Thursday, March 3, 2011

Unstoppable Blu-ray Review

Taking a look at Director Tony Scott’s filmography, it’s easy to see that he loves movies about vehicles and that he has a deep appreciation for speed.  Top Gun, Days of Thunder, Crimson Tide, and The Taking of Pelham 123, represent just a few of his earlier efforts.  Now he’s back with another train movie called Unstoppable with Denzel Washington and Chris Pine.  Unstoppable is based on a real life incident about a runaway unmanned train and the efforts made to stop it.

Film (4 out of 5 stars)

The movie opens with a new conductor in training named Will Colson (Chris Pine) reporting in for his first day on the job, only to find open hostility directed towards him because of his name (his uncle is the company president) and because of his age.  These long employed workers including Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington) resent the younger unionized employees who work cheaper who are being hired to replace them to save the company money.  Both Barnes and Colson are both having a tough time in their personal lives, with Barnes forgetting his daughter’s birthday and Colson who’s estranged from his wife due to a misunderstanding.  These issues plus the added professional tensions between them makes their interactions at the start of the movie strained and guarded.

Soon however, they will have to learn to work together as their lives are about to change as soon as a incompetent engineer (Ethan Suplee) accidentally sends an unmanned train down the tracks after getting out to try to switch the tracks.  What makes things even worse is the fact that the half mile train doesn’t have its air brakes connected and that as part of its convoy, it has eight tankers carrying a dangerous substance – molten phenol.  With the train barreling down the tracks with no brakes and no one able to stop it, it’s pointed out that at the speed it’s traveling it is basically a “missile the size of the Chrysler Building.”  Of course, the runaway train is also speeding towards a train full of kids who are there to learn about train safety.  Ever since Superman, it seems like there’s always a bus or train full of kids in danger all the time now.  At what point will parents refuse to send their kids to ride public transportation?

In any case, a couple of miles away and unaware of the impending danger, Colson and Barnes are doing some training exercises when they are told to get moving because a train is coming for them.  From there on, the movie becomes a propulsive thriller as not only do they have to evade a train headed for them, but they also decide that they want to help stop the train.  Matters aren’t helped when the rail-yard supervisor Connie Hooper (Rosario Dawson) can’t convince her boss Oscar Galvin (Kevin Dunn) to derail the train in an isolated area in order to prevent casualties.  Galvin is more interested in the bottom line (like most corporate hacks) and refuses to destroy his expensive train and puts his own plan in motion that involves a helicopter dropping someone onto a moving train to get inside the train and apply the brakes.  When that plan doesn’t go exactly like planned and another attempt to stop the train fails, it’s up to Colson and Barnes to prevent the train from going off of the elevated tracks once it reaches the populated area of Stanton, where the track curves right next to some fuel depots which will explode if combined with the molten phenol.

With this simple yet exciting premise, the film does exactly what you would expect as it follows the typical ground-rules for this kind of movie and yet despite that, it’s so skillfully made that it still generates excitement.  In lesser hands, this would have been a paint by numbers proceeding, but with a master craftsman like Scott it’s more of a well oiled machine.  With a constantly moving camera (which a lot of people didn’t like), Scott captures the drama and excitement from about just about every angle imaginable.  The logistics involved to make this movie must have been insane with all of the trains they had to use, three helicopters who flew so close together that it needed to be choreographed, and all of the equipment and trailers to make this happen.  In his quest to make this as real as possible, Scott used real trains and really derailed one instead of relying on CGI.  The actors did almost all of their own stunts and that adds a lot of extra appreciation for the movie for me.

Video (5 out of 5 stars)

The movie’s 1080p transfer (2.35:1) is excellent.  While most of Tony Scott’s latest films always look over-saturated and grainy, that’s due more to the director’s stylized direction than the actual transfer itself.  However, for this movie Scott dialed that down quite a bit and we are left with a sharp picture full of clarity and excellent contrast.  Colors while somewhat rare in a Scott film, are bright and vivid and offer a nice contrast with the drabness of the the rail-yard and trains.  Black levels are solid, flesh tones are natural and consistent and there’s no sign of any digital defects or DNR present.  There’s some light grain present but I believe that was a creative decision as the rest of the print looks fantastic.

Audio (5 out of 5 stars)

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to any fan of Tony Scott, but this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is awesome! Scott has always felt sound was important in his movies so he can be counted on to make sure his releases sound great and this one is no exception.  This is one of those movies that gets me in trouble with my wife as the bass literally shook the walls.  When the big trains rumble by you will feel it and I love the immersiveness of it all.  Whether it was the train derailing and exploding, or the helicopters whizzing across the channels, this was a great mix.  Dialogue is clear and never drowned out by the music or the effects but I had to keep my hand on the remote because this is one of those movies where the sound level goes up and down.  I recommend watching this when no one is trying to sleep as this one packs a punch!

Special Features (4 out of 5 stars)

All of the extras are in high definition which is nice and there’s some interesting stuff to see both on the disc and also on BD-Live for those of you that haven’t checked out the online content yet for the movies.
  • Audio Commentaries – There are two commentary tracks with the first one with director Tony Scott, who talks about the development of the movie and the challenges they faced.  The second track is called Tracking the Story: Unstoppable Script Development, which includes Tony Scott and the film’s writer Mark Bomback talk about each scene in the movie and their approach to how to make it work.  Usually, these commentaries are more focused on the film-making side of things but this was interesting to see the focus on the screenwriting aspect of the process.

  • The Fastest Track: Unleashing Unstoppable – This is an excellent look at the making of the movie condensed down into thirty minutes. There’s a lot of focus on the stunts, the desire to make it as real as possible, and some nice behind the scenes conversations.

  • Derailed: Anatomy of a Scene – While we’ve heard how Scott wanted to do it all as real as possible, this extra shows him doing just that.  Some real trains from a junkyard are bought and after combining them into a working train Scott has it derailed and blown up – all in camera.  This was pretty cool to see.

  • Hanging Off the Train: Stunt Work - A look at all of the different stunts that took place on the trains including, running, jumping, landing, and also a look on how the stuntman was dragged across the train while it was moving.

  • On the Rails with the Director and Cast – A conversation with Ridley Scott, Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, and Rosario Dawson, who while sitting on location discuss the film and what attracted them to it.

  • Sneak Peak – Includes trailers for Machete and Casino Jack.

  • BD-Live Exclusive: Feeling the Heat – Unstoppable Pyrotechnics  – Since I like explosions I found this to be interesting.  They show how they went about blowing up the derailed train and how much explosives it took to do it.

  • IMDb Live Lookup – A feature that allows the viewer to get up to date info on the movie and actors involved.

  • Digital Copy – A DVD containing a digital copy of the film that allows viewing on your phone or iPad.

  • Theatrical Trailer

Final Thoughts (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)

There may not be much of a plot and they characters aren’t completely fleshed out, but between the actors who made this better than it should have been and Scott’s eye for speed and talent for logistics, this movie was a lot of fun but it’s not something that will stay with you.

Order your copy today!

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