Hancock Blu-ray Review (with D-BOX)October 30, 2008
Will Smith has brought a fairly one-dimensional approach to his annual July 4th blockbuster roles with a thumbs up and flashy smile. With Hancock, Big Willie leaps far beyond his comfort zone portraying a deeply flawed character unlike any he's attempted before.
Hancock is an edgy boozed-up loser straddled with the burden of superhuman powers. He's become so isolated and detested by society that his demeanor and borderline R-rated interaction with people, kids included, would make Bad Santa cock a crooked grin. Smith has to actually "act" to pull off depicting emotional pain and pent up anger, a stretch compared to his usual blockbuster fare, but one he tackles head-on with convincing results.
The cure to Hancock's misguided public perception is positive public relations which is exactly what squeaky clean Ray (Jason Bateman) offers after the reluctant superhero saves him in a most un-heroic manner. Ray spends the first half of the film working with Hancock to improve his image including a voluntary stay in prison. Ray may be a PR peon, but Hancock's arrival gives him the chance to prove he's got the chops to make a mark on the world.
Bateman's interactions with non-verbal communicative Smith are some of Hancock's finest moments. Despite one unlawful act after another, including a hilarious confrontation in prison resulting in an unapologetic Hancock shoving one man's head up another man's rectum, Ray remains calm in expressing his discontent with Hancock's actions all while plotting a positive step forward to help control the damage in the public's eye. When Will is silent is when Ray is at his funniest, a twist on most Big Willie blockbusters.
One tiny subplot shoved into Hancock's first hour sets up a most unwelcome dramatic change in direction at the film's midpoint. Hancock's past is a mystery to the character which he shares with Ray's family. Each time it is mentioned, spastic director Peter Berg zooms the camera in on Ray's wife Mary (Charlize Theron) who flashes a look of concern across her face. Clearly she's a clue to Hancock's real identity and wants Hancock to stay away. We get it after their first meeting when Berg flies the camera 360 degrees around an obviously concerned Mary as Hancock exits.
Mary eventually exposes her unobvious secret and sends an all-new plot spiraling into a soap opera abyss. With Hancock's public image repaired, the script runs out of steam and force-feeds a convoluted solution to Hancock's past tied to Ray's wife. Lost in this shuffling of random ideas is a thought out exploration of Hancock's origins. This is one of the most intriguing ideas presented and it's glossed over like a "blink and you missed it" cameo in favor of what amounts to an overblown domestic dispute gone awry.
Hancock's darker tone and language somehow landed a PG-13 from the MPAA even though it was filmed to push the ratings envelope even further. This is illustrated in the extended cut on Blu-ray that offers a few extra F-bombs dubbed over in the theatrical version and 10 additional minutes condensed into a new standalone scene that, although oddly paced and unnecessary to the plot, does answer the question of what happens when a superhero ejaculates.
Sony presents Hancock on Blu-ray in an AVC MPEG-4 encode in widescreen 2.35:1 1080p that must climb an uphill battle to transfer Peter Berg's favored over-saturated and grainy photography to the disc format. The good news is the grain texture and detail I remember from seeing Hancock theatrically is replicated on this transfer wonderfully. There is no digital noise reduction or other from of tampering apparent in either effects-laden or dramatic dialogue scenes.
Hancock's problems unfortunately outweigh its strengths. On countless occasions black levels fall apart in almost every scene from black crush, losing any sense of gradation to one big fuzzy dark blob. It's common in grading video transfers to blame the appearance of black crush on an LCD display device. I've watched more than my fair share of Blu-ray films, including Berg's similarly shot The Kingdom, on an LCD set or projector and never encountered black rush as rampant as it is on Hancock. The only explanation is a simple one: garbage in, garbage out.
Audio is offered in a strong 5.1 Dolby TrueHD mix that helps forgive the video to an extent. When Hancock's action kicks in with an immediate car chase and the superhero "launching" off the concrete with a sonic boom there's no misunderstanding the mix packs a strong punch. Surrounds are used throughout all the big action set pieces and dialogue is never lost even when threatened to be drowned out by gunfire, crashing and explosions. The effect worth returning to is the several "launching" scenes which are usually preceded by silence that only heightens their impact.
D-BOX Motion Code
Another intense D-BOX sequence comes from a skirmish in downtown Los Angeles featuring flight, crashing, smashing and intense sustained vibration courtesy of multiple tornadoes. D-BOX is required to pull out its full repertoire of moves in a short period of time which is a win-win situation for viewers.
Less satisfying is a shootout at a bank which Hancock is tasked to intervene. There’s an ample amount of gunfire in this scene and even a few small explosions which puts D-BOX to work. After the flying and car swerving of the opening scene this sequence lacks the same movement intensity. D-BOX remains relatively quiet during the rest of the film save for bad guys getting thrown across room or slammed into walls, always good for a quick "jolt."
A disclaimer in the D-BOX menu page recommends using D-BOX with the theatrical and not unrated cut. I tested the unrated cut first and it worked fine until the new unrated scene began which permanently severed the connection to the D-BOX track. D-BOX worked flawlessly on the theatrical version, though, as promised.
Like both the theatrical and unrated versions, Sony presents all the supplemental features in AVC MPEG-4 encoded video. While the selection is decent, I expected a little more in terms of exclusives for one of Sony's biggest fourth quarter Blu-ray releases.
On Set Visual Diary Picture-in-Picture (Blu-ray exclusive) – The window box is persistent throughout Hancock and similar to The Kingdom with lots of Berg and insight into his directing and pre-visualization style for car sequences. The content follows smoothly with the film so it is always relevant, a big plus. My only complaint is the window could have been framed bigger. Those with screens under 47" will be straining to see what's going on. I recommend turning this on with the unrated version as the picture window and content carries right through the new scene to explain the logic behind it.
Superhumans: The Making of Hancock (12:51) – The producers and cast scratch each others backs while reminiscing about how the project finally came together as based on an old script for Tonight We Come. Ironically this has nothing to do with the process of making the film as the title suggests.
Seeing the Future (15:11) – Eight roughly two-minute short straightforward segments with a play-all option delve into pre-visualization techniques for Hancock's major action sequences.
Building a Better Hero (8:15) – Part lauding effects legend and “father” John Dykstra which his intriguing based on the man's history alone, and part creating a digital Hancock from full body scans.
Bumps and Bruises (10:28) – This discusses using non-CGI for real life stunts as much as possible. An example is putting Will Smith on a line for flying and flipping a car with Jason in it.
Home Life (10:48) – The producers explain why the Embrey family house was built from scratch on a backlot. An interesting if pointless investigation goes through some of the home's decorations including Mary's cultural books that she’s collected over time for healing.
Suiting Up (8:22) – Learn what went into designing the superhero suits and all the decisions made during the process. Also included, and more interesting, are other character outfit tidbits like villain Red's.
Mere Mortals: Behind the Scenes with Dirty Pete (3:57) – I think insane or crazed Pete is a more appropriate title for this brief featurette. Give this madman some booze and he is Hancock.
Previews - Five Blu-ray previews are included featuring unannounced Lakeview Terrace and Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist.
Setting the misdirected second half aside, the character of Hancock and is an enjoyable reformed drunken mess Will Smith deserves to revisit with a tighter script. Despite my issues with the video transfer, I'm willing to revisit Hancock if for nothing more than to enjoy Big Willie being an "asshole" to any and everyone again. Hancock will not be the most memorable Blu-ray release this holiday season by a long shot, but it is worth, at the very least, forking out a few bucks for a rental on.
- Dan Bradley
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