21 Blu-ray Review
Picture21 was shot on the new Panavision Genesis Digital Cameras and it really shows that this is a digital production from start to finish. The 2.40:1 1080p MPEG-4 'print', if you can call it that, is little less than perfect. You'll not see any trace whatsoever of dirt or blemish here and why should you? There is no grain at all to speak of even in some of the darker scenes where Fishbourne keeps his beady eyes on the counters at his tables. The room he works in is dark, very dark, yet the distant corners of his environment are still easily identified; they are distinct with incredible shadow detail..
The colours whilst at M.I.T. Are somewhat muted, intentionally I believe, but the palette jumps off the screen once our players enter their card counting world. Primaries are strong and vibrant and incredibly deep. All colours, whether at M.I.T. or in Vegas are always well within their borders never bleeding out and those borders never showing any form of enhancement at all. Skin tones are always spot on, never too red, never too pale.
As mentioned shadow scenes are excellent, in the security room, in the far corners of the casino floor, in the night clubs which our players visit. At the other end of the scale whites are absolutely pristine; take for example the walk in the snow between Ben and Professor Rosa, the whites here are exemplary - you can almost feel the icy chill. Equally the skies are clear and crisp with good cloud delineation but unfortunately there was one scene at M.I.T. where this sky bloomed a little obscuring the edges of a tower block.
Being a digital production there's no sign of artefacts and the transfer to disc is something you only hope for. There's no blocking, no gradients in the spotlights on use in the clubs and no enhancement at all. This really is a glorious piece of work, only ever so briefly let down by that one blooming issue and as such this gets marked down for that. I really wanted to give it the full thumbs up though.
SoundThere's three TrueHD tracks to choose from here, and it's always good to see additional languages benefiting from these new HD codecs; obviously though this review will centre on the English variety. The edited opening track by MGMT ”Time to Pretend” comes across beautifully from the high keyboard tones to the low drum beat, it's loud and vibrant and sets the scene for what is to come; however during all of this you can still hear the faint clicks of the chain on gears as Ben cycles across the bridge. This then moves into a discussion between Ben and a tutor at Harvard and the dialogue is equally strong and clear. All the dialogue in the film from the quieter scenes at M.I.T through to the bustling environment of Las Vegas is still easily heard with never a syllable missed.
During his time at M.I.T the tack is a little subdued with the score widening the fronts marginally but mainly the dialogue coming across clearly from the centre channel. Once the action moves to Las Vegas though the score deepens, increases its pace and widens not only from the fronts but from all around your system. It pulls you into the action on screen and suits the hectic card action presented before your eyes.
Ambiance at the start is restricted to some chatter from one of the bars Ben and his friends drink in and some traffic movements from the streets Ben cycles or walks down. This again widens when in Las Vegas from planes flying over-head, more street sounds as they limo down the main highway in Last Vegas. Again the bustling casinos are perfect for surround use as chatter and yells can be heard from other distinct card tables.
There is little LFE use at the start other than the opening scene where stylised cards crash down on the the felt covered card table; but yet again LFE is more in use once our players move to Las Vegas, the score deepens and kicks the sub in often. Here though the higher tones of chips rattling against each other or ice in tumblers are never lost in the mix. There is excellent dynamic range and the sound, like the video before it, is superbly engineered to differentiate between the boring world of M.I.T and Vegas.
- Filmmaker Commentary with Robert Luketic, Dana Brunetti and Michael De Luca.
This is an engaging chat between these three people; there's a lot of joviality in there and the viewer can't help but continue to listen to see what they come out with next. Of course all the major bases are covered from shooting locations (especially in Las Vegas where they compare one strip joint against another). Acting is discussed along with references to the real life events which this was based upon. There is the odd pause and odd brief silence but on the whole it has to be one of the better commentary tracks I have heard in recent months. They also discuss their own losses and wins whilst filming in Vegas.
- The Advantage Player. - 0:05:25
Sturgess, Bosworth, Yoo, Lapria and Pitt, showing the history of the game from its origins in France to the game we know today. It also discusses the mathematics behind the game and card counting, however I don't think though that this short intro will be good enough to take your mortgage to Vegas. 1080p with MPEG-2
- Basic Strategy: A Complete Film Journal. - 0:24:38
Telling the story of taking this from book (Bringing Down the House) from page to screen. A standard EPK, cast and crew interview and voice overs. One of the original M.I.T students is interviewed and how they persuaded this story to be written. The methods of the original students are discussed and this reflects what we saw on screen in 21 They were shooting in a live casino and they relate how this caused them no end of problems. 1080p with MPEG-2
- Money Plays: A Tour of the Good Life. - 0:07:08
The production design from what the students would be wearing to how the characters should be dressed once they arrive in Vegas. There's some repetition from the earlier features and doesn't really add anything to the extras package. 1080p with MPEG-2
- 21 Virtual Blackjack.
After a short optional video tutorial you're given the opportunity to play black jack against the electronics in your BluRay player. Another Java based game, if you like cards then you'll no doubt give it a go, if not then you'll probably give it a wide berth. If your player is connected to the internet then you might be able to get onto the high score leader-board. Not bad for a one off I suppose.
Trailers for Prom Night, The Other Boleyn Girl, Men In Black, Damages - Season 1, Persepolis, Across the Universe, Made in Honor, Vantage Point and Married Life
The commentary is excellent and well worth a listen, the black jack intros at times I thought were trying to push the entertainment industry in Vegas almost urging you to go; it was just light hearted fun though. The other featurettes are a little thin with the film journal releasing most of the pertinent information. As this is based on real life I would have preferred to see some of the history behind this story and even more interviews from some of the real players themselves. This was not the case though and little of a let down for me. This disc has BD-Live functionality I still cannot get this to work and although I have support requests outstanding in this regard it seems as the studios are blaming the software and visa versa.
VerdictThere was some controversy surrounding this film when it was first released; the majority of the real teams working out of these higher education establishments were Asian American and in the film these main players have been replaced by your standard white anglo-saxon. This aside 21 is a great fun filled ride of a watch, to see the young Sturgess go from plain geek to plain arrogant, confident card shark.
Yes it's derivative of other works and specifically Risky Business, the plot line of which it does follow all too closely, but still you cannot help but fall for the deal and enjoy this work for what it is in its own right. Acting is top notch yet again from Spacey but Sturgess and Yoo also throw their own personalities into this ring and the film is so much better for it.
The extras are a little thin and that's a bit of a shame but please give the commentary a listen as it's an enjoyable one which has comedic aspects of its own. The other extras are somewhat interesting but never repeatable and to a degree a waste of disc space. Coupled with excellent audio and video 21 is a good disc to add to your collection.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £24.16
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- Filmmaker Commentary with Robert Luketic, Dana Brunetti and Michael De Luca.