We arrive at Cutthroat Island on-board a resplendent MPEG-4 transfer that, at full sail, spans a gloriously wide 2.35:1 aspect. It clearly stands a mast-height above any version of the film that I have seen before.
This transfer has had plaudits aplenty already and, although this is certainly a worthy upgrade, I still have a few issues with it.
Initially, I thought that this had been a victim of over-zealous DNR having been applied. There is a distinct plastic-appeal to characters' faces, and middle-ground shots of groups of people on-deck or simply gathered together wherever, look texture-less and much too smoothly bland to be inherently film-like. But, before you label this release up as another studio-scuppered transfer, the thing is that the movie does, in fact, retain a thin layer of grain that is consistent, though barely visible, throughout and that detail, despite that scrubbed veneer, is actually to be found in abundance. Embroidered tunics, dense tropical foliage, the glimmer on the waves and the gleam of trinkets and musketry are very pleasing to see in more finite glory than ever before. The ropes and sails, chains and nautical whatnot aboard the ships also carry a lot of extra visual sheen. Close-ups of faces are often terrific, but there is a softness that comes in to port much too often for this image to truly hoist its colours with pride. Edge enhancement, though minimal, appears from time to time, and I did detect some slight motion-drag and a vague shimmer on foliage and wide, detailed tracking shots over crowded scenes. Contrast appears too high for my liking, ensuring that the picture always has a hazy vista that had me wanting to make adjustments. However, I should state that object delineation doesn't suffer as a consequence. Black levels can be quite strong, although in some of the below-decks shots they may allow shadows to possess a little too much intensity, perhaps robbing some detail from the corners. One day-for-night sequence looks a tad dull and washed-out, too.
The print, itself, is clean and bold, although there is some slight damage still to be seen - one aerial shot carries a speckling of black dots across the upper edge. Colours are a huge improvement over any version that I've seen before. They aren't colossally vibrant, but they are much warmer and filled with more variety and subtlety. In fact, this image is often bedecked with the sort of hazy warmth that you would associate with a tropical sunset which, I suppose, is only apt. Reds, oranges and pinks suffuse the image and skin tones seem to do their utmost to keep up with such a sunny cast. But there is this continual softness that keeps niggling me. The film just does not stand out from the screen. It doesn't have to, I know, but I kept thinking that, well ... maybe it should. Depth is reasonable, but I didn't find much in the way of involving three-dimensionality. Background elements can sometimes appear blurred and totally without texture, yet there are so many other times when the image is tight, taut and sharp, such as the Port Royal chaos and several particularly entrancing aerial views of the ships at sea. The overwhelming majority of this, I have been reliably informed, is down to the lenses and the photography inherent to the print, and I am not about to argue with that.
So, I would say that this transfer was, in the main, quite impressive, but there are some elements that I feel detract. DNR has been applied, but only to a small degree, although that softness certainly threw me a bit of a curve-ball when I first studied it. But a sure-fire upgrade over any previous home video version this, most certainly, is.
As is now expected from Lionsgate, we get a blistering, all-action, 7.1 audio blitz in DTS-HD MA, and Cutthroat Island provides it with plenty of bombast to get its teeth into.
All channels are exploited by a track that roars with canon-fire, shivers-yer-timbers with mast-shredding vigour and takes you aloft the crow's nest with crisp, clear high ends. The soundfield is often as wide as the sea and the bass levels could probably rouse old Neptune, himself. Yep, this is one of those wild surround tracks that, when called for, lets rip with delirious attention to window-frame rattling and foundation-rocking - all good stuff, eh? The escape from Port Royal, with Shaw and carriage in-tow, is great fun. We have gunshots whipping across the channels, impacts popping all over the place, scaffolding crunching and splintering as bodies tumble through it, and the thunder of horses' hoofs and the clatter of big wagon wheels catering for plenty of low-level, floor-shuddering intensity. And then the canons lay into the place! Come on, you can't say that you don't get a kick out of this stuff.
The final battle has clanging swords, meaty kicks and punches, collapsing rigging and pulverised wood whistling about the room. Screams and shouts echo across the deck, stretching out that frontal array, and the whole cacophony is steered with reasonably impressive precision. I would say that some detail thrown out of the rears is a little bogus, but there is a nice degree of ambience that bleeds out around you and the film truly feels alive and full of energy. Dialogue is never missed, dropped, sunken or muffled. Only when Geena Davis tries to get her tongue around those slack-jawed fangs is there any possibility of losing a word or two!
The sub is given a decent workout, as well. Those canon-blasts carry a hefty degree of weight with them, the bass packing 17th Century heat with some occasionally delicious rib-pushing pressure. But it is John Debney's exuberant score that the speakers will most embrace - swooning with his strings, pounding with his brass and clearly allowing the keening vocals of the London Voices to float across the soundscape with warmth and room-filling finesse. It is, indeed, a very fine presentation of the score.
Although some detail is lacking in positioning around the set-up and the general mayhem can often engulf the subtleties, this is hugely enjoyable fare. So, overall, this gets a great flag-waving appreciation from me. Lionsgate notch up another winner.
There isn't a great deal of extra booty to be found here, I'm afraid. In fact, you could say that the treasure chest had been well and truly plundered, mate.
Besides both a
Theatrical and Teaser trailer for the movie, we have an untitled six-minute EPK featurette filmed on-set at the time of the production that offers nothing other than cocksure quips from those involved, and delivers absolutely zilch in the way of constructive info regarding the making of the film.
The only thing worth your time and effort is the commentary from Renny Harlin. In this, the director is actually quite honest about the film's shortcomings - from screenplay, casting and OTT set-pieces - but he clearly enjoyed the opportunity to play pirates with a studio's coffers and loved getting Davis to indulge in all sorts of derring-do. Amiable and knowledgeable, he is not at all the sanctimonious and patronising action-honcho that someone like Stephen Sommers comes across as being. Enthusiastic but frank, he comes across very well.
Sadly, there is nothing else on Lionsgate's disc.
Much maligned it may be, but Renny Harlin's Cutthroat Island is actually damn fine entertainment. There's nothing in here that wasn't subsequently done to death by Captain Jack Sparrow and his various crews years later so, if you liked their antics, there's every chance that you'll like this.
Problems abound with the casting, of that there's no doubt. But when a romp is as fast-paced and as lavish as this then such discrepancies are easily tossed over the side. Harlin is a high-concept filmmaker. He takes a pitch and then just runs with every conceivable action-oriented angle that he can throw at it. You either like such exuberance or you don't. Personally I would take this hokum over most of the dizzy, one-note and soulless action-flicks that proliferate these days. CG-clagfests such as G.I. Joe: Rise Of The Cobra are sheer cartoon pap when compared to the lusty, full-bodied absurdity that something such as witnessing Geena Davis leaping from a speeding horse and wrestling a foe into the surf can provide.
Lionsgate give the film an impressive transfer, with a truly bombastic soundtrack and a picture that is, unquestionably, a worthy upgrade over previous versions. The treasure chest seems woefully under-filled when it comes to extras, though, with only Harlin's commentary offering anything of worth. But, considering how often this film is dismissed, smeared and cast-aside, this is not exactly unexpected - although it should be precisely this notoriety that ensures some retrospective light is thrown on the production.
Anyway, me hearties, this is ripe, rampant and rip-roaring stuff that wants nothing more than to entertain. Taken on its own, admittedly, self-indulgent terms, this is agreeably daft hokum that voyages out with the wind of the Golden Age in its sails. As silly as it all is, I still say climb aboard, matey!
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