- Street Date:
- January 1st, 2008
- Reviewed by:
- High-Def Digest staff
- Review Date: 1
- January 18th, 2008
- Movie Release Year:
- Lionsgate Home Entertainment
- 103 Minutes
- MPAA Rating:
- Rated R
- Release Country
- United States
The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
I've sat through countless flicks in which a poorly implemented twist ending ruined everything that had come before it. Even the promising 'Flightplan' tied its story to an absurd twist that single-handedly ruined the film for me. So I was surprised to find a film that provided the exact opposite experience. 'War' is a fairly standard actioner that had me glancing at my watch until it dropped a startling twist -- a revelation that suddenly made the entire film worth my time.
The movie tells the seemingly straight-forward story of FBI agent John Crawford (Jason Statham), who's spent the last three years of his career hunting the notorious Chinese assassin Rogue (Jet Li), who killed his partner. When Crawford is assigned to lead the FBI's Asia Crime Task Force, he finally gains access to the resources needed to conduct a proper manhunt, and soon learns the assassin has returned to the States in an attempt to turn two local Triad and Yakuza gangs against each other. As a dangerous conflict in the criminal underworld threatens to spiral out of control, Crawford works to uncover the assassin's motives and bring him to justice.
'War' does a good job melding Statham's rough-n-tumble action-flick sensibilities with the grace and fluidity of Li's Eastern martial arts. The two actors create nicely contrasting characters, with Li employing a calm, soft spoken demeanor to hide his viciousness, and Statham playing Crawford as a loose canon with a volatile temper. It's these characterizations that make the third act twist so brilliant. Rather than feeling tacked on, the twist relies on the subtle personalities Li and Statham have developed from the beginning. Without realizing it, my instincts were sensing the nature of the twist long before it was even revealed. By the time the credits rolled, I felt I had misjudged the movie, and went back to give it another look.
Unfortunately, a second viewing only highlighted the problems that had bothered me the first time around. The most obvious issue is the script’s cringe-inducing dialogue. Making matters worse, the supporting cast is full of exaggerated cliches that action fans like myself have long grown tired of (including the petite hard-hitting Asian chick, the rebellious gangster who can't leave well enough alone, and the furrow-browed warrior in the three-piece suit). The ultimate twist may reveal the dual nature of Li and Statham's characters, but it doesn't offset the film's lack of compelling emotional drama -- every scene feels like little more than the setup for the next chase or fight scene.
To be fair, film fans less concerned with character arcs and story development may have fewer nitpicks than I did. I appreciated the action scenes, the fights, and the third act twist, but while these elements elevate the film above the usual dreck, it could still have been a lot better.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
'War' arrives on Blu-ray with a decent 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer that initially looks pretty good. Colors are vibrant, fleshtones are spot-on, and blacks are inky -- there's a bit of blooming and black crush, but it appears to be the result of intentional post-processing work. Fire also looks remarkable and injects a healthy dose of depth into the image. Better still, I didn't detect any edge enhancement, and I was rarely distracted by grain in the picture. Compared to the standard DVD, this Blu-ray edition of 'War' looks spectacular.
Unfortunately, the picture suffers from inconsistencies that manifest in a variety of ways. Foreground objects look harsh and artificially sharpened at times, while background elements seem soft and poorly defined. Depth frequently fluctuates, with quite a few shots appearing flat and lifeless. Detail also suffers, at times changing from one shot to the next within the same scene. To top it all off, I noted obvious compression artifacts on more than one occasion, tarnishing the visual experience. Considering this is a new film, I can't help but be disappointed with the results.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
Say what you will about the movie and the picture quality, the audio package on this release is outstanding. Lionsgate has delivered a thundering PCM 7.1 surround track that literally shook my home theater. Dynamics kick things into overdrive with powerful LFE pulses that compliment the track's crystal clear, high-end fidelity. Dialogue is clean and well-prioritized across the front speakers, while the surrounds offer a litany of ambient support that crafts an immersive soundfield. Even the film's music is a compelling part of the experience, with the soundtrack's rap songs integrated into the soundfield to completely envelop the listener.
If you have a 7.1 system, you're in for a real treat. I flinched three separate times in the opening warehouse battle alone, thinking that something was falling behind my head. Pans aren't transparent, they're invisible -- I could never lock on a specific speaker as the source, and could hear small echoes from every point in the soundfield. While I've enjoyed 7.1 tracks before, I can't recall one that struck me as being this convincing.
The film’s PCM mix is a reference quality audio track in every way.
