Universal Home Video
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Laurence Fishburne, John Leguizamo, Maria Bello, Gabriel Byrne
Extras: Commentary Track, Deleted Scenes, Featurettes
Virtually all Hollywood studios spend more time these days remaking classic movies – many of which really don't need remakes – than thinking up new concepts. Any way I look at it, I think it is a sad testimony to the state the movie industry is in as it tries to propel itself through its own lack of imagination while perpetuating uninspiredness and stifling creativity at every step.
Here now we have a modern-day remake of John Carpenter's cult classic "Assault On Precinct 13." With a new cast and a modified script, director Jean-Francois Richet felt he could surpass the original – and failed.
"Assault On Precinct 13" is not a bad movie per se, it just never reaches its full potential and remains in the shadow of the Carpenter original. It is a very generic story that Carpenter infused with a few new elements at the time, making it an impressive experience when it was originally released. Today, the plot elements are worn out and without anything new added to the mix, the story is formulaic and plays like a routine action flick that is highly predictable – except for the plot holes and inconsistencies, that is. In order to enjoy you have to turn off your brain for 109 minutes. Seriously! The film is so riddled with plot holes, incoherent errors and irrationalities that thinking about them will completely destroy the movie, so don't even try.
The film is surprisingly well cast however, featuring Ethan Hawke in the lead and Lawrence Fishburne as the bad guy around who everything revolves. Maria Bello makes also a good showing, although her costume was a really poor choice. And I mean REALLY poor choice. Brian Dennehy and Gabriel Byrne round out the package with great performances.
After last year's DVD version we now have to opportunity to see the film in high definition as the studio serves up a full 1080p widescreen transfer on this HD-DVD. As expected – since this is a fairly recent film – the transfer is wonderful to say the least. The film has a modern look and that suits the high definition transfer very well, as edges are sharply defined without any grain or softness. Contrast is incredible with very deep shadows and stark highlights. The high definition transfer manages to reproduce all shades and gradient in-between without any problems, giving the film an incredibly racy look. The level of detail is impressive as the presentation displays even the most subtle image details. Apart from things like clothing textures, or tiny cracks in the concrete, the snow scenes are particularly impressive as the high definition transfer plays its muscles a bit and renders an image that is eye-catching in its sharpness and overall detail. This is a quality that you simply cannot get in standard definition, plain and simple.
The release features a 5.1 channel Dolby Digital Plus track in English, French and Spanish as well as an English DTS track. Certainly everyone will now ask, how do they compare, and the fact of the matter is, they do not compare. They are practically identical from what I've been able to compare. Given that the Dolby Digital Plus track is running at an increased bitrate that standard Dolby Digital, the previous benefits of the DTS track are essentially eliminated making these presentations equal. As I pointed out before, in a world of losslessly compressed audio and increased bitrates for lossy compression I am not quite sure where DTS's place in the scheme of things will be.
Given the nature and recent age of the film, surround usage is very aggressive and constantly in use with brutal dynamics. The frequency response of the track is very good with a deep bass extension that gives the power scenes plenty of bottom end, while the high end of the spectrum is clean and clear throughout. The dynamic range is the way you would expect it, capturing everything without problems from the most subtle moments to the most explosive, though the film does not contain too many dynamic subtleties as music, dialogue and sound effects are in almost constant use for a thick layer of noise.
The HD-DVD contains the same bonus features found on the DVD release, including the commentary track featuring director Jean-Francois Richet, writer James DeMonaco and producer Jeffrey Silver. In all honesty however, I found the commentary superficial at best. I find it quite amazing how the filmmakers can create a commentary track with a straight face when the material they look at is so riddled with holes and illogical events. Still for those interested how some of the scenes were put together, there is some valuable information in here.
The disc also contains a selection of deleted scenes that are also complemented by an optional commentary track in which the director explains their context and why they were removed from the final cut of the film. Like all extras on the disc these scenes are presented in 480i standard definition.
Next up is a series of featurettes on some of the movie's elements. "Armed And Dangerous" takes a look at the weapons from the film. "Behind Precinct Walls" is a production featurette about the set design of the precinct building. The set of featurettes is rounded out by a look at the stunt work giving you a closer look how some of the explosive moments were created.
Then there is "The Assault Team," a featurette that discusses the characters in the movie and how they were shaped for the film.
"In The Crosshairs: Behind The Scenes Of Assault On Precinct 13" is another featurette looking at the production as a whole. Ethan Hawke's opening comment "This is the best action script I've ever read" makes it clear from the get-go that this is nothing but a cheap promotional featurette trying to sell viewers on how cool the film is. While I beg to differ with many comments being made in this featurette, it certainly generates interest in the film with its fast editing, pounding music and explosive clips from the film.
"Assault On Precinct 13" is fun if you take it for what it is. A brainless save-the-fort siege-and-shootout movie. It is clearly a product of today's school of filmmaking in that it is dead-set upon eye-candy instead of story and atmosphere, and it is gratuitously violent at times.
While the extras are fairly interesting I am somewhat surprised that not a word is being said about the fact that "Assault On Precinct 13" is a remake of John Carpenter's film. No one ever draws any parallels to the original, constantly gushing about their own work, generating the illusion as if this film and its premise has been their own idea and creation, which it is definitely not! It is a derivative and it doesn't live up to the original.
There are no surprises, no twists and no logic to speak of. However, you will have forgotten about it and about the movie the moment it is over, so it may not really matter.