Robert Zemeckis has long been a master at utilizing cutting-edge technology in the service of emotional storytelling. The Walk unveils the first glimpse of the director's visually stunning creation of a lost time and place: the World Trade Center towers as they were in 1974. That was the year young Philippe Petit captured the world's imagination with a seemingly impossible high-wire caper.
40 years after Petit's impossible dream, Zemeckis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (portraying Petit) are themselves accomplishing the seemingly impossible: bringing the lost towers back to epic life. Only in cinema is this possible now. Seeing the film as both a madcap caper and a love letter to the towers, Zemeckis is doing much more than telling this story: he's showing it in a true big screen experience. Using the latest in state-of-the-art visual effects, 3D, and IMAX technology, the film will make moviegoers feel as close as they will ever come to walking on clouds.
The film is an expansive story of the characters and events that led up to the famous walk - including Philippe's experiences growing up, his romantic entanglements and the complicated relationship with his surrogate father Papa Rudy (Sir Ben Kingsley). The cast also includes Charlotte Le Bon as Petit's lover, as well as James Badge Dale and Ben Schwartz as members of the ragtag gang he recruits to pull off the absurdly ambitious and dangerous "heist."
There's something about playing witness to an incredible feat or skill that connects people. When you see someone do something truly amazing, you can now be one of the few people to actually say "I was there when…" and capture the attention of an audience. For me, I was at the old Tiger Stadium in Detroit for an early birthday present on June 22, 1994, when big Lou Whitaker knocked out a bottom of the ninth grand slam home run against the Cleveland Indians winning the game 7-5. Few people can say they had a grand slam home run hit on their birthday - but I'd be willing to bet that an even fewer number of people can say they saw actually saw a fearless tightrope walker cross the span of the Twin Towers of the World Trade center in New York City on August 7, 1974. Robert Zemeckis' visually arresting film 'The Walk' will make you feel like you were one of the awestruck people there that day.
Life is an experience, at least, it is for performance artist Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). As he busks in Paris streets grabbing the attention of locals with his slight of hand cartoon routine, he thrills them with a high-wire act as he spans the admittedly shallow distance between two trees. But his dreams are not limited to street lamps and trees, his vision, his "coup" is far greater. Ever since he saw an article about the construction of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, he has dreamed of walking a wire between those gigantic buildings. In order to pull off his coup, he's going to need a lot of help.
At first, everyone believes Philippe is crazy, a madman bent on killing himself, but as his energy and passion becomes infectious, it isn't long before he has assembled a small army of people to help him. At his side through the entire endeavor is his girlfriend Annie (Charlotte Le Bon). She not only helps him achieve his dream of walking a high-wire between the Twin Towers, but she's also there to help him keep his feet on the ground and not forget his friends. Of course, without the help of Papa Rudy's (Ben Kingsley) training, none of Philippe's high-height hijinks would even be possible. And, with his personal photographer and friend Jean-Louis (Clément Sibony), Philippe has the foundation for his grand coup. The only problem is logistics.
Not only is Philippe going to have to use a special type of cable with specialized support wires, he's also going to have to learn everything he can about the day-to-day happenings of the construction crew who are racing to complete the north tower. In order to do that, he is going to need even more "accomplices" to take part in his grand scheme. These people will risk life and limb and the possibility of jail to help one man. But before Philippe even takes one single step on the wire, he's going to need everything perfectly in place and a whole lot of luck if he even hopes to pull off one of the most dangerous feats of human athleticism ever performed.
For a long time now, Robert Zemeckis has been panned and criticized for his love affair with motion capture CGI animation. From 2004 through 2011 he directed 'The Polar Express,' 'Beowulf,' and 'A Christmas Carol' and produced the awful 'Mars Needs Moms.' As the quality of these movies were at best hit or miss, fans were worried that the man who brought us 'Romancing of the Stone,' the 'Back to the Future' trilogy.' 'Cast Away,' and audience favorite 'Forrest Gump' may never return to live action filmmaking. While 'Flight' proved to be a nice return to form, 'The Walk' proves that Zemeckis' time in the land of CGI animation wasn't wasted. While this film is largely made up of practical sets and locations, the incredible CGI work is what completes the picture and makes you believe that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is an experienced tightrope walker making the death-defying trek between the Twin Towers. But that's just the "wow" moment of the film. The first two acts of 'The Walk' play as an expertly crafted heist film, only instead of watching someone try to steal something, we're watching a team of people as they help one man perform one of the greatest feats of human athleticism and tenacity.
