Antitrust (2000)
MGM Home Entertainment
Cast: Ryan Phillippe, Rachael Leigh Cook, Claire Forlani, Tim Robbins
Extras: Commentary Track, Documentary, Deleted Scenes, Theatrical Trailer, Music Video

MGM’s efficient but slight cyber-thriller "Antitrust" opens with enigmatic computer guru and gazillionaire Gary Winston (Tim Robbins) offering his new millennium spin on the famous "greed is good" speech from Oliver Stone’s "Wall Street": "This [software] business is binary. A one or a zero. Alive or dead." Following that logic, "Antitrust" should either be the greatest film ever made or a black hole in the celluloid firmament. However, life — and this movie – mercifully lie somewhere in between.

MGM Home Entertainment’s new special edition DVD accords more than enough faith in the film. In addition to a top notch transfer and a energetic soundtrack, the single disc offers a <$commentary,commentary track> by director Peter Howitt and film editor Zach Staenberg, seven deleted scenes with optional commentary by Howitt, a making-of documentary along with the theatrical trailer and an Everclear music video. Whew!

Ryan Phillippe stars as Milo Hoffman, a young computer programmer fresh out of Stanford University. Following the legendary lead of Hewlett-Packard, Milo and his buddies attempt to start a business (perhaps an empire) out of a garage. Like a bolt from the heavens, Milo fields a phone call from Gary, inviting him to his palatial mansion/compound. While his friends chide him for consorting with "the enemy of open source," Milo quickly finds himself an employee of N.U.R.V., the world’s largest computer company. Winston is recruiting the best computer minds in the land, giving them an Oz-like environment and picking their brains to complete Synapse, a revolutionary communications system that will link the world in cyber-harmony.

At first, Milo is taken with Gary’s flamboyant dreams and his ordinary demeanor. With his spectacles, simple haircut and can of potato chips always handy, Gary seems like the average American geek made good. Every time Milo hits an impasse, Gary appears fairy godfather-like with the programming code necessary to facilitate progress. Milo soon notices these interventions are accompanied by media reports of programmers dying under mysterious circumstances. When his best friend Teddy falls prey to this phenomenon, Milo begins to suspect that thinking outside the box might land him in a coffin.

"Antitrust" has some potentially interesting comments to make about our current love affair with technology (hmm, I’m writing about a DVD on a laptop computer, plugged into the Internet…), the price of fame (always a safe element for a crisis of conscience story) and the individual against the conglomerate. No major story or plot innovations here, however; "Antitrust" is first and foremost a popcorn picture pumped up with paranoia, intrigue, double-crosses, right down to the cheerable hero and the hissable villain. I have nothing against melodramas but even the mellowest drama can tease with hints of irony and ambiguity.

Characters run strictly in the paint-by-the-numbers mode. Howard Franklin’s script gives Milo and his friends big chunks of computer jargon then tries to soften it with forced twenty-something patter (Teddy’s pontification about the battle between commerce and "open source" sounds way too soapboxy to be off the cuff.) Phillippe’s smart and sexy geek Milo fulfills the necessity of a handsome lead. Cook’s Lisa is the brooding, sullen pal who joins Milo on his crusade. As Milo’s girlfriend Alice, Clare Forlani juggles understanding and emotional distance when the plot calls for it. Swirling around all, however, is Tim Robbins as Winston. With the hair, glasses and cardigans, Robbins is an obvious surrogate for everybody’s favorite digital boogeyman. (I won’t invoke his name but it rhymes with "Nil Dates.") Plot points are telegraphed far too early, practically shouting at the audience: "Pay attention! Important story info here!" Technical rundowns, characters breezing through (Richard Roundtree’s Justice Department agent appears twice to no discernible effect) and audio-driven shocks contribute to the "junk food" feeling of the film. An hour after it ended, I wanted to watch another movie.

The 2.35 <$16x9,anamorphic> transfer more than pleases. Colors are sharp and stable without any bleed or break-up. Deep blacks and excellent detail definition contribute to an exceptionally clean and crisp image. As with most contemporary films on DVD, the print source displays nary a wrinkle or blemish. Minor edge enhancement appears a couple of times, in the few scenes that exhibit a slight haze. Fleshtones always look natural and pinkish. Even with the Northwest overcast skies, digital or compression artifacts are absent.

The <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 audio creates an ever-present but not aggressive sound field. Practically every speaker was engaged during the entire presentation. I found the sound mix very thoughtful, with most of the directional sound effects contained to the front soundstage, like pans of cars driving by or characters talking from left front to right front. The surrounds were consistently engaged, mostly for Don Davis’ music score, ambient noises and the occasional aural "boo" jolt. The LFE channel engages sparingly but appropriately, preferring low-end rumble to highlight ominous music cues rather than artificially punctuating explosions. Kudos to MGM for providing 5.1 French and Spanish language tracks.

Director Peter Howitt and film editor Zach Staenberg tackle every scene in their <$commentary,commentary track>, providing wall-to-wall observations, reminiscences and anecdotes. Nothing is left to the imagination. They explain everything — the creation of the title sequence, how Tim Robbins gave them editing choices with his performance, how Winston’s house exteriors were mostly CGI, how they created the digital painting effects (apparently, such things exist in real life but nobody has ever seen one). They also explicate every scene for character and plot, as if the magician must not only reveal the illusion but the interpretation as well. While I applaud their diligence in covering all aspects of the production, Peter and Zach’s comments come across like Cliffs Notes, spoon-feeding plot and themes "with extreme prejudice."

Special edition producer Jonathan Gaines ("Superman" and "Some Like it Hot" DVD editions) strikes again with "’Antitrust:’ Cracking The Code." The twenty-two minute documentary visually covers the same ground as the <$commentary,commentary track>. Clips, production footage and sound bites from just about everyone – the stars, producer David Nicksay, director Howitt, special effects artists — paint a convivial picture of filming the movie. Tim praises Ryan, David lauds Tim, Ryan admires Peter, and so on. Not as shamelessly promotional as the manufactured "HBO First Look" trailers, but the examination lacks the perspective that graced Gaines’ previous documentaries.

Peter Howitt’s reflections all but make the deleted scenes section. Seven in all, the snippets range from scenes centered around the Milo – Lisa relationship to a rather well written exchange between Gary and Milo while playing a video game. I watched them first with the dialogue and then Peter’s commentary (the disc allows for isolating both audio options). He explains how the preview process affected the editing and sometimes laments how a director must sometimes let go of a favorite scene for the greater narrative good. Peter’s thoughts also illuminate the alternate opening and ending sequences (which I suppose brings to count to eight deleted scenes). He patiently explains the original concept, what changes occurred, and how the final cut differs in tone and execution. Fascinating stuff. See, I’m not completely tight when it comes to commentary.

The theatrical trailer is presented in 2.35 <$16x9,anamorphic> and matrix surround. Typical MTV-style overload here with nano-second editing (just throw film into a blender and hit "puree") and blaring audio. I suppose fans of Everclear will appreciate the inclusion of the music video, "When It All Goes Wrong Again." All I saw was another marketing tool.

Despite a predictable build-up, "Antitrust" ends with a rousing finish. Yet it could have been much more. Watching the film, I remembered a line from a Janeane Garofalo stand-up routine: "Beware of movies whose trailers start with ‘In a world…’" Check out the ad copy on the DVD package. Guess how it starts?