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review added: 9/6/02



Spy Game
Collector's Edition - 2001 (2002) - Universal

review by Brad Pilcher of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsEncoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

Spy Game: Collector's Edition Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): B+/B

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): B+/B+

Specs and Features

127 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:27:07, in chapter 13), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary (with director Tony Scott), audio commentary (with producers Marc Abraham & Douglas Wick), Clandestine OPS featurette with behind-the-scenes footage directly linked from the film, 5 deleted scenes & 4 alternate versions (with optional director's commentary), script-to-storyboard featurette on Tony Scott's unique filmmaking process, requirements for CIA acceptance, theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access (22 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & DTS 5.1), and French (DD 5.1), subtitles: English (Captioned), Spanish

"I've got this new racket. It's called 'Operation Dinner Out.'"

Spy Game is one of those films that sneaks by, with most of us expecting just one more Hollywood thriller spun out for our consumption. As it happens, this is another Hollywood thriller spun out for our consumption, but it has the benefit of a solid script, five-star actors, and top-notch direction by Tony Scott (yes, Ridley's brother). In the same way that a previous Robert Redford flick (Sneakers) managed to end up as more than the sum of its parts, this updated spy flick is a quality addition to one's home film library.

The story, a complex yarn to be sure, follows two CIA operatives played by Redford and Brad Pitt. Redford, obviously, is the older mentor to Pitt's wily "Tom Bishop," who is recruited post-Vietnam after impressing Redford on an assassination op. Following training and a few missions, Bishop ends up in Beirut to pull a covert hit on a terrorist kingpin in the mid-eighties. Things go awry when Redford's influence and the attraction to Catherine McCormick's "Elizabeth Hadley" don't mix well.

Impressively, this portion of the film is all done in flashback, as the setting and central story actually takes place right at the end of the Cold War. That revolves around a 24-hour period, which will ultimately determine the fate of Redford's soon-to-be-retired career as well as Bishop and Hadley's lives. The Chinese even find their way into the plot, and if you couldn't tell by now, this film requires your full attention to keep up with.

As it turns out, it's also quite good. The mere concept of doing a film that exists predominantly in flashback sequences is daunting enough. Keeping the complicated elements of the overall picture intact is that much harder. Assuming a director could pull that off, they'd still have to add that bit of magic that equals a great movie. Mike van Diem, the original director, ended up off the picture and that left Tony Scott to pick up the reigns and see what he could do. Add in a few hurdles like having to shift the whole production from Israel (following the outbreak of violence in 2000) to Morocco, and you've got quite an interesting story before the film even gets shot. Luckily for Scott, the essential story and solid performances to help him up the mountain.

What we, the viewers, end up with is a classic spy story told in a very contemporary style, which is a refreshing way to view this type of material. By the end, assuming you kept up, you'll be left with a very rich set of connected dots. The best films are always the ones that you never fully understand until the closing credits, and Spy Game officially qualifies. The stylistic approach of Scott adds to the quality of the film with various flashes, flourishes and finishing touches. A distinct use of color is one more of his contributions, and all is appreciated.

That's not to say this is a perfect film. It is a typical Hollywood flick designed to entertain us and nothing more, and this it does well, but the weight of that reality can weigh even the best movies down. All of this being said Spy Game is certainly in the same class of as Pitt's follow-up Ocean's Eleven. It's easily one of the better pieces of Hollywood fare to come out in the past year.

All of this alone would be worth adding this particular DVD to your collection, but that would only make it a good film. As it turns out, the DVD is just as good, though not any better. The video quality is crisp, with the slightest bit of edge enhancement and artifacting. Neither are particularly detrimental, or even that noticeable, so it doesn't lose many points. The specific colors employed by the director come through vibrantly, and all around this is a good transfer.

The sound is equally well balanced, in both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 versions. The various sounds of locations from Vietnam to Berlin, Beirut to China, come through well here. Think electrocutions, nearby gunfire, far away gunfire, bombs exploding, or just chatter in the local dialect. All that is mixed nicely with the dialogue, which never strays into the inaudible, and the score that is expertly pieced together with some nice song selections like Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms. This is an all-in-all solid mix, whichever option you choose, though nothing spectacular.

In the extras, this disc begins to excel in the same way Scott's directing a credible cast of actors made Spy Game excel as a film. A couple of informative commentaries, one with the director another with the two producers, provides a nice sense of two things. First, this was not an easy film to make as far as production goes. Second, these guys had enormous fun making this film. There are arguably better commentaries out there, but I've never been one to get into comparisons of that sort. Was this a good commentary set? Yes, absolutely.

A nice additional "commentary" was the Clandestine OPS feature, which allowed you to access behind-the-scenes footage as well as the alternate versions available elsewhere in the extras as you watched the film. I'm a big fan of this kind of feature, which ties things into the film in a way that I think is one of the better opportunities of DVD. Those alternate versions, of course, can be viewed along with several deleted scenes in the menu system. They come with an option set of director's commentary, which is far less impressive than the film's commentary but good nonetheless.

A brief, and I mean brief, feature on Tony Scott's interesting habit of doing his own storyboards on the set, just prior to shooting a scene, comes together with the theatrical trailer and the standard compliment of cast & crew credits to round things out. DVD-ROM content is essentially a web link, so it's hardly mentionable.

As with the film, the extras are a nice highlight amidst plenty of DVDs that fall flat. That being said, as with the film, they don't shoot through the roof in the way some other releases have. This is a B+ film, emphasis on the plus, and the DVD is equally B+. You should, at the very least, rent this puppy, but if you're a serious DVD collector then this is one more film that's worth having in your library. That, as they say, is the bottom line.

Brad Pilcher
bradpilcher@thedigitalbits.com




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