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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » XXX: Superbit
XXX: Superbit
Columbia/Tri-Star // PG-13 // May 13, 2003
List Price: $26.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted May 3, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:


"XXX" is a movie overjoyed with its own gadgets and aware of its ridiculousness. As brainless as the movie sometimes (often) is, its self-aware nature and its high energy level make it watchable and occasionally mildly entertaining action fare. Vin Diesel ("The Fast and the Furious") stars as Xander Cage, an extreme sports enthuiast who happens to cause some trouble at times, such as in the opening sequence, where he steals a senator's car and drives it off a bridge in order to teach him a lesson about being against video games and rock music.

After the car stunt, Xander is arrested by NSA agent Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson). Gibbons has seen too many of the traditional spys fail to complete their mission as of late, so he decides that scanning for prisoners or those with a former criminal record might be a better choice. Xander goes through a series of tests that are more real than he'd expected and, of course, the insults between the two start flying.

Xander is sent overseas to Prague to infiltrate "Anarchy 99", a Russian anarchy group lead by Yorgi (Marton Csokas), who is - of course - seeking world domination. There's also a love interest (Asia Argento), who may have secrets of her own. Although the film's opening action sequences aren't staged particularly well (the dialogue that Diesel tapes himself saying as he steals the car is especially unintentionally hilarious), but the film eventually settles in and becomes pretty exciting. Rich Wilke's script isn't much for character development or memorable dialogue, but Cohen and the stunt team have come up with a series of major action sequences that are impressive, with the occasional dialogue providing a bridge between these scenes. The film also makes a fine change between a light first half to a considerably more serious second half fairly well.

The performances are fairly decent, given the material. Diesel makes a convincing change from self-centered to action hero (although I've liked some of his supporting performances in films such as "Pitch Black" and "Fast and the Furious" better), while Asia Argento (daughter of cult director Dario) is appealing as the love interest. Samuel L. Jackson, on the other hand, is entirely wasted as Gibbons, given very little to do. Csokas isn't a particularly effective bad guy, either.

"XXX" delivered exactly what I expected: decent stunts, some thrilling action scenes, a fairly good action hero and fantastic sound design. Could this - a over-the-top action film - have used a better script? Certainly; while "XXX2" is already going to happen, this series needs to be remembered a bit more equally for its characters than its action. As is, I found the film to be merely a good action thriller, but with some more attention paid to character and plot, this could have been - and the next one could be - something more memorable.


The DVD


VIDEO: (written about the prior release) "XXX" is presented by Columbia/Tristar in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality is not flawless, but it is excellent throughout the great majority of the movie. Sharpness and detail are impressive, as Dean Semler's cinematography is presented with great clarity and definition, not to mention a film-like and sleek appearance.

A few concerns are scattered throughout the presentation, but there was nothing too terribly bothersome. Minor edge enhancement was seen on a couple of occasions, as were a few slight specks on the print used. Very minimal grain was also occasionally seen, but was hardly noticable. The film's bright and vivid color palette was reproduced superbly, as colors appeared bright and well-saturated, with no smearing. Not quite a flawless presentation, but it certainly represents the film very well.

The new "Superbit" edition once again offers "XXX" in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality was somewhat improved over the prior release's transfer, which was already quite nice, if not without some issues. Sharpness and detail on the prior edition were very good, but this release seemed to offer definition and depth to the image that was a bit improved.

A few little issues still remained, but nothing terribly bothersome. I noticed edge enhancement in a couple of scenes in the prior release, but only one very slight instance of it here. No compression artifacts were spotted, but a speck or two still appeared on the print used. The film's bright, vivid color palette once again looked terrific here. Black level looked strong, while flesh tones remained accurate and natural. While not a major improvement, this presentation did offer a more pleasing presentation of the film.


SOUND: (written about the prior release) Director Rob Cohen has always offered movies with remarkable soundtracks. "Dragonheart" has the scene where the Dragon flew around the listening space. "Daylight" had the incredible early explosion and many scenes with an amazing sense of sound envelopment. "Fast and the Furious" had the astonishing car sequences, which put the viewer into the middle of the scene through expert use of all speakers. "XXX" has, well... just about the whole movie. A mix that is almost non-stop L-O-U-D, the surrounds never cease to deliver either the surround effects or the loud metal/rock soundtrack. While there are still some scenes from "Fast and the Furious" that I'd turn to first for demo material, this soundtrack (and movie) is more consistently all-out. This film's soundtrack also has some of the same members of the "Fast and the Furious" sound team (sound designer Tim Walston, supervising sound editor Bruce Stambler) and many others with an equally impressive resume (Academy Award winner Elliott Koretz, "T3" & "Cast Away" production sound designer William B. Kaplan).

The DVD presents the film's soundtrack in Dolby Digital 5.1 (unfortunately, no DTS here, although I wouldn't be surprised at an eventual Superbit release) (Hey, I was right!). The soundtrack is aggressive, but skillfully crafted and highly enjoyable. Some of the songs on the soundtrack have been noticably remixed for the 5.1 experience, with some elements of the music coming discretely from the surrounds (a technique that was also used on the "Fast and the Furious" soundtrack). Those who can enable back surround use will find that it makes for a more fun experience, adding a more enveloping feel to the action sequences (such as the avalanche).

Audio quality was superb throughout the picture, as all of the sound effects certainly brought the expected amount of force, while dialogue remained crisp and clear. Bass - as one would expect from a movie like this one - is consistently deep and fierce. Overall, about as good as it gets in terms of modern action film sound design.

"XXX" is presented by Columbia/Tristar in both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 on this new Superbit title. I was very pleased with the Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation on the prior release. However, it was interesting to compare the Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 presentations on this release. The Dolby presentation was quite enveloping and aggressive, but the DTS presentation made all of the various sound effects more distinct and crisp, making for a more seamless, convincing and enjoyable experience. The DTS soundtrack also sounded a bit more fierce, with somewhat deeper low bass. Once again, this is an aggressive, entertaining and surround-heavy mix that was quite entertaining - the Dolby delivered in a satisfactory manner, but the DTS version did present noticable improvements in the overall experience.

EXTRAS: As with the other regular Superbit non-Deluxe titles, this is a one-disc feature with no supplements. All of the supplements of the prior edition are not included here in an attempt to optimize audio/video.


Final Thoughts: I certainly like an occasional loud action picture and "XXX" certainly provided quite a few well-crafted action scenes. Diesel is a good action hero, too, but that's really all this film is - action. If more thought was put towards character and story, maybe "XXX" could come closer to being "007" for a new generation, which is obviously what the filmmakers intended. Columbia/Tristar's Superbit DVD release of the film does offer some improvements in terms of video quality and an impressive new DTS track, but doesn't carry over any supplemental features. Fans who don't have an interest in supplements should seek out this edition, while those who want more information about the making of the film should get the prior release.

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