The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff
The Blu-ray edition of 'War' includes all of the special features from the standard DVD, presented here in full high definition. Better still, it offers exclusive enhancements to some of the supplements which I'll discuss at length in the next section.
- Audio Commentary -- This commentary track with writers Lee Anthony Smith and Gregory J. Bradley is an absolute waste of time, with the two blandly describing each scene, announcing each actor, and telling us how much they love each shot. As the track continues, they run out of things to say and start repeating information they already covered. If you're craving a behind the scenes track, skip to the visual commentary with director Philip G. Atwell for more insightful information.
- The War Chest (HD, 72 minutes) -- The real meat of the supplements unfolds across nine vignettes that explore the major action sequences in the film. Available individually or via a “play all” option, these mini-featurettes include interviews with the cast and crew as they neatly dissect everything that happens in the scene. Best of all, each installment highlights different aspects of the production in order to avoid repetition.
- Scoring War (HD, 9 minutes) -- This in-depth featurette is a nice addition to the making-of material and includes interviews with the composer and the filmmakers.
- Audio Trivia Track -- This feature length audio track is mind numbingly dull. It points out random factoids as the movie plays, but the woman reading the facts sounds as if she's about to fall asleep. The only thing that makes this track mildly interesting is the inclusion of audio clips from interviews with the director, the writers, and other members of the cast and crew.
- Deleted/Extended Scenes (HD, 2 minutes) -- Two deletions and one extension don't amount to much. These clips only confirmed my opinion that Nadine Velazquez ("My Name is Earl") is an awful actress.
- Gag Reel (HD, 2 minutes) -- A collection of funny cuts and mistakes that mainly focus on the light hearted antics of Jet Li. This was a surprisingly charming set of outtakes.
- Trailers (HD, 7 minutes) -- A collection of Blu-ray trailers for ‘The Condemned,' 'Crank,' 'Lord of War,' and ‘The Punisher.'
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
Lionsgate offers up a smorgasbord of exclusive features, but the content isn't as deep or compelling as one might expect. Note that 'War' is a Profile 1.1-enabled title. As such, you must have a Profile 1.1 Blu-ray player to access many of the following features.
- PiP Visual Commentary -- Unfortunately this isn't a full PiP experience, but rather a static shot of director Philip Atwell talking about the film. Once you get past the pointlessness of his on-screen presence, the commentary itself is pretty good. It takes him a while to get going, but he provides some decent information on the production and his work with the actors. I appreciated his candor, but the track does suffer from long stretches of awkward silence where Atwell gets caught up watching the movie itself.
- The War Chest Interactive Track -- As the movie plays, an icon pops up that gives you access to the nine previously discussed "War Chest" vignettes.
- B-Roll PiP (HD, 1 minute) -- This behind-the-scenes FX featurette places a window overlay over a scene from the film and explores the implementation of its bloody special effects. This was worth the time, hassle-free, and packed with interesting content. Unfortunately, it's also less than a minute long.
- Yakuza Fighter Game -- Wow. This is a terrible game. Basically, two fighters stand across from each other. You select nine moves from a series of options (high and low block, high and low punch, and high and low kick). When you've selected all nine moves, you press enter and watch your character follow your pre-selected orders. Not only is it boring beyond belief, there's no strategy whatsoever -- two players enter random movements and watch a clumsy fight. Bah.
- Blu-line Slider -- An overstated feature that allows you to hop to specific, pre-determined scenes. It's essentially a fancy chapter browser.
- Bookmark Feature -- Allows you to bookmark your favorite scenes and return to them even after your player has been shut off.
A flawed action flick, 'War' is only likely to appeal to fans of the genre willing to overlook its character and story flaws. This Blu-ray edition doesn't help matters, with an inconsistent video transfer and a host of boring, poorly conceived supplements. The one indisputable highlight of this release is an amazing PCM 7.1 audio track that will wake the dead. Audiophiles may sit up and take notice of this Blu-ray release, but everyone else should give this a rent before making a purchase decision.
- BD-50 Dual-Layer Disc
- BD-Java Enhanced
- Profile 1.1-Enabled
- 1080p/AVC MPEG-4
- English PCM 7.1 Surround (48kHz/24-bit/6.9Mbps)
- English Dolby Digital EX 5.1 Surround
- English Subtitles
- Spanish Subtitles
- Audio Commentary
- Audio Trivia Track
- Deleted Scenes
- Gag Reel
- Theatrical Trailer
Exclusive HD Content
- Picture-in-Picture Commentary
- PiP Featurette
- PiP Interactive Feature
- Interactive Game
- Blu-line Slider
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