Ladies and gentlemen, be alert. We are going to initiate a hard-target search for a fugitive in an ever-widening perimeter. We will wade through swamps, prowl Manhattan streets, search every house and doghouse. We'll eat on the run, sleep tomorrow, watch our backs. And since Marshal Sam Gerard leads the hunt, we will experience suspense, action and daring twists every breathless step of the way.
Returning to his Oscar-winning role from 'The Fugitive,' Tommy Lee Jones is Gerard, joining an A-team including Wesley Snipes, Robert Downey Jr. and director Stuart Baird. ('Executive Decision') to deliver adrenaline-rush excitement. The suspect: armed, extremely dangerous, perhaps linked to a spy ring. The chase: highlighted by an out-of-control 727, a death match in a ship's cargo hold, a 12-story plunge onto a moving train and more heart-pounding sequences. The movie: U.S. Marshals.
My love for movies began when I was a young kid - but it wasn't until I was 12 that I became wrapped up in movies that were actually good, the first one being 'The Fugitive.' I obsessed over it. I saw it over and over again in theaters. Then, when it was nominated for Best Picture, Warner Bros. re-released it theatrically and I went back yet again. I made my mother drive me to the closest Blockbuster Video the day the VHS hit shelves just so I could own this masterpiece. I literally watched the video tape so many times that I wore it out. This was the first time that my forming mind realized that there is more to good movies than special effects and shoot-outs – both of which abound in 'The Fugitive,' but prove that they can co-exist with and function better when combined with style, substance and plot. To this day, I not only frequently re-watch 'The Fugitive' for nostalgic purposes, but because it's a film that has held up over time. After throwing in its spin-off sequel last night, 'U.S. Marshals,' I realized that it, too, has held up very well.
The titular character in 'The Fugitive' is Dr. Richard Kimball (Harrison Ford), a surgeon accused of murdering his wife when in reality the murderer is a one-armed man. A prisoner transport bus/train wreck offers him a way to escape, so Richard tries unfolding the mystery while a team of savvy U.S. Marshals (led by Tommy Lee Jones as Sam Gerard) is hot on his trail. By the end of the movie, everything is wrapped up with a pretty little bow, so Dr. Kimball's story couldn't go any further and remain in a believable realm. 'U.S. Marshals' follows Sam Gerard and his well-oiled machine-of-a-team in another dangerous manhunt. It's not pertinent to know 'The Fugitive' in order to follow 'U.S. Marshals,' but it will only make you love the characters even more.
In this round, Wesley Snipes plays tow-truck driver Mark Roberts, who ends up in the hospital after a car accident. He is then arrested by police when his finger prints match that of a suspected killer in a New York City shoot-out - the two men killed in said shoot-out being federal agents. The movie opens with Chicago as a backdrop, but leaves 'The Fugitive's "windy city" behind and takes Sam and Co. to the Big Apple.
Sam is assigned to escort a prisoner on a flight leaving O'Hare - the same flight that's taking Roberts to New York City - but shortly after take-off, an assassin tries killing Roberts with a zip gun. The failed attempt results in a .22 slug shooting out a cabin window and causing the plane to crash land in a sequence that rivals the bus/train crash in 'The Fugitive.' Of course, Roberts escapes and we're thrown into another fugitive manhunt led by Sam Gerard.
If you loved Gerard and his team from 'The Fugitive,' you'll be happy to know the whole team is back (minus actress L. Scott Caldwell who must have been bailed in order to await her role in 'Lost'). The new addition to their team is an assigned federal agent played by a young Robert Downey Jr. If I'm not mistaken, this was the first big role he filled after one of his 90s drug scandals.
'U.S. Marshals' was only film editor Stuart Baird's second attempt at directing, but he did a great job matching the tone, look, and feel of Andrew Davis' direction of 'The Fugitive.' Before CG became a go-to tool for all visual effects, practical effects - such as models, miniatures and elaborate sets - were used. After seeing what is achieved via those means here, you'll want to see more of them. The effects employed for 'U.S. Marshals' are surprisingly impressive – especially for a 14-year old title. Just as the movie holds up, so do the effects.
