Blu-ray
Rent It
3.5 stars
Amazon
$9.97
Usually ships in 24 hours Buy Now»
Overall Grade
3.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
2.5 Stars
HD Video Quality
4.5 Stars
HD Audio Quality
4.5 Stars
Supplements
2 Stars
High-Def Extras
1.5 Stars
Bottom Line
Rent It

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009)

Street Date:
November 3rd, 2009
Reviewed by:
Review Date: 1
December 9th, 2009
Movie Release Year:
2009
Studio:
Sony Pictures
Length:
106 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Rated R
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks.

Personally, I don't feel that statement is entirely accurate, as we taught ours to roll over when he was about eleven. So this will probably sound mean, but after analyzing the last three or four frenetic Tony Scott films, I can't help but wonder if maybe instead of "dog," what they really meant was "director."

Now don't get me wrong, I think his schizophrenic style can work wonders in the right situations. I thought it suited the crackling intensity in 'Man on Fire,' and to an extent, the bizarreness of 'Domino.' But in the case of 'Déjà Vu,' it proved that making a movie look snazzy doesn't always hide its shortcomings, and sometimes, it can even enhance them.

Scott's latest film, 'The Taking of Pelham 123,' sort of falls into the same rut. If the title sounds familiar, it should, as it's a remake of the '70s thriller starring Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw. While terrorism plots are typically fairly cut and dry, the potential was still there for a decent post-9/11 retelling. Unfortunately, Scott squanders the opportunity, smearing it over with such an excessive amount of his habitually hectic camera trickery that it actually does more harm than good.

MTA dispatcher Walter Garber ('Crimson Tide' veteran Denzel Washington) is about to have one explosive afternoon. When four gunmen seize control of one of New York's subways and take the commuters on board hostage, the terrorist leader calling himself Ryder (John Travolta) sends his ultimatum: $10 million in cash within the hour, or the passengers will be executed one by one. Soon, Walter is joined in the control room by NYPD negotiator Camonetti (John Turturro) as well as the mayor (James Gandolfini), though Ryder insists on only dealing with his newfound radio chum. As the deadline draws near, not only will Walter be forced to continue conversing with the madman, but also choose between exposing a dark personal secret or saving lives.

Part of the problem with 'The Taking of Pelham 123' is the thinly written script by Brian Helgeland. Even though he does make a few changes to the characters, and gives his version a modern update, there isn't a heck of a lot going on here. For the majority of the film, there are really only two settings: the control room and the train. But rather than padding it with character development and building tension to draw us in, Scott goes trigger-happy with the dizzying camera swirls, quick edits, fast forwards, rewinds, and rampant zooming that it has more of a repelling effect. I'm all for a little razzle-dazzle every now and then in a movie, but all the director has done in this instance is create a visual circus.

'The Taking of Pelham 123' also has a couple doses of action sequences, but most are so inane it's blatantly obvious that their sole purpose was to fluff up the film. In one scene a police sniper takes on a rat (without spoiling anything, let's just say the rat wins) and we can't forget the totally absurd trek across New York City to deliver the ransom money. The police motorcade speeds through traffic--cruisers flipping to the left and motorcycles crashing to the right (in very underwhelming ways I might add)--all while a helicopter twiddles its thumbs overhead! Seriously, if you must break up a monotonous storyline with some action, can you at least do it without making the NYPD look like complete morons?

The highest point of the movie is the performances, and even then they aren't anything to write home about. As always, Washington is solid, although in all fairness portraying an average Joe isn't a very demanding role. Travolta is entertaining but quickly becomes tiresome, practically twirling his mustache with sadistic glee and punctuating every second sentence with an F-sharp. The other three hijackers barely have any screen time, and Turturro has so little to do they could have just cast his advisor, real-life negotiator Lt. Jack Cambria. When a film's most interesting character is the mayor, something isn't right.

In the end, 'The Taking of Pelham 123' may serve as a passable popcorn flick, as I'm sure some folks will find the presentation to be a moderately entertaining ride. For others like myself, it will be a relatively forgettable and potentially irritating time-waster, one that puts style light years ahead of substance.

The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats

Sony presents 'The Taking of Pelham 123' on a dual-layered BD-50 Blu-ray Disc that comes in a standard blue keepcase. As usual, before getting to the menu the studio has inserted a few forced trailers ('Blu-ray Disc is High-Definition,' 'Angels & Demons,' and 'District 9'). The U.S. version of the disc is also reported to be region free and therefore should function properly in all PlayStation 3 and standalone players.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

While I may have thought the movie was just so-so, it sure does look pretty sweet on Blu-ray. If you're familiar with the high-definition releases of 'Man on Fire' or 'Deja Vu,' you should have an idea of what to expect with this dazzling 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 (2.40:1 aspect ratio) transfer.

