|HD DVD Mystery-Suspense|
|Written by Darren Gross|
|Saturday, 01 July 2006|
Vascular surgeon Richard Kimble (Ford) comes home to find his wife (Ward) near death after an attack by an unknown intruder who is still in the house. Kimble grapples with the one-armed stranger, but is unable to prevent his escape. Kimble’s wife dies of her injuries. The police find Kimble spattered with his wife’s blood charge him with her murder. Condemned by a 911 tape of his wife’s last words, Kimble is sentenced to death by lethal injection. During prisoner transport via bus to the state penitentiary, a group of convicts assaults a guard and attempts to take control of the vehicle. The out-of-control bus is hit by an oncoming train, allowing Kimble and another convict to escape, each going their separate ways. Pursued relentlessly by U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard (Jones), Kimble makes it to Chicago where he tries to blend in with the rest of the city’s denizens. As Gerard dogs his every turn, he realizes Kimble is trying to untangle the mystery of his wife’s death and leads Gerard down the same trail, hoping to convince the skeptical Marshal of his innocence.
This intelligent and entertaining combination of chase thriller and character-based drama was a smash hit and critics’ darling back in 1993. With a top-notch cast giving excellent performances, and fine Chicago location photography, this long-in-development project managed to survive its messy scripting (much was written or revised on set) and production challenges, delivering a coherent and satisfying thriller.
Based on ABC’s 1963-1967 hit David Janssen series of the same title, this feature version keeps the essence of the idea while changing the nature of some of the characters and the motives for the murder. The film, established as a thriller, occasionally seems a bit stately in its pacing, as it tries to combine the white-knuckle thrills of the chase film with the episodic, character-based structure of the TV series. It feels languorous at some times and rushed in others, as if you’re watching a feature-film condensation of the series instead of a freshly-produced movie.
These are fairly minor gripes, though, and the strength of the film rests squarely on Harrison Ford’s shoulders and he proves more than up to the task, giving us a solid portrait of a shattered man with nothing to lose and a strong humanitarian core. Audience favorite Tommy Lee Jones (along with his amusing crew, featuring Joe Pantoliano, Daniel Roebuck, L. Scott Caldwell etc.) gets most of the laughs and his solid performance earned him an Oscar. It should be said though, that while the film is definitely entertaining and much more intelligent and satisfying than your average big summer action movie, it’s not a great film, and the number of nominations leveled at it (including Best Picture) seems a bit odd, in retrospect. It’s an extremely well-produced and -acted picture, but it doesn’t ascend to the level of art. At least it’s free of the hyper-stylization plaguing recent action films.
The popularity of Tommy Lee Jones’s Marshal Gerard lead to a Harrison Ford-less sequel, (1998’s “U.S. Marshals”) focusing on another Fugitive (Wesley Snipes) pursued by Gerard and his crew, this time without L. Scott Caldwell, regrettably. The success of the 1993 version lead to a short-lived 2000 revival of the series starring Tim Daly. Oddly, the original series is still unavailable on DVD.
This HD DVD release delivers an excellent and extremely clean transfer, but it’s not a showpiece, simply due to the number of close-ups and the choice to use a fairly shallow depth of field in the photography. Since the imagery doesn’t have a deep-focus look to it, the background sharpness you expect to see revealed in the new format isn’t present. This isn’t a flaw, just the nature of the photography. The recurring helicopter overhead shots of Chicago are filled with detail and clarity, where this transfer shines. It’s an extremely accurate rendition of the theatrical experience—sharp imagery is displayed exactly as it should be, and softer optical effects like Ford’s jump from the bus as the train hits it and the establishing shot of the dam have the slight quality loss inherent in the original effects. Image stability is exemplary and it’s fairly free of artifacts or digital noise.
The multi-channel surround track is a perfect match for the film—exciting, loud and punchy when it needs to be, and predominantly quiet and dialogue-focused for the majority of the dramatic scenes. The audio encoding is solid (though there is the odd instance of peak distortion from the center channel when played via Toslink), with levels nicely balanced without further need of adjustment during the feature. There are several scenes which make excellent use of surrounds. They’re effective, particularly in the placing of helicopters off-screen during overhead and peripheral searches and in the beginning of the dam sequence. The involving sound effects build suspense by bringing up the levels on the atmospheric surrounds in the final couple of sequences. The sound and sound effects editing were nominated for Oscars and this rendition feels faithful and worthy.
The bonus features are minimal but interesting. The “Intro” is a pretty pointless under 2min bit of fluff showing Director Andrew Davis synching up the commentary with Tommy Lee Jones who is being recorded off-screen at a different location. The “Derailed” featurette is a 9min deconstruction showing the work that went into setting up and filming the train crash sequence. It’s mostly concerned with production logistics, and refreshingly it was nearly all done live with little visual effects enhancements. The featurette reveals a goof (depending on your point of view) in the transfer to HD. Apparently in the original DVD transfer from a few years ago, a crew person who was visible in one shot after the train wreck was digitally removed when they released the film on DVD. In the HD transfer, he’s back again, which restores this goof that was present during its theatrical release, but in doing so, it contradicts the featurette which boasts that he’s longer there.
“On The Run” is an interesting 24 minute featurette which is mostly talking heads, but provides interesting background on the surprising difficulty in developing the property into a viable feature film and has brief interviews from the primary cast and production personnel. The best feature on the disc is the commentary by Andrew Davis. He fills the running time with interesting behind-the-scene stories, comments on technique and on-set decisions, notes on deleted scenes, how effects were achieved and who some of the background extras are. Tommy Lee Jones is also on the track, but contributes almost nothing. It’s a shame Warners didn’t elect to include an episode of the original series on the disc, but the series rights are owned by a different studio.