Partying Like It's 1996: Broken Arrow, Chain Reaction And Speed On Blu-ray
They say there's nothing new under the sun, and nothing drives home that old adage like the birth of a new format or two. The first movies that come out on a new format invariably aren't the Citizen Kanes, or even the Titanics of film history. No, it's the star-studded action warhorses that are considered at least somewhat tried and true that are trotted out by the studios.
In a recent spate of catalog releases Fox put out some actioners on Blu-ray that actually got me waxing nostalgic a little. I either owned or saw Broken Arrow, Chain Reaction and Speed on Laserdisc back in the day. If I recall correctly all three got Dolby Digital releases on LD and at least two of the three were released on DTS Laserdisc. And if I don't recall correctly, feel free to write in and correct me. I'm sure two or three people out there care one way or the other.
These LD releases were big deals to those of us who were weaning ourselves off of matrixed two-channel surround sound and had shelled out the coin for those early 5.1-channel Dolby Digital and DTS decoders. In fact, if you bought one of the early rigs, you had a Dolby AC-3 decoder! Either way, when new LDs with 5.1-channel tracks came out to play on those shiny new AVRs or outboard decoders, we were there, cash in hand, whether the movie was good, bad or indifferent.
I had actually seen Broken Arrow in the theater as it was part of JT's (John Travolta) comeback to relevance, and Hong Kong action director John Woo's coming to America. Although the pair would be more successful in every way a year later with Face/Off, Broken Arrow has its moments. About ten minutes worth if you're counting. While Travolta's cool as usual, the stealth bomber sequence is the star of this movie. And let's face it , when Christian Slater is the "star" and Frank Whaley has a prominent supporting role this is as it should be.
Anyway, that stealth bomber sequence made Broken Arrow a demo disc of monstrous proportions. And it still holds up today on this DTS-HD Master Audio encoded BD. Of course I'm listening to the core 1.5Mbps DTS stream. Maybe it will be even better when I can decode the full DTS lossless stream. Either way, the bass is balls to the wall, the surrounds are full tilt and they image like a son-of-a-gun, and the dynamics are sock in the gut powerful. Scare the hell out of your friends and neighbors! This is still a first rate audio demo.
The image quality, well, not quite so much. Encoded at 1080p using MPEG-2 on a 25GB single-layer BD, Broken Arrow seldom separates itself from what I typically see on better DVDs, regardless of how it compares with previous DVDs of this particular movie (which I don't know or want to know after seeing this "HD" transfer). There's more noise than I see on the best BD releases, and it's very soft and surprisingly lacking in the kind of detail that HD routinely shows. This is among the poorest HD efforts I've seen on either format. I'd be dispappointed with this if I saw it on cable HD.
Chain Reaction had a hell of a lot going for it in '96, enough so that I threw down to see this one in the theater too. Keanu Reeves had done well in Speed in 1994, and in 1993 director Andrew Davis had helmed The Fugitive, a classic in the genre. Throw in Morgan Freeman, and how could it miss?!
OK, for starters, people just have to stop casting this particular half of Bill and Ted as anyone with a steady job, let alone as a doctor, an architect or the research scientist he plays here. That's just not OK. Aside from that, this action-suspense thriller doesn't convince enough on either front to float this movie. The plot is convoluted and by the time you start to figure it out, you just kinda don't care any more.
This disc is also encoded at 1080p with MPEG-2 onto a 25GB single-layer BD, and it's a noticeable improvement over Broken Arrow. The transfer has respectable detail, deep blacks and natural contrast. It's a good enough transfer to clearly show where the special effects fell short in some sequences! It's just a little soft and noisy, but it very apparent that it's HD in most instances, especially in clothing textures and other minor details.
Sonically the core stream from the DTS-HD Master Audio track is pumped up in the action sequences and fairly plain throughout much of the movie. Dialog is good, and even if the movie doesn't have a single knockout punch like the stealth bomber from Broken Arrow, it's still got its moments when the bass impact and dynamics knock things up a notch.
Before Keanu and Sandy (Bullock) went to The Lake House together, they did Speed. A clever mousetrap of a movie if there ever was one, Speed is summer entertainment nearly at its finest. This firecracker pits Keanu as a buffed LAPD cop against a mad bomber played to the hilt by a wicked Dennis Hopper. As fate would have it Dennis gets Keanu on a bus he's loaded with bombs and set to explode if its speed drops below 50MPH or if anyone gets off the bus. Sandy plays the spunky passenger-turned-driver, and zany hi jinx ensue.
I got a big kick out of Speed back in the day, but was curious about how it would hold up over a decade later. The answer is, not bad! It has no pretensions to high art, and has about as much character development as a disaster movie from the 70's. But it's still a smart, well-written, well-made Hollywood concept flick that never takes its foot off the suspense pedal from beginning to end. Even the cliches are still fun and not overly embarrassing.
The image quality of Speed is surprising. Encoded at 1080p using MPEG-4/AVC, this transfer is sharp, and impressively detailed. That i's been released on DVD as part of Fox's Five Star series shows that Fox regards this a premier property, and someone sure treated this transfer as if it were. The transfer is very clean, the colors are saturated but natural, including those tanned (but not overdone in orange) SoCal flesh tones. The very best transfers have slightly better resolution of minute detail and more convincing textures, but this isnt far off the mark at all. 1994 isn't really old for a movie, but I see a lot of newer movies that don't look near this good. An excellent HD transfer, and far superior to the other two moview reviewed here.
Speed boasts one of the most explosive and dimensional soundtracks of all time, a track that would still be demo worthy if it came out next year. Lots of movies feature aggressive surrounds, dynamics and bass impact in their set piece scenes, as Speed certainly does. But the sound design here goes further. It immerses you every second of the movie, even in quiet scenes when it's merely adding to the ambience. This track has loads of discrete effects that are not only there, but utterly convincing in transparency and image focus. This is one of the best soundtracks you're likely to hear. I played back the 1.5Mbps DTS core stream from the DTS-HD Master Audio lossless track. When I have a player or pre-pro that will decode the DTS Lossless track, this is one of the first discs I'll pull on.
For extras, there's plenty of room for Fox to release another special edition later. There are a couple of commentaries, and the trailer in HD. Also, this is a Java-encoded title, and aside from some nifty, cool menus, Java scores you a trivia track, a lame interactive game (whoopee!), Personal Scene Selections (like the My Scenes that are frequently seen on Universal HD DVDs), and a Search Content feature that lets you search through the movie's scenes by keyword.
All of these movies carry rather high price tags as BD catalog titles without much in the way of extras- each is for sale at Amazon for $27.95. I mean let's face it, Broken Arrow and Chain Reaction are the kind of movies that might not even hold your attention for more than a few minutes if you caught them on cable in HD. Speed, however, is still a ride worth taking, and clearly the class of this weird little trio I've picked out to review. That's the one that would earn my HD ducats.
Broken Arrow: Picture 5 out of 10 Sound: 9 out of 10
Chain Reaction: Picture 7 out of 10 Sound: 8 out of 10
Speed: Picture 8.5 out of 10 Sound: 10 out of 10
Video reviewed on Marantz VP-11S1 1080p DLP projector, 80" wide Stewart Filmscreen Studiotek 130 screen and either Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray Disc player or Toshiba HD-XA2 player via HDMI to Anthem AVM 50. Audio sent as PCM over HDMI to Anthem AVM 50. Ayre MX-R monoblocks and Theta Dreadnaught power amps, and Vandersteen loudspeakers. All video cables by Bettercables, all audio cables by AudioQuest