Firewall (HD DVD)
Warner Bros. // PG-13 // $39.99 // June 6, 2006
Review by Adam Tyner | posted June 1, 2006
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"The film turned out okay..."
- Harrison Ford on Firewall

...and indeed it did! Even though Firewall lurched into theaters less than four months ago, chances are that you have no idea what the movie's about or even who starred in it, although I guess the credit in the quote above gives it away. This passably okay but instantly forgettable retread of every thriller cliché ever stars Harrison Ford as Jack Stanfield, a man who's spent the past couple of decades fortifying the security for a small chain of banks out of Seattle. Jack has a hands-on approach to security, and if someone tries to brute-force their way into his system, he'll "put in an IPS signature that black-holes the pattern" but too sweet! Alas, his dainty little bank is about to be gobbled up by a corporate behemoth who'd prefer to write-off the costs of security breaches rather than spout off meaningless technobabble at a UNIX prompt. As if Jack weren't under enough pressure with the impending merger, his family is held hostage by a guy who looks an awful lot like Paul Bettany, forcing Jack to help him and his band of one-note cronies in their $100 million scheme break into the security system he designed. Proving that one of the 'A's in "AARP" stands for "asskicking", Jack fights back as only a man well into his sixties can, which is to say not very much.

There's very little in Firewall that hasn't already been done in a couple hundred thrillers before it, most of which also happened to star Harrison Ford. It sticks so unwaveringly close to the USA Original Movie formula that there's only one scene in the entire flick -- Jack distracting the kidnappers in a ploy to cover his family's escape -- where I felt my pulse start to pick up. Other than that, it's the same stock characters with the same stock motivations trudging through the same implausible stock routines to reach the inevitable stock climax. Early stretches of Firewall are livened up slightly by a technological bent it only halfway understands, but for a movie passing itself off as a thriller, it doesn't offer much in the way of...y'know, thrills. Action sequences are sparse, which can probably be attributed to a sexagenarian star that'd prefer to scowl and mumble in a gravelly voice than duke it out, but still, we're looking at one out-and-out brawl, one explosion, no real cat-and-mouse chases, and next-to-no gunfire. Paul Bettany has a decent presence on screen, but he's not particularly menacing, and the fact that there's no sense that he'll ever get around to doing anything to Jack or his family deflates whatever tension there might have been. The supporting cast -- especially the always-reliable Robert Forster and 24's Mary Lynn Rajskub -- make the most of their limited time on-screen, but Firewall can't seem to figure out what to do with them, exactly. Hardly anyone in front of or behind the camera appears to look at Firewall as anything more than just another paycheck, and if the people who invested so many months putting this film together can't muster any interest, what's there to make us want to fork over seven bucks for a matinee?

This is the second day and date release to make its way to the HD DVD format, and like Rumor Has It... before it, Firewall is coming out on both a regular DVD and a DVD/HD DVD hybrid. This combo disc has a dual-layer DVD on one side that can be used in any traditional DVD player, and the flipside is a single layer HD DVD. The biggest downside of this hybrid approach, aside from having half the capacity of the other HD DVDs released to date, is the absurdly high sticker price. Sure, hardly anyone pays full MSRP for a DVD these days, but even with its $39.99 sticker price discounted, it's still an $8-$11 premium over Warner's other HD DVDs -- and the only added benefit is the ability to freely watch the movie in a lower-quality form. I can see the appeal if the price for a hybrid disc were more in line with a regular HD DVD, but as things stand now, why bother?

Video: The dozen or so HD DVDs I've watched up to this point have all been on dual-layer, 30 gig discs, and I was curious to see how a feature-length movie would stack up with only 15 gigs on hand. The answer looks to be 'pretty damn well'. At its best, this 2.40:1 high-definition image is about as good as anything I've watched on HD DVD to date, with tighter shots in particular exhibiting that sort of high-contrast, immaculately detailed, looking-out-of-a-window, almost tactile quality. Many wider shots don't impress in quite that same way, but the image quality (pen-cam and security-cam footage excepted, of course) never dips below 'very good'. It's not something I'd pull out purely as demo material -- who wants to show off their home theater with a low-octane scene of Harrison Ford puttering around his kitchen or office? -- but if you caught Firewall theatrically and enjoyed it, I think you'll be very pleased with the way it looks on HD DVD.

Audio: Firewall is fairly subdued for a thriller, not leaving much for the Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 track to do. The audio roars to life in the handful of action-heavy sequences, making extremely effective use of the multichannel setup, but those are surprisingly sparse. For the most part, the dialogue-heavy mix is weighted towards the front speakers, reserving the rears primarily for light ambiance and color. I was expecting the usual booming, bombastic thriller score, but the cookie-cutter musical contributions from composer Alexandre Desplat are as meek as they are generic. Although the film's dialogue and sound effects are reasonably well-balanced, the score sounds strangely dialed down, but it's so bland that it wouldn't get the blood pumping even if it had been mixed in more prominently. Like the movie, Firewall's soundtrack is okay but doesn't put in any apparent effort to reach higher than that.

This is a Warner release, so you know the drill by now: Dolby Digital Plus dubs in French and Spanish along with subtitles in all three languages.

Supplements: All of the extras are on the DVD side of the disc. First up is...well, first up is a plug for a bunch of Superman stuff from Warner, but after that, there's a fifteen minute conversation between director Richard Loncraine and Harrison Ford. They talk about what a mess production was pretty much from beginning to end, some of Ford's favorite scenes, tackling a chicken-and-egg problem with an unwritten climax, and a bit of "what in God's name were we thinking?" footage that prompted some reshoots. A good chunk of their chat is spent noting how problematic the story was, but you don't get much of a sense of that in "Firewall: Writing a Thriller", a three-minute interview with Joe Forte. The first-time screenwriter comments on incorporating post-9/11 fears into the premise as well as the intense amount of research he did, including getting himself kidnapped. Hmmmm. Other than an anamorphic widescreen trailer, that's it for the extras.

Conclusion: The only thing that's particularly remarkable about this movie or its release on HD DVD would be its unusually high sticker price of $39.99. Even recommending this bland, paint-by-numbers thriller as a rental is being more generous than Firewall really deserves.

The usual disclaimer: the screengrabs in this review were lifted from the DVD side of the disc to liven up the design and don't necessarily reflect the appearance of the movie on HD DVD.

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