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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 7/28/99

1995 (1999) Regency/Warner Bros. (Warner)

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Heat Film Rating: A+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/A/C

Specs and Features

172 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:35:05, at the start of chapter 28), Snapper case packaging, 3 theatrical trailers, film-themed menu screens, scene access (52 chapters), languages: English & French (DD 5.1), subtitles: English & French, Close Captioned

"I do what I do best... I take scores. You do what you do best... try to stop guys like me."

Heat is just one of those films, you know? The ones that get under your skin, and flow through your blood like a drug. Set in the City of Angels, and filled with well-rounded characters haunted by their own personal demons, Heat is just a great film. Directed by Michael Mann (of Miami Vice and Last of the Mohicans fame), Heat is sexy, stylish, atmospheric, and boasts plenty of action.

The film follows the paths of two men. One, an LAPD homicide detective named Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino), is so consumed by his work, that he's failing his third marriage. Hanna prowls the streets of LA like a wolf, stalking those who would do wrong, while his personal life falls into ruin. The other, a life-long, professional criminal named McCauley (Robert De Niro), is simply doing what he knows best - armed robbery. He also lives a lonely existence, making no personal connections that he couldn't walk out on at a moment's notice. And he and his crew are after one last score - a bank heist that could land them more than 12 million dollars. As these two hardened men go about their business, they gradually become aware of each other - predator and prey - and they begin to gain a certain respect for one another. But both know that they're on a collision course with Fate, and each other. And in the end, only one will be left standing.

Cool, no? As if a Pacino vs. De Niro film match-up weren't awesome enough, director Mann has surround the two with an absolute dream cast of fine actors, including Val Kilmer, Jon Voight, Tom Sizemore, Ted Levine, Hank Azaria, Ashley Judd and Natalie Portman. And while I've never been a big Miami Vice fan, there's no denying that Mann has definitely crafted a first-rate story here (he wrote Heat in addition to directing it). Each character seems well-rounded, and fully-dimensional. The plot is plausible, and believable. And the action here is some of the best that's ever been captured on film. Some have criticized Heat for its depiction of gun violence, but while lots of other films have glamourized the use of guns (The Matrix, anyone?), what you see here is not excessive, and is entirely justified by the story. It's realistic, and not in any way gratuitous. So there.

Quality certainly isn't an issue on this DVD. The film was shot in 2.35:1 widescreen, using anamorphic lenses. Thankfully, it's presented that way on DVD, so that those with 16x9 TVs, and anamorphic-capable projectors, can enjoy the film in its full widescreen glory at max rez. The film is dark and atmospheric, and is well presented on the disc, transferred from a print of generally very good quality. There is the occasional speck of dust, and you'll see some film grain here and there, but hey - that's just how film is, folks. The contrast is, on the whole, excellent, with nice-looking blacks, and plenty of detail in the darker picture areas. The color is spot on, with the exception of an odd color dropout in the middle of a shot in chapter 17 (about 54:27 into the film, as the woman De Niro is talking to on the phone hangs up). It looks almost like two separate prints were used in the transfer, each with slightly different color timing, and this scene was the edit point. Why the color shift wasn't corrected is anybody's guess. The image also does occasionally look a little soft, but again, I suspect that's a print issue. Looking at the bitrate meter, I noticed that it varies wildly throughout the film, much like Image's Dances with Wolves (which at 181 minutes, is just slightly longer). As with Dances, that doesn't effect the quality - the MPEG-2 digital compression has been very well done, with few artifacts visible as a result. And, thankfully, I've been told that this is a brand new, fully-digital transfer, so there's no analog noise or edge enhancement apparent here. I certainly wouldn't call this a reference quality picture, but it's generally very good.

As for the audio, which is presented in both English and French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, well... it's tremendous. As I said before, this is a very atmospheric film, and the soundtrack is a vitally important part of that experience. The 5.1 audio here is very well mixed, with clear dialogue, and great spatial separation. You'll hear plenty of rear channel use, but it's appropriate use - not gimmicky. It creates a very good sense of three-dimensional space. The soundstage is deep and full, and there's plenty of bass to put your subwoofer to work. Just listen to the bank shootout in chapter 32 - it's like you're right there in the thick of things.

I'll be the first to admit, the extras on this DVD leave a little to be desired. You get three theatrical trailers, and that's all. The menus, while film-themed, have no animation, and no sound or music support. And the theatrical trailer selection is just tacked on to the end of the last scene selection page. Heat is a sexy movie - just think of the cool animation Warner could have with these menus. I can think of two or three ideas myself. I know that one of the arguments is that it was tough to get it all on one disc, even with dual-layering, but Dances with Wolves is 9 minutes longer, and that DVD has nice animated menu screens. I think it could have been done. On the other hand, there is a lot more action and movement through the frame in Heat, requiring a higher average bitrate. Hmmm.... Anyway, I'm sure disc space was the ultimate limiting factor.

I won't deny that Heat probably doesn't have a lot of appeal to women. This is definitely right up there on the list of all time "guy movies". And, as DVDs go, this one is a little wanting of bells and whistles. But that aside, Heat is a great flick, that looks dammed good, and sounds fantastic on DVD. Would I love to see an eventual DVD-18 special edition release of this film? Sure. But in the meantime, I'm very glad that the wait for Heat on DVD is over. I love this movie, and extras aside, I'm pretty happy. And given the low $19.98 SRP, and the great discounted prices you can get this disc for at a lot of places (both retail and online), you absolutely can't go wrong. Highly recommended.

Bill Hunt
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