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Spy Game (Collector's Edition) Print E-mail
Tuesday, 09 April 2002

Spy Game (Collector's Edition)

Universal Studios Home Video
MPAA rating: R
starring: Robert Redford, Brad Pitt, Catherine McCormack, Stephen Dillane, Larry Bryggman
release year: 2001
film rating: Four Stars
sound/picture: Four Stars
reviewed by: Mel Odom

Cloak-and-dagger movies stand as perennial favorites in Hollywood. James Bond films stay in vogue, changing leading men as necessary, but always staying cutting-edge with the technology and weaponry. Tom Cruise’s "Mission: Impossible" has spawned a spy sequel. Vin Diesel’s new movie "XXX," out this summer, features him as an extreme sports spy. While the Cruise and Bond films concentrate on high-octane stunts and huge explosions, "Spy Game" becomes an edge-of-the-seat thriller by concentrating on character and the ticking clock posed by the capture of Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt) in the movie’s beginning, while his CIA bosses prepares to let him be executed.

Chapter 1 begins with the basso-rich thumping of the incredible soundtrack that underscores the whole movie. The audience witnesses an attempted prison break in China. At this point, we do not know who Bishop is, but Tony Scott's excellent direction draws us by placing us in the middle of the action. The sound of a police car's tires whirring across the pavement zips from the center speaker to the mains, from left to right, building the illusion of movement that is echoed by the screaming sirens following the same pattern.

Inside the prison, the prisoners' plates banging against metal bars reverberates through the surround sound system, giving the viewer the impression that he or she is sitting in the middle of a potential riot. This cavernous effect has an unsettling effect, sharpening the certainty of the danger to Bishop.

Bishop fakes his own death by electrocution to get the few minutes he needs to rescue the prisoner he has gone there to save. The jailers' voices echoing through the surround sound system's front and rear speakers remind the viewer constantly that Bishop is alone. That feeling of isolation is furthered by the grim triple-click of the small semi-automatic pistol that Bishop has hidden and draws to begin his search. While the search continues, so does the basso thumping from the subwoofer.

An experienced moviegoer knows that Bishop's rescue mission is doomed to failure. The good guys can't succeed this early in a movie without a price. Although Bishop rescues the prisoner (who remains unknown to the viewer, which adds to the various mysteries strung throughout the movie), the escape is not completed. The viewers’ senses snap and are increasingly frazzled by the explosions of the huge lights inside the prison coming back on, cycling through the center and front speakers with even greater effect, like the footprints of a giant closing in for the kill.

Bishop's capture by the Chinese prison guards is extremely well done. For a moment, Bishop appears ready to take the battle to his potential captors, but realizes quickly that he is outgunned. The surround sound system’s superiority for movie watching is again noted as the jailers bring their weapons to the ready: the ratcheting sounds of safeties and bolts echo around the viewer, making him or her feel as helpless as Bishop must in that moment.

In Chapter 2, the audience meets Nathan Muir (Robert Redford). Muir receives a call from a colleague informing him that Tom Bishop has been taken prisoner. The back-and-forth exchange of information over the phones is well done, making the viewer feel as though he or she is part of that tense conversation. The basso soundtrack kicks in through the subwoofer. Muir's sleek Porsche speeds through the city streets as he rolls into his office and into what should be the day of his retirement. The sports car’s movements rip through the center and main speakers, creating a deeper illusion of movement, of a fox running before the hounds.

Chapter 3 enjoys a nice touch with the sliding security door. When the door moves across the screen, the sound moves through the center main speakers. Phones chirp from the mains and rears, surrounding the viewer and immersing him or her in the same environment of the tactical command area. The viewer is in Muir's world now. After a confrontation with a fellow agent, Muir is requested to put in an appearance at a meeting where he is asked about Tom Bishop. Another good audio bit of the movie comes into play as the meeting is recorded. The audio track flips back and forth between the conversation and the recording annex of the conference room.

Scott's direction really shines in Chapter 4. After setting the 24-hour ticking clock that maintains a frantic pace throughout the rest of the movie, Scott also manages to play with time while revealing the past and the depth of the characters involved in the storyline. Muir tells the story in the present, hoping to win over the other agents and to compel them to rescue Tom Bishop instead of letting the Chinese authorities kill him in 24 hours. Muir speaks of his first meeting with Bishop, and that story is cunningly mixed in with ensuing events that keep the viewer nailed to the edge of his or her seat. The sound and the music are a big part of the creation of suspense here.

Throughout this frantic display of three time periods unraveling from one, then coming back together to give the viewer an increased awareness of the stakes, the basso throbbing beat of the helicopters used constantly in Chapter 4 hammers the viewer from the subwoofer. By the time the viewer returns to Muir in the CIA conference room, he or she is won over by the compelling characters, the relationship they have built, and the plight that lies before them.

Chapter 5 uses the front speakers again as the conversations of the CIA investigators cycle around Muir, and therefore the viewer. The torture scene in this chapter echoes explosively from the center and main speakers, making the viewer feel that he or she is trapped in the small windowless room with Tom Bishop. In a way, the sound of the dinnerware being passed around in the conference room in Chapter 6 reminds the viewer of how trapped Nathan Muir is as well.

The soundtrack picks up the pace again in Chapter 6 by setting the time period for the viewer. The hisses and squeaks of the train station where Muir has arranged to "accidentally" bump into Bishop again pulls the viewer into the scene. After Muir reveals that he is a CIA agent and talks Bishop into joining the fold, Bishop's training begins in earnest.

