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The 2005 Academy Award winner for best picture was a bit of an underdog. When Crash was released theatrically it didn't make much of a splash, though many critics recommended the movie, and even just before the awards no one gave it much of a chance. Of course winning the top Oscar has increased the buzz significantly, especially since this movie beat out the favorite, Brokeback Mountain. Lions Gate has now released this film on Blu-Ray, and it's a nice thing to see. While there have been a lot of action films released on the format, solid dramas and other genres are lacking somewhat. That's something that will have to be remedied if the format is to survive and Crash helps in that respect.
Everyone reading this probably knows about the plot of the film, so I'll keep my recap short and sweet. Crash is about the lives of several people live in LA: A white district attorney, an Iranian convince store owner, a Hispanic locksmith, and several police of all colors among others. Over the course of 36 hours their lives will intersect, and these peoples prejudices, anger, fear, and hatred of other cultures and races all rise to the surface and are laid bare and examined.
This was an interesting movie since it deals with a topic Hollywood usually stay away from except in the most black and white cases. This film tries to paint a human face on racism, and while not excusing it, at least offering some explanations as to why it exists. America has often been described as a melting pot, but when all is said and done, how homogeneous is the mixture? Is the fact that we are a mixed society a good thing, or does it cause problems?
There are several strong scenes in this film that work so well it's easy to understand why this was a favorite of critics. The section where Daniel (Michael Pena) finds his daughter sleeping under her bed because she's afraid that she'll get shot in the night is very heartwarming and endearing. Even more powerful is the scene where John Ryan (Matt Dillion) is trying to free the driver of an overturned car that is on fire. Though it sounds like a typical hero scene when the backgrounds of the two people are known, as they are in this film, it becomes quite forceful.
The strength of this film is that everyone is portrayed realistically and honestly. The characters are all three dimensional with the same contradictions and idiosyncracies that all people have. The rationales that characters used to justify their actions also ring true. It's okay for a black man to steal cars from rich white men since they are responsible for the oppression of minorities. A racist cop can dislike people of color but still ride with a Hispanic partner, and a rich woman can be afraid of anyone that's not different from herself. These are all realistic reactions and while that doesn't excuse them, it does make for an interesting and thought provoking look at society.
The downside of the film is that it looks at race relations in a heavy-handed way, accenting how much race plays in Los Angeles a bit too much. In this film race effects everyone and everything. From the black man who won't ride on a bus because they are only there to embarrass the minorities, to the Persian man who thinks that everyone is trying to cheat him, this look at race relations does very few things in a subtle manner.
Coincidence also plays a much bigger part in this film, and while it serves to tie all of the disparate stories together, it is hard to swallow sometimes. A pair of off-duty police officers getting rear ended right at a murder scene and a cop encountering the person that he pulled over the night before in a hazardous situation, not once, but twice mind you, are all things that make it hard to suspend your disbelief. In the end it's hard to be totally immersed in the film, you're always wondering how the screenwriter will connect the next two story lines. That's a significant flaw with the film.
Writer/director Paul Haggis is obviously a fan of Robert Altman, since this movie has many different characters and story all laid over one another and is very reminiscent of several Altman films. He does a great job of linking scenes, having one scene end on the shot that opens the next. A nice trick that works well and is incorporated well.
Haggis was also able to get some excellent performances out of this ensemble cast. There are a lot of big names in this film, from big stars like Sandra Bullock to lesser names like Marina Sirtis and "what happened to them" people like Matt Dillon, the acting across the board was excellent. Each actor was able to embrace their characters contradictions and make them seem realistic and human, something that not all actors can pull off. Even with the flaws that this movie has, it is always interesting to watch.
There are two versions of this film that have been previously released on DVD: the theatrical release and a director's cut. This disc presents the 115-minute director's cut.
Note: The only Blu-Ray DVD player on the market at the time of this review is the Samsung BD-P1000. Apparently an error crept into the design, and a noise reduction algorithm on one of the chips was turned on which creates a softer picture. As yet there is no fix for this, or even an official announcement from Samsung.
The high definition video looks very good on this disc though there are some problems, the biggest being the meager budget. Crash was a low budget film and some of the scenes are soft while much of the video during the night scenes is grainy. The movie was filmed this way, and no matter which codex is used to encode the image, it's not going away.
Having said that, the film does look nice on this disc. The resolution is very good in most of the scenes with fine details coming though nice and sharp. The definition of small minor objects is very good, with the rubble on the ground of Farhad's store coming through clearly. Other scenes were also impressive, such as when Christine's car is incinerated. The fireball has a lot of texture and really jumps off the screen. This is one of the most impressive HD scenes in the movie.
The problem is that the transfer is uneven. While the car explosion had a lot of eye pop, the car on fire near the end of the film didn't look nearly as impressive. The flames licking the sky appeared rather flat and didn't have the depth that the earlier fire scene did. Blacks were also a problem. In some scenes the blacks were rock solid and in others they appeared to be slightly washed out. The colors had the same problem. Though they were often very pleasing to the eye, in some scenes the hues look a little too soft and weak.
Digital noise was also a problem, something that has effected many Blu-Ray discs. This wasn't as bad as it was in Saw, but large patches of color were often accompanied by fair amounts of noise that caused them to shimmer slightly. This was a problem with both the component and HDMI outputs.
As with the other Lions Gate Blu-Ray releases, this film comes with Dolby Digital 5.1 EX and DTS-ES 6.1 audio tracks. I viewed this with the DTS track and spot checked the DD sound. Both were outstanding. Music is an important part of this film, and this DVD did a fantastic job of reproducing and mixing it. Throughout the entire movie, the sound is crisp and clear, with the whole soundstage being used to very good effect. The low rumbling opening song builds slowly and totally surrounds the viewer, really adding another dimension to the film viewing experience. The scene where Christine's car explodes has some punch, but isn't overdone and extreme like an action film would have made it. From the subtle sounds of someone stepping on broken glass to the more forceful effects of someone slamming a door or shouting at their lover, this disc did a fantastic job. The audio doesn't just relate the dialog, it creates an atmosphere for the film.
Once again, Lions Gate delivers a bare bones disc. With all of the bonus items on the two-disc SE, there was pleanty of material to choose from. It's a shame they didn't include any of that ready-made material on this disc. How hard would it have been to include the director's commentary?
While I'm not sure that Crash was best picture material, it was very good despite being a bit heavy handed and relying too much on coincidence. The acting was superb across the board and the multiple storylines were always interesting. This Blu-Ray release presents the director's cut of the film with outstanding sound and a very good, if uneven picture. The biggest deficit this disc has is a total lack of extra features, something that would have been easy to port over from the SD release. Even with these problems, this disc gets a strong recommendation.