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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Taken (Blu-ray)
Taken (Blu-ray)
Fox // PG-13 // May 12, 2009 // Region A
List Price: $39.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Michael Zupan | posted May 27, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
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Highly Recommended
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I find myself becoming pretty jaded on the action genre in the last year or two. Action films used to deliver the goods on a fairly consistent basis, but nowadays it's hit or miss for a variety of reasons. An action film can have the best action scenes in the world, but if it fails miserably at presenting a complicated story the whole thing ends up being a wash. Other flicks like to take the 'balls to the wall' approach, laying on the action pretty thick while disregarding the story and characters almost entirely. This formula can provide for a good time every once in a while, but more often than not leaves an unflattering taste of Hollywood cheese in my mouth. It was for this very reason that I decided to skip Taken during its theatrical run despite all the positive things my friends had to say about it. After giving it a shot now that it's finally available on Blu-ray, I'm sort of disappointed in myself for having missed it on the big screen. It delivered almost to a T what I would want out of an action film, and it did it all with a runtime of 91 minutes. Impressive indeed.

Bryan Mills used to be a spy for the government, highly trained in everything from stealth infiltration to kicking ass and taking names. He was one of the best, but he unfortunately made the mistake of letting his job become his mistress. He left his wife home alone for weeks on end, making her wonder if her husband was still alive or if she would ever even get to hear his voice again. Eventually she had enough of the emotional wear and tear and moved away, taking their daughter Kim with her. It was then that Bryan decided to give up his job and move closer to his daughter, spending every possible moment he could making up for lost time. Despite his newfound dedication to Kim, his ex hardly lets him see her at all. When he does get a chance to see her, there's usually some sort of gimmick behind it. He's even tricked into meeting his daughter for a special one on one lunch, just the two of them. It turns out it's just a ploy for his ex to present him with a custody agreement he has to sign so Kim can go vacation in Paris. He's reluctant to sign knowing the terrible underworlds that could take his little girl away from him, but he eventually decides to play along and make his daughter happy. Nobody would ever expect a vacation in Paris could be any more dangerous than visiting the hot tourist spots in the States, but Bryan's worst nightmare comes to fruition when he hears his daughter kidnapped on the phone. Learning he only has 96 hours before his chances of finding her go from slim to none, Bryan hops on the first plane overseas so he can bring her home alive.

Taken's plot and character development unfold within the first 25 minutes or so, leaving the rest of the film to be a non-stop ride of exhilarating hand to hand combat and gunplay. As I said earlier, this formula tends to usually leave a sour taste in my mouth, but Taken effortlessly made this 'story-light' action flick an incredibly well rounded experience. In those first 25 minutes, I learned everything I needed to about Bryan. He made some mistakes in the past, but he's sweet, sincere, and 150 percent dedicated to his daughter. I could feel Bryan's excitement whenever he was about to see her, and I felt my own heart wrench when I saw how much of an obstacle his ex-wife had become. I may not have bought the delivery of Bryan Mills from many other actors, but Liam Neeson was definitely a very smart casting choice. Instead of overacting the constant up and downs Bryan had to face, Liam instead portrayed his character as the sad clown, smiling on the outside but crying on the inside. He didn't want sympathy; he just wanted to see his kid. He made Bryan feel very real, and it's really for this reason that Taken works as well as it does. If the director couldn't get the audience to connect with Bryan in some way shape or form, the action that dominates the rest of the film would have seemed gratuitous at best.

Once the film shifts from story mode to action extravaganza, Taken grabs you by the cajones and doesn't let go. The film moves swiftly from one action scene to the next, never wasting time with countless minutes of dialogue to gum up the works. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of action films that know how to throw down a good script and stay entertaining for well over 2 hours, but a film with as simple a premise as Taken would have suffered from this severely. Taken's strength lies in knowing it needs to quickly brief the audience and then hurl them on its rollercoaster of action before they know what hit 'em. The pace is lightning quick, letting the film get right to the point so its runtime doesn't drag. I never found myself tapping my foot or drumming my fingers, and I never once felt like saying, "Come on already, enough is enough!" The movie was over before I knew it, and I enjoyed every minute of what I had seen. A tip of the hat goes to Liam Neeson once again, because he was able to contrast the sweet guy we met earlier in the film very well with an effective ass kickin' spy. I never thought I'd see Liam Neeson be just as believable in a fighting as Matt Damon was in the Bourne Trilogy, but he surprised the hell out of me here.

I've mentioned this in other reviews, but a product doesn't necessarily need to be complicated in order for it to work. Taken is living proof of that, despite the fact most directors that travel down this road usually have a pretty hard time with the concept of 'simple'. As I said, I've grown pretty tired of the genre over the last couple of years, and that's because I continually see substance and context traded for twists and turns that are forced into the plot 'just because', or gobs and gobs of special effects that are supposed to impress me to no end. Taken refreshingly relies on neither. The approach to fights and chase sequences are pretty old-school for the most part, and the plot doesn't try to weave itself into something more intricate than it needs to be. This film knows what it wanted to be from frame one, never caving to the pressure to go above and beyond in aspects that would have traded entertainment for quantity. I think a very wide audience can find Taken to be a thoroughly enjoyable experience. It doesn't really matter if you require a lot out of a film in the way of a script, or if you have the attention span of a goldfish. I can throw my wife out there to contrast what I appreciate and enjoy in a film, and we both had a blast. Is it the best movie ever? Not at all, but when all is said and done there's not really much you can complain about. Make sure you take the time to see this one as soon as possible!


