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Blu-ray Review: Spy Game

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Released in 2001, Spy Game is a taut thriller directed by Tony Scott and starring Robert Redford and Brad Pitt. Arriving on Blu-ray with a bang, this movie has a strong (but familiar) transfer to go with a great story.

The Film

click to view larger imageThe movie starts with CIA operative Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt) entering a Chinese prison in disguise and after a daring bit of deception, attempting to free an as yet unnamed prisoner. Bishop is captured and his mentor, Nathan Muir (Robert Redford), is called and told that he is in trouble. This starts an international incident that has Muir embroiled in a cover-up and intrigue on his last day before he retires.

Brought in to discuss his relationship with Bishop, Muir begins to relate how he met the younger agent and brought him into the fold. Bishop was originally an army sniper that assisted Muir on an assassination op in Vietnam. Successfully completed the kill despite all odds Muir sees something in Bishop and decides to recruit the young soldier.

Playing a game with Bishop, Muir arranges to 'accidentally' meet the younger man and proposes he join the CIA. Bishop accepts and the training begins right away with Muir focusing on Bishop's perception skills and his ability to form relationships with potential assets. Bishop excels at all tasks and Muir is very impressed with his potential. Soon enough he is involving him in operations and developing assets for the CIA.

click to view larger imageDuring all of these revelations Muir is working both sides of the table and trying to determine what he can do to help Bishop out of the prison. As he was on the cusp of retirement, Muir’s clearance is being phased out so he uses all of his skills to sneak documents, use alternate resources, and do whatever he can to determine how to save Bishop… if he can.

Over the course of the film we see that Muir is fairly hardened to the tasks he undertakes and Bishop is less able to let assets go or fail at an assignment. During his final operation with Muir, Bishop meets and falls in love with an asset named Elizabeth Hadley (Catherine McCormack) who becomes the wedge that separates the two agents. Muir looks inside himself while recounting Bishop's career with him and realizes that not everyone should be left behind in a failed mission.

The director, Tony Scott, is a well seasoned professional with movies like Crimson Tide, Top Gun, and Enemy of the State to his credit. He is able to bring a lot out of his scenes and his actors and it shows in this film. While Pitt and Redford do not give the performances of their lives, they are convincing and effectively draw you into the world they live in.

Spy Game did not perform as well at the box office as you may think with an esteemed director and two huge actors in the starring roles. It could be tied to poor marketing or the fact that Brad Pitt fever was at its height and some males chose to avoid his films. The simple truth is that Spy Game is a very effective and dynamic film with some outstanding performances and truly intelligent scenarios.


The Video

click to view larger imageSpy Game does have a very capable transfer encoded in 1080p/VC-1 with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio; the only problem is we have seen this transfer before. Universal seems to have simply ported its HD-DVD release onto Blu-ray. Normally this not an issue (Transformers as an example) but this transfer is not perfect.

The image can be very soft at times and oversaturated in certain scenes. There is also some apparent digital scrubbing that mutes textures, in particular in flashback scenes. There is noise as well with periodic flecks and inconsistent film grain.

That is not to say it is all bad — the transfer is very good, in particular the inky black levels and generally spot-on colors. There are times that the image is truly three-dimensional and it makes me wish that a full restore was done for this Blu-ray release. Spy Game does look great, it just could easily have been better.

The Audio

click to view larger imageNow here is where the Spy Game Blu-ray truly shines. Featuring the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 format for its lossless debut, Spy Games really wowed me in the audio department. Robust but not excessive rear speaker usage pulls you into the scenes with glass, explosions, paper, conversation, and door noises seeming to surround you. Dialogue is well represented out of the front channels and is by and large crystal clear.

Your subwoofer will also get a decent workout as well with ample bass in evidence during the action sequences. I did find that some explosions are more muffled than they should be in comparison to other effects, but overall the immersion is wonderful.

The audio in Spy Game is one of the highlights of the Blu-ray release and shows us what some extra care can do on a transfer. It’s a pity the same effort was not extended to the video transfer.

The Extras

click to view larger imageOnce again this looks quite familiar. Short of the tacked on BD-Live functionality, all of these extras were on previous DVD or HD-DVD releases. This does not make them bad per se, just argues against buying the Blu-ray as an upgrade. The content is solid and is worth perusing for fans of the movie even though it is mostly presented in SD.

  • Audio Commentaries: There are two separate commentary tracks for this release. The first features Tony Scott on his own discussing the film the actors and the editing process. The second has producers Marc Abraham and Douglas Wick discussing all aspects of the shoot and the challenges they faced. A single track with all of them interacting would have been nice, but both are entertaining.
  • Clandestine Ops Interactive Track: I initially thought this was a PiP feature that modern films have, but instead it is an icon hunt that opens short featurettes about the scenes. The additional material is pretty vanilla stuff and was actually annoying to view via the film. Making this an hour long separate featurette would have been preferred.
  • Deleted Scenes (SD, 6 minutes): Five scenes that were fairly forgettable, but Tony Scott’s commentary is nice as he explains why he did not like or use the scenes.
  • Alternate Scenes and Ending (SD, 14 minutes): Five alternate takes are shown and discussed by Tony Scott. Interesting in the fact that they open up more insight into the characters and their evolution.
  • Script-to-Storyboard Process (SD, 3 minutes): A short look at Scott’s storyboarding process.
  • Requirements for CIA Acceptance: A tacked on article describing admittance requirements for the CIA
  • BD-Live Functionality – Nothing to see here other then trailers for games and movies.

The Final Word

Spy Game is not a widely praised movie and I don’t really understand why. The story is relevant, the acting is great, and the movie looks good and flows very well. While it is not a groundbreaking film it is enjoyable and very watchable. The Blu-ray features an outstanding audio mix and a decent video transfer resulting in a strong Blu-ray experience.

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About Michael Prince

Looking at all things Geek - news, rants and updates from the worlds of gaming, tech, blu-ray, novels, and music.