Here are three recent releases, all good-to-great action pictures, that might do well for the inquiring dad who has a gift card to burn or a tie to exchange. Enjoy...
The original theatrical review can be found here.
The Blu Ray looks and sounds pretty terrific. Obviously this is not a reference-quality transfer, but the 2.40:1 picture is an accurate representation of how the film looked in theaters. The colors are bright and accurate, with proper black levels and clear distinctions between light images and dark ones. For better or worse, the razor-sharp picture shows every bit of Mel Gibson's age (he turned 54 about three weeks before this film opened in theaters). The English 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio mix sounds perfectly fine on my non-existent set-up. Sound effects and dialogue are evenly balanced and every line is perfectly audible. The extras are pretty sparse. The set comes with a second disc, which contains a standard-definition DVD copy of the film which also doubles as a digital copy for those so inclined. There are about five minutes worth of deleted scenes. Nothing terribly important, but it wouldn't have killed the pacing to toss them into the under-two hour-picture anyway. The only other feature is a series of 'Focus Points' featurettes (the return of Mel Gibson, the original miniseries, writing the new screenplay, etc). Available separately or as 'PLAY ALL', they run a combined length of about 30 minutes, comprising a relatively solid talking-heads documentary.
Good film, great transfer, all-too few extras. Unless you're a big fan of the film or anyone involved (Martin Campbell, Mel Gibson, etc), this is strictly a rental.
For the theatrical review of this picture, go here.
The Blu Ray - Like all recent Warner Bros titles, the film is housed in a double-disc set, with the Blu Ray containing the feature and supplemental features on one disc and a DVD copy containing the film and a digital copy of said film on the other. As for the Blu Ray, the disc accurately represents the muted, brown-centric color palette and is generally rich with detail. Like Sherlock Holmes (and I'd presume The Wolfman), this is a film that was likely shown in theaters with incorrect bulb-lighting levels all over the country, which probably rendered it relatively underlit and grubby looking in auditoriums. Thus, I can only presume that the Blu Ray probably looks better than the theatrical presentation in all-but the best theaters. This is not an audio powerhouse in any sense of the term, but the sound effects, music, and dialogue are properly separated and the dialogue is always crystal-clear.
Extras-wise, the film comes with the usual 'Maximum Movie Mode' function, which is fashioned more like a traditional picture-in-picture commentary than the more immersive versions found on Terminator: Salvation or Sherlock Holmes. The rest of the supplements total about 75 minutes. There are 35 minutes worth of 'Focus Points' featurettes (which are of course also found on the Maximum Movie Mode), as well as a five-minute featurette of the music. The two-minutes of deleted/extended scenes are worth a glance. They include a seemingly gorier version of a second-act fight scene, an additional final moment for Gary Oldman, and a brief glimpse at a discarded Time magazine that implies that the world-changing events occurred in 2009. The other features of note are two documentaries, running a total of 31 minutes, that deal with how societies would deal with post-apocalyptic times, as well as a look at the spiritual ideology of this religious fable. Finally, we have a five-minute animated feature, created by the Hughes Brothers, detailing the back-story behind Gary Oldman's villain.
Eight brutal prisoners from around the world converge in a Georgian prison to engage in brutal fights to the (almost) death with the promise of freedom for the victor. Wealthy men and corrupt authority figures will wager on the outcome, but one man has decided to fight back. Sound original? Of course not, but I would argue (by default) that Undisputed III is The Godfather of the 'prisoners fight to the death' sub-genre. It's competently acted (its always good to see Robert Costanzo), looks gorgeous thanks to the Red One camera, simply plotted, and contains just enough impressively choreographed fight scenes.
The real reason to see this straight-to-DVD/Blu Ray title is of course the brawling, and it does not disappoint. Compared to the sort of brawling we see in Death Warrior and other MMA garbage, fight choreographer Larnell Stovall comes off looking like Yuen Woo-ping. The fight scenes are varied, painful, and genuinely engaging to watch. Most importantly, director Isaac Florentine (who cut his teeth directing Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers episodes in the 1990s) shoots said action beats in wide shots and long takes, often at a 3/4 birds-eye angle, which allows us to see both combatants at the same time. The film is what it is, but it's a surprisingly watchable entry in a sub-genre that I generally have little to no interest in. It's a surprisingly high-quality direct-to-DVD/Blu Ray action picture.
As noted above, the picture quality is rather gorgeous. While much of the film is set in dark, grungy prison sets, the level of detail would be highly impressive for a big-studio release, let alone a low-budget DVD title. The colors pop whenever the fighters actually step into the ring. I hesitate to say it, but the Red One camera in some ways may be superior to traditional film stock, especially when dealing with detail and robust colors (the Gamer Blu Ray looked jaw-droopingly vivid). Once the technology becomes just a bit cheaper, we may finally see the end of cruddy-looking direct-to-DVD titles once and for all. The sound (English 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio) is not all-that special, mainly because the occasionally loud rap music occasionally drowns out the sound effects and dialogue. But, to be honest, I had English subtitles on anyway (have to keep the volume lower so as to not wake the sleeping baby), so my experience may differ from yours.
There are no extras on this disc, not even a scene selection. The main menu offers 'play movie' and 'set-up', and that's it. The title comes packaged as a Blu Ray/DVD combo set, for whatever that's worth. Oddly enough, the film is priced quite a bit higher than the norm, with the DVD retailing for $28 and the Blu Ray selling for $36. Still, as a rental, the film delivers on all counts for those who enjoy a little B-movie trash served up with a genuine attempt at quality. The visuals are gorgeous and the fight scenes absolutely deliver. Undisputed III: Redemption is a slight breath of fresh air for both the direct-to-DVD market and the mixed-martial arts action genre. In a category where 'pretty bad' is par for the course, Undisputed III is 'not bad'.
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