No, 'U.S. Marshals' is not as good as 'The Fugitive' – not many sequels are; however, it's not a bad movie at all. It's a cops-and-robbers movie with intense action, lovable characters, a solid story, and plenty of tension. If you own 'The Fugitive' on Blu-ray, now you can add its worthy counterpart to your collection.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Warner Bros. has placed 'U.S. Marshals' on a region-free BD-50 in an eco-friendly blue keepcase. The cover art is identical to the old DVD release (as are the special features) and the main menu shows the standard ugly Warner Bros. button layout. A little creative design would be nice here, but instead it looks like a home-authored Blu-ray menu. It's time for Warners to step it up in the way of menus. During playback, no trailers run before the main menu, but skippable FBI warnings, firmware disclaimers and studio vanity reels do.
From the opening Warner vanity reel, there's a staggeringly noticeable difference between the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer of 'U.S. Marshals' and the 1080p/MPEG-2 transfer of 'The Fugitive.' While 'The Fugitive' is riddled with specks, scratches, dirt, grime and imperfections, 'U.S. Marshals' is clean and clear – not only during the vanity reel, but throughout the entire film. I tend to be extra picky and critical of the transfers of movies that I love, but I'm serious when I say there's not a single piece of evidence that suggests the 14-year-old print used for the transfer was dirty. The cleanliness is quite impressive and it's nice to see the film presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
My only complaint with the transfer is the inconsistency of sharpness and detail. Some shots are highly detailed, strong enough to look like a new title – but on the flip side, at times the image is soft and textureless. One shot will reveal the pores, pits and stubbly hairs on Wesley Snipes' head, while the next will remove each of the previously visible features. The only other flaw that immediately drew my attention and warranted an instant replay is a bad vertical jutter at the 8:43 mark. I don't have a DVD copy of the film handy to check it against, but this very well may be the result of camera movement and not the transfer.
The film's colorization, contrast and black levels have been preserved very well. Blacks are deep and inky. Colors – notably the greens seen during the swamp hunt – are vivid and alive. And the contrast is consistent.
Digital noise, bands, artifacts and aliasing are absent – presumably due to the nice BD-50. DNR is not applied; however, a handful of scenes carry evidence of edge enhancement.
When the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track of 'U.S. Marshals' wants to be, it's all-encompassing and dynamic, functioning on a high level that – had it been realized entirely this way – could very well be four-and-a-half or five-star audio.
Every scene that warrants tension is filled with booming, loud score and countless effects, all of which are dynamically mixed in a brilliant fashion. I never noticed the abundance of helicopters in the movie until now because they frequently buzz around the room in seamless fashion. This high-grade effects mix is present during the mild action scenes as well as the huge plane-wrecking ones.
The problem with the audio lies in the downtime. During scenes that don't feature a flood of music and tense effects, the majority of the sound emits from the front channels. Scenes of action and intensity deliver a dynamic mix, those of dialog and investigation bring forward and flat audio. During the dull instances, the vocal track seems a tad too quiet, slightly trumped by the music and/or effects that do play out.
All of the special features from the DVD release of 'U.S. Marshals' have been brought over to the Blu-ray – no more, no less.
'The Fugitive' seems to not only be a top favorite of mine, but of many movie lovers. For the longest time I naively believed that those same fans enjoyed 'U.S. Marshals,' but I was shocked to recently learn that some - including my own younger brother - have never seen the spin-off/sequel/follow-up, which is exactly why I made my brother join me for the screening of this Blu-ray. If you love 'The Fugitive' but haven't seen 'U.S. Marshals,' then now is the time to finally see it. It (arguably) looks and sounds better than it has since it's theatrical release 14 years ago. If you fall into that category, then I'm certain you'll walk away just as impressed as my previously doubtful brother. 'U.S. Marshals' isn't as great as the 'The Fugitive,' but it's a worthy spin-off that's better than it should be. The special features are informative, albeit brief and dry, but are good enough to please the fans. It's nice to see 'U.S. Marshals' get a strong Blu-ray release that's much better than its companion title. Alas, as small as it may be, another film collection has been completed on Blu-ray.