F/X (1986)
MGM Home Entertainment
Cast: Bryan Brown, Brian Dennehy, Diane Venora, Cliff De Young
Extras: Theatrical Trailer

Long before the whole world was fascinated with the art of special effects, and long before they were almost solely dominated by computer generated imagery, a movie appeared that used film special effects as a narrative tool in a thriller plot. The year was 1986, and the movie was "F/X," one of the more innovative films during a period in Hollywood were everything seemed to come from the same template.

The film reinvigorated the genre and has spawned a sequel that is almost as good as the original – a rather rare commodity in Hollywood, too – and eventually it also built the foundation for the television series of the same name that sprang off in 1996. MGM Home Entertainment is now offering both feature films on DVD, and I decided to see if I still enjoy the subject matter as much as I did during their initial theatrical release, and I picked up "F/X" for this review.

Rollie Tyler (Bryan Brown) is the eminent authority when it comes to special effects in low budget movies. He is the man who is brought on to projects when effects of the highest quality are required on a modest budget, and he truly enjoys his work that allows him to be creative 24 hours a day. During the shoot of a movie, Rollie is approached by Martin Lipton (Cliff De Young) who presents himself as a movie producer who is in need of a good special effects crew for his next movie. He arranges a private meeting with Rollie where it turns out that Lipton has nothing to do with movies at all. Lipton is an FBI agent and he has a strange proposal for the film guru.

To make him part of the Witness Protection Program, the FBI plans to stage the murder of a well-known Mafia boss. To make the fake real-life killing convincing for the media and other mobsters, Rollie is asked to stage the entire scenario. Although hesitant at first, Rollie eventually accepts, and uses high tech equipment to create a spectacular shoot out in the middle of a busy restaurant. But something just doesn’t feel right and he soon realizes what it is. He was used as a lure for a phony hit. His blank rounds were replaced and he really did kill the Mafia boss. Even worse, suddenly everywhere he turns, fully armed hitmen appear that try to kill him. Rollie realizes that he was the tool of an elaborate set-up, and when his girlfriend is killed, he plans to find and bring down those in charge – and so does Police Lt. Leo McCarthy (Brian Dennehy).

Despite the great use of special effects and the story’s focus on these, "F/X" is a gripping thriller with some wicked twists and turns. You never know what will happen next or who is on which side. All the characters are drawn with an edge and a bit of shadiness that never lets you trust anyone. The film quickly establishes the frantic scenario in which Rollie finds himself on the run and never lets go until the grandiose and effects-laden finale. Trust me when I say, nothing in this film is what it seems!

Although there are some weaker parts in the film, the portrayal of the characters is generally good. Brian Dennehy is bringing out his usual calculated play that is always great to watch, and as with many of his characters, you never know whether to trust this guy or not. Bryan Brown does a good job as Rollie, although sometimes his portrayal is lacking a bit of depth, especially after the loss of his girlfriend his grieving period is very short – I mean VERY short. As in most films, the bad guys are the ones that drive the story and we get to see great performances here throughout, making "F/X" a highly entertaining and explosive movie.

The DVD of "F/X" that MGM Home Entertainment is presenting us with here contains a <$PS,letterboxed> <$PS,widescreen> version of the movie as well as a <$PS,full frame> transfer. Although the <$PS,widescreen> version is not <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> television sets, it shows a significantly higher level of detail than the full screen version. The full screen version has been created by using an <$OpenMatte,open matte> transfer that adds some picture information at the top and bottom of the screen, that is at the same time cropped on the sides to make sure the picture fills the entire screen. Since the colors in the <$PS,full frame> presentation are very inconsistent and the image has an extremely grainy look, I would recommend the <$PS,widescreen> version to all viewers. It is presented in the movie’s 2.35:1 aspect ratio and has a good level of detail, although it never reaches the level of detail found in new <$16x9,anamorphic> transfers that are used on the majority of DVD releases these days. The transfer is generally clean of defects, such as speckles and dust, but some grain is also visible in a number of scenes. Some edge-enhancement is visible in select scenes, but fortunately it is never distracting from the actual film. The transfer has a good black level, but definition is lacking the dark parts of the image with evident dot crawl in the shadows. The colors in the dark parts of the image also appear a bit muddy and never have the natural look other parts of the image have. Highlights are good and colors in those areas are well reproduced, creating natural looking skin tones and strong hues. The presentation is free of compression artifacts such as <$pixelation,pixelation>, giving the DVD a good, but unimpressive picture.

The audio on the DVD is featured as a <$DS,Dolby Surround> track in English that is complemented by a monaural Spanish language track. The surround track is well produced and creates some nice spatial effects, although for the most part it is rather unobtrusive. Without the bass extension of a discrete <$5.1,5.1 mix> however, the track lacks a bit in the low end where some of the action scenes could noticeably benefit from a bass extension. The high end of the frequency spectrum is well reproduced without sibilance or distortion. Dialogues are well integrated and understandable at all times with a natural sounding quality to them.
"F/X" has a good musical score that nicely emphasizes the story and helps to maintain the story’s dramatic arc. Suspenseful, racy and sometimes thoughtful, the score is a great addition to the movie and the DVD reproduces this score nicely without notable problems.

"F/X" is a fun movie that I always enjoy watching – just as much as I enjoy watching its sequel "F/X 2" which has also been released on DVD by MGM Home Entertainment. Although the resulting TV series that was loosely based on these films has somewhat diminished the novelty factor of the story, I am still fascinated by the movies’ blend of film special effects and gimmicks with the story of a solid thriller. It gives the films a unique signature, as the plot never treads traditional territory and always allows for surprises and novel ideas. The effects are well-done throughout, making it a fascinating "What if…" movie experience that keeps you wondering – and chuckle – even after the film has ended.