Salt: Extended Edition Blu-ray Review
Salt comes to Region Free UK Blu-ray complete with a glossy 1080p High Definition video rendition in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of widescreen 2.4:1. Detail is generally very good throughout – from the long cityscapes to the facial close-ups – with edge enhancement non-existent, and grain levels restricted to only allow the film that certain filmic tone which all cinematic efforts should really have. Softness is negligible, although it is slightly more noticeable than you would normally expect from such a prominent Blockbuster, and there’s one rather odd moment where Liev Schreiber is shouting “why?” at Angelina Jolie, where his make-up looks extremely weird, the area around his eyes looking almost orange against the rest of his, slightly darker and more realist, skin. But these are relatively minor issues in a generally superior presentation. The colour scheme is broad and diverse, whether during the exciting chase sequences, or representing the bright, invasive explosions. Black levels are strong and deep, and there is no sign of crush. Contrast remains good throughout. Overall it is a splendid video presentation, not quite perfect, but also almost impossible to fault.
On the aural front we come much closer to perfection, with a superior, demo-quality DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that is excellent both in its power and its keen observation. Dialogue comes across clearly and coherently, taking centre stage wherever appropriate. The score is a good effort, not particularly memorable, but certainly engaging throughout the proceedings. But it’s the effects that really stand out – everything is acutely observed here, from Salt’s heartbeat, sometimes dominating the array, with all the background sounds muffled; to the clink of grenade pins as the clatter to the ground. These moments are just as impressive as the more bombastic elements, the explosions, gunfire and so forth, all given great breadth across the surrounds, showcasing the dynamics and the directionality of the offering. It’s a great track, demo-quality.
Despite coming only in a single-disc edition, the UK Region Free Blu-ray release of Salt boasts not only three different cuts of the film itself, but also a whole host of Extras which basically cover all of the bases – PIP, Commentary, Documentary, Interviews, etc.
Spy Cam is a PIP Feature that offers you Interview footage, Commentary and Behind the Scenes glimpses in a frame within a quadrant of the screen. It plays throughout the majority of the film and we have everybody from the Director to the star, Angelina Jolie, discussing the movie, the characters, the cast, and the stunts and action. There are plenty of interview snippets, although these are not always all that in-depth. The behind the scenes footage is a welcome addition however, allowing you to get a glimpse into scenes being filmed, preparations on-set and what the real pre-effects stunts looked like. This feature is available on the Theatrical Cut only.
Director Phillip Noyce’s Audio Commentary is an excellent contribution, arguably more interesting than the PIP track, as it is laced with great stories about Noyce and his knowledge of the espionage world. He talks about his dad’s work as a spy trainer, the tales he told Noyce about the spy world, and the effect it had on him even at an early age. He discusses another spy’s son who worked on the film (probably revealing a little too much!), who helped maintain the accuracy of the exchange sequence, and talks about his history in movies having been influenced by his interest in this genre. He also relates the many parallels between Salt and Noyce’s earlier movie, The Saint (I never drew the comparisons because, thankfully, I don’t remember that film in any great detail). There’s also some interesting discussion of the alternate versions of the movie, generally around the various scenes that were changed, and a little diatribe about movie piracy. Sometimes Noyce sounds like he is reading a long, pre-written narration, rather than actually offering a reasonably off-the-cuff, scene-specific Commentary, but as one giant anecdote this is actually an interesting, if unorthodox, approach. (It should be noted that the Visual Effects supervisor also pops up briefly for a few comments) Recommended listening.
The Ultimate Female Action Hero takes 8 minutes to look at how they attempted to make Angelina Jolie into a serious modern action heroine. The Director, cast and crew all get a few interview snippets (mostly back-slapping), and there are a few glimpses of scenes being shot, with discussion in the background about how Angelina Jolie always wanted this kind of role – when offered a Bond girl part, she argued that she wanted to be Bond – as well as what they were going for: a mix of Bourne and Bond.
The Real Agents spends 13 minutes looking at the spy thread of the story, only this time with real spies on board! Here we get a Major General from the KGB and several CIA Intelligence Officers (both male and female), who talk about their own personal experiences. The discussions are quite interesting, relating real espionage stories and ‘secrets’, talking about false identities, sleeper agents, and the whole spy world – and this is well worth checking out.