The background music during Bishop and Muir’s tense, informative training sessions plays through the main speakers and underscores everything that's coming through in the dialogue in the center. Again, director Scott utilizes some amazing film editing by compressing storytelling through creative intercutting, without compromising the adrenaline flow of the viewer. Even though these scenes happen in the past, and the viewer knows that Bishop succeeds and survives his assignments so he can be captured at the Chinese prison, we can’t help but feel drawn into the scenarios.

The subwoofer thunders through Chapter 10 as the stakes rise on the deadly cat-and-mouse game Muir plays against the rest of the CIA group. The heavy underscoring provided by the basso thumping amps up the viewer’s interest and tweaks the adrenaline curve again. The phone-tag scenes between Muir and his secretary in this chapter are also incredibly intense, going on under the very noses of the CIA people Muir is trying to out-jockey, and the surround sound system brings the tension home with the swift, sure strokes of a blacksmith’s hammer.

Chapter 11 swells with artillery fire in Beirut. The country was torn with political and religious infighting, and the subwoofer pounds the viewer with the inevitability of the sea of destruction that swirls over the landscape. Crickets and children’s voices echo through the main speakers, bringing home the softer sides of the war, the innocence that is always lost.

A powerboat slamming against the surf in Chapter 12 puts the viewer on the banks of the Mediterranean Sea. The tension in the past as well as the growing pressure in the present continue building over the next few chapters, punctuated by Islamic prayers, cricket noises, and bird calls in the background, as well as street noises that truly bring out the Beirut environs. The scenes are masterfully done in the visual spectrum, but the sound effects and background noises make the experience even more real. Perhaps a stereo sound system could convey some of these effects, but a stereo sound system doesn’t come close to providing what the viewer can enjoy through a surround sound system.

The events of the past come to an explosive finish in Chapter 16. These action scenes are full-tilt blowouts for action junkies, but with the added layering of character, and the fact that something is lost as well as won, the scenes cut even more deeply. The movie plays very fairly with the idea that good guys may finish first a lot of times, but a lot of times they also finish alone.

"Spy Games" is an action film, but is also a psychological thriller. The story threads are all inextricably linked, all weighted to bring about top viewer interest and investment. But the audio part of the experience is just as compelling. Maybe the story would draw most readers to the action, but the sounds crashing through a surround sound system rivets the bar down on a runaway roller coaster ride of all-out action and taut emotional suspense.

In addition to the movie itself, the special features include the "Clandestine Ops" section. This feature shows file folder icons that bring up tidbits of filmmaking history regarding "Spy Game" from director Tony Scott, the military technical advisor, and others. Clicking on the icon stops the movie and allows the viewer to take a brief sidebar trip, or plays the information on an inset picture during some of the establishing shots. Even then, clicking on the screen again after the sequence has played will start the movie over at the previous bookmark so the viewer misses nothing.

The feature commentary comes in two flavors: one with director Scott and the other with producers Marc Abraham and Douglas Wick. Both versions have some overlapping information, but both are worth the investment of time for the viewer who is fascinated by human interest and background stories. Several of those stories are hilarious, and just goes to show what has to be done to in order to create a good viewing experience.

The deleted scenes are interesting because as the viewer goes down through the list, it’s easy to note that any of those scenes could have been left in the movie. However, the director and producers had a definite running time in mind. While some of the additions would have altered the overall scope of the story, many of them could have been left in. But their absence isn’t intolerable.

Scott’s featurette on storyboarding the film is awesome for anyone who is interested in working on the visual aspects of film. His method of working, revealed in the featurette, is to have all the dialogue and screen direction moved over to the left side of the page so he can draw storyboards on the right side. In just under three minutes, a potential film student can learn a wealth of knowledge about how a director sets up visual shots.

Total Axess is a new feature Universal Studios Home Video has designed and is supporting to allow DVD watchers more entertainment. To access the special website, the viewer must load the DVD into the DVD-ROM of his or her computer, boot up the interActual 2.0 player, then click on the TOTAL AXESS button at the bottom left of the toolbar. Once launched, the coded weblink takes the viewer to the special "Spy Game" website Universal Studios has set up.

Accessing the website, the viewer at present can view the illustrated screenplay that Scott used while shooting the movie. The drawings along the right side of the pages are all his, carefully Xed out in red as he finished shooting each scene. The site also features two wallpaper downloads of Redford and Pitt, and 24 on-site pictures of the stars. An exclusive video offers up Scott’s commentary on CIA agent training and what was shown in the film.

Not all of the website extras are on-line as of this writing. A "Coming Soon" column lists several features that will be put up over the coming weeks. These features include the "Spy Game" world premiere, exclusive interviews with Robert Redford and Brad Pitt, and more.

Packed with extras, "Spy Game" is a veritable cornucopia of viewing pleasure. But at the heart of this disc is the absolutely stunning movie brought to life by Scott, Redford and Pitt. "Spy Game" is an absolute must for the diehard action-adventure film fan, Redford and Pitt fans, and anyone wanting a movie that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

more details
sound format:
Digital Sound: English DTS 5.1 Surround; English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround; French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
aspect ratio(s):
(2.35:1—Anamorphic Widescreen)
special features: Audio Commentary by Director Ridley Scott; Audio Commentary by the Producers; Deleted Scenes with Director Commentary; Alternate Scenes; Alternate Ending; Making-Of Featurette; Storyboards Narrated by Scott; Requirements for CIA Acceptance; Production Notes; Spanish Subtitles; English Closed-Captioning; DVD-ROM Features
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Pioneer DV-C302D
receiver: RCA RT2280
main speakers: RCA RT2280
center speaker: RCA RT2280
rear speakers: RCA RT2280
subwoofer: RCA RT2280
monitor: 42-inch Toshiba HD Projection TV

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