Payback: Special Edition Blu-ray Review
PicturePayback comes to us with a pretty solid 1080p High Definition video presentation in the movie's original theatrical widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Detail is generally exceptional, the picture often exhibiting direct signs of 3D pop, with no softness and no signs of edge enhancement or digital defects. The Helgeland Director's Cut boasts a grittier, darker edge (gone are the blue hues of the 1999 cut) that does, occasionally, dip into the realm of substantive grain; although this seems totally in-line with the material. The darker style only adds to the feel of the production and seldom detracts from your enjoyment of the movie, and you will likely end up preferring it - at least visually - to the over-saturated blue-toned 1999 version. The colours are better represented (due to this style), with decent skin tones, more vivid colour tones and better contrast, despite the fairly sombre palette - which again reflects the gritty film noir tone of the material. Overall, these are indiscernibly top quality renditions of the two Payback cuts, boasting superior video presentation for a back catalogue title.
SoundBoth cuts of Payback come with boisterous Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 tracks which hit all the right spots. The dialogue is clear and coherent throughout and the effects are well represented, whether side effects like the screech of train brakes, the thud of doors being kicked open and the encroaching sirens, or the louder thundering gunshots and smashing car crashes. It all amounts to plenty of work for the surrounds and some good expression from the LFE channel, although admittedly the 1999 version gives the speakers more of a workout with their larger explosive events. As already mentioned, one of the big differences with the Helgeland cut is the totally new score, which gets decent coverage but is not quite as prominent as the 1999 cut's scoring. This may be a good thing for the tone of the movie but is not quite as beneficial in terms of showcasing your surround sound system. Still, not only do we get both versions for this release, but we also get TrueHD tracks, which best the standard DD5.1 mix that was previously available on the 2007 US Blu-ray release.
ExtrasIn terms of Extras, we have all of the plentiful bonus material that was available on the 2007 US Blu-ray ported over to this version, as well as a few added Interviews, although there is still nothing particularly adventurous in terms of Video Commentary or Picture-in-Picture functionality. Still, there's lots of good stuff on offer here. First up we get a full-length Audio Commentary by the Writer/Director of Payback, Brian Helgeland. This fairly inexperienced Director (this was his first directorial effort, despite the fact that he has done numerous screenplays, including the likes of L.A. Confidential and the relatively recent Man on Fire remake) talks about casting, relating some background into the production and detail about the characters and the story. He talks about many of the movies that influenced his style (it is particularly interesting how he justifies his closing shot as a nod to the end of Cool Hand Luke), the shots that got him into trouble, how he got fired from the production and the joys of revisiting it. The attention to detail he shows and background that he can offer is amazing at times and it is well worth a listen.
Next up we get a selection of Interviews, with the likes of Mel Gibson, Maria Bello, Lucy Liu and James Coburn. This is the only additional extra that this UK release sports over its US counterpart (not forgetting from the 2 versions of the movie and the superior Dolby TrueHD tracks that it boasts) and it is a relatively fluffy selection of bitty interview clips - something which does not really stand up alongside the other, more comprehensive and well-crafted offerings on the disc.
Paybacks are a Bitch: On Location in Chicago is a thirty minute Featurette that has the Director reiterating how he got involved with this project, his returning to the original source material, and the work he had previously done with Richard 'Lethal Weapon' Donner and Gibson on Conspiracy Theory. Deborah Kara Unger pops up to discuss working with Brian Helgeland, as well as a frighteningly bearded Gibson. It's funny because they all talk about how great it was working together and generally seem quite positive about Helgeland's work, despite the fact that his cut took over ten years to reach our screens. Am I missing something? After ten minutes, we finally get onto the discussions about locations and characters, talking about shooting in Chicago and hearing archive snippets from the likes of Gregg Henry and Lucy Liu and, as Featurettes go, given the intriguing background into this production, and with all of the interviews and behind the scenes footage on offer here, this is a must-watch extra.
