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- French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround
- English Stereo 2.0
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Sony / 2010 / 100 Minutes / Unrated
Street Date: December 21, 2010
- Offer Details
- List Price: $19.99
- Amazon Price: $9.96 (50%)
- 3rd Party Price: $6.26
Reviewed by David Krauss
Sunday, December 19, 2010
It was bound to happen. After decades of male domination in the action movie realm – from Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger to Bruce Willis and Tom Cruise – it was only a matter of time before a woman entered the fray and tried to create a character with as much style and staying power as James Bond and Jason Bourne. Well, who better to take a stab at crashing the boys club than Angelina Jolie? She's had some training, having walked a few miles in Indiana Jones' shoes as that sexy, intrepid tomb raider, Lara Croft, and kicked the skinny butts of both current squeeze Brad Pitt in 'Mr. & Mrs. Smith' and James McAvoy in 'Wanted.' And let's face it, it doesn't hurt that she's arguably the most beautiful woman on the planet. So why not make the leap and measure her moxie against the big boys' egos and biceps? Flex those lips, Angelina, and show those macho men who's the boss!
Jolie walks the walk pretty damn well in Phillip Noyce's by-the-numbers 'Salt,' but has trouble talking the talk, thanks to a thankless screenplay by Kurt Wimmer (who asserted himself much better with the sleek, elegant 'Thomas Crown Affair' remake) that relies too heavily on action movie clichés and predictable plot twists. Though few actresses look as comfortable brandishing a weapon or engaging in hand-to-hand combat than Jolie, whose steely-eyed glare and feline agility make her a natural for this rough-and-tumble genre, her physical prowess can only take her so far. She may kick, punch, and fire away at the bad guys with ease, but can't overcome the clunky story and superhuman stunts that relentlessly sabotage her at every turn. If she (or the producers) hoped to spawn a franchise, I don't think they'll get their wish, because 'Salt' just doesn't possess the cachet that has distinguished other breakout formulas.
Evelyn Salt (Jolie) is a CIA operative who's fingered by a defector as a double agent intent on assassinating the Russian president, an act that would severely jeopardize U.S. security. Salt vehemently denies the charge, yet realizes her husband (August Diehl) could be a government target. In typical Hollywood fashion, she escapes the CIA's tight net and army of pursuers – led by Agent Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber) – and tries desperately to find and shelter him. Such a path, however, plunges her deeper into a web of violence, espionage, and double crosses that makes us question her patriotism and motives. The requisite array of twists and turns, flashbacks and ambiguity, along with a series of over-the-top action sequences, keep the plot's engine churning, but it's all still rather dull. No matter how hard the filmmakers strive to ramp up tension and action, 'Salt' remains largely a one-note affair, lacking the emotional highs and lows necessary to fully engage the audience and suspend our disbelief.
Noyce, who was forging quite a promising career with such relevant and weighty films as 'The Quiet American' and 'Rabbit-Proof Fence,' takes a step backward with his first "big studio" picture in many years. Though his style remains classy and he makes the most of what he's given, the material just isn’t up to snuff. Noyce fashions some indelible images, but they're only memorable as snapshots, not key elements belonging to a greater whole. And while it's intriguing to see Jolie don a series of different guises to elude detection (the most outlandish – and creepy – of which is a male military officer), it's hard not to view her various looks as one big gimmick.
And then there are all those stunts. You gotta hand it to Jolie for having the guts to perform as many death-defying acts as she could, but the lion's share are so unrealistic they inspire not admiration but rather jaded head-shaking and cynical chuckles. Salt isn't supposed to be Spider-Woman (though her husband is an arachnologist and she carries one of his deadly specimens around with her, so who knows?!), but she certainly acts like her most of the time, leaping from a series of highway overpasses onto a succession of tractor-trailers, swooping multiple times across an elevator shaft, and emerging unscathed from a barrage of brutal collisions and confrontations. Unless she possesses the same instantaneous healing powers as Wolverine, it's impossible to explain her resiliency.
Jolie gives the role her all, yet despite her considerable talent and physical attributes, the character isn't interesting enough to sufficiently carry the film, let alone inspire a series of sequels. The first-rate supporting cast doesn't fare any better. Schreiber looks bored most of the time, and who can blame him? Add to that the fact that this Blu-ray includes two alternate versions of the film (an unrated director's cut and unrated extended cut) and it's pretty obvious no one involved with the production really had much of a clue as to how this assemblage of action scenes should turn out.