Now, if you've already gone down the road of watching the incredible Oscar-winning documentary 'Man on Wire' then it's certainly understandable to question the necessity of this film. The best way to answer to that concern is to state that 'Man on Wire' is the accurate staging of events, 'The Walk' is the fictionalized retelling of said events. 'The Walk' may not be entirely accurate to the blow-by-blow happenings of what happened where and when and involving whom, but it does grab your attention and take you on a grand journey in ways that the documentary simply can't. Where the documentary is only capable of making you feel the passion of the real-life Philippe Petit, 'The Walk' makes you feel like you're on that wire with him. Sure, it's a cavalcade of computer-generated trickery, but it's done so well, with such an impressive level of photo-realism, that it's impossible to not get caught up in the moment, and at the same time feel more than a little dizzy anytime the camera tilts down to view the ground over 100 stories below.
While it may take a little effort to get used to Joseph Gordon-Levitt's French accent, his passion and commitment to the role is infectious. You see in his wild and crazy eyes the mad dream of a man who has an impossible idea in his head and you want to help him make it happen. Just as impressive is Charlotte Le Bon as Anne who not only serves as the love interest but helps keep the character of Petit grounded and relatable. Also delivering a fun turn is the always reliable Ben Kingsley. More than a teacher, you feel like he's a man who is training one of his sons to do something that even he wouldn't have the courage to do and the relationship he strikes with Joseph Gordon-Levitt hits a number of emotional chords.
'The Walk' may not be a perfect film, it does drag a little during the second act, but I will say that the film is a perfect visual feast. I was pinned to the back of my seat when I saw this film at the Navy Pier IMAX during its short theatrical run, and I am happy to say that while the screen size may have shrunk, the visual effect and emotional impact that comes from seeing the Twin Towers alive again and Petit's grand coup reenacted is just as palpable. While 'The Walk' is most certainly a love letter to the Twin Towers, it is also a grand tribute to the human spirit and proves that anything is possible - even the seemingly impossible - if you put your mind to it and just try.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Walk' arrives on Blu-ray thanks to Sony Pictures on a Region Free BD50 disc. Housed in a standard snapper case with identical slip cover, the disc opens to trailers for other Sony Pictures releases before arriving at an animated main menu. Also included in this set is a Digital HD voucher and instructions on how to download "The Walk VR" app for a virtual reality experience.
"Impressive" is probably the best way for me to express the 2.40:1 1080p transfer that has been provided for the Blu-ray release of 'The Walk.' Considering how this film was hyped as a 3D experience intended to be seen on large format screens, I was a little worried how the film would scale down to consumer television screens in 2D. While the added 3D effect is missing here, I will say that the 2D presentation is spectacular in its own way. As the film was shot digitally, clarity is immaculate as every hair, costume stitch, and facial feature can clearly be seen. Colors are warm with a 70s golden hue to them but doesn't interfere with primaries. Colors have a wonderful pop to them allowing for accurate and healthy-looking facial features. Black levels are solid inky black allowing for a tremendous sense of depth - especially during the third act walk. Even in 2D there is a notable sense of vertigo that is still impressive and should please those who don't own a 3D set.
The DTS-HD 5.1 audio track provided for 'The Walk' does a fantastic job of capturing the auditory impact of the film, but at the same time I can't quite shake the feeling that it should have been given a full 7.1 mix or the full ATMOS treatment. Dialogue is crisp and clear and never a trouble to hear - unless you have a hard time with faux accents. Surrounds are constantly engaged through a fantastic use of background and atmospheric sound effects giving you a rich immersive effect. Silence also plays a wonderful role in the film as the sharp twang from when Philippe first steps on the wire can really catch you and give you a solid job without blasting your ears out. Levels are also spot on as there isn't ever any real need to monitor your volume, if anything you're going to want to make it louder just to make the immersion effects that more pronounced. While I will say that this is near-perfect for a Blu-ray presentation, my hope is that when/if this film goes over to 4k that it gets a full 7.1 or ATMOS upgrade - it deserves it. As it stands now this is still a pretty fantastic audio track.
Pillars of Support: (HD 8:27) This is a decent, better than average EPK style look at the supporting actors and their roles.
'The Walk' is an experience film. While ideally everyone should have seen it on a large format screen and in 3D, it's more than just a visual feast, it's an emotional one as well. As the film plays much like a heist picture, it is ultimately a movie about drive, dedication, and will. As with any film touching upon the Twin Towers, it's hard not to have any number of feelings come to the forefront of your mind, but thankfully 'The Walk' doesn't dwell on the horrible events that took them down, but instead uses the monoliths as a reminder of human accomplishment. It's a grand film and absolutely worth seeing. Sony has knocked the A/V presentation of 'The Walk' out of the park with absolutely stellar picture and audio. Extras are sadly on the light side, but they're worth digging through. Absent of the 3D presentation, I'm calling this disc highly recommended.