras (such as the Paris car chase) and the movie was apparently theatrically released in that format in Europe. This Blu-ray release does not utilize changing aspect ratios – it’s a straight 2.40:1 transfer.
Audio Rating: 5/5
Lucy has an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix (@ an average 4.1 mbps, going up to 5.0 mbps in the big sequences) that generally has a grand time in a home theater. There’s plenty of immersive sounds and music as all Hell breaks loose, and the subwoofer gets worked both for the music and for the bigger booms of the movie. Some of the earlier gunfire is a bit quieter than one might expect, but the climactic onslaught more than makes up for it. My impression is that the sound was designed as an escalating event, building as the movie goes along. This mix reflects that intent with a vengeance. DTS 5.1 mixes in Spanish and French are also present on the disc, as well as an English DVS track. (I frankly wonder how a descriptive track would deal with some of the shots in this movie…)
Special Features Rating: 2.5/5
Lucy comes with two featurettes on the Blu-ray that show a bit of the filming and research process. Sadly, there is no commentary or anything else.
The Evolution of Lucy – (16:14, 1080p) (EXCLUSIVE TO BLU-RAY) – This featurette covers the general points of the making of the film, including plenty of film clips, on-set footage and short interview excerpts with Luc Besson and several of the principals in the movie. There’s some material about the Taipei shoot, including an on-set prayer done at the beginning of filming there. There’s some material about the stunt chase through Paris. And there are plenty of mutual compliments between Besson and his cast.
Cerebral Capacity: The True Science of Lucy – (10:04, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON BLU-RAY AND DVD) – This shorter featurette tries to address the 10% brain capacity notion, with extensive comments from Dr. Murali Doraiswamy of the Duke Institute for Brain Science, as well as Dr. Yves Agid. To the filmmakers’ credit, they do admit that the 10% notion is fanciful.
DVD – The Blu-ray packaging includes the DVD edition, which holds the theatrical version in standard definition with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix in English, Spanish and French (@448 kbps). The English DVS track is also included. The DVD includes the “Cerebral Capacity” featurette from the Blu-ray, albeit in standard definition.
Digital/Ultraviolet Copy – The packaging has an insert that contains instructions for downloading a digital or ultraviolet copy of the movie.
Subtitles are available in English, Spanish and French for the film itself, as well as for the special features. A standard chapter menu is included for quick reference.
Overall Rating: 3.5/5
Lucy is an undeniably entertaining movie, filled with outrageous moments of action and Luc Besson’s strong sense of humor about his material. Fans of Besson’s movies, fans of Scarlett Johansson and general action movie fans will have a good time here. The Blu-ray release presents this movie in solid high definition picture and sound, along with a pair of short but interesting featurettes. On the basic strength of the movie alone, Lucy is Recommended for purchase or rental.
Reviewed By: Kevin EK
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