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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » District B13 (HD DVD) (HD DVD)
District B13 (HD DVD) (HD DVD)
Magnolia Home Entertainment // R // April 17, 2007 // Region 0
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted June 28, 2007 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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P R I N T
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The Movie:

Most of the popcorn movies that Hollywood has released in the last couple of years have left me under-whelmed.  Action movies like Ghost Rider and The Fantastic Four have been hampered by poor acting and drawn out plots.  Ironically one film that has all of the action and excitement that one expects from a Tinseltown big budget production was made in France.  2004's Banlieue 13 (District B13) is a high octane blast from start to finish and if the movie is short on plot it never slows down enough to let viewers notice.

In the near future some sections of Paris are walled off to keep the criminals out of the respectable areas of the town.  In one section, labeled B13, lives Leïto (David Belle), a civic minded young man who can really kick ass when the time comes.  After crossing the local drug lord, Taha Bemamud (Bibi Naceri), he ends up in jail and his sister Lola (Dany Verissimo), is taken as Taha's plaything.

Leïto gets sprung from jail however when a neutron bomb is stolen by Taha and taken to B13.  The young man finds himself forced to team up with an idealistic cop, Capt. Damien Tomaso (Cyril Raffaelli) in order to find the bomb.  If the pair can't storm Taha's fortress and retrieve the device in a matter of hours the weapon will go off and kill two million people.  Of course Taha's no dummy, he's mounted the bomb onto a missile and pointed it at the heart of Paris.

While the plot of two guys who hate each other being forced to work together has been done time and time again, this version works pretty well.  The main reason for that is because co-writer Luc Besson and first time director Pierre Morel realize that the plot is just an excuse for a series of well done action sequences.  Both Belle and Raffaelli are excellent acrobats, especially the former, and their talents are put to good use in this film.  In the opening scene for example, an unarmed Belle out runs and out fights 20 armed men who are trying to capture him.  Sure, the premise is ridiculous, but the way Belle dives though small windows hardly bigger than he is and zips off of balconies onto the patio beneath without slowing down a beat is mesmerizing.  He is very reminiscent of an early Jackie Chan, which is high praise indeed.

Raffaelli is just as talented.  In one scene he's on foot and being chased by a car filled with armed men.  Just as they pull into range and open fire, the resourceful cop dives into the open side panel of an abandoned van and out the open back as machine gun holes puncture the side.   He tucks, rolls, and gets up running without losing any speed.  Yeah, in the back of your mind you're thinking, 'no one could ever do that' but in the front of your brain you're thinking "Coooool!"

The HD DVD:


 
Video:

The 2.35:1 image looks very good.  The level of detail was excellent, allowing viewers to see all the stubble on David Belle's chin and the small cuts on Cyril Raffaelli's face.  The colors used in the movie are generally muted, but the yellows, reds, and blues of the exotic sports cars are strong and solid and just pop off the screen.  There were a couple of scenes where mosquito noise was evident, but aside from that digital defects weren't a problem.

Audio:

I was a bit disappointed in the audio.  This disc gives viewers the option of a screening the movie with an English dub in Dolby Digital Plus EX or Dolby True HD EX as well as the original French language track in Dolby Digital Plus EX.  (The back of the case incorrectly states that the French track in in True HD. It is not. Thanks to alert reader Dkny75 fro pointing that out!) While all of these choices present a forceful, high impact sonic experience that uses the full soundstage there are problems with watching this film if you don't speak French.  The English dub is pretty awful.  Most of the anime dubs done today are significantly better.  The lip synching is off in much of the film and it's hard to forget that you're watching a dub.  The French track makes the film much more enjoyable, but the only subtitles in English are for the hearing impaired.  That means that on screen noises and sound effects are also included in the subs, which is a bit annoying.  I am astonished that Magnolia didn't include just straight English subtitles.  That would have made the viewing experience much more enjoyable and that lack of foresight accounts for the low audio score.

Extras:

This disc also includes a 45-minute "Making of" documentary that has some meat to it though it's mainly a promotional piece.  The director, cast, and crew are interviewed and reveal anecdotes about working on the film and the genesis of the project.  While there's a lot of back patting going on, there's enough substance to make it worth watching.

In addition to that there's a reel of outtakes, and it's comforting to know that the director made the right decision when he omitted them.  There's also an extended fight sequence that isn't really any better than the version in the film.

Final Thoughts:

While this film doesn't have much of a plot or any real character development, it is an exciting rollercoaster ride.  As action filled as anything that's come out of Hong Kong, this high octane film is just the thing for an evening of fun entertainment.  The stars Belle and Raffaelli are both amazing in this film. They do some incredible stunts and make it all seem easy.  If I had to distill this movie down to one word, it would be "Fun."  Highly Recommended.

Note: The images in this review are not from the HD DVD disc and do not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.
 

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