Miami Vice Blu-ray ReviewAugust 25, 2008
It is understandable why Michael Mann would want to reinvent Miami Vice. The popular 80's series, which brought Mann to prominence, has not aged well. What once was considered innovative and hard edged has been superseded by more realistic cop dramas that relegate the original series to being a nostalgic relic of the 80's. The new Miami Vice bears so little resemblance in style and tone to the television series that if you were to drop reference to the movie title and main characters, most people probably would not make the connection. The movie is darkly thematic, fast-paced and often feels dangerous.
Unfortunately, the result is not a total success. Mann's films have always had style to spare. Yet that style is usually backed up by substantial story, depth of drama and chemistry between actors. Virtually none of this is present in his retelling of Miami Vice. What we are presented with is often beautiful yet sleek with no depth. The plot is paper-thin and sometimes gets muddled due to less than adequate context.
Unlike the camaraderie evidenced between Crockett and Tubbs in the series, the characters in the movie played by Colin Ferrell and Jamie Foxx seem like cardboard cutouts reading lines designed to show how tough they are. There is so little chemistry between actors that in many scenes it feels like they are not even reacting to another person. Even though the themes of the movie are dark, it does not mean that every scene has to be populated with overly intense gazes and furrowed brows. There is virtually no humor in the movie and far too much pompous posturing and painful attempts to look cool. Unfortunately, this often has the unintended effect of being comedic.
The movie shines in scenes where Mann's artistic style comes through such as the opening boat race (which is newly included on the director's cut), the scenes of the drug plane flying over the jungle and the numerous action sequences. The overly serious machismo, in which the film is soaked, works well in these often violent confrontations. Most particularly so is when the main characters travel undercover to Haiti to meet their entry point into the drug cartel. The problem is that even Mann's style, as substantial as it is, is not strong enough to carry the low points of this film.
Universal, in its attempt to play catch up on the Blu-ray format, is releasing Miami Vice both as a stand-alone entry and as part of a three pack also including U-571 and End of Days. Included is the 'Unrated Diretor's Cut' previously released on DVD and HD DVD. A new video encode was done to take advantage of the extra space on the BD-50 disc.
The 2.35:1 1080p VC-1 transfer will succeed or fail based on how the viewer takes to the visual feel of the movie. Shot on HD cameras, like his previous effort Collateral, the transfer shows the benefits and deficits of the technology. Since this is a direct duplicate of the original source material, there is no print damage. Colors are never vibrant but solid throughout, exhibiting the somewhat muted timing distinctive to the director's visual style. Detail can be astonishing at points. Outdoor scenes are extremely sharp and crisp, almost too sharp at times. The natural feel inherent in film is missing and could have added smoothing warmth to the image.
Nighttime scenes are sometimes problematic showcasing the inability of HD cameras to pickup detail in low light. Blacks will often be faded and lacking in detail. Digital noise in the form of grain runs rampant over some scenes. None of this is the fault of the Blu-ray transfer. While the level of detail can be all over the place within the same scene, it is obvious that the director purposely shot multiple takes or from multiple angles with different technical feels to elicit this effect.
It can be argued that the particularly murky, grainy night shots are either sloppy cinematography or work to help elicit a gritty realism. Whichever way you choose, the image presented on Blu-ray accurately represents Mann's intentions. The question for the viewer will be: Do those intentions work?
Any complaints about the video do not carry over to the audio track included. To Universal's credit, they dropped the English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 track found on the HD DVD and give us a new English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. Also included is a French DTS 5.1 track and English, Spanish and French subtitles. Never having watched the HD DVD version, I cannot comment on the differences in audio, but the DTS-HD track is extremely satisfying.
Whether providing a slow burning ambient score, pounding bass or carefully chosen song, the soundtrack is solidly reproduced. Gunshots, explosions and the roaring of a boat, car or plane come through beautifully. The audio always sounds full and never has a harsh or compressed digital sound. The rear channels and subwoofer are put to good use throughout. The only complaint is, on rare occasion, dialogue gets lost under the score. Thankfully, this is extremely rare.
Numerous extras are included that range from fascinating to useless.
Feature-Length Director Commentary: This is easily the best bonus feature on the disc. It is telling that watching the movie with Mann's commentary is far more interesting than the movie alone for my tastes. There are some points where his commentary drops out but he easily covers over 90% of the two plus hours of the film. He is always engaging and gives fascinating details behind the movie's production. Mann even talks about the context of the story, which isn't always explicit on screen, and about the difference between the theatrical and director's cut.
The Featurettes, all included in standard definition, are as follows:
Miami Vice Undercover (13:03): Details the theme of working undercover in the movie. Shows the actors working with consultants who have done undercover work in real life. Very interesting.
Miami and Beyond: Shooting On Location (10:01): Shows the various locations where shooting occurred and the level of detail involved for each to give the sense of realism demanded by the movie.
Visualizing Miami Vice (12:42): As with the above featurette, shows the attention to detail that Michael Mann includes in all aspects of setting the style and tone of the film. Worth watching but I really wish they had shot these in HD.
Three behind-the-scenes featurettes run shorter than the previous ones and not nearly as interesting. There is an option to play all or separately.
Gun Training (2:43): Shows the actors getting hands on gun training from professionals.
Haitian Hotel Camera Blocking (2:54):Details the setup of the hotel scene.
Mojo Race (4:25): Shows background on the boat race from the opening scene.
U-Control extras: Each of the following can be switched on from the extras menu. An icon will then appear on the screen signifying which U-Control feature can be accessed in a particular scene. Your Blu-ray player must be Profile 1.1 compliant to access these features.
Picture-in-Picture: This is the only U-Control extra of any lasting value. Some of the content overlaps with the featurettes, but there is substantial new material. The video documentary/commentaries are very interesting, especially in the context of watching the movie. The video looks better here than in the included featurettes due to the limitations of standard definition being minimized in the PiP window. It is interesting that the vibrant colors of the locations are often displayed in the PiP, which can be directly contrasted to the video on screen that has been given Mann's signature muted color style.
Character Bios: Shows minimal background information on particular actors in the movie. This may be of interest to viewers who like browsing IMDB but there is not enough detail to really justify the feature.
Production Photographs: Per the title, displays photos from production in certain scenes. This is a fairly useless addition.
GPS: Will give map locations of certain locales in the movie even following the characters across the map through local chases. I doubt this is of much interest to most viewers.
Tech Specs: Gives details and pricing on the cars, boats, etc in the movie. As with the GPS feature, I'm guessing most viewers will not care.
Michael Mann's re-imaging of Miami Vice comes across with mixed results. Fans of the original series will find little to connect to, and fans of Mann's previous efforts may be put off by the lack of substance in the film. If the style of the film hooks the viewer, it may prove very enjoyable.
The Blu-ray delivers a solid, if artistically questionable at times, transfer and excellent soundtrack. The extras are numerous, though of varying quality, with the highlight being the director's commentary. Miami Vice on Blu-ray offers a solid package for fans of the film. For the uninitiated, a rental would be recommended first.
- Robert Searle
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