Equilibrium - In a Fascist future where all forms of feeling are illegal, a man in charge of enforcing the law rises to overthrow the system.
Renaissance - n 2054, Paris is a labyrinth where all movement is monitored and recorded. Casting a shadow over everything is the city's largest company, Avalon, which insinuates itself into every aspect of contemporary life to sell its primary export -- youth and beauty. In this world of stark contrasts and rigid laws the populace is kept in line and accounted for.
'Equilibrium' - Writer/director Kurt Wimmer provided a fascinating look at the future in 2002 with the home video favorite 'Equilibrium' offering a mixture of 'Farenheit 451' and George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four with 'Matrix'-inspired hyper-action. In 2006, Wimmer would attempt to create another vision of the future, in a sense, with a bit of box-office poison in 'Ultraviolet.' He hasn't directed a film since, and while 'Ultraviolet' borrows freely from 'Equilibrium,' it hasn't quite hurt the quality of the first film, despite making the gun kata technique a bit less unique. It is, to paraphrase Roger Ebert's review, the fact that 'Equilibrium' has brains, even if it doesn't use them to their fullest potential, that makes it so very enjoyable.
After another World War decimates mankind's ability to see a viable future for their species, a fascist group in the city of Libria has worked to create a future free from human suffering by eradicating mankind's ability to feel. Residents are dosed at regular intervals with the inhibitor Prozium; "sense offenders" are often put to death. In this world, a law enforcement group known as the Grammaton Clerics enforce the law, seeking out those who disobey the law, destroying any artifact that could stir emotion, from music to literature, or even animals. One of the highest ranking Clerics, John Preston (Christian Bale), has been assigned a new partner (Taye Diggs) after having to kill his previous law-enforcing companion (Sean Bean) for displaying sympathy to the rebels and their causes. But when he misses a dose of Prozium, Preston sees the world in a different light, one where he would not have allowed his wife to be incinerated for the same crime. Now fighting against the ideals he is to enforce, he is the underground's best chance at overthrowing the fascist government.
If 'Equilibrium' had to stand on the legs of its acting, it would crumple and fall like a Jenga tower whose entire base was removed. Fortunately for the film, the provocative statements that regularly fill the screen help distract and keep the viewer engaged and enraptured in this harsh take on humanity. The film runs a dangerous line, with the Prozium turning its recipients into drones who almost march in tune, expressionless, voiceless beings of existence for the sake thereof. Performances are splintered, with characters being a mix of those capable of showing emotion, and those that are not supposed to and must suppress it, and those that are incapable entirely, making for a film devoid of any actor to actor chemistry, with performances that thrive in one circumstance, but falter in another. Bale, for example, does a solid job in this early leading role performance…when he's allowed to emote. When he is to be monotone, however, he's less than believable, his expressions feeling exaggerated and unbelievable. Another issue with the film is when characters, like Diggs' Brandt, are supposed to be monotone, but regularly act outside of this emotionless edict.
If you can ignore that pesky little problem, though, you're in for a treat. 'Equilibrium' is filled with numerous unique action sequences, with the Clerics acting borderline superhuman in their speed and stamina, their gun kata technique taking out rooms of adversaries with no collateral damage. The one man army, that can make for such interesting (if over-the-top) badasses, is in full effect in numerous scenes. More impressive, though, are the moments of introspection, where Preston looks at himself through his compatriots, and sees the monster he became, the massive amount of lives he took, the treasures he stole from the world, never to be recovered. It's the realization of one's self, a moment of internal clarity often missing in action extravaganzas.
While 'Equilibrium' never made it to more than 300 screens, with box office numbers to back up said failure, that doesn't discount its worth and acceptance today. While not as revolutionary as the film it piggybacked off of, there is definite entertainment and philosophical value in this rapid-fire feature film, with enough thought-provoking images to make up for the utter pointlessness of Wimmer's next feature. Take, for example, the possibility of making owning 'Epic Movie,' 'From Justin to Kelly,' or 'Gigli' a criminal offense…
'Renaissance' - Proof that even a visually arresting film can bore one to sleep, 'Renaissance' (aka 'Renaissance: Paris 2054') would probably be condemned as a film no one would ever see, let alone bring to foreign audiences, if it weren't for its unique appearance. With actors crafting their performances in mo-cap suits against blue screens, with CG filling in the rest, this film is memorable for the way it was then brought to life in black and white, and I do mean black and white. Stark whites and deep blacks, with very few grays to be found, to be precise. High contrast and high concept, but, sadly, a film that is probably only enjoyable when high.
The plot to Renaissance may be the least confusing aspect of the film. A police officer named Karas is on a case of a missing woman, Ilona Tasuiev, a young researcher for the Avalon corporation, a mega conglomerate who has immense power and influence. The motives for her disappearance are unknown; was she targeted? Is this related to her job, or some odd sex crime? As Karas, Ilona's sister Brislane, and the police crew dig through a tangled web of clues and plenty of deceit, it is discovered that there is more going on with Avalon and a past project that may be related to Ilona's disappearance.
