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The Transporter (Blu-ray)
Fox Home Entertainment / 2002 / 92 Minutes / Rated PG-13
Street Date: November 14, 2006
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Reviewed by High-Def Digest Staff
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Watching 'The Transporter' is like being transported back to the '80s. In fact, if it weren't for Jason Statham and the film's up-to-the-minute visual style and fast-cut MTV editing, the film could be interchangeable with any Steven Seagal or Jean Claude Van Damme action flick. That's not meant to be an insult -- rather, it is what makes 'The Transporter' so much fun. I'd like to think that the film intentionally let itself get caught in a time warp, and that every half-baked cliche and hoary convention was put in by hand, with love and care.
When you're a drug kingpin, pimp or extortionist, and FedEx just isn't good enough, who ya gonna call? That's right, the Transporter (Statham). He has only three rules: 1.) Stick to the plan; 2.) Give no names; and 3.) Never look in the package. And when it absolutely, positively has to get there overnight and someone is standing in your way, just shoot them. Of course, the Transporter's code of ethics must eventually be tested, and that comes when one of his unwitting pieces of "cargo," the beautiful Lai (Shu Qi) breaks free, requiring him to break his own rules. Originally hired by a man known only as "Wall Street" (Matt Schulze), the Transporter is soon targeted for assassination. Uncovering a vast plot involving human trafficking, the Transporter becomes a hitman. This never happened to the FedEx guy...
'The Transporter' works because -- like its protagonist -- it has its own three rules that it never breaks: 1.) Be politically incorrect; 2.) Deliver great action; and 3.) Laugh with the cliches, not at them. 'The Transporter' is not a parody or a spoof, but it is just as hysterical, which makes it knowing and smart. I'd never heard of director Cory Yuen before, but apparently he made quite a name for himself in his native China with such films as 'The Avenging Fist' and 'The Enforcer.' He also seems to have grown up soaking up every American action movie ever made. I especially appreciated his innate understanding that it doesn't matter how silly or over-the-top an action scene or stunt is -- we'll buy it so long as it's cool. This kind of action stuff is purely physical, not intellectual.
Casting Statham was the film's sure stroke of genius. He is so deadpan that no matter how ridiculous the events swirling around him become, his dry wit never cracks. If Jean Claude Van Damme was the Vanilla Ice of action movies, Statham is its Eminem -- smarter and superior to his material, but never appears to be slumming. He should have received an Oscar just for being able to keep a straight face during his love scenes with Shu Qi, who apparently was hired for speaking as little English as possible. After one of her many incomprehensible, pip-squeaked monologues about something or other, when they start to kiss and the cheesiest music imaginable floods the soundtrack, Statham simply has to raise one crooked eyebrow and gives us all we need to know. Don't question the three rules of 'The Transporter,' just revel in them.
'The Transporter' hits Blu-ray with a very nice 2.35:1 widescreen 1080p/MPEG-2 transfer, culled from the same HD master used for the standard-def DVD release about four years ago. The quality has held up nicely, and I'd even say 'The Transporter' looks superior to more high-profile Fox Blu-ray launch titles such as 'X-Men: The Last Stand' and 'Fantastic Four.'
The film sports a very clean, slick look. Visual design highlights gloss and punchy colors, with lots of shiny surfaces and, during interior scenes, nicely stylized lighting. Blacks are excellent, and contrast is bold but not blown out in the high end. Shadow delineation is also strong. I wasn't as big of a fan of exterior scenes, however, many of which lacked the same sense of depth, appearing as if they'd been shot through a slightly hazy, orange filter. Contrast in those scenes is flattened, especially in the midrange, and slightly lessens color purity (whites become peach, greens a bit more brown, etc.). The transfer's sharpness is sterling throughout, however, and I didn't find grain or noise to be a problem. Without a doubt, 'The Transporter' on Blu-ray delivers an appreciable upgrade over the standard-def version.
Fox continues to support the DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio format with 'The Transporter,' delivering a mighty fine 5.1 surround mix. Note, however, that decoding a DTS-HD track at full resolution is still tough to manage -- there are currently no receivers on the market that offer such support, so you have to have a new generation of Blu-ray player with internal DTS-HD decoding. If you don't have DTS-HD capability in your current setup, the best you're going to get out of this track is an extracted "core" DTS track at a still-beefy 1.5mpbs (note that oddly, Fox does not provide an optional English Dolby Digital 5.1 track on 'The Transporter').
In any event, 'The Transporter' sounds quite good. Right from the first frame, the surrounds come alive with discrete effects and great atmosphere. I was quite impressed with how constant and active the soundfield is -- whether Mr. Transporter is single-handedly decimating a gang of thugs, or making goo-goo eyes at Shu Qi, there is usually something happening in the surrounds. The cleanliness and transparency of movement between channels is uniformly excellent.
Dynamics are also strong, with excellent clarity and depth to the higher ranges and clear dialogue reproduction. Volume balance doesn't suffer from any inequalities, and even Jason Statham's more mumbly line readings are understandable. If I have any complaint, it is that low bass doesn't pack the wallop I expected. Even during the famed opening chase and climactic fight sequences, I was never pummeled by vibrations. Certainly, bass is fine on 'The Transporter,' but I expected a little bit more oomph.
There isn't much in the way of extras on 'The Transporter.' Fox has kept supplements to a minimum on most of their Blu-ray launch titles, a tradition continued here.
The main extra is a screen-specific audio commentary with star Jason Statham and producer Steven Chasman. If you've seen Statham during any of his talk show appearances, you'll know he can be a somewhat soft-spoken, tentative speaker, but blazingly funny with the driest wit imaginable. While teh track is a bit slower-paced than expected, Statham and Chasman consistently deliver the usual behind-the-scenes tidbits, especially on how tedious the various action bits were to film, and the surprising levity of cast and crew even during Statham's constant roughing-up of poor co-star Shu Qi. And every time I thought I was getting too bored to continue, Statham would throw out some offhanded quip that would keep me laughing.
The only other supplement is an extensive HD trailer gallery, including spots for 'The Transporter' and other Fox Blu-ray launch titles.
With no exclusive HD extras yet from Fox on Blu-ray, 'The Transporter' doesn't break the trend.
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'The Transporter' is a fun, down-and-dirty action movie. It is unapologetically politically incorrect, features sleek visual style, and Jason Statham at his best. This Blu-ray release is a pretty good. The transfer and soundtrack are generally excellent, although Fox continues to not deliver many extras on its initial Blu-ray titles. If supplements are important to you, you may want to wait/hope for a more extensive double dip in the future. Otherwise, 'The Transporter' is good enough to take out for at least one spin.
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