Monday, January 17, 2011

Death Race 2 Blu-ray Review

For fans of the first Death Race remake who wondered who Frankenstein was and how Death Race came to be, this movie is for them.  Actually, this movie is also for anyone that enjoys vehicular destruction too.  Death Race 2 despite being sold as a sequel is actually a prequel to the first movie.  While this is a direct to Blu-ray release, Universal made sure to get some well known actors to headline the movie including Sean Bean, Luke Goss, Ving Rhames,  and Danny Trejo.

Film (3 out of 5 stars) 

The year is 2012, and prisons are run by corporations who have complete control over the prisoners and their fates.  A brutal game show named “Death Match” is at the top of the charts thanks to its no holds barred fights between prisoners that ends in either death or the submission of the loser.  Not everyone has it that bad though, as crime-lord Markus Kane (Sean Bean) has a luxurious mansion, beautiful cars and women at his disposal.  His right hand man Carl Lucas (Luke Goss) has been instrumental in bring Kane his wealth as he robs banks for him.
When Kane asks Lucas to rob a bank with some untested men, Lucas is concerned but goes through with it anyway.  When it inevitably goes horribly wrong, Lucas is sent to the Terminal Island prison facility where he quickly learns that the average life expectancy there isn’t very long.  As “Death Match” is filmed there, prisoners are randomly selected to fight whether they want to or not as Lists (Frederick Koehler) finds out when he is picked to fight the sociopath Big Bill (Deobia Oparei).  Lucas’ intervention in that fight sets off a chain of events that brings him to the attention of the beautiful  ”Death Match” producer September Jones (Lauren Cohan).
Jones (who got the idea for Death Match from filming a riot at the prison), was at one point Ms. Universe until it was discovered that she had slept with all of the judges and had her crown taken away.  Ruthless and ambitious, Jones has no problems pitting men to the death in exchange for high ratings and doesn’t hesitate to manipulate the game either.  She will do whatever it takes to succeed, even sleeping with her boss Weyland (Ving Rames) who is just as ruthless as her.
When the ratings for Death Match go down, Weyland and Jones come up with a new show concept called Death Race, which would combine the most popular aspects of Death Match and combine them with a race.  To entice viewers to watch the show, they decide to offer freedom to any prisoner that is able to win 5 races in a row.  Throughout the race circuit, devices are placed that will activate weapons or equipment to the driver that reaches them first which gives them a considerable advantage.  With a one million dollar bounty on his head, Lucas decides to enter the race before one of the prisoners or guards kills him for the reward.  And so begins the very first Death Race…
As one of the people who enjoyed the remake of Death Race despite myself, I was really looking forward to seeing some more vehicular mayhem and destruction which this movie has, but not in the same quantities as its predecessor.  That’s perfectly understandable since this movie had a fraction of the previous one’s budget and actually does pretty good with what it has.  I was somewhat disappointed that the Death Race doesn’t even start until almost an hour into the movie, but there are some decent car chase scenes of Lucas trying to escape the police after the botched robbery.
I’m a big fan of Sean Bean so it’s always good to see him in a movie and he does his part quite well as the crime-lord who may face a life in prison if Lucas says anything to the authorities.  Luke Goss is obviously talented and does most of his own stunts in the movie, but tries too hard to look tough for my taste.  I would rather see him prove his toughness through action rather than his constant glowering at everyone. Lauren Cohan does a great job being the main villain and she has the best role in the movie.  Not only is she beautiful but you believe she would do anything to get ahead.  Danny Trejo plays Danny Trejo like he does in every movie which works pretty well.  He plays the crew chief for Lucas and adds some humor to the movie.  Combined with a good cast and a decent script, this movie was a lot better than I thought it would be although not as good as the first one.  If this does well, I hope that Reine will get more money to make a third and really show what he can do with this franchise.

Video (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)  

This 1080p (1.78:1) transfer looks great and a lot better than I thought a direct to Blu-ray movie would.  Every gritty detail is captured perfectly and the colors pop when allowed (especially the bright yellow Mustang).  Flesh-tones are natural and the black levels which are important for a movie like this are suitably dark and well-defined.   For a movie that is set in a murky prison for most of it’s running time, it’s nice to see such a sharp picture.

Audio (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track places you in the middle of the action and you will hear the racing cars roar by, helicopters flying overhead, and weapons of all kinds (especially rockets and flame-throwers) pan across the channels.  This mix uses all of the channels which I loved and even gave some extra attention to the rear channels which is fairly rare.  Dialogue was clear but there were a few instances where the music drowned out some of the lines.  All in all, this is a powerful mix and a lively one that will please all car and weapon lovers.

Special Features (3 out of 5 stars) 

None of these extras are earth shattering but some of them especially the commentary do provide some interesting tidbits for those that would like to learn more about the making of the movie and this franchise.
  • Feature Commentary - Director Roele Reine talks about how he was invited to direct the movie, the difficulty of making the movie with the budget he had, and what his intentions were for the movie and how he tried to make it work with the previous one.  This was a candid and interesting albeit dry commentary.  There was a lot of good info but he isn’t the most dynamic speaker.
  • The Race Begins: The Evolution of Death Race – The cast and crew talk about how Death Race as we know it came to be and how this movie fills in some gaps.
  • Cheating Death: The Stunts of Death Race 2 – A featurette that covers all of the combat and driving stunts for the film.  It turns out that Luke Goss did most of his own stunts in the movie.
  • Fast Cars and Firearms: The Cars of Death Race 2 – This short featurette offers a look at the various cars and weapons used in the film.  Since this is my favorite part of the series, I enjoyed this one.
  • Deleted Scenes – Six deleted scenes that really didn’t offer much value hence their deletion.
  • Deleted Shots Montage with Director’s Introduction –  A montage of deleted shots with the director’s introduction.  Fairly pointless but it allows you to hear directly from the director.
  • BD-Live – One thing I noticed when the disc started up was it linked to BD-Live to retrieve the latest trailers which I think is an awesome way to utilize BD-Live.  Who wants to watch trailers for movies that are months old down the road?  It’s nice to see someone use BD-Live in a smart way and one that will constantly be updating for as long as you have the movie.

Final Thoughts (4 out of 5 stars) 

For a non-theatrical movie, this looks really good and there’s some excellent stunt driving work as well.  Although the race itself was a fraction of the running time, director Roele Reine kept the pace moving along quickly. The audio and video quality were so good that it raised my rating to 4 out of 5 overall.  If you liked the first Death Race then chances are good that you will enjoy this one as well.
Order your copy today!

No comments:

Post a Comment