The source is intentionally grainy, but there are no blemishes, dirt, or artifacts to be found. Colors are a bit subdued yet still striking, while contrast runs hot. Black levels are incredibly rich and deep throughout with very little crushing, and the level of depth and detail is also impressive. The crispness of facial features reveal delicate textures and every skin imperfection with clarity, and the graying hair and stubble on Washington is so distinguishable you can practically go at them with a pair of tweezers. There's occasional blurring due to the lightning fast movements of Scott's cinematography, though the picture never breaks up or bleeds. I did notice one excessively noisy tunnel shot lasting only a few seconds when the train started moving again, but other than that Sony has once again delivered another razor-sharp and nearly spotless transfer.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

The high-definition version of 'The Taking of Pelham 123' comes with three lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks (English, French, and Spanish) that have a very engaging sound design.

The soundfield benefits from seamless pans and an expansive dynamic range. Surrounds are most pronounced during the smattering of action scenes, but the rear channels also provide widespread discrete effects on the train and in the highly populated control room. Powerful bass gives the moving train a dominating presence, the hard-driving music extra punch, and gunshots distinct heft. Dialogue balance is precise as well. The vocals and frequent radio banter between Travolta and Washington is never obscured by other noises. In short, your remote can pretty well have the night off with this superbly presented DTS-HD mix.

The Blu-ray also includes a Catalan Dolby Digital 5.1 track as well as optional English, English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish subtitles.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

Most of the supplements included on this Blu-ray can also be found on the DVD release. Except for one featurette, all of the content is presented in full 1080p.

  • Audio Commentaries – Two commentary tracks are provided in this release. The first features Director Tony Scott going solo to discuss the similarities and differences between his film and the 1970s classic, the development process, working with the cast and New York transit personnel, and other typical commentary stuff. The other track is basically more of the same, only this time with Writer Brian Helgeland and Producer Todd Black. There's some overlapping of information, but both tracks have their strong points. It just really depends if you want to listen to one guy talk, or two.
  • No Time to Lose: The Making of Pelham 123 (HD, 30 minutes) – If audio commentaries aren't your thing, also included is this well made making-of featurette. The feature covers the genesis of the film, the cast and their characters, the research involved for the project, MTA involvement and filming in the subways, and more. Very little back-patting goes on here, so it's a high quality piece.
  • The Third Rail: New York Underground (HD, 16 minutes) – This featurette focuses on the subway systems. The cast and crew had to take an eight hour course for safety when working within the tunnels, and apparently Tony Scott flunked it.
  • Marketing Pelham (HD, 7 minutes) – Just a clever way to disguise a "train" of trailers for 'The Taking of Pelham 123.'
  • From the Top Down: Stylizing Character with Danny Moumdjian (SD, 5 minutes) – Remember that segment on 'Sesame Street' that goes something like, "one of these things, doesn't belong here…?" Well, this odd little inclusion is entirely about the importance of hairstyling in the movie biz. Seriously!
  • Previews (HD) – An array of trailers are included as well: 'Blu-ray Disc is High-Definition,' 'Angels & Demons,' 'Black Dynamite,' 'Blood: The Last Vampire,' 'Boondock Saints 2: All Saints Day,' 'Casino Royale,' 'The Da Vinci Code,' 'District 9,' 'Moon,' and 'Year One.'

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

The Blu-ray also includes a few high-definition exclusive odds and ends, but no movie-specific items are found here.

  • CineChat – If your Blu-ray player has Internet capability, this feature enables you to instant message other users as you watch the movie. Kind of pointless, but it's here anyhow.
  • MovieIQ – Another Internet-based utility giving instant up-to-date access to cast and crew biographies, production details, trivia, and more. A video tutorial on how the feature works is provided on the menu.
  • Digital Copy – A second disc includes a digital copy of the film compatible with iTunes or Windows Media Player.
  • BD-Live – Sony's standard BD-Live portal is also present. All that's here are more trailers and the option to register the disc.

Final Thoughts

'The Taking of Pelham 123' isn't a terrible film, but it really could have been handled so much better. Tony Scott cakes so much make-up on its face that he even gets it on the eyebrows and all over its teeth. The Blu-ray, however, will stop traffic, having a few extras and a stunning audio/video presentation. Still, this is one film that likely won't hold up well for repeat viewings, so I'd probably go with a rental.

Oh, and just so I don't get hate mail for this review's intro here's something to consider: Tony Scott's next film, 'Unstoppable,' apparently also stars Denzel Washington… and a train. I guess a new trick won't be showing up anytime soon.

Technical Specs

  • BD-50 Blu-ray Disc

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/AVC MPEG-4

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 2.40:1

Audio Formats

  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround Sound
  • French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround Sound
  • Spanish DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround Sound
  • Catalan Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound

Subtitles/Captions

  • English, English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish

Supplements

  • No Time to Lose: The Making of Pelham 123
  • From the Top Down: Stylizing Character
  • The Third Rail: New York Underground
  • Marketing Pelham
  • Commentary with Director Tony Scott
  • Commentary with Writer Brian Helgeland and Producer Todd Black

Exclusive HD Content

  • Cinechat
  • MovieIQ
  • Digital Copy
  • BD-Live

All disc reviews at High-Def Digest are completed using the best consumer HD home theater products currently on the market. More about our gear.

Puzzled by the technical jargon in our reviews, or wondering how we assess and rate HD DVD and Blu-ray discs? Learn about our review methodology.

Amazon
$9.97
Usually ships in 24 hours Buy Now»

Related reviews