Video

This Blu-ray has been encoded at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 at a resolution of 1080p using the AVC codec.

I really can't find anything to nitpick about here. The blacks on display are deep and never end up sacrificing any detail in darker scenes. Daytime scenes go even further in showing how impressive the contrast can be, as the brighter scenes never cheapen the inkiness the blacks provide throughout the rest of the film. There's also an extraordinary amount of detail no matter where you look. Film grain is here as it's supposed to be, and there appears to be no amount of ugly DNR (Digital Noise Reduction) or EE (Edge Enhancement) to complain about. When the film allows it to, the color saturation is vibrant enough to provide photorealism to each frame. Skin tones are generally accurate, although they can look a little flushed from time to time. The end result is a transfer that looks to have an incredible amount of depth and with the impressive amount of definition on display throughout, you'll almost want to reach out and touch your screen. Fans of Taken will find it incredibly difficult to be disappointed with this one! You may not end up using it as a reference disc because it doesn't sport a the kind of CGI that you'd use to make people 'oooh' and 'ahhh', but make no mistakes, this is practically a flawless presentation.


Audio

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is just as impressive as the video. The dynamic range this track has to offer is very nice. The dialogue is always audible and clean, and there's always a little something coming out of each channel in the 5.1 setup to provide environmental sound effects, making you feel like you're there along for the ride. When guns are being shot or things are exploding in your face, that's when you're jaw is really going to hit the floor. The bass rumbles with the best of 'em, and the action does nothing less than envelop and suck you into the action. More often than not, I find action flicks focusing the big 'booms' and 'bangs' almost exclusively on the explosions, but the gunshots are probably even more menacing in Taken due to how loud and realistic they sound. Even if the video presentation isn't one you would pick to show off your lossless capable home theater, the audio is definitely going to fit the bill for many audio purists.


Extras

Includes Both the Theatrical Version (91 minutes) and Extended Cut of the Film (93 minutes)

Audio Commentary by Director Pierre Morel, Cinematographer Michel Abramowicz and Cart Stunt Supervisor Michel Julienn - To begin, it's worth noting both of these commentary tracks are only available for the Extended cut of the film. This first track is an interesting one... as long as you like to read. I really don't like to give a negative response to a commentary that's in a foreign language, but I have no interest in sitting in front of the TV and reading subtitles for a commentary track. You're going to find a lot of interesting information about the technical aspects of the film as well as its production, but many might find they don't have the patience to sit through it all.

Audio Commentary by Co-Screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen - This one Robert's track is much more interesting, and it's in English as well. Robert discusses at great length about the story and its central character. Most interesting of all is the contrast we see in Neeson's character early on, and the brutally cold and calculating man we see later on. If you're going to check out only one of these tracks, make sure this is it!

Le Making Of - This featurette runs about 18 and a half minutes, and provides a lot of interviews as well as behind the scenes footage. If you like 'making of' features, this one is certainly adequate, but it's not the most entertaining I've seen to date.

Avant Premiere - Don't let the fancy name fool you. This is only some footage pieced together from the premiere.

Storyboard-to-Screen - Inside Taken - The screen is split to show the storyboard on one side, and the film itself on the other. You get six of these storyboard comparison scenes, and I actually found this feature to be pretty interesting. It's always curious to see how well a director is able to bring a storyboard vision to the big screen.

Black Ops Field Manual - I'm not one for 'fun' stuff on a release. I know, I'm what the French would call 'le party pooper'. Don't count me out of the game yet though, because I actually found this to be pretty enjoyable! This picture-in-picture feature keeps count of dead corpses and injuries throughout the film, how much time Bryan has left to find his daughter, trivia, and even shows the exact route he takes throughout the film. Now that's how you get people interested Fox! It's also worth noting this feature is only available for the Extended version of the film.

The second disc that's included sports a digital copy of the film. All in all the features aren't really all that impressive, but the Black Field Ops Manual feature is a lot of fun. You'll want to see the making of featurette for sure, and you'll most likely want to check out the second commentary that's offered. Other than these features that's been offered, you're better off just skipping the rest.


Overall

Taken definitely 'took' me by surprise. Knowing from the get-go this was supposed to be a non-stop thrill ride from beginning to end, I wasn't expecting to become so emotionally involved in the central character. There's no doubt that Liam Neeson is the glue that holds this film together. The rest of the cast doesn't really offer much to the film, but those roles weren't as vital to the film as finding the right man to play Mills. If you haven't seen Taken yet, I highly recommend you do so at your earliest possible convenience. Have a wife at home that normally can't stand the brutal violence you're used to watching? Then do yourselves a favor and pick this up. There's something in this film for everyone, and I do mean everyone. Not just based on the merit of the film itself, but home theater aficionados are sure to appreciate the fantastic picture quality and the near reference DTS-HD MA track as well. The features could have been a better, but anyone who likes to dabble in extras will have a pretty hard time disliking the Black Ops Field Manual feature. Pick it up and enjoy. You may find yourself just as surprised at the film as I was.
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