Public Enemies Blu-ray Review
'Public Enemies' breaks out on to Region free (going by the test disc submitted for review) Blu-ray with a stonking good 1080p VC-1 encoded presentation, framed in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio that would generally fall into the excellent category were it not for a few caveats.
The digital footage looks amazingly sharp, particularly in the many close ups where every skin pore and wrinkle is investigated in fine detail. The critical focus on actors' eyes is pin sharp. The well lit daytime shots look beautiful with incredible depth, clarity and colour strength. There appears to have been some post processing applied to the footage to inject a thin film of grain into the otherwise spotless canvas. At time of writing, I have no information regarding whether a film print was used to produce the Blu-ray or whether it was taken directly from the digital edit master with no film involved.
In many of the daytime shots, you feel as if you could just step in to the picture, such is the near 3D like quality of the image. Contrast is excellent throughout and black is black. The word is 'wow'!
Now, the night time scenes are a bit of a mixed bag with some problems that I had thought, in this day and age, had been largely solved on digital footage.
In some of the car interior shots during a night time chase, we are treated to a 'blockiness' across the entire image and a visible line structure which I found distracting and rather odd. It looked as if the camera's chip structure was showing up on screen, which you might expect from a cheap Dixon's type camcorder in low light, but not from the latest high end kit as used for feature production. This being the case, I can only assume that this was the director's intent, in an attempt to make it look 'real world'. The only other cause that came to mind could be the use of a net filter over the lens. Whatever the cause, it stuck out like a sore thumb and undermined my involvement in the action.
In low light footage our eyes are also offended by colour noise and 'gain' which attempts to pass itself off as film grain. It doesn't work as it looks electronic rather than photo-chemical.
My interest in the use of digital recording instead of film was heightened by this production, as it was with 'Benjamin Button' but it seems as if there are still a few hurdles to overcome - be they technical or caused by a director's interpretation of how certain shots should look.
The sound on 'Pubic Enemies' comes in a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 flavour. The real star of the show is the explosive gunfire of the many shootouts between the Cops and the Robbers. Every speaker in my set up was given a thorough workout with gunshots coming from every angle and bullets thudding into furniture, trees, cars and bodies.
The use of the bass extension to add heart stopping oomph to the proceedings was like receiving a kick in the chest so make sure the neighbours are out when you crank up the volume on this bad boy.
I found the dynamic range of the soundtrack to be a bit distracting, with dialogue at a generally low level compared to the gunfire. I also noticed a problem with dialogue as in some scenes such as when Depp & Co are escaping after a robbery, the conversation in the car seemed muffled and hard to make out, almost being drowned by the swell of the music and effects track. Key lines of dialogue were being blurred, yet with other lines, the dialogue level seemed to be suddenly pumped up for no apparent reason. I immediately suspected problems with my sound system, but upon checking, it appears that it sounded the same in the cinema. Maybe the director was trying to make things sound as if we'd just been deafened by a real life gun battle.
Confused? I was.
The movie makes good use of an eclectic musical landscape, which here includes, in addition to Elliot Goldenthal's score, Billie Holiday singing "Am I Blue," Diana Krall performing "Bye Bye Blackbird," blues by Blind Willie Johnson and Otis Taylor, and the Smithsonian Folkways recording of "Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah" sung by a group of Old Regular Baptists. Not your ordinary tunes for not your ordinary movie.
- Audio Commentary
Director Michael Mann flies solo here as he explains his reasons for the way the movie was shot, his decision to use the real life locations and his desire to drop the audience into the 1930's to try to make it real. He gives us some historical background on John Dillinger, the preparation that went into the production and the choice of music used in the movie. He's clearly a very thoughtful film maker with good reasons for everything he does although there are sizeable gaps in his commentary and it can be somewhat soporific in places, but for people who want explanations for the way the movie looks and sounds, the answers are in here.
- Larger than Life Adversaries (HD, 10 mins)
This short explores the characters of John Dillinger and Melvin Purvis with input from Michael Mann, Johnny Depp & Christian Bale. More interestingly there is an interview with Alston Purvis, son of Melvin Purvis who provides his own memories of his father as well as some newsreel footage from the period. Johnny Depp reveals that he visited the Dillinger Museum and tried on the trousers that Dillinger wore when he was killed. Now that's what I call getting into character.
- Michael Mann - Making 'Public Enemies' (HD, 20 mins)
Seated at the mixing desk in a Dubbing Theatre, Michael Mann tells us how he set about making the movie. We hear from Johnny Depp of the fascination he had with Dillinger from childhood as he grew up in the same area. We see the suitcase that Dillinger owned, complete with original contents that Depp claims helped him know his character. We also hear from Jerry Scalise, a convicted bank robber himself, who acted as technical consultant on the movie and who explains the planning as well as the choice of weaponry and getaway vehicles that Dillinger used. Cinematographer Dante Spinotti covers the look of immediacy on screen. They use the phrase 'luck is the residue of design' to explain Dillinger's success.
- Last of the Legendary Outlaws (HD, 8 mins)
Through the use of Newsreel footage and Wanted posters we hear that Dillinger was the last of the great outlaws, going back to the times of Billy the Kid. The cast and crew examine the methods used in bank robbery, comparing Dillinger's style to a para-military raid. We hear that his idolisation by the public was fuelled by an anger against the banks responsible for the Great Depression.
- On Dillinger's Trail : The Real Locations (HD, 10 mins)
We hear from Michael Mann, his desire to make it all come alive for the audience through the use of real life locations. We see the cell where Dillinger was held captive, the Little Bohemia Lodge complete with the original bullet holes, the woods used for the big shootout and the work done to take the street outside the Biograph theatre back in time to the 1930's. The cast reflect upon their feeling while filming in the same place as it all really happened. Johnny Depp describes it as 'magical'.
- Criminal Technology (HD, 10 mins)
This short investigates Dillinger's use of superior technology to gain an edge throughout his crime spree. We see that he had better guns with the Thompson sub-machine gun, which Depp had to learn to field strip for his role. The cast describe the particular weapons that their characters used and we are told that they had better cars, including the Ford V8 - the fastest car of its time. We hear that the criminals also benefited from the fact that the Police had a lack of proper co-ordination through a lack of radios in cars.
- Gangster Movie Challenge
Here's a chance to test your knowledge of gangster movies with a trivia game comprising 6 rounds of 10 multiple choice questions focussing on 'American Gangster', 'Casino', 'Carlito's Way', and 'Scarface' as well as 'Public Enemies'.
It's almost worth getting a question wrong to be told 'Go sleep with the fishes, you Bum'.
- My scenes
You can build up a directory of your favourite scenes by using this bookmark feature to save time hunting them down.
- D-Box Motion Code
The disc is encoded for linking to a D-Box controller for those who like the ground to move for them in time with the action on screen.
Michael Mann's 'Public Enemies', a retelling of the Dillinger story, explodes onto Blu-ray in a 1080p VC-1 encoded transfer, framed at 2.40:1.
Starring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale it depicts the cat and mouse game played between Dillinger and the Police back in the 1930's. The movie was shot in digital High Def so it generally looks bitingly sharp with good colour and contrast throughout, although some night scenes display a few deficiencies in image quality.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround track will have you ducking for cover as bullets ricochet around your room, but the strange audio effects applied to the dialogue in a few places might make your ears ask for greater clarity. Nothing wrong with the Blu-ray, that's the way it was in the cinema too.
A commentary by director Michael Mann, a fine collection of mini-featurettes and a trivia challenge round off the package as extras.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £24.99
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- Audio Commentary