Firewall (2006)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Harrison Ford, Paul Bettany, Virginia Madsen, Robert Patrick
Extras: Featurettes, Theatrical Trailer

For a Harrison Ford movie, "Firewall" was surprisingly low-key when it hit theaters. A few trailers here and there but not that much, and then the film also didn't exactly set the box office on fire either. I was curious to check out the film therefore when it showed up on my doorstep as a HD-DVD and DVD combo.

Jack Stanfield (Harrison Ford) is the security specialist for a large bank, and his daily job is to make sure the company's software is bullet-proof and cannot be penetrated by hackers and other criminals, trying to abuse their system to get to the bank's money. One day he and his family are kidnapped. Bill Cox (Paul Bettany) has masterminded a scheme that would allow him to use Jack to get him about $100 million worth of money, but the plan backfires when Jack tells him that only a few days ago, the company removed all direct-access terminals that would have been needed to put Cox's plan in motion. Determined, he forces Jack to come up with a new way to obtain the money threatening to kill him and his family if he wouldn't. While trying to escape the kidnappers – upsetting them very much in the progress – Jack devises a new plan, but it's not without risk.

"Firewall" is not a bad film but it never lives up to the potential the material offers. The film is too formulaic in its execution and offers absolutely no surprises. In addition it lacks logic and creates hair-raising moments, like the one where Jack automagically assembles an iPod with a scan-head, complete with a fully functioning scanning software. Apart from the fact that there is no public programming interface for the iPod, writing such a piece of software takes a bit more than the hour or two that Jack spends on the whole operation. There are other cases where you just have to roll your eyes because ideas are too far fetched to remain believable and the script seems sorely uninspired. To me it completely broke the film, making it entertaining but in no way memorable or remarkable. Watch it and forget it…

The film is simply missing focus – including the title, "Firewall" – which has virtually nothing to do with the film or its premise and a attribute this to a lack of vision on the director's behalf. With a director who knows the genre and has a bit more experience setting up suspense properly, "Firewall" may have worked, but as it is, it simply fails.

Warner Home Video is presenting "Firewall" on a combo release here that contains the HD-DVD version as well as the DVD version on a single disc. The 1080p high definition transfer is wonderfully sharp and free of any defects or blemishes. With its rich colors the image is superbly coming to life, making sure that every subtle hue is nicely reproduced. Sin tones are faithful at all times and combined with the high level of detail, the film manages to impress as you see details and textures that are not visible in the DVD version. Contrast is exceedingly good, giving the image life even in the darkest of shots where it ensures that shadows hold their detail and never break up. The presentation also manages to hold its clarity and detail throughout all the action scenes later in the film. There is no blurring as the transfer accurately renders each film frame the way they originally were, without any hint of artifacting. While not as immediately striking as "Unforgiven" or "Van Helsing" as a result of the film's overall softer look, "Firewall" clearly shows significant improvement and additional detail when compared to the DVD version.

To support the image, the release contains 5.1 channel Dolby Digital Plus tracks in English, French and Spanish. The tracks are clean and clear with good dynamics. Surround usage is generally good and although the film is subtle in its surround usage due to its nature, when unleashed, the movie will bombard you with effects from all directions, making those moments all the more effective. Dialogues are well integrated and always understandable. I was not able, however, to detect any real differences between the DVD's audio tracks and the HD-DVD's Dolby Digital Plus versions.

The release contains a few extras also, but here is where things get a bit out of control in my opinion. When you select "Special Features" in the HD-DVD version's menu you will get a message telling you to flip over the disc as the extras are actually included on the DVD version of the release only!

Now, I have speculated before that HD-DVD is pretty strapped for memory when it comes to good and elaborate presentation and high vide bitrates. This has been confirmed to me by a number of studio reps, and one of the reasons why extras are typically encoded as 480i on HD-DVD releases is because the format simply doesn't have enough space to allow for full 1080p encoding of these supplements. This lack of storage has always been one of my main gripes with the HD-DVD format and finding proof for it 4 weeks into the format's lifecycle speaks volumes. HD-DVD is simply not ready for the future.

In the case of "Firewall" I can only assume that once again memory constraints made the folks at Warner decide to put the extras on the flipside of the disc. On DVD this would be a bother but not that bad. On HD-DVD, it's a deal breaker for one reason. It simply takes forever to eject the disc from the player and boot it back up, waiting until all the warning and disclaimer messages are through, and having to skip all the trailers that run before the main menu. We are talking about 5-minutes for this procedure here, if not more! Apart from it, evidently, from a "next generation" hot new leading edge format you would expect a little more than a "Please flip over the disc" message indicating just how challenged the format is. With Blu-Ray this would not happen. Period!

Once you make it to the other side of the disc you will find there a conversation with Harrison Ford and director Richard Locraine. It is a 15-minute back-padding going on between the two which I found a little bit embarrassing to be honest, especially in the light that the film is not really that good.

In a 4-minute featurette writer Joe Forte tells us his secret to write a thriller. Well, again given the poor script of the film, you may want to take a look at this and decide to ignore his advice because harsh as it may sound, newcomer Joe Forte has yet to write a good thriller.

The extras are rounded out by the movie's trailer, making me wonder if it was actually worth flipping over that disc.

"Firewall" is not all bad but it's not great either. It is a formulaic thriller without surprises even though it is well acted by Bettany and Ford, somehow it seems superficial at all times and never really puts you on the edge of your seat. The outcome of the film is clear and so is the path how we get there. This is pretty standard fare that may warrant a rental rather than a purchase, really.