Paybacks are a Bitch: On Location in Los Angeles is a twenty-minute companion piece, which continues the story of the production. The on-set gags come fast and furious here, with plenty of input from James Coburn and a hilarious moment when Gibson compares him to the KFC Colonel Sanders. There are tales of Gibson's funny antics, all totally in-line with what you might have expected from him. In this segment we get plenty more behind the scenes footage of scenes being filmed, on-set stills, and interviews from the likes of William Devane and Maria Bello.
Same Story, Different Movie - Creating Payback: The Director's Cut takes a further thirty minutes to dissect what happened to Payback after it was shot. The Director as well as other crew members discuss the previews made and how the studios were expecting it to be more like a Lethal Weapon film - i.e. funnier and less dark. Apparently in the very first version the ending was even more bleak, although that is not quite the cut we see here. Gibson talks honestly about how he had to make some tough decisions as a Producer, being pressured by the studios. He justifies his voiceover, the extra scenes shot and the completely new final act, with new characters. We then hear, in detail, how complicated the process was to recreate the original Director's vision, and polish it up for release. Helgeland talks about how his 2005 director's cut is not quite the same as his original vision, but argues that it is probably better, and that he wanted to make sure that he got the tonality right for the movie. Many of the changes are discussed in detail, from the wife-beating that was removed (the comments on this, particularly from Gibson are quite refreshingly frank), to the cold-blooded meat-truck execution and the completely new final act. They also discuss the palette change from the very blue desaturated effect used in the 1999 cut to the real-look tone used on the new version, as well as the original score that was used, and why it was changed. This is easily the gem of the extras, particularly for those interesting in the flawed evolution of this production.
The Hunter: A Conversation with Author Donald E. Westlake is an interesting ten-minute interview with Westlake about the books he wrote about the character of Parker (who became Porter in Payback and Walker in Point Blank). It is great to hear that there were a whole selection of Parker novels and it is nice to hear him discuss both this and the novels he has written which were made into movies. He also briefly notes how Robert Duvall's portrayal of Parker (called Macklin this time) in the movie, The Outfit (based on another one of Westlake's Parker novels) was the closest to his written character, followed by Lee Marvin's Walker and then Gibson's Porter. Overall, a thoroughly interesting final Featurette.
VerdictAfter well over a decade this solid modern film noir crime thriller finally got its definitive edition, with the Region Free UK Special Edition Blu-ray, that boasts not only the 1997 Theatrical Cut, but also a 2005 reworking by the Director, that attempts to capture his original intentions back before he was removed from the project. The film had re-shots commissioned - post-Lethal Weapon 4 - adding a completely new final act and changing the tone in order to make Mel Gibson's character more easy for audiences to root for. Honestly, I think the Director's reworking is superior: the menacing lead anti-hero is supposed to be a character who we don't really like all that much. He is supposed to be more a force of nature than a loveable rogue, and the Director's original vision (as replicated, as best he could, with the new cut) is much closer to the tone of the movie's source material - a novel by author Donald E. Westlake.
The UK release is definitely the best edition to get, coming to Blu-ray with fantastic video presentation, excellent audio treatment (of the Dolby TrueHD variety, topping the US equivalent's standard-def DD5.1 offering) and all of the plethora of previously found extras - a hefty, comprehensive selection that covers the convoluted production history in great detail - as well as a couple of extra interviews. And then, of course, you get both cuts - and, as far as I know - this is the only Region Free version that sports both versions. Honestly, this is a great little crime thriller and, whether you prefer the 1997 Theatrical Cut or the 2005 Director's Cut, it is great to finally have the option to have both. And with only one new film from Gibson in the last decade, fans will probably love to see such a completely new version of one of his better efforts. Considering the fact that you can probably pick this up at a reasonably low price at the moment, for those who haven't already added it to their collection, this edition comes highly recommended.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £15.99
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