"You know what the problem with Hollywood is? They make shit. Unbelievable, unremarkable shit."
Isn't it about time for John Travolta to slink back into obscurity? A stiff actor even at his best, the former Sweathog somehow had just the right amount of charisma at just the right time to tap into the disco zeitgeist of the 1970s and become a big star. After a series of bad career choices in the '80s, the public tired of him and it seemed that Travolta would be forever relegated to churning out direct-to-video Look Who's Talking sequels, until Quentin Tarantino resurrected him in 1994. Don't get me wrong, Pulp Fiction is a great film and all, and Tarantino has an uncanny knack for exploiting and glorifying the limited talents of faded stars, but now that he's back on the Hollywood A-list Travolta has become particularly insufferable, both on-camera and off. As a result, just about every year now we get another overproduced vanity project designed to convince us that this should-be has-been is still a superstar. Some of them are more tolerable than others (though I'm not a fan, people seem to like Face/Off), some are downright excruciating (let us never forget Battlefield Earth), but most of Travolta's movies turn out to be middling thrillers and action pictures like The General's Daughter, Basic, or Swordfish.
Produced by action movie maestro Joel Silver and directed by Dominic Sena (the hack in charge of the dreary Gone in Sixty Seconds remake for Jerry Bruckheimer), Swordfish is pure high concept drivel, coasting by on a couple of nifty ideas watered down under a lot of brainless execution. Hugh Jackman stars as a reformed computer hacker lured out of retirement by a fast-talking, scheming bad guy (Travolta) who wants to use his talents to do… I don't know, something involving computers and hacking into restricted databases so that they can rob a bank. In the process of this, many montages of Jackman mashing away at computer keyboards in front of impressive-looking multi-screen monitors while spouting nonsense technobabble are interspersed by random periods of Travolta shooting people and blowing stuff up for little apparent reason. Don Cheadle cashes a paycheck in a thankless supporting role as the federal agent trying to stop Travolta, and Halle Berry was paid a large sum of money to flash her breasts in a gratuitous topless scene that is the sole purpose of her character.
All of the dialogue in the picture comes straight from the Tarantino-wannabe school of overloaded pop culture references. Travolta's opening spiel about the pitfalls of action movie clichés is meant to sound ever-so-clever but just comes out obnoxious, especially when he has the gall to denigrate a good movie like Dog Day Afternoon in the service of a crappy one like this. Anything the characters say about or do with computers is entirely ridiculous. Only in bad movies can someone say (in regard to breaking into a heavily encrypted secure government server), "I have been told that the best crackers in the world can do this in 60 minutes. Unfortunately, I need someone who can do it in 60 seconds…" while pointing a gun to the other person's head and actually get results. If computer hacking were really that effective and easy, no one in the world other than hackers would use computers anymore.
The movie opens with an admittedly impressive set-piece involving a big explosion viewed in a "bullet time" 360º slo-mo wraparound. The CGI may be a little dated but the audacity of it still earns some points. Most of the other action scenes are efficiently directed if a little rote. The big climax with an airborne passenger bus might have felt more innovative if Con Air hadn't done something similar with a sports car four years earlier, and if Speed hadn't already exhausted every other possibility for making a bus ride seem exciting. Released in the summer of 2001, Swordfish also has what must have sounded on paper to be some ballsy ideas about terrorism that now just look hopelessly naïve in light of the real-life events that took place later that year. While that certainly couldn't have been foreseen, looking at it now is just another reminder of how irrelevant movies like this are becoming.
The HD DVD:
Swordfish debuts on the HD DVD format courtesy of Warner Home Video. HD DVD discs are only playable in a compatible HD DVD player. They will not function in a standard DVD player (unless the disc specifically contains an optional DVD layer for Standard Definition playback) or in a Blu-Ray player.
Please note that the star rating scales for video and audio are relative to other High Definition disc content, not to traditional DVD.