The problems with this film add up far too fast. The dialogue is stilted, either lost in translation and missing that nuanced polish, coming across as a cliff's notes recap of a conversation...if it isn't just the fact that human interaction is a lost cause. While the film is beyond beautiful (and it is one of my favorite looking films, by a long shot), there's a soulless feel to it, as eyes never quite look in the right direction, venturing into that dangerous uncanny valley. And while the design of the city of Paris in 2054 is striking and simply marvelous, the city never becomes a character in the story, despite the fact that the advanced architecture often plays a role in the action sequences. Throw in an ending that, much like 'The Prince of Persia, defeats the purpose of everything we've just seen, and it's hard to root for this film.
The fact is, 'Renaissance' is a confusing bit of cinema, mostly because scenes don't feel as though they interconnect. Characters change at the drop of a hat. We're never drawn in to the story or the characters, and while the truth, the reveal of the mystery is very interesting, it just isn't a revelation or a jaw dropper. We are not given much reason for suspense in the feature, save for one sequence where Brislane tries to navigate a room she is in illegally, where security has cut power, leaving her stumbling in the dark. I want to love this film, since I absolutely admire its astonishing visual presence and flair, but despite the lengthy production process, a better quality film would be required for me to not just consider this a case of wasted potential.
'Equilibrium' Film Score: 4/5
'Renaissance' Film Score: 2/5
The Disc: Vital Stats
Two films with excessively complicated and confusing prior home video releases are packaged together on a BD25 disc from Echo Bridge Home Entertainment…and things are about to get even more confusing. Please note, there are no region markings on this disc or package, so worldwide playback capabilities are unconfirmed. Upon disc startup, a screen with two silhouettes prompts viewers to choose which film they want to see. It's a much classier way to handle a multi-pack. Shocking, really. I just said the word classy in a review for an Echo Bridge product.
'Equilibrium' has been released many times over on Blu-ray already. There are Region Free (or at least, Region A friendly) versions from Holland and Japan that feature the film in its proper 2.35:1 aspect ratio, but they are hard to come by and/or quite expensive, with the Japanese disc being the only one on a BD50 with a good pile of extras, including two commentaries. Sadly, the only Japanese version to even be listed on Ebay in the last 2 weeks went for almost one hundred bucks, a far cry from the asking price of any other edition. There is a UK import from Momentum that is identical to a Canadian release from Alliance, and then a standalone release here in America, also from Echo Bridge, but they are all, sadly, in a butchered 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Another concern with this film is the audio, which, though its Blu-ray history, has seen everything from lossless to lossy, from 2.0 to 5.1, and each release is a mixture of these specs. The version of the film found on this particular two pack is correctly framed at 2.35:1, but is presented in lossy 5.1 Dolby Digital. Collector's may also buy a Canadian steelbook, which uses the Alliance (wrong ratio) disc, which is also packaged with a DVD, the only combo pack of the film to exist as of current. There is also a Japanese HD DVD release of the film that has devalued over the years, and is now within an acceptable price range. There is apparently also an Italian import, that is not Region A friendly. There is also...yeesh, this is getting tiring!
'Renaissance' doesn't have as complex a history as 'Equilibrium,' but the technical specifications on this disc are vital. See, the "cartoon" is natively a French film, and not all releases present the film in its natural state. This film saw two HD DVD releases (one from France with no English options whatsoever, and another from Germany in a combo pack that featured English subtitles), and now has seen two Blu-ray releases. The Canadian release of this film, from Alliance, features the proper aspect ratio, and includes the English dub in lossless audio, with the native French track also appearing in lossy form. This Echo Bridge disc sees the film released only in English, with lossy audio.
On a really interesting note, these two films were also packaged in a two pack from Alliance in Canada, so buyers should keep a close eye on the cover art to discern where a disc comes from. The USA two pack features the Miramax name clearly on the cover, and features a smaller picture of Bale on the cover, whereas the Canadian edition has a much larger headshot of the actor in its left-side artwork.
Finally, ignore the packaging on this release. It wouldn't be Echo Bridge if they didn't totally screw up the tech specs. The package lists each film as having Dolby Digital 2.0 and DTS 5.1 mixes, but neither are true. Additionally, it states each film is in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, another falsehood. It's almost as if the company wants to piss off potential customers. It doesn't take much work to get proper specs on your artwork. It's one of the easiest things to fix if there's a change, if only the company cared.
'Equilibrium' - For the first time in a long, long time, 'Equilibrium' is available in America in the proper aspect ratio of 2.35:1, using a AVC MPEG-4 encode at 1080p. That is the most important aspect of this entire release, due to the numerous 1.78:1 releases, so I'll repeat it: 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The celebration that would normally erupt from such news should be put on hold, though, due to the fact that this is a troubled, middling release.
Detail levels are never strong, due to the combination of a few factors. First, facial features often look DNR scrubbed to oblivion, with even close-up shots lacking finer character to them. Second, a heavy dose of noise and some annoying edge enhancement will regularly distract you. Third, the picture is flatter than a plank of wood. Color saturation is meager, often pathetic, and textures are all but nonexistent. Skin tones are inconsistent, going pale to blazingly hot, while some minor artifacting can be spotted. There are some dirt concerns, and not just in the "first reel," as it is fairly consistent from beginning to end, while blacks can crush something fierce, swallowing even more detail that isn't there in the first place.
