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Strange Days

Fox // R // August 21, 2001
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Aaron Beierle | posted August 19, 2001 | E-mail the Author
In Short Very cool special edition of the wild New Year's Eve 1999 thriller.

The Film:
"Strange Days" is a wonderfully done example of film as technology, taking the sort of cold, sensory overload and flash that goes along with our ideals and concepts of technology and transplanting them into the tone of a thriller that may not always succeed in terms of the screenplay, but the performances and the visual style that Kathryn Bigelow presents is a stunning look at a "Blade Runner"-ish future, populated with fully written characters and interesting styles. It may not be original here and there, but even the way it presents old ideas is thrillingly fresh and fascinating to watch.

The story centers around a former police officer, Lenny Nero(Ralph Fiennes), now selling a new technology called "playback" on the streets. "Playback" is the "drug of the future", a sensory device that can be attached to the viewer's head so that he or she can experience the life experiences of someone else, right down to the feelings and emotions. It's the end of 1999 in the film,and the parties for the year 2000 are about to get underway, but this is no ordinary time: the streets have turned into a war zone with security checks, people carrying guns and random fires breaking out at night as crime runs free through the streets. The film builds in intensity though, when rapper Jeriko One is killed and many are ready to riot as a result.

The film starts off with an intense opening that puts us in the middle of a robbery and keeps pushing off from there, becoming more and more intense and unwavering throughout, rarely stopping to take a break. The film has a few soft moments during the middle as we learn more about the background of the characters, such as Faith(Juliette Lewis), Lenny's former girlfriend who hasleft him for a rock promoter Philo Gant(Michael Wincott), who was involved with managing Jeriko One when he was killed. Lenny is the character who ties all of the characters together, going after Faith while falling into the secret behind the killing of Jeriko One. Also thrown into the mix are Lenny's friend(Angela Bassett is a fierce, emotional performance) and a police officer who may not be the friend he seems(Tom Sizemore).

The amazing thing is how director Bigelow is able to create controlled chaos throughout, keeping us at the brink of sensory overload as the film races forward at an intense pace , but never quite steping over the line into going off the tracks. The film creates a vision of the future that also doesn't step over the line, it goes to the point where we're amazed, but we still believe that this all could be possible.

As Lenny and Mace(Bassett) try to break out the truth about Jeriko One's murder, the film turns into anarchy as we're lead through the streets of LA, with confetti of many colors spinning out of control towards the streets below, creating a series of stunning images that frame the final sequence.

The performances are generally good, although some are phenomenal. Ralph Fiennes is perfection as Lenny, a fast-talking, smart, witty guy who always finds a way to talk himself out of trouble. He's a "nice guy" who's found himself in troubled times. Angela Bassett gives a wonderful performance as Mace, a strong, intensely emotional character that is engaging throughout. Juliette Lewis is a little over-the-top as Faith and her performance isn't quite as structured as the other characters.

Set designers, special effects artists and especially cinematographer Matthew Leonetti's work are all first-rate. Bigelow has made a smart, visually stunning look at a vision of the future in "Strange Days", a well-done sci-fi picture that was overlooked by most audiences, but I still consider it a favorite film.

VIDEO: This is a very good non-anamorphic transfer and one of the better ones that Fox has produced. Although there are a few small flaws, the positives definitely outweigh the negatives. The image may not be razor sharp, but it is consisently crisp and defined throughout with images that are clean, clear and actually, very smooth and "film-like". What I really liked though, was how accurately this disc portrayed the colors of the film, especially in scenes like the club or in the streets at the end of the film. Colors are pure and well-saturated with no bleeding.

The only fault I found with the disc is that it does contain a few instances of aliasing. Nothing that I found overly distracting, though. Overall, this is a very good looking image, with strong detail. Flesh tones are natural as well. If this had been anamorphic, it would have been phenomenal. As it is, it's still very good.

SOUND: An excellent, active sound mix with frequent sounds of helicopters flying overhead, police sirens all around, a few gun battles and to top it off, a good helping of rock and techno music. The noise of the crowds towards the end is really wild as well. The club scenes also sound fantastic, with music pounding throughout the room. Especially impressive are the sequences where the user is in a POV sequence, with effects placed all around the viewer to create the feeling of really being there. Bigelow talks in the lecture about how important sound effects were in creating these sequences, and it certainly shows in the kind of detail that went into the making of this sound mix. Great and effective surround use, and very clean dialogue. Impressive, powerful and very well-done.

MENUS: Super-cool animated menus with film-themed artwork. Animation also when you make a selection. I'm definitely glad that Fox did something nice with the Menus on this disc, because this is definitely a movie where there's a lot of cool ideas and concepts for the menu.

Commentary: More of a lecture, actually: with an introduction by producer Steven Charles Jaffe, this track is actually a lecture that director Kathryn Bigelow gave on the opening sequence. In my opinion, this is an absolute must for any film student. The only problematic thing about is that it isn't scene-specific, so what's going on on-screen won't match.

The lecture is about one hour and is a complete discussion on how the opening scene was filmed. The lecture talks also about the background of the story and how Bigelow looked at the original concept, then went about building the ideas on how to accomplish this. Filmmakers(or people who just love movies) will likely find this fascinating, as Bigelow discusses testing tons of different cameras to work with the idea of this opening sequence, then found that her and her crew had to actually construct their own camera for this sequence. There are so many challenges involved in filming this small sequence and the solutions that were brought together are fascinating as Bigelow not only talks about the technical solutions for the scene, but the editing styles that had to make this scene appear seamless. Especially informative is Bigelow's discussion of how she built the sound for these POV scenes. Although this isn't a full-length commentary track, I think it's certainly more informative than many full-length ones. For those who are interested in the technical aspects of film, this is a must-listen. This commentary was also included on the laserdisc, and it's great that Fox brought it over for the DVD. Listening to this lecture, I was so fascinated that I wish Bigelow had recorded a new, full-length commentary for this DVD that talked scene-specific about the movie.

Trailers: Both the original teaser trailer and theatrical trailer. Both of these have text introductions that give us details about their history.

Deleted Scenes:2 Deleted scenes that are fine out of the movie. There are text explanations of each scene before they play. Both are fairly short in length.

Final Thoughts: Awesome movie, excellent DVD. Highly recommended. Repriced at $19.99 8/21/01.

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Highly Recommended

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