The Swordfish HD DVD is encoded on disc in High Definition 1080p format using VC-1 compression. The movie is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 with letterbox bars at the top and bottom of the 16:9 frame. Since HD is natively 16:9 in shape, the HD DVD format does not require anamorphic enhancement as used on DVD.
First off, yes the Warner Bros. logo and opening credits are supposed to look like bad video, and the first scene is meant to drift in and out of focus. That's all part of the movie, not a transfer flaw. I know that I shouldn't have to point out the obvious, but believe me when I tell you that people really do complain about such things.
The cinematography by Paul Cameron (Man on Fire, Collateral) is highly stylized with the use of heavy filters and extensive digital color manipulation. As a result, the image is not the sharpest or most dimensional that you'll see in High Definition. Nonetheless, the transfer is spot-on accurate with regard to the filmmakers' intentions. Colors are vibrant when they're supposed to be; Halle Berry's little red dress pops right off the screen. Detail is excellent in close-ups, and even in the most filtered shots is a good bit better than DVD. And yes, drooling fanboys, Berry's boobs do look even better in HD (Chapter 12, for your reference).
No edge enhancement or digital compression artifacts are anywhere to be found. This is a very slick-looking movie and the HD DVD does its intended style justice.
The Swordfish HD DVD is not flagged with an Image Constraint Token and will play in full High Definition quality over an HD DVD player's analog Component Video outputs.
The movie's soundtrack is encoded in Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 format, which offers higher bit rates than available with traditional Dolby Digital audio found on DVD. Unlike the first three Warner Bros. titles released on the HD DVD format (The Last Samurai, The Phantom of the Opera, and Million Dollar Baby), the default volume level for Swordfish is not set 10 dB lower than expected. It plays back at pretty much normal DVD levels.
This is a Joel Silver action movie. Naturally it has a loud, obnoxious, and super-aggressive 5.1 surround soundtrack. The mix has throbbing music, explosive bass, and all sorts of whiz-bang directional effects zipping from speaker to speaker. The big action scenes, especially that bomb detonation at the beginning, will shake the walls of your house. In general, the audio fidelity of non-action scenes is just average, sounding a little flat and bland. The track really only comes to life when the bullets start flying, which is all anyone cares about anyway.
A French dub track is also available in DD+ 5.1, as well as a Spanish dub in Dolby 2.0 Surround. Optional subtitles include English, English captions for the hearing impaired, French, or Spanish.
The disc automatically opens with a lengthy HD DVD promo that can fortunately be skipped but is a nuisance. All of the bonus features on this HD DVD title are recycled from the DVD edition and are presented in Standard Definition video with MPEG2 compression. Future releases may offer more advanced features. The interactive menus have a handy feature that allows you to view a still from each of the supplements before you watch and provides the running time. The menus are accompanied by annoying clicking sound effects for every selection that can be turned off if you desire (and I recommend it).
All of the supplements from the DVD appear to have carried over, including some that were previously only accessible on DVD-Rom.
No interactive features have been included.
- Audio Commentary by Dominic Sena. If you like the movie, this might be interesting. If you don't, it's certainly not going to change your mind.
- HBO First Look (15:00). Typical EPK fluff.
- Effects in Focus: The Flying Bus (8:13). An extension of the above, but somewhat more interesting in its focus.
- "In Conversation" (12:45). Interviews with the cast about how thrilled they all were to be working with each other, how brilliant the script and director were, and how this is going to be a movie that revolutionizes the genre. In other words, the usual meaningless promotional nonsense.
- Two Alternate Endings with optional commentary by Dominic Sena. The final version used in the movie was certainly the right choice. Neither alternate version works as well.
- Theatrical Trailer.
- Audio: Planet Rock – Club Reel (4:09). A lengthy music video for some of the droning techno music featured in the movie.
Swordfish is a slick but mindless action movie. It may offer some nice High Definition eye candy (and I'm not just referring to Halle Berry's boobs) for undemanding viewers but in my opinion just isn't worthy of a purchase. Rental only for this one.
HD DVD Review Index
Toshiba HD-A1 HD DVD Player
Toshiba HD DVD Product Introduction Event