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Swordfish Print E-mail
Thursday, 01 June 2006

Image At its heart, “Swordfish” is a caper, an action-packed thriller of theft told between the lines of good and evil involving cops and robbers. At one point Gabriel Shear (portrayed with easy flamboyant egotism by John Travolta) tells Stan Jobson (Hugh Jackson) about Houdini and the art of misdirection. The movie warns viewers fairly that not all is as it seems, but somehow the over-the-top action and tension masks those secrets until the final scenes are played out.

HD Video Resolution: “Swordfish” is indicative of the HD DVDs that are being unleashed on the entertainment shelves. Packed with the extra pizzazz of true high-definition, the video quality of the movie is nothing less than amazing. The slo-mo detonation of the walking Claymore mines in Chapter 2 demonstrates the explosive nature of the HD video format. In Chapter 4, the red dress worn by Ginger (Halle Berry) when she meets Stan (Jackman) for the first time really stands out against the grungy background, and it’s clean enough to show that when she hikes that dress up to golf that she has no panty lines. The chase in Chapter 13 is brought to vibrant life as dust clouds—neat and discernible—fill the air, then spill into a pristine beach scene that could be downloaded and used on a postcard. The computer hardware in Chapter 15 is so well defined that the viewer has no problem reading the tiny script on the devices. The HD DVD’s video presentation is absolutely optimal.
HD Audio Resolution: The audio portion of the HD DVD receives a stunning upgrade as well, taking form in crisp, clear notes as well as stupendous separation. All speakers – center, front, rear and subwoofer – are constantly hammering out the audio tracks, moving the story around and placing the surround sound audience directly in the middle of the action. The helicopter circling the bank holdup in Chapter 2 amply demonstrates the separation of the sound as it glides from speaker to speaker, letting the surround sound listener know where the helicopter is exactly without showing it onscreen. In Chapter 4, the booms of the pumping oil rigs explode through the subwoofer, and Stan’s golf swings sound supersonic as they cut through the air. The chase sequence in Chapter 13 screams through the surround sound as Stan and his FBI pursuers zip down the long field of plastic. In Chapter 18, the car chase and full-on combat sequence with assault rifles and exploding vehicles pump up the volume and fill the room with a crescendo of noise. This is definitely one of the HD DVDs that will keep the neighbors up if the surround sound system is cranked.

General Review: The movie opens with a monologue by Gabriel Shear (Travolta) that goes on just a tad over three minutes. That sounds daunting to read, but it’s a tense three minutes that sucks the viewer right into the story. Gabriel discusses the pitfalls of Hollywood and movies, then stands up and announces that it’s time to go to work. The bolts of the police assault rifles ratchet through the surround sound system and sound deadly.

Action-packed and filled with intensity, failure and betrayal waiting at every twist and turn, “Swordfish” ultimately delivers a thrill-seeker’s ride. The pace of the movie is frantic, with people getting murdered and the stakes already going up before the audience truly knows what’s going on. The director, Dominic Sena, ratchets up the suspense and intrigue, whipsawing the narrative around a handful of people before bringing Stan Jobson (Jackman) into focus.

The cast is spot on. John Travolta plays Gabriel Shear, a no-nonsense yet egotistical flag-waving secret agent from something called White Cell—designed to strike fear in the hearts of terrorists everywhere, he says. Hugh Jackman brings humility and vulnerability to his role as Stan Jobson, something that isn’t found in his Wolverine portrayal in the X-Men. Ginger Knowles, the computer expert brought is played by Halle Berry; she scores as the vamp/femme fatale. Special Agent Roberts is played with intensity by Don Cheadle, adding to the cop pursuit factor of the chase. Sam Shepard plays the conniving congressman who’s move to disavow Gabriel is to have him set up and killed.

Jobson is an internationally known computer cracker (the actual term given to those people who “crack” computer sites and code, although the public continues to wrongly call these people hackers) who served time in Leavenworth Prison for infecting the FBI’s new Carnivore program with a virus that set it back two years. Carnivore (a real world program used by the FBI) scans email sent into and out of the United States. Most computer people have been concerned over the privacy issues the program raised.

Currently, Jobson is out of prison, but he’d been banned from computers and from his daughter. If he touches a computer, if he goes near his daughter, he goes directly to jail. While he’s working as a greaser on an oil field in West Texas, he’s approached by Ginger Knowles, who tells him her employers are willing to pay $100,000 just to meet Jobson. Ginger goes on to point out that Jobson’s life pretty much is in the toilet, and that $100,000 will go a long way toward legal fees to allow him to see his daughter again. Jobson’s ex-wife lives with a porn king these days. Jobson would do anything to get his daughter out of that.

Agreeing to the meet, Jobson is given a test—with a gun at his head and a sexy siren at his crotch—to break into the CIA in sixty seconds. The scene is only one of tseveral moments in the film that propel the action forward. Gabriel brings Jobson back to his house and offers him ten million dollars to write a hydraworm to help him rob several bank accounts at one time. The money all comes from DEA slush funds used in other countries to set up and bring down drug traffickers. The money has accrued interest and is now worth nine and a half billion dollars.

Unfortunately, Gabriel’s actions have drawn heat from the FBI. Special Agent Roberts, the man who caught Stan Jobson, is heading up the investigation and closing in on the trail. Roberts also notices Stan at the airport where the first computer cracker was intercepted. Jobson’s own action, going to see his daughter and getting caught by the FBI, also attract heat. At this point, Jobson in the wind, not knowing who he can trust or who will truly help him. All he has is his skill at computers, and hope that he can get his daughter safely out of harm’s way.

With everything moving along and the tension rising, the plot takes even more convoluted twists and turns, leading up to a climatic showdown that involves more explosions and a bus dangling from cables high over the city. No one knows for sure what’s going to happen – or, even, what has happened – until the final card hits the table.

“Swordfish” is an admirable film. It’s purely action-driven with just enough characterization to keep the viewer interested in them as well. Skip Woods, the writer, keeps everything lively in the script, and director Sena powers the effort through the images. Gabriel Shear is one of Travolta’s coolest roles lately, allowing him to swagger through his scenes in a way that is pure Travolta.

The HD DVD special features interface is amazing. Without interrupting the continuous play of the movie, the viewer can manipulate the behind-the-scenes extras and documentaries. “HBO First Look:’ Swordfish’” offers a documentary on the making of the movie that’s well worth a look. Special effects buffs involved in computer technology will enjoy “Effects in Focus: The Flying Bus”. The “In Conversation” piece is a nice bit of fluff that has everyone – cast, crew, writer and director – lauding each others’ praises. The commentary by director Dominic Sena sharpens up a lot of the plot and overall movie. Where the extras really shine on this particular disc is in the addition of the two alternate endings. Both of them fail to meet what the movie finally has. That’s ironic, because at the beginning of the movie Gabriel Shear is talking about how a movie should end, about how everyone—including the audience—should win.

Although a lot of Hugh Jackman, John Travolta and action film fans may have this DVD already in their collection, those who move on to HD DVD will want to add this one to their new collection. “Swordfish” HD DVD is one of those movies that show true brilliance in the technological sides of filmmaking. Those who haven’t seen the film who enjoy action movies are in for a treat if they’re watching it on HD DVD. It truly brings the movie-going experience into the home.

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