MAN ON FIRE - TWO DISC COLLECTOR'S
Region 2 (UK) Edition
Washington, Dakota Fanning, Marc Anthony, Radha Mitchell
CAUTION: This review contains minor spoilers!
"They're going to wish they'd never
touched a hair on her head!" Rayburn
Man on Fire stars Denzel Washington
as John Creasy, a washed-up, alcoholic former CIA operative, who finds
work in Mexico as the personal bodyguard to the daughter of a struggling industrialist and his trophy wife,
a precocious girl named Pita.
Pita's non-judgemental friendship revitalises Creasy, but when she is kidnapped, he must
face his own personal demons if he's to get her back alive.
Tony Scott's blistering film, based on a
book by A. J. Quinnell, simply crackles with energy. A heady mixture of
films like Ransom (1996) and HBO's
The Shield TV
series, Man on Fire is a powerful thriller,
jazzed up with some stylish visual tricks, and plenty of atmosphere,
thanks to some terrific location work, in a city rarely seen on film. It's
surely no coincidence that the trailers for Man on Fire used the
theme music from The Shield.
Washington is given fine support from
Christopher Walkern, in a supporting role as an old friend who finds
Creasy a job; former salsa superstar Marc Anthony, as Creasy's troubled
Radha Mitchell, as the distraught mother. Ask anyone who's seen the film,
though, and they'll tell you that the film is stolen by a wholly
remarkable, assured performance from Dakota Fanning, as Pita. Eleven
year-old Fanning, soon to be seen in Steven Spielberg's new adaptation of
War of the Worlds, is completely captivating, and it's easy to
believe that Creasy could find redemption through his paternal
relationship with her.
The DVD is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic
widescreen format (contrary to the company's press release, which said it
would be in 1.85:1 ratio). The film is shot in a highly-stylised way, with
a deliberately gritty, heavily-processed, high-contrast look that fits in
very nicely with the film's NYPD Blue-style handheld shooting
style. As such, it's a little difficult to judge whether or not the disc
offers an accurate representation of the film that cinematographer Paul
Cameron shot. It's a very satisfying transfer, however, with extremely
deep blacks, heightened colours, and a suitably grainy appearance. If
you've seen some of Cameron's other work (which includes Collateral,
Swordfish and Gone In Sixty Seconds), you'll have a good
idea of what to expect. The film was shot using the Super35 format, and
The average bit-rate is 5.21Mb/s. Moving
the bonus features from disc one onto disc two would probably have meant
upgrading disc two from a DVD-5 to a DVD-9, so the relatively low average
bit-rate is understandable, if not ideal. Frankly, the film is so kinetic
that there's never time to dwell on any deficiency in the picture.
The layer-change, (at 61'58") is remarkably
well-placed, and not at all disruptive.
There are two audio soundtrack options on
the disc, offering a choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 (at 448kbps) or DTS 5.1
(at 754kbps) presentations. You can toggle the audio on the fly and,
although the commentary track gets in the way, it's relatively easy to
compare the two versions. The mix, which features a spiky score
(predominantly by Harry Gregson-Williams, but three other composers are
credited, and the film also uses source music and cues from other scores),
is extremely dynamic, with plenty going on, and a lot of low-frequency
The film features extensive use of
on-screen subtitles and captions. These can be quite elaborate (they move
around the screen, sometimes weaving in front of and behind objects on the screen),
so it's not surprising that they are presented as they appeared in the
theatrical presentation. Trying to do something similar with
player-generated captions would have been extremely difficult.
The film and bonus materials are supported
with optional English HoH subtitles. This extends to the commentary on the
film and the commentary on the deleted scenes.
THE BONUS MATERIAL
The disc kicks off with the usual tiresome
array of trailers, legal warnings and adverts. For the record, these are:
an anti-piracy warning, a FACT warning, a Dodgeball trailer, a Maltesers
advert, a trailer for The Clearing, a Johnson Family Vacation
trailer, a Taxi (remake) trailer, an Alien Vs Predator trailer
and another Maltesers advert. Once you get past the FACT screen, the rest
of the material can be skipped individually with the chapter forward
button, or skipped entirely with the Menu button.
There are two bonus features on Disc One: a
commentary track, by Tony Scott, and the deleted scenes (with optional
commentary by Scott). The film is quite a long one (140m), so it was wise
to move as much as possible onto the second disc.
Oddly enough Man On Fire has so far
only released as a single-disc edition in the US. Their version features two
commentary tracks: the one by Scott, and a second one, by producer Lucas
Forster, screenwriter Brian Helgeland (director of similar revenge flick
Payback, 1999) and co-star Dakota Fanning. This naturally prompts
the question "why doesn't the UK disc feature the second commentary
track?" Space may have been an issue. PAL formatting requires marginally
more disc space than the equivalent amount of NTSC material. A simple 2.0
audio track takes up very little space, and it should have been possible
to accommodate another one by dropping one or two trailers. It seems more
likely that the track was omitted for another reason (perhaps Fox simply
wanted the US disc to feature something exclusive?)
Scott's commentary track is well-worth
listening to. He doesn't come across as being meticulously-prepared, like
his brother seems to be, but it's nevertheless very interesting. Man on
Fire had a long gestation period. It was originally developed by Scott
more than twenty years ago, between The Hunger and Top Gun,
initially as a project for Marlon Brando, and then for Robert De Niro. In
the end, Scott didn't make the film, which was eventually made in 1987,
starring The Right Stuff's Scott Glenn in the Denzel Washington
role. Scott touches on every aspect of the production. He talks, for
example, about how moving the setting of the film from Italy to Mexico
changed the film (in the Italian version the Mafia were involved in the
kidnapping); and about how some of the techniques he used in the film were
tried out in a short film he'd made for BMW. It's a commentary that
doesn't pull its punches. Several times Scott points out occasions where
the studio wanted changes made, in an attempt to broaden the film's
appeal, or to avoid criticism.
