16 Blocks

16 Blocks (2006)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Bruce Willis, Mos Def, David Morse
Extras: Alternate Ending, Deleted Scenes, Theatrical Trailer

Here we have Richard Donner's latest action film as he takes to the streets of New York City in a dark tale of corrupt police officers and a world of anti-heroes. Fresh out of the box office run, Warner Home Video has prepared a version here that contains both the HD-DVD transfer as well as the DVD version on the flip sides of one disc.

Jack Mosley (Bruce Willis) is burnt out cop in New York City. Run down, disillusioned and an alcoholic he barely manages to hang on to his job. One day he is asked to escort petty criminal Eddie (Mos Def) to the courthouse for his testimony. Eager to bring his work day to an end, he picks Eddie up at the precinct and starts his trip down the 16 blocks to the courthouse. But after only a few minutes, it turns out that this petty criminal is no small timer at all. Eddie is actually the crown witness in a case of police corruption that the DEA is trying to build and bring before court.

Jack suddenly finds himself between a rock and a hard place when his former partners attempt to get a hold of Eddie, trying to make sure he can never talk to the DEA. Jack has to take sides. Cover up the dirty, murderous and criminal laundry of his friends and fellow officers or take the side of a criminal crook who uses the testimony to weasel his way out of jail time? He decides to follow his job's credo to serve justice and makes his decision as he pulls the gun against his fellow officers. Trying to get Eddie to the courthouse now has become an life and death job that is filled with deadly turns on every street corner.

I admit that the first few minutes I didn't like "16 Blocks" very much. I thought the beaten-down cop stereotype has been a bit overused over time and Mos Def with his annoying voice – which sounds exactly like Damon Wayan's "Handyman" character – and constant ramblings didn't do much for me either. However, once the story begins to unfold and has properly set up the drama, I got so completely engaged in it that it no longer mattered. All that mattered to me was to see how they can survive the trip and how justice is being served, That however was not a straight-forward process either as the film is filled with very cool surprised and twists that keep the story going and the action sizzling hot all the way to the final frames.

The HD-DVD transfer that Warner is delivering on this release is top notch and every bit as good as one would expect. The print is absolutely clean and without any blemishes or defects. Not a hint of grain mars the picture, creating an absolutely stable presentation at all times. The film features a cold look throughout through the use of its high contrast imagery and the muted color palettes. This urban feel is superbly reproduced by the transfer, with a highly defined image that holds every bit of detail without problems. Colors are very well rendered keeping things balanced at all times while black levels are deep and solid, giving the image very good visual depth and never breaking up.
As for the high definition experience, "16 Blocks" is a flawless transfer I would say, though not a spectacular one either. I would suspect most films will look something like this. It has noticeably more image detail and much better delineation of contours and fine lines and textures, especially when compared to the DVD version. At the same time, it is not a transfer that will stop you in your tracks when you see it on a show floor. It is a presentation that looks organic and natural and makes sure the film looks the best it can.

In terms of audio the release offers up a 5.1 channel Dolby Digital Plus track in English and one in French. The track is aggressive and engaging making good use of the surround channels. One of the main purposes it is put to use for is to create the bustling atmosphere of New York City main streets as well as noise bleeding into back alleys. During the shootouts the surround channels are filled with early reflections that create a very nice sense of "room" as if the guns were fired right next to you. Overall it is a great audio presentation that is balanced and dynamic, perfectly mixed to support the feature film. Dialogues are always clearly understandable and never drowned out by music or sound effects. With its wide frequency response the track perfectly reproduces the entire spectrum without noticeable shelving and the dynamic range of the track is impressive to say the least as it splendidly handles even the most subtle and subdued moments with wonderful clarity.

Despite its great feature film presentation I do have my gripes with this release. Once again Warner home Video opted to put supplemental materials on the DVD side of the disc, which means that you will have to flip over the disc, wait until all the introductory messages, warnings, disclaimers and studio screen are over before you even get to any of these extras. I have criticized this approach before and I will do so again. This is not appropriate at all, given that the promise of a high definition format like HD-DVD was to have the advantage of fully accessible and integrated supplements. In addition given the horrid ejection, and boot–up times of current generation HD-DVD players, this is a very torturous ordeal that I do not think people are ready for, especially when the release carriers a $39.99 suggested retail price. Since this decision is clearly driven by HD-DVD's lack of storage I am not sure how to blame more here, the studio or the HD-DVD group for actually bringing this format to market as it is simply not capable to live up to the requirements of the market and only serves to disgruntle and disappoint consumers.

But the disappointment doesn't stop there. The packaging of "16 Blocks" states in bold letters "Includes Shocking Alternative Ending Not Seen In Theaters" and on the back we see "incorporated into the film." Well yes, that's all nice and good, but sadly it works only for the DVD version. If you want to see this shocking alternate ending as part of the movie you will find yourself having paid $39.99 for the high definition version, only to view it in 480p standard definition on the flip side of this release! That is not the way to handle these releases, if you ask me.

In addition, the DVD side also contains a selection of deleted scenes with an optional commentary track by director Richard Donner and writer Richard Wenk. Having this commentary supplementing the deleted scenes, the next question is inevitable, of course. Why is there no commentary track included for the feature film?

So, ultimately while it boats a solid feature presentation, the HD-DVD version of "16 Blocks" is once again hampered by HD-DVD's inability to handle the material as well as Warner's somewhat dubious approach to these HD-DVD DVD combos. Frankly, I don't care for the DVD version and since its price is over $10 higher than that of the actual DVD version I am really not sure if these combos are really that interesting for people looking forward to buying into high definition some time in the future. Somehow it all doesn't make a lot of sense and only helps undermine my confidence in HD-DVD as a viable high definition delivery platform.

"16 Blocks" is a much better movie that I expected. It grabs you and with its cool plot twists it keeps you engaged and on suspense throughout its 102-minute running length. Characters are well portrayed and dimensional and the plot itself is just coming through like a wake-up call that we really need to question and observe what is going on around ourselves. This film is not about good cops, bad cops, or evil criminals per se. It is a story about how easily power corrupts people and how it is almost impossible for them to escape this vicious circle that drags them deeper into their own abyss. It is a story about man's ultimate vice – greed.