Friday, February 15, 2013

Blu-ray Review: Skyfall

By Chaz Lipp
Having already raved about the 23rd official James Bond film when it was released theatrically in November, 2012, I find myself somewhat at a loss for words. Skyfall is one of those movies that makes it easy to fall into lazy writing, relying too heavily on florid adjectives and hackneyed clichés. It’s a white-knuckle ride! Filled with spine-tingling suspense! Action-packed from start to finish!

I actually think those descriptions apply to Skyfall and I can only give it the highest recommendation for longtime Bond fans as well as those who have never given the secret agent a second thought. All my thoughts from my original review still apply, but if anything my appreciation has increased after revisiting the film on Blu-ray. Daniel Craig, even more so than his already strong work in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, convinces us that Bond, however extraordinary he obviously is, remains a vulnerable figure. One of the motifs of Skyfall is retirement. When is it time for a person to stop doing the one thing they are best at—the thing that defines them?
Of course, it’s not just Bond staring down the possibility that he is past his prime. M (Judi Dench) finds herself being looked at from increasingly wary eyes, none more so than Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes). Mallory is Intelligence and Security Committee Chairman and he wants M to step down as head of MI6. A brutal attack on the British Military Intelligence headquarters has called her competency into question. Add to that the fact that Bond has gone missing (and is actually presumed dead) after being shot on M’s orders by another agent.

Director Sam Mendes knows how to keep a story moving and at no point does Skyfall feel like a two hour and 23 minute movie. One aspect of the story that makes the movie so emotionally involving is how personal things become once the perpetrator of the attack is known. It brings Bond and M closer together than ever, cracking the professional façade between them in a way we’ve not seen before. As for the villainous Raoul Silva, Javier Bardem creates a seductive portrait of hateful bitterness. There are certainly some over the top moments throughout, but once you’re firmly ensconced in the world of 007, I don’t feel any of them ruin the film’s credibility.
The Blu-ray offers a remarkable audio/visual experience, notable even nowadays as high definition excellence becomes more than norm than the exception. What else do we expect but perfection from an expensive blockbuster? Not only does Skyfall deliver, it does so in the way that allows us to appreciate Roger Deakins’ terrific digital cinematography. Everything from solid black levels to strong detail (during any lighting