The Sniper Blu-ray Review
PictureThe Sniper comes to Blu-ray with a 1080p image encoded using the AVC codec and framed within a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.
Much like Ringo Lam's previous effort, The Beast Stalker much of the emphasis of the picture is placed on creating a gritty atmosphere. This is far more prevalent in the second half of the feature as much of the opening segments of the young snipers training are shot in bright sunshine in order to get the requisite, often cringe worthy, shots of sweating males running with their guns. Both are capably handled by this disc as the strong contrast of the film is put to the test. Latter scenes that rely heavily on darkness can be a touch too inky black in places and a few instances brought out some crushing in clothing textures and the like.
This push for an extreme image that holds at both ends of the colour spectrum also has a slightly detrimental effect on shadow detail. It is still far above most Eastern films in many shots but there is still the odd occasion where lighting and the want for such contrast black out certain corners of the screen and obscure intricacies of the image.
The overall palette similarly wavers dependent on the type of scene. Bright sunshine brings with it a fresh blue sky and green grass that are arguably a touch too vivid, yet the night time sequences wash the hues out and under certain interior fluorescent lighting can seem closer to monochromatic in nature. Clearly this is a stylised piece that was always designed to be striking as opposed to simply another run of the mill Hong Kong thriller in appearance. The similarities to The Beast Stalker are there in terms of depth of field yet this moves slightly further away from graininess to a more high concept visual design. Altogether it is well delineated with a healthy touch of artificial tweaking along the way but holds back from excessive DNR. Some shots show slight speckles and the odd touch of minor print damage. There are also possible hints of edge enhancement but this is well in keeping with the videogame stylings and extremes of the image as opposed to being distracting. It may not be to everyone's liking but it is certainly more detailed and crisper than I had expected and surely is an improvement over the DVD, particularly during its vivid scenes utilising stark colourisation.
SoundThe Sniper offers viewers the choice of three audio tracks, Cantonese Dolby TrueHD 7.1, Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1. Perhaps understandably I opted for the lossless 7.1 track for the purposes fo this review.
Unlike The Beast Stalker, which lacked any great gunplay, The Sniper hangs its hat on its ability to place the audience squarely in the middle of any flying bullets. Steerage is excellent with discrete effects panning perfectly across both the front and rear speakers. The whiz of rounds zipping through the air is perfectly captured with high frequency effects really pinging from all directions once the mayhem starts. The echo and reverb of the gunshots in the lift shoot-out is similarly well handled with a boomy presence to the reports of the firearms that are discharged and a steady thudding of lead as it punctures the metal walls of the enclosed chamber.
The one potential criticism of an otherwise superb track is that of the dialogue. With fantastic directional effects that bring out a cohesive combination of both high and low frequencies, the less than stellar performance of the centre channel raises its head slightly, with speech that is clear but can have a slightly hollow sound to it. Overall though this is a fine audio mix that is built on precise handling of the action sequences and its ability to thrill the viewer with crisp lossless audio that bounds from all directions.
ExtrasTrailer - 1080p - 1:22
Self explanatory - a trailer for the film. It is quite a glossy showing that puts emphasis on this being a macho thrill ride but luckily there are English subtitles which many studios overlook on their release.
Making of - 480p - 16:14
Split into five individual mini features, each lasting approximately 4:03 minutes long, this primarily looks at the characters and actors who portray them. Hartman, OJ and Lincoln each have their own segment whilst the remaining two are used to show us the intentions of the director and the writer as well as the training needed and some stunt work. Surprisingly, this is far from the mundane EPK it could have been. If you can look past the proud musings of the director and writer's high regard for the finished piece and its supposed complexities, there are some fantastic shots from behind the scenes showing actors preparing for action as well as several stunts being performed.
Deleted scenes - 480p - 6:31
Four scenes in total, comprising OJ's early life as a beat cop, Hartman tracking down Lincoln and their mini fight afterwards, Hartman visiting his wife in hospital and finally a slightly extended version of the raid on the prison bus. The early moments of OJ add an extra element to his relationship with his father and thus perhaps why he is so determined to succeed, so I can only assume they were cut for the purposes of running time as most of the deletions would actually have added something to the final piece.
In total, a small set of extras that hardly gives us the grandest of insights into the production, but one could argue that it is the type of film that doesn't exactly warrant such plot exegesis and analysis.
VerdictThe Sniper as a package is a troubled beast in many ways. The first half of the film can be easily dismissed as indeed can many elements of the overall plot. A running time of a paltry 87 minutes undermines any attempt to extricate sincere emotions and well thought out complexities from the created characters. What we're left with is a videogame-esque experience, complete with bleeping sound effects for digital range finders, early training missions, constant views through sniper sights and a final boss battle. If it weren't for the thrilling action sequences, slow drip feeding of the viewer with the ambiguous Lincoln's appearances and the twist to the story that reveals all, this would have been a failure. As it is, it rates as a ground based Top Gun wannabe with an Eastern angle.
The visuals give us a healthy representation of the director's chosen style and are generally striking. The audio on the other hand is impeccable regarding many of the criteria for a standout 7.1 track, with the caveat being a few questions regarding the cohesion of the centre channel which doesn't seem to integrate to the degree of the rest of the mix, though that admittedly is of a particularly high standard. The extras are fleeting but do give us some of the better behind the scenes footage I've seen as actors are shown preparing for sequences and practising their gunplay skills. Overall this is a disc and film squarely aimed towards those with an interest in Hong Kong cinema. It doesn't rate when compared to the titles that have originated from the region and garnered worldwide acclaim but it does enough to please fans of the genre prepared for a short and somewhat under developed macho experience - myself included.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £17.04
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