Spy Disguise: The Looks of Evelyn Salt spends just 5 minutes looking at the ways in which they changed Salt’s look as a part of her escape and evasion techniques, complete with several trips to the make-up expert (The male alternate identity looks much more convincing in the on-set footage here, than in the final film!).
The Modern Master of the Political Thriller: Phillip Noyce has Noyce return for the best part of 10 minutes to further discuss his interest in the genre, and what it takes to make a successful political thriller. Honestly, if you’ve sat through the Commentary, he covers much of the same ground here, and it’s not worth sitting through the final-film-footage-padded Featurette just for the same material.
False Identity: Creating a New Reality gives us 7 minutes looking at the effects side of the production, with the Visual Effects Supervisor (who chipped-in on the Commentary briefly), discussing the numerous effects shots added, from the simple ones (adding the White House to the background) to the more complicated stunt stuff, with lots of very interesting visual comparison shots which show the various layering required for many scenes. Although he notes even more material in his contribution on the Commentary, leaving you wanting a longer VFX Featurette, this is still a decent extra.
Salt: Declassified is a 30-minute Documentary included, oddly, towards the tail end of the extra features. Although it is much longer, it follows the same style as the other Featurettes, with plenty of interview snippets – from the cast and crew – as well as some behind the scenes footage, stuntwork shots, and lots of padding in the form of final film footage. Honestly, this one was a little too fluffy, with a lot of unnecessary exposition stuff, and much of the same ground covered as in the Commentary. You’ll also note much of the footage here available on the PIP track. Still, for completeness, it’s nice that they’ve included this here for those who like one chunky Documentary to cover all the bases.
“The Treatment” is a Radio Interview with Director Phillip Noyce, lasting some 30 minutes. It’s done somewhat as a promo for the film, so Noyce restrains himself from revealing too much, and generally instead discusses the research done, his family history in espionage, and the ideas in the movie which were taken from real-life situations. Again, much of the same discussions take place in the Commentary – Noyce says the same things – but it’s a decent companion-piece, with notes on Noyce’s history and plenty of anecdotal stories.
Salt is a very entertaining modern spy thriller. It may be Bourne-lite, hitting the mark only at the standard of a pre-reboot Bond entry, or an equivalent to one of the Mission Impossibles (and arguably taking the best bits of many such movies and splicing them together here), but it is still damn good fun, and the added dimension of a female lead does spice things up a little bit. For the most part Angelina Jolie acquits herself well, attempting to further reinforce her standing in the action genre, and Director Phillip Noyce does a decent job with the stunts, not going too over the top (for the most part), but there’s still a comic-book-adaptation feel to the whole thing, in spite of the fact that this movie has no such comic book origins, and you never get a sense of the realism that they achieved with the likes of either Bourne or Bond. Whether Salt will return in the expected sequel(s) is not yet known, but it’s an altogether different question as to whether or not we want her to. For me, this is not as intelligent as it wants to be, nor as gritty, but it does offer up a thoroughly compelling, twist-laden plot and some nice action setpieces. It’s immense fun, for the duration, and I suspect a sequel would only prove to be the same.
On Region Free UK Blu-ray, we get not one but three different cuts of the movie, which have been heavily discussed already. Honestly, there’s no definitive one to watch – other than perhaps the Theatrical Cut, if you’re sequel-conscious – and they all offer interesting parallel universes for this movie, with some significant changes that go far beyond just simple removal/addition of violence. We also get great video and audio, and a plethora of extras – a PIP track, a great Director’s Commentary (one of the best I’ve ever come across), a Documentary and umpteen quality Featurettes (including one with real spies in interview). I doubt fans could have asked for more so this comes as a recommended purchase to them, and beats the US release out of the gates with all (if not more) of the extras/alternate cuts. Newcomers who like these spy-themed action thrillers (Bourne, Bond, and the Mission Impossible movies) should definitely check this out. Don’t expect it to be up to the standards of the two heavyweights in the category, and it’s far from as intelligent as Noyce’s Tom Clancy adaptations Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, but it hits the mark as a solid Mission Impossible alternative, complete with the interesting added conceit of having a strong female lead in Angelina Jolie. Recommended rental, at least, although a blind-buy would probably not disappoint the more action-driven fans out there.
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