20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Sean Connery, Wesley Snipes, Harvey Keitel, Tia Carrere, Steve Buscemi
Extras: Trailers, Theatrical Trailer
"We may come from a fragmented MTV rap video culture, but they do not."
Michael Crichton doesn't have a reliable track record when it comes to movies adapted from his best-selling novels. Like John Grisham, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and other popular authors of the late twentieth century, Crichton has never been able to find filmmakers who can craft decent flicks out of his material. Since he achieved cinematic notoriety with Spielberg's astounding film adaptation of 'Jurassic Park,' his name has been attached to such critical and box office sludge as 'Disclosure,' 'Sphere,' 'Congo,' and 'Timeline.'
In 1993, newspapers, magazines, and entertainment sources were abuzz with rumors and speculation after Crichton publicly distanced himself the film adaptation of 'Rising Sun,' a studio vehicle featuring Sean Connery at 20th Century Fox. Looking back after seeing the final film, his withdrawal was an overreaction because director Philip Kaufman took Crichton's horrendously offensive novel and developed it into a slightly more tolerant study of Japanese business culture. While this move didn't necessarily make 'Rising Sun' into quality cinema, it did produce a run-of-the-mill thriller and police procedural.
'Rising Sun' focuses on an American detective (Wesley Snipes) who's called in to investigate the strangling of a prostitute during a Japanese corporate party. An ex-investigator (Sean Connery) with expertise in Japanese culture joins the detective and works to guide him past any cultural missteps so he can gain the trust of the Japanese businessmen and catch the woman's killer. The entire movie ends up being an obvious metaphor for the corporate struggle between our two countries and even this tamer version of the novel seems completely offense, particuarly now in light of the strides we've taken over the last decade.
When I reviewed 'Black Rain,' a pseudo-classic Ridley Scott movie about American police officers at odds with Japanese culture, I complained that the film didn't provide an accurate portrayal of Japan and pushed stereotyping even though its message encouraged understanding. 'Rising Sun' seems completely aware of this same misstep and revels in blatantly shoving its prejudice onto the audience. The Japanese people in 'Rising Sun' are strange, malicious, and willing to step on any American business to become more successful in the global economy and the corporate employees are egotistical, sexist, and more conservative than Dick Cheney's great grandfather. It's a limited and insulting view that the film insinuates is the backbone of the entire country, not just for these fat cats sitting at the very top.
To be sure, some subtle and interesting performances would've helped to elevate the story, but Connery is so dry and Snipes is so rebellious that neither one seems to be anything more than archetypes of self-claimed, American superiority. The actors play each scene in exaggerated calmness (Connery) and rage (Snipes) and never share an ounce of chemistry. I know they're supposed to be uncomfortable, bickering at every turn, but I still expected a realistic series of exchanges between the two. Connery is so intent on channeling Mr. Miyagi, that he never evolves his character beyond a conduit for plot exposition. He always sees what everyone else has missed, he always knows an answer while asking a lot of questions, and he never seems personally invested in anything that happens. Snipes is just the opposite, pushing his character so far toward being an extreme, urban caricature that I couldn't figure out if the film was more offensive to the Japanese or to African Americans. Worst of all, the tactics these men utilize to solve the case are so questionable and unethical, that I wondered how they had such good reputations for being the best of the best in their fields.
'Rising Sun' is presented with the AVC MPEG-4 codec and shows a modest amount of wear from its source print. There aren't any scratches or noise (other than a consistent, moderate grain), but the entire film has a washed out, dull appearance that doesn't allow any of the images to leap off your screen. To make matters worse, the cinematography and the sharpness never excel at creating the illusion of dimension and depth. The contrast is adequate for an older release, edges are occasionally soft, and the detail I've come to expect in newer prints is noticeably missing in clothing texture, facial features, and cityscapes. However, there was never any wavering or instability in the picture and the general faults I mentioned weren't distracting once I made note of them. Compared to the original, standard DVD edition, this all still adds up to a better visual package that should be an easy decision for fans of the film. It's not going to wow the neighbors, but it'll give you an acceptable boost to your experience.
The audio is a lossless track (DTS HD Master 5.1) that brings Japan to life more frequently than anything else in 'Rising Sun'. The bass is loud and rumbling, the channel movement is surprising for a film this early in the lifespan of surround sound, and the dialogue is as clear as if it were recorded yesterday. The story's action beats come with a batch of tired, synthesized sound effects that aren't convincing, but are technically solid in the mix. Again, this audio presentation isn't anything that's going to lift your friends out of their standard definition haze, but it will hand you a sweeter treat than the DVD edition (which showcased tingy effects, unstable voice clarity, and murky bursts of the musical score, street ambience, and speeding cars).
Just to round out this high-def waste of time, you'll find the film's theatrical trailer in a small group of high-def Fox previews on this disc. To be fair, this is an earlier Blu-ray release that's a single layered 25GB disc, so I'm glad the filmmakers chose to keep the picture and audio quality as high as possible rather than cram a lot of supplements into the package. Hopefully this won't be as big a trend with classic films in high definition as it was with standard DVD.
Overall, 'Rising Sun' is a boring, uninventive thriller that never effectively distances itself from offensive misrepresentations of Japanese culture. The audio and video presentations are an obvious upgrade from the DVD edition, but the source material is too old to give us an impressive reproduction of the film. Without any intriguing special features, I can only recommend 'Rising Sun' to diehard fans of Connery, Snipes, or Crichton. The rest of you would do best to avoid it altogether and dive into a myriad of newer releases.