Deleted Scenes (31m)
In his commentary Scott suggests that the
deleted scenes can be viewed as a "stand-alone" accompaniment to the film,
in as much as they tell their own story. There's certainly been some
effort put into their presentation (in non-anamorphic widescreen format,
with 2.0 stereo audio at 192kbps). Several of the scenes are unfinished,
with holes on the audio track (especially noticeable where there would
have been music). Each scene is presented with material either side which
helps place it in the context of the finished film. The bitrate for the
deleted scenes has been kept low, so they're slightly fuzzier than they
could have been.
The scenes add small touches of information
(background about Creasy's family, for example, and about a hand injury), but Scott was wise to omit them. Interestingly, Scott notes that
there was even more deleted material available (including a scene where
Pita falls off a roof, and sprains her ankle), but he decided not to
include it on the DVD because it was "too saccharine". One of the scenes
was left out because the studio had concerns about the amount of violence
in the film. Another, which shows the death of one of the supporting characters,
was omitted because Scott decided to leave the audience to piece some of
the story together for themselves. The Alternate End is especially
interesting, as are Scott's reasons for not using it.
The deleted scenes are (SPOILERS!):
Lisa asks for a bodyguard; Lisa and Samuel have sex; Lisa
talks to Creasy / Creasy meets Jordan Kalfus; Pita prays for a dog;
Pita asks Creasy about his family; Pita asks Creasy about his
hand; Creasy saves Lisa at assassination / Sex with Lisa /
Aftermath; Lisa tells Samuel that Creasy has to go; Samuel
plays piano / Creasy talks to Manzano / Lisa prays; Pita's ghost
appears in backyard; Creasy kills kidnapper Sandri; Jordan
Kalfus explains the kidnapping of Pita; Samuel kills Jordan;
Creasy talks to Marianna and Manzano; Alternate End.
Vengeance is Mine - Reinventing Man on
This well-structured, seventy-three minute
documentary, produced by Charles de Lauzirika for Lauzirika Motion Picture
Company, is an insightful look at the production of the film. It focuses
on five particular aspects of the film-making process, as indicated in the titles of the five
chapters: Twenty Year Odyssey - Project Development, The
Business of Kidnapping - Technical Advisors, Caught in the
Crossfire - Casting and Characterization, City of God - On
Location: Mexico, and Fire and Passion - Visual and Emotional Style.
It also provides some background to the subject matter of the film.
It includes interviews with all the
featured cast members, and key members of the production team, including
Scott, and cinematographer Paul Cameron. The only notable absentee is
composer Harry Gregson-Williams, but this may because the spotlight is
firmly on the pre-production and production phases of the project. The
interviews show no signs of being standard EPK-style fluff, and were
probably shot specifically for use here. Interviewees include the
technical advisor who Scott was wary of identifying by name on the commentary
track, former DEA agent Donald Ferrarone.
The documentary is substantial, and
concise. It features a good variety of source material, giving it texture,
and it's edited together very efficiently. Points the interviewees make,
particularly those about their relationship with the director, are
reinforced with well-chosen behind-the-scenes footage. Whilst not quite in
the same league as
Lost in La
Mancha or Hearts of Darkness (the documentary about
Apocalypse Now), this is a fine piece of work.
There are two options here. The first is to
view Tony Scott's forty-odd thumbnail-size, cartoonish storyboards for
this pivotal sequence.
The second is much more elaborate, offering
options to view the film material from four different cameras (one of which is
usually the hand-cranked "cross-process" camera), or a Four Angle
Composite. It's probably best to watch the composite version first,
for an idea of what each shot is. The composite view is captioned with the
type of lens being used, and the number of frames per second it's shooting
at. This sequence, which runs for about four minutes is offered with
a choice of production audio, or commentary by Tony Scott. The
presentation is very similar to the Fish Market Shoot Out
presentation on the Hannibal DVD. The footage from each camera is
presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen format.
Music Video -
Oye Como Va by Kinky (3m)
A generally unremarkable music video with a
Latin flavour. The band's performance is inter-cut with clips from the
film. presented in non-anamorphic widescreen format, with Dolby Digital
2.0 audio (at 192kbps).
A standard button-push driven gallery of
about sixty photo's, including a couple of pictures of Bill Clinton
visiting the set.
Three theatrical trailers (A, B
and C, total: 7m), and four TV spots (Meeting, Time,
Fire and Masterpiece, total: 2m). There's an option to play each
group, but not one to play everything.
Scott's well-structured, visually-exciting
thriller is likely to find a very appreciative audience in its home video
incarnation. Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment's UK DVD looks and
sounds great, and has a terrific array of bonus materials, including an
excellent seventy-five minute documentary. The two-disc UK version
effortlessly betters the only available US edition, although their disc
features a commentary track that's not been included on the UK edition.
Fox's UK division apparently has a free hand to release anything they
want, and are grasping this opportunity with a series of excellent
two-disc editions (other recent examples include The Day After Tomorrow
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen).
The UK Blu-ray edition maintains the
distinction of featuring bonus materials that aren't on the US Blu-ray
edition. Even better, the UK Blu-ray includes the second commentary
track, which wasn't featured on the UK DVD. It's an excellent Blu-ray
release from Fox UK, especially considering that many of their Blu-ray
catalogue titles have dropped many or all of the bonus features from the
equivalent DVD version.