'Salt' is an enjoyable enough ride for fans of the genre, but it could use some pepper to spice itself up. Its preposterous plot ultimately turns silly, and the indestructible title character becomes more robotic as the film progresses. Though Jolie tries her best to break into the action movie boys club, I don't think she'll be getting a bid to that exclusive fraternity anytime soon.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Salt' comes packaged in a standard Blu-ray case. Upon insertion of the BD-50 dual-layer disc, a Sony promo, trailers for 'The Tourist' and 'The Green Hornet,' along with teasers for 'Takers' and 'Easy A', precede the main menu, which is full-motion and accompanied by music. If your player is connected to the internet, a series of links will scroll by in the upper right-hand corner of the screen that pertain to various Sony releases, including 'Salt.'
A film like 'Salt' should leap off the screen and thrust its audience into the thick of the action, but unfortunately, the 'Salt' transfer also could use a bit more seasoning. The 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC effort from Columbia doesn't look bad by any means, but doesn't offer the kind of in-your-face high-def pop the best action movies often provide. No specks or scratches muck up the pristine source material, which features just enough grain to preserve a film-like feel. Contrast, however, seems a tad muted, which contributes to the movie's flat look, as does the rather wan color palette. Hues rarely achieve the vibrant levels we crave, which, in turn, saps some energy from this high voltage picture.
Yet at times, clarity can be stunning. Shards of glass are marvelously distinct, and close-ups often sport a fair degree of dimensionality. (All the creases and textures of Jolie's trademark lips are sharply rendered.) Black levels fall within normal parameters, but don't quite exhibit the hoped for inkiness, and fleshtones always look natural. Background and shadow details are both impressive, and heavy patterns resist shimmering. Some digital noise creeps into solid objects, most notably the sky, but no banding or edge enhancement could be detected.
All in all, this is a serviceable transfer that's easy on the eyes, but it's hardly demo material and just doesn't stimulate the senses. For my high-def dollar, I want more.
Though it starts off slow, the 'Salt' audio steadily builds until it becomes an impressive, dynamic aural display. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track consistently fires on all cylinders, supplying a heavy dose of surround effects that immerses us in the on-screen action. Gunfire and explosions possess appropriate zing and heft, crisply darting across the speakers and employing a healthy amount of bass. Low-end frequencies, such as a subway train and motorcycle, rumble with authority, but never overwhelm or feel artificial. Stereo separation up front is also first rate, widening the sound field and adding welcome dimension to both atmospherics and conversations. And despite a cacophony of competing elements during the intense action sequences, the sound remains balanced and distinct. Even the most bombastic moments resist distortion.
Dialogue is always clear and comprehendible, and James Newton Howard's pulsating score exhibits marvelous power and nuance. In the end, 'Salt' delivers on the audio end, but that's about the only aspect of this film that satisfies.
A solid array of supplements adorn the disc, including several Blu-ray exclusives (see below). Often, it seems the weaker the film, the greater amount of extras the studio tacks on to entice consumers. Yet what's presented here still can't mask the movie's mediocrity.
- Two Alternate Versions of the Film – An unrated director's cut and unrated extended version of 'Salt' are also included on the disc, and both provide quite a few differences from the theatrical version. Though the extended version runs only about a minute longer than its theatrical counterpart, a number of scenes and key plot points have been altered or rearranged, and the ending has been totally revamped. At times, it's almost like watching a completely different movie! The director's cut runs about four minutes longer, adding a little more meat to the characters and story. The ending looks the same as the theatrical version, but a voiceover puts an entirely different spin on the proceedings, all but killing the prospect of a 'Salt' sequel. (These alternate versions only hammer home the point that the producers didn’t know how to present 'Salt,' ultimately choosing the open-ended denouement and dumbing the MPAA rating down to PG-13 to get the most bang for their buck and the safest chance to build a franchise.) To more easily identify the differences between the various cuts, each can be played with a pop-up icon that signals when there's a change from the theatrical version - a clever touch, and one that's much needed in this particular instance.
- Audio Commentary – Director Phillip Noyce sits down for an insightful and involving commentary that truly gets under the skin of 'Salt' and provides an insider's look at the making of this feature. Noyce talks about the genesis of his involvement with the film (which dates back to 1944, before he was even born!), the historical events that influenced it, and how Russians reacted to the movie. He also touches upon his own personal background and how it influenced his career, his ambiguous feelings toward video piracy, and his respect for the intricacy of music scores. He praises Jolie, examines a scene that was cut for budgetary reasons, and discusses the various endings in the alternate versions of the picture. A few special guests (most notably, the film's music editor and special effects supervisor) chime in with their perspective, adding an extra layer of expertise to the track. Intelligent and absorbing commentaries are a rarity these days, but this comprehensive effort is a credit to the format and well worth one's time.
