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Vantage Point

Sony Pictures // PG-13 // July 1, 2008
List Price: $38.96 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted July 7, 2008 | E-mail the Author
"The beauty of American arrogance is that they can't imagine a world where they're not a step ahead."

Vantage Point opens inauspiciously in a news van during coverage of a presidential summit in Spain. As the cynical producer bickers with a clean-scrubbed, overly idealistic
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reporter and barks out which camera to switch to every few seconds, the President of the United States (William Hurt) is gunned down on the podium before the eyes of tens of millions. What follows is complete and utter chaos. An elaborate conspiracy is behind this terrorist assault, and the answer to the puzzle can only be pieced together by exploring the attack from several different angles.

The bulk of Vantage Point spans just twenty-three minutes, continually rewinding to view these series of events from a slew of different perspectives: the GNN news crew (including Sigourney Weaver and Zoe Saldana), an embattled Secret Service agent who'd taken a bullet for the President just a few short months ago (Dennis Quaid) and his young protégé (Matthew Fox), a wide-eyed tourist toting an HD camcorder (Forest Whitaker), an undercover Spanish cop (Eduardo Noriega), the President, naturally, and the engineers of the terrorist attack themselves.

Despite what may seem to be lingering on the surface, there's no political subtext or social commentary on the media at all to Vantage Point. The movie never even bothers to hint at why the terrorists have assembled such an elaborate assault or what exactly they plan to do after the attack. Their motivation is as paper-thin as...well, just about everything else in the movie. As glowingly as director Pete Travis raves about his cast throughout the extras on this Blu-ray disc, they're not given much to chew on. Dennis Quaid's turn here can be entirely summed up as The Scowling Hero. Forest Whitaker runs around with a camcorder, chasing down terrorist suspects and playing substitute father to Cute, Precocious Spanish Tyke In Trouble because...that's what the script tells him to do, I guess. The cast does what they can with the material, but they're cardboard archetypes -- mistaking bland, rambling backstories for characterization -- that are being shuttled through an empty, high-concept premise.

Without any compelling
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characters or an engaging plot to lean on, what does Vantage Point opt for instead? Scores of plot twists (a big one already having been given away in the theatrical trailer), frenetic over-editing, and circular storytelling. The idea is that each piece of the puzzle is gradually revealed as Vantage Point explores the twenty-three minutes spanning the terrorist assault from different perspectives. Annoyingly, it's not so much that different facets of the story slowly start to coalesce into a greater, more nefarious whole. It does to a point, but Vantage Point has an annoying habit of ending each segment on a cliffhanger -- having Dennis Quaid stare at something off-camera and mutter "Oh my God" is one lame trick that's used a couple of times -- and filling in the gaps later. It's a tease, really, and it leaves the circular storytelling feeling like more of a gimmick than a method of truly building suspense.

It's as if first-time screenwriter Barry Levy grabbed a boxed set of 24 off the shelf, decided to nick all of the ridiculous twists and turns in its plot, and swapped out that series' time-based gimmick in favor of an oversized stack of flashbacks. The end result is an action/thriller that's watchable but not remotely as clever or compelling as it's convinced it is. Vantage Point plays like a rough draft of a screenplay that somehow made it onto the screen, and it's too faceless and generic to recommend over the glut of other, better thrillers out there. Rent It.

Video: Presented at its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1 and encoded with AVC, Vantage Point's 1080p video is reference quality by any conceivable standard. This Blu-ray disc is startlingly sharp and detailed, bolstered by robust black levels and a warm, natural palette. The image is absolutely flawless, completely free of any noise reduction, speckling or assorted wear, or any compression artifacting. Film grain also remains tight and unintrusive throughout. Vantage Point as a movie may sputter and stumble along the way, but its presentation on Blu-ray doesn't -- it's perfect.

