Going in, I wasn’t expecting to like SPY GAME ($27) all that much, but the movie turned out to be a very cool political thriller and a great DVD to boot. The plot of SPY GAME, centers on a CIA operative named Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt), who is capture while trying to break someone out of a Chinese prison. The Chinese don’t take too kindly to Bishop’s actions, and plan on executing him within twenty-four hours. As coincidence would have it, Nathan Muir (Robert Redford), who was Bishop’s mentor, learns of his protégé’s plight on the very day of his retirement from agency. As you might have guessed, Muir’s final day at the CIA is wrangling with the agency’s directors, while scrambling to find a way to save the young operative from execution, after learning that the agency’s upper echelon has no intention of rescuing Bishop.
While Bishop’s fate would seem to be the central focus of SPY GAME, much of the film’s running time is filled with flashback sequences showing how Muir guided Bishop’s career over a period of years and how a couple of key missions lead to the current situation. Redford and Pitt are quite good in their respective roles, especially Redford, as one of the agency’s master manipulators. Director Tony Scott’s snappy pacing and handling of the action sequences makes the film’s two hour and seven minute running time seem a lot shorter and leaves the audience wanting more. The solid supporting cast of SPY GAME includes Catherine McCormack, Stephen Dillane, Larry Bryggman, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Matthew Marsh, Todd Boyce, Michael Paul Chan, Garrick Hagon and Charlotte Rampling in a brief cameo.
Universal Studios Home Video has made SPY GAME available in a 2.35:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. This is a gorgeous looking transfer that renders an incredibly sharp and well-defined image. Colors are very vibrant and the flesh tones look very good, even when the style of the cinematography becomes a little artful and tries to skew the hues just a bit. Blacks are wonderfully solid and the image produces excellent contrast and shadow detail. The film element used for the transfer is virtually pristine, without noticeable blemishes or obtrusive grain. This cleanly authored dual layer DVD doesn’t display any signs of digital compression artifacts.
SPY GAME includes both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 channel soundtracks. No matter which flavor you pick, the discrete soundtracks really rock! You get explosions, gunfire and helicopters zooming around during the film’s intense action sequences. There are plenty discrete sound effects panning around the entire soundstage, including through the split surround channels. Dialogue reproduction is very clean and very precise. The bass channel kicks some serious booty and will keep the old subwoofer quite busy. The differences between the Dolby Digital and DTS are not all that pronounced, with both formats being equally well mixed. DTS has a bit more sonic clarity, which is attributable to its higher bit rate, but you are not being shortchanged by the Dolby Digital track. A French Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English and Spanish subtitles.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD’s interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as some of the DVD’s supplementary materials. SPY GAME includes two separate audio commentaries; the first is with director Tony Scott, while the second features producers Marc Abraham and Douglas Wick. Both commentaries offer a lot of details on the making of a complex motion picture such as this, with Scott’s talk going into the nitty-gritty of how shots were achieved.
Next up is Clandestine Ops, which is a special viewing option for the motion picture. In this mode, the view can interactively select to view all sorts of supplementary material that pertains to a particular moment in the film. Utilizing branching, the viewer can hit the enter button on their remote controls, whenever a logo for the supplemental material pops up on the screen. Also included on the DVD are nine deleted or alternate versions of existing scenes, which can be viewed with or without director’s commentary. While all the material is interesting, ultimately it wound up on the cutting room floor to maintain the film’s brisk pacing. Script to Storyboard Process is a two-minute plus featurette with director Tony Scott that shows comparisons between the director’s drawings and the actual film footage. Requirements For CIA Acceptance is a straightforward text feature that explains how CIA candidate are chosen. Also included on the DVD is a theatrical trailer, plus production notes cast & crew biographies/filmographies, a soundtrack CD promo and a theatrical trailer for the upcoming release of the action-thriller THE BOURNE IDENTITY. With SPY GAME, Universal introduces Total Axess DVD-ROM features, which provide hotlinks to a secret location with additional behind-the-scenes footage, interview and more information on the movie.
SPY GAME is a highly enjoyable political thriller featuring two generations of Hollywood’s top leading men. The DVD looks and sounds incredible, plus it offers a very solid array of supplemental features. If you are even modestly interested in the subject matter, you can’t go wrong by picking up a copy of SPY GAME on DVD.
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