- Featurette: "The Ultimate Female Action Hero" (HD, 8 minutes) – Noyce and his production crew salute Jolie and her 150% commitment to the rigors of her role. The interviewees talk about the rarity of a female action hero who "kicks ass," and examine the different fight styles used in the film. They also discuss Jolie's willingness to perform her own stunts, and quite a bit of behind-the-scenes footage shows the actress in a number of dicey situations.
- Featurette: "Spy Disguise: The Looks of Evelyn Salt" (HD, 5 minutes) – This piece takes a look at the various guises of Jolie's character, from doe-eyed blonde to ruthless brunette to swaggering Puerto Rican to the most difficult transformation of all – impersonating a male. Makeup designers, a prosthetics expert, and a stylist show us how they pulled it all off.
- Radio Interview: "'The Treatment' with Phillip Noyce" (27 minutes) – Host Elvis Mitchell interviews the director of 'Salt,' who discusses his attraction to the project, how he hoped to ground this "fantastical story" in minutia that's realistic, his lifelong interest in spy stories, the influence a traveling circus had on him as a boy growing up in rural Western Australia, and some of his past and future endeavors. Noyce is a highly articulate subject and his remarks are quite interesting and well worth a listen.
- Theatrical Trailers (HD) – Previews for 'The Tourist,' 'The Green Hornet,' 'Red Hill,' 'Eat Pray Love,' 'The Other Guys,' and 'Ticking Clock,' along with teasers for 'Takers' and 'Easy A,' are included on the disc.
Several HD exclusives really ramp up the value of this Blu-ray, and make it a clear winner over the standard DVD.
- Spy Cam: Picture-in-Picture Track – This just might be the best extra on the disc. When activated, this bonus view track displays a wealth of interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, sketches, storyboards, and digital mock-ups in a small pop-up window on the bottom-right of the screen while you watch the film. Noyce, Jolie, Schreiber, and other creative personnel discuss locations, costume design, stunts, visual effects, and analyze select characters in this immersive feature that's much more interesting than any of the supplements described above and below. The skip button on your remote will quickly take you to each installment, in case you don't want to re-watch the entire movie in this mode.
- Featurette: "'SALT': Declassified" (HD, 30 minutes) – A typical making-of account, this lengthy featurette covers the various aspects of production – casting, set design, stunts, etc. – and includes interviews with all the corresponding personnel. We learn the script was originally written for a man and substantial changes were necessary to transform it into a female vehicle, and that the far-fetched plot is perhaps closer to reality than one might think. Though the pace is swift, substance comes at a premium, and this mini-documentary gets tedious pretty quick.
- Featurette: "The Real Agents" (HD, 12 minutes) – Three former intelligence agents (two from the CIA and one from the KGB) talk about how they were recruited, a typical day on the job, the fears and dangers that plagued them, the use of disguises, and adjusting to a normal life after their service in this slick and informative featurette.
- Featurette: "The Modern Master of the Political Thriller: Phillip Noyce" (HD, 9 minutes) – Jolie, Schreiber, and others praise their director and his myriad talents in this breezy piece. His rhythm with actors, attention to detail, and penchant for realism are all examined, and though Noyce repeats some of the information from his radio interview (see above), this featurette presents it in a flashier style.
- Featurette: "False Identity: Creating a New Reality" (HD, 7 minutes) – Special effects and digital technology are a huge component of any major action flick, and this piece breaks down the numerous sequences where trickery was used to seamlessly bridge the gap between fantasy and reality.
- BD-Live – A link to Sony's online portal, where you can view a trailer for 'Salt,' as well as many other Sony features in various genres, and learn about Sony's Blu-ray Club.
- movieIQ – Facts, trivia, cast listings, and bios pop up on screen while you watch the film when you enable this feature, which can be employed on any of the three versions on the disc.
No easter eggs reported for 'Salt' yet. Found an egg? Please use our tips form to let us know, and we'll credit you with the find.
'Salt' is surprisingly bland, despite some exciting action scenes and the sexy panache of Angelina Jolie. Its predictable, preposterous story defies logic, as does the heroine's superhuman ability to withstand a barrage of blows and perform an array of fantastical stunts. The audio edges the video in terms of quality, and a hefty supplemental package gives us far more information about the film than we need or desire. As a mindless rental, 'Salt' does its job, but unlike the title character, it doesn't go above and beyond.
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