Audio: Vantage Point's Dolby
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TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is nearly as impressive as the disc's reference quality visuals. Its use of the surround channels is particularly enveloping, from the ambient clatter of banks of hardware inside the news van to the hordes of incensed protesters inside the Plaza Mayor. Bass response is thunderous and punishing, most notably during a series of colossal explosions that threaten to rattle everything in the room. This is a film with a deliberate, meticulously crafted sound design, and the movie is much better for it. My only complaint is that the dialogue is dialed down a bit too far in the mix and can be more difficult than necessary to discern in some of the particularly chaotic action sequences.

Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are also offered in French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Thai. The long list of subtitles includes streams in French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese (both simplified and traditional), Korean, Thai, and English (both SDH and traditional). The English soundtrack features a smattering of dialogue in Spanish, and those stretches are subtitled as well. Owners of constant height projection displays should note that these subtitles do spill over into the letterboxing bars.

Extras: The extras on Vantage Point are driven by three featurettes, beginning with "An Inside Perspective" (27 min.). Presented in full 1080p, the featurette doesn't start on the strongest footing -- it's sort of a Mutual Admiration Society, with the director and the cast gushing about how talented and wonderful everyone and everything is -- but it gets more and more substantial as it goes along. The featurette highlights the subtleties in William Hurt's multilayered performance, the challenges the erratic Mexican weather posed to the film's cinematography, how the shoot was structured to best take advantage of the many different perspectives, the editing of the action sequences, and even composing Vantage Point's score.

Also in high definition is "Plotting an Assassination" (16 min.), which recaps the characters and briefly touches on how the different perspectives were woven together. It's a very cursory look into the writing process, but there are a couple of interesting notes, such as how the character of Rex changed gender from script to screen even though his-slash-her name stayed the same.

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Chaos" (7 min.) is the only of the three featurettes to be presented in standard definition, and its focus is placed squarely on the film's elaborate stuntwork: a colossal explosion captured with fifteen cameras in the city square, the dizzying car chase down claustrophobic streets just outside of Mexico City, an overturned ambulance careening towards a shellshocked young child, and a devastating car crash into an underpass. Even though it's one of the shortest extras, it's by far my favorite in the set.

A goofy "outtake" with director Pete Travis -- running just a few seconds, following a brief introduction -- takes the place of the usual gag reel. I'll skip listing the title of this extra so the joke still works, but it runs well under a minute and is presented in standard definition.

This Blu-ray disc also includes a "Vantage Viewer", a color-coded GPS display at the bottom of the screen that tracks the movements of each character throughout the film. A picture-in-picture window also cycles through each character to better show what everyone's up to at that point in time. I don't think I could watch the movie from start to finish like this, but it is a pretty clever extra.

Director Pete Travis drops in for an audio commentary, but it's kind of redundant with all of the other extras on the disc. Virtually all of his insight into the film had already been tackled on one of the making-of featurettes, and what little of the commentary is left is reserved for recapping the plot and pointing out the differences unique to each character's perspective. There were a few notes I found interesting -- his insistence on keeping the bulk of the first vantage point entirely inside the van, shuttling two characters' perspectives and the climactic car chase around versus their placement in the screenplay, and detailing which effects were handled in camera, with models, or by computer wizardry -- but there's not enough new information in the commentary to make for much of a compelling listen. Its pace is more relaxed than I'd like too; most directors try to keep a steady flow of conversation going, while Travis prefers to speak in short, sporadic bursts. Not recommended.

Rounding out the extras are a slew of high definition trailers: 21, Persepolis, the Prom Night remake, The Other Boleyn Girl, Made of Honor, Across the Universe, and Steep. Even though Sony felt compelled to tack the trailer for Vantage Point onto pretty much every single theatrical release for the better part of a year, the trailer didn't make its way to this Blu-ray disc.

Vantage Point is a BD Live enabled disc with some additional bells and whistles available exclusively online.

Conclusion: Vantage Point only has its interwoven flashback structure to set it apart from a couple hundred thousand other action/thrillers, and otherwise, it's not all that different from much of anything else you'll catch on TBS at 3:30 on a lazy Sunday afternoon. It's too much of a sensory overload to ever get boring, but that's really the best thing I can say about Vantage Point. It's not unwatchable, no, but I really can't see myself ever wanting to sit through this movie a second time. Wait for it to show up on cable or Rent It.
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