So, proper aspect ratio, but everything else looks like shit. Dammit, Echo Bridge.
'Renaissance' - Presented in 1080p at 2.35:1, 'Renaissance' could have been an utter nightmare. On DVD, the film is a wreck. The fine lines, the high contrast, it's a film that doubles as a technical problem breeding ground done wrong, and while this Blu-ray does cover most of the potential disasters with ease, there are issues that prevent this from being top tier.
Detail will always be a tough grade with this film, as there really is no such thing as texture or clarity. Characters are solid whites, with blacks accenting shadows and changes in clothing, so the closest I can say about that particular aspect is that we see a number of sequences with intricate, small patterns that shine through clearly. This picture is deep, with a minimal amount of aliasing, a slight shimmer here and there, nothing worth crying foul over, considering how much potential disaster is averted in that regard. The super high contrast between stark white and ink black makes a few whites bleed ever so slightly, not even counting a flashback or two that have this effect slightly exaggerated, with added noise for effect. Banding pops up a few times, mostly due to flashlights or headlamps shining off into pitch black areas, with a gray gradient shifting ever so slightly in unnatural layered pattern.
A sad note, though, is that artifacting can be ugly when it pops up. We see it early, at the 8:52 mark, as a screen changes from monitor to the actual event, a police raid, with rain falling onto a black abyss ground, with squares and odd bits popping up and freezing. At the 19:03 mark, after the trippy growth catches your eyes, there's a frame or two where every bit of solid white has horrid blocking inside it, and then again a few frames later, to the right of Ilona's head and shoulders. Again, around the 37:24 and 37:26 marks, in the shots of Karas in his vehicle during a car chase, there is blocking again inside his transport, in the darker areas around him. Not all viewers will catch these blips, but I found them hard to miss in motion, where I had to double back and see what the odd flashes were, due to how fast they come and go. Still, a surprisingly high score is earned here. I'll admit, I expected much, much worse.
'Equilibrium' Video Score: 2/5
'Renaissance' Video Score: 3.5/5
'Equilibrium' - 'Equilibrium' doesn't sound horrible on this release, but there are many moments where potential is not quite realized, with the lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 track obviously and noticeably falling short. The surround speakers get a fair share of activity, with more than a few bits of gunfire localizing from these channels, though movement is not frequently used, while ambient effects do spring up to fill scenes randomly. Dialogue is generally clear, but dynamics are beyond questionable, with a number of sequences that feature an odd, digital/robotic sounding tinge beneath the spoken word, and dialogue remains front and center throughout the entire film, which, combined with a number of scenes that have a metallic rattle beneath them, can be troublesome. The score elements can find themselves overpowered by any other noise, which can be troublesome at times. The bass levels on this track make for an interesting story. There's some distinct power on display, yes, but moments that should rattle the room, rather than just pulse lightly, can definitely make you wonder what could have been. There are plenty of hard hitting thuds with bass accents, but how much more power could they have had? How much roar and pop could gunfire have been given?
'Renaissance' - While this animated flick is presented only in lossless Dolby Digital 5.1, it sounds really, really good for what it is. Dialogue reproduces nicely, localizing with camera changes perfectly, without a single lost or muffled word in the entire mix. Rears are populated with music accurately, with a good amount of random activity, amazing echo resonance, and a fair share of movement, mostly from vehicles. Funnily enough, an early sequence with cars on screen has no movement, yet later scenes, the ones with the best use of this effect, feature the sound of moving cars that we never see. Bass isn't heavy, but it's quite decent. In numerous scenes, it should have been a bit...thunderous...but is mostly just slightly rattling, with one sequence featuring a good prolonged roar that would have been awesome with more beef behind it. From the smallest bits of holographic feedback to the roar of engines in a car chase, this Blu-ray disc sounds really good for a lossy track. It probably would have sounded amazing, but, hey, at least it didn't sound like most other Echo Bridge titles.
An important note: as is mentioned in the vitals section of this review, there is no French language track for this film. Only the American Miramax dub is found here.
'Equilibrium' Audio Score: 2.5/5
'Renaissance' Audio Score: 3/5
There are no extras on this release, though other Blu-ray releases of 'Equilibrium' have been known to carry extras, such as audio commentaries and making of features. Considering this is a single layer disc, the lack of bonus content may be for the better, since artifacting is visible in both films already.
'Equilibrium' and 'Renaissance' are dramatically different films that have been bundled together before, and are again paired on Blu-ray in America. These films have had mixed histories on disc, with 'Equilibrium' in particular being the subject of plenty of scrutiny, and while Echo Bridge did manage to get the films in their proper aspect ratios and with 5.1 audio, the lack of lossless (as most all of the double features from this company suffer from) is a killer. Additionally, the limited (25GB rather than 50GB) disc size does affect the quality of the presentation. This release could have been a lot better. It also could have been much, much worse.