|HD DVD Mystery-Suspense|
|Written by Bryan Dailey|
|Thursday, 01 June 2006|
Only a small handful of HD-DVDs have been released to date and it seems there is a fairly wide range of picture quality in the available titles.. Some of the films including “Apollo 13,” “GoodFellas” and “Full Metal Jacket” have a grainy, washed out look, however most of the films that have were filmed recently such as “Million Dollar Baby,” “The Last Samurai” and “Doom” have spectacular picture quality.
“Training Day,” starring Denzel Washington (who won the Oscar for this) and Ethan Hawke is one of those films that falls right in the middle in terms of picture quality, having been created in 2001. The transfer to HD DVD, when viewed in 1080i resolution on my Toshiba HD DVD player, is very good however the colors are a tad muted, even on my ISF calibrated JVC H-DILA monitor.
The film is an entertaining yet uneven foray into the world of corrupt police in the urban jungle that is downtown Los Angeles. Denzel Washington plays Alonzo Harris, a veteran cop who has been assigned the job of training Jake Hoyt (Hawke), a bright-eyed, naïve police officer. Hoyt had previously been stationed in the much safer San Fernando Valley beat, and is abruptly thrown into the world of undercover narcotics investigations. Washington owns the screen with an almost over-the-top portrayal of a police officer gone bad who has spent so much time crossing the line between good and bad that he has forgotten what is right and what is wrong.
Although films like “Star Wars” and “Jurassic Park” are the kind of movies that you think of when it comes to great home theater demos, some of the scenes in this gritty drama are noteworthy demos as well. Even the untrained eye can pick up the subtle nuances that set HD DVD apart from 480p DVD. Most of the dialog in “Training Day” occurs in an unmarked police cruiser and in one particular scene, the windows of the car have water droplets on the window. The level of details on the rain droplets on the window are shockingly resolute. As the setting sun strikes the side of Denzel Washington’s face in chapter 8, you realize how much of the picture you are actually seeing. Actors with rough complexions, such as Edward James Olmos, are going to hate HD DVD.
What is amazing about this, as well as the rest of the first generation of HD DVD discs is the fact that as good as many of them look, “Training Day” included, we are really only seeing about half of the possible resolution. The discs are mastered in 1080p however the current batch of Toshiba HD DVD players that were first to market this past month are only capable of playing up to 1080i/720p. Add to that the fact that most TVs that are billed as “1080p” capable are not really capable of accepting a true 1080p signal (they can accept an up scaled one), and you can see that this technology is still in its infancy and yet it still looks simply spectacular.
Watching Alonzo Harris spin his double sided tale of deception and lies while still polishing up his badge every day, in hopes of one day reveling in his police pension, one cant help but think of the gritty police drama “The Shield.” Although Michael Chicklis’ character Vic Mackey never takes any rookies out on the job, he lives a similar dual life as the caring father of an autistic child who spends his day walking the line between justice and corruption. Another film that comes to mind is the gang drama “Colors.” The rookie cop played by Sean Penn wants get out on the street and bust every crack head and prostitute they can find. Veteran Robert Duvall lets a handful of low level crack dealers go after catching them in a back alley after getting some valuable information from them. The point being that you have to let the little fish go so you can eventually catch the big ones. The analogy that Harris uses when training Hoyt is that of sheep and wolves. He says in a world of sheep, they are the wolves that have to be wolves themselves to protect the innocent sheep.
Unfortunately there are some glaring holes in “Training Day” that make it fall flat as a film. Award winning music video director Antoine Fuqua forces the action in this film to unfold in the span of 24 hours and it just seems highly implausible that a veteran police officer who dabbles in money laundering, tampering with evidence and general corruption would unveil all of this tricks to a rookie on the first day of training. Harris convinces Hoyt that he has to be willing to do drugs to show that he is willing to anything to stay alive on the streets. Once loaded on drugs, Hoyt becomes putty in Harris’s hands and a wild day of corrupt cop practices begins.
Fuqua uses his music industry power to get three of the biggest names in hip hop and R&B for the film. Dr, Dre, Snoop Dog and Macy Gray make appearances all with varying levels of success. Snoop is the most believable as a drug dealer who has been confined to a wheel chair but still slings dope on the streets and wears fly crushed velvet jump suits. Dr. Dre plays a member of Harris’s strike team and his acting chops are a little shaky but he doesn’t slow the film down too much with his unsteady acting. Macy Gray plays the “ghetto fabulous” girlfriend of a street thug named Sandman; her pink dress and long pink fingernails are absolutely authentic and, according to the director commentary, she threw herself into the role so much that she even helped come up with the costume herself. Her music has a bit of a street sensibility and her acting as the pissed-off woman who has had the police barge into her home with a fake warrant too many times is quite convincing. As she yells at the local neighborhood gang bangers to shoot at Harris and Hoyt as they run back to their car, the sound system finally comes alive. The Dolby Digital + 5.1 mix on “Training Day” is mostly centered around the dialog but in the action shooting scenes, the bullets fly with reckless abandon and envelop the viewer.
Late in the film, a huge plot twist happens that is such a incredible coincidence that it jars you out of your seat and makes everything that happens after it seems completely implausible. In the director commentary, Fuqua addresses the fact that many people have commented on this coincidence. He does not exactly do the most eloquent job of explaining this scene, so it did nothing to convince me as to how this scene could have happened other than by saying, coincidences happen every day.
Frequently when a DVD includes bonus footage, deleted scenes or alternate endings, the picture quality it not as good as that of the film itself. This is because it is expensive to finish the film, adjust the color timing, add Foley and to automatic dialog replacement. The deleted scenes in “Training Day “ look decent; however, they are presented in 480p on this disc and are much darker. Most of the deleted scenes are Washington’s and Hawke’s characters running through the daily paces of the job in their undercover car. Nothing that was cut seems to be important to the plot but in one particularly disturbing moment, Harris tells Hoyt a story about a man in the neighborhood who raised Doberman pinschers. One day, the man waved nicely at an African-American police officer while smacking the dog, chained up and defenseless, violently with a newspaper. “He was teaching the dog to hate niggers”. says Harris. “Just when you think you think you have seen it all, these streets come back and remind you that you haven’t seen anything.”
The DVD also includes music videos from Nelly and Pharoahe Monch as well as the appropriately titled documentary “Crossing the line: The Making of ‘Training Day.’” This documentary is one of those promo pieces that HBO runs about a few weeks before a film hits the theaters; although it is basically a praise fest for Denzel’s powerful acting, gives us little real insight into what Alonzo’s real motivation for his corrupt ways. In “The Shield,” we see Vic Mackey’s struggles with his autistic children; his small paycheck isn’t enough to cover the bills so he dips his hand into the cookie jar. We only get a 24 hour snapshot into the life of Alonzo Harris so the best guess that we are left with is that he simply thrives on the power and protection that he has with the silver badge in his pocket.
Ultimately “Training Day” is a vehicle for a powerful actor to dominate the screen as everyone does their best to stay out of the way. Plot holes and uneven pacing aside, Denzel Washington absolutely owns the screen. Presented in what is essentially the theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 (although listed as 2.40:1 on the case), Washington’s Alonzo Harris, with his black trench coat, silver chains and menacing goatee, roars on the screen, owning every scene he is in, overshadowing a solid performance by Ethan Hawke. Their dynamic on screen is terrific and for the first half of the movie, is worth taking the ride with, even if they payoff is not what one might hope for.