It might not seem like it today, but 'Out of Sight,' Steven Soderbergh's adaptation of the punchy Elmore Leonard novel of the same name, is kind of a landmark in recent American cinema.
Most importantly, it was the movie in which Steven Soderbergh, a director who had made a splash nearly a decade earlier with 'sex, lies, and videotape' (a movie that single-handedly jump-started the American independent film movement), but had floundered in the years that followed, caught a foothold and gained some serious footing in Hollywood. It wasn't that his movies weren't interesting, because they always were, but they were too weird and esoteric to make much of an impact on anyone, let alone mass audiences.
'Out of Sight,' about a conman (played by then-television-star George Clooney, more on that in a minute) who falls in love with the federal agent pursuing him (played by Jennifer Lopez, back when she was an interesting actress), was a conscious decision on Soderbergh's part. Around the same time, Soderbergh was supposed to direct Charlie Kaufman's 'Human Nature' (which would later be the debut feature from music video whiz kid Michel Gondry), but decided to err on the side of caution and take this film instead (Clooney was already attached).
With the cache from 'Out of Sight,' both critically and commercially (while it wasn't a certifiable hit, it did show studios that Soderbergh could play by the rules and still create something unique), the filmmaker was able to pretty much conquer Hollywood, turning in super-personal gems like 'Che' while also contributing to the bottom line, with the 'Ocean's…' movies and this spring's mixed martial arts spy thriller 'Haywire' (cannot wait). In the years to come, two of his films, 'Traffic' and 'Erin Brockovich,' were nominated for Best Picture at the same time (he won for Best Director but the film lost to 'Gladiator').
'Out of Sight' also gave us the pairing of Clooney and Soderbergh, which would turn out to be a huge creative force in the years to come. Not only would the actor and filmmaker work together on a number of outstanding projects, among them their remake of 'Solaris' and the 'Third Man'-riff 'The Good German,' but as a production unit, they would go on to shepherd projects like Richard Linklater's 'A Scanner Darkly' and Todd Haynes' 'Far From Heaven' (among other things). While the company has since been disbanded, the impact the two had together cannot be underestimated. They used their clout for good, not evil. How many successful people in Hollywood can you say that about?
But back to the movie itself: I love it. It was easily one of my favorite films of the decade (I have a great teaser poster hanging up, one that misidentifies the film's composer as Cliff Martinez, who was replaced by Scottish DJ David Holmes at the eleventh hour) but revisiting it I was worried whether it would hold up. Happily, it does. It's one of the most fantastic, artful, entertaining movies of the past 25 years. And it might even have gotten better with age.
The cast, anchored by Clooney and Lopez, but filled with colorful performances by Ving Rhames, Steve Zahn, Don Cheadle, Albert Brooks, Dennis Farina, Luis Guzman, Nancy Allen, and (in a role that saw him reprising his character from another Elmore Leonard novel, Quentin Tarantino's 'Jackie Brown') Michael Keaton. The movie is so snappily put together, too, in a time when Soderbergh didn't serve as his own director-of-photography and editor (this was also when he was still using film – talk about a time capsule!)
The movie has an edge, too, so if you've only seen it during one of its one-billion showings on basic cable, you owe it to yourself to watch the film, uncut. There's some real suspense and danger in there (the scene where Steve Zahn is forced to do some very bad things for Don Cheadle still makes my blood run cold), and the movie as a whole is a fine, pitch perfect work of art. Soderbergh may have made some better movies in the years since 'Out of Sight,' but I'm not sure he's made anything as out-of-control fun.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Out of Sight' makes its way onto high definition with a 50GB Blu-ray disc. The disc is BD-Live and D-Box equipped (although there isn't any new BD-Live content on there, as of yet), and is Region A. It should also be noted that they used the original poster artwork (the same one hanging on my wall) for the cover, which is really wonderful (there was some muddy, nondescript artwork for the DVD). Good one, Universal, for treating this like the new classic that it is.
The Blu-ray for 'Out of Sight' comes equipped with a stunning 1080p VC-1 transfer (retaining its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio) that perfectly captures the visual subtleties of the film, in bold and breathtaking ways. While I have not seen the previously released HD DVD for comparison, I can only tell you that the Blu-ray transfer is a stunner.
To explain: much of the film takes place in Miami, with bold colors vividly realized and absolutely sparkling, while the back-end of the film takes place in the snowy, desolate landscape of Detroit (which, in a weird way, presents the area's poverty as a gorgeous sheen and rarely indulges in 'isn't-this-place-sad' clichés). In the Miami sections, everything is warm and colorful, without ever being overwhelming. Skin tones remain dead-on, and black levels are deep and inky.
When the film shifts over to the Detroit sections, the movie takes on an overcast tone of cobalt blues and blacks. Things are scarier, more menacing and are represented beautifully. The entire pallor of the film is dialed down by several degrees, but the transfer doesn't lose any of its oomph. Things still look absolutely wonderful.
This film was shot on film, and as such, the healthy (but never distracting) amount of grain is a sight to behold. It adds a lot of texture to the picture quality, and is a welcome reminder of a very specific period of the director's filmography.
Additionally, there aren't any filmic blemishes or technical foibles to speak of. This is a clean, crisp, absolutely upgrade-worthy transfer. Just stunning stuff.
Equally impressive is the disc's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track.
Since 'Out of Sight' is based on a novel by garrulous crime fiction author Elmore Leonard (and adapted by Scott Frank, who previously penned the Leonard-derived 'Get Shorty'), the film is rather dialogue heavy. And it's a testament to the audio mix that every line of dialogue comes through crystal clear, no matter if it’s the laconic mumblings of Isiah Washington or the pitched-up, stoner stuff that Steve Zahn comes up with. It also sounds wonderful.
But that's not to say that all the emphasis is put on dialogue, since there are a few action/shoot-out sequences, which are all very fully realized – sound effects pop without ever being overwhelming. The initial jail break sequence is probably the best example of this – with a hearty surround-sound mix, it comes to life even more fully.
The other great thing about this mix is that you can really enjoy David Holmes' funky, laidback score (back before it was en vogue to have electronic musicians score your films). It really is one of the best scores in recent memory and here it sounds absolutely dynamite (later, Holmes and Soderbergh would have a more contentious relationship, with Soderbergh sacking an already-complete score Holmes had worked up for 'The Good German' – still, they're back together and working on 'Haywire').
I didn't detect any sonic anomalies, either (no pop, no hiss, no fuzz). This is just a super competent audio mix that will delight longtime fans or first-time viewers, for sure.
Additionally, there are French DTS 5.1 and Spanish DTS 5.1 mixes and subtitles in English SDH, French, and Spanish.
All of the special features presented on the disc were also present on the long-ago DVD release (that disc was one of the first of its kind – I remember the really early, rudimentary Universal Pictures sizzle reel that played when you put the disc in). Early press releases indicated that the trailer, production notes, and something called "soundtrack highlights" would be included. In the final release, these are absent.
Steven Soderbergh's 'Out of Sight' is one of my favorite movies ever, and so it is with much pride that I can say that the Blu-ray is well worth the upgrade. While almost 13 years have ellapsed since the modest comedy/thriller was released, and therefore some retrospective special features might have been in order, this is still a supreme release – crystal clear audio and video, and supplemental features that, while not exactly abundant, will keep you entertained for a few more minutes after your 'Out of Sight' experience has wrapped up (that commentary is killer!) As far as I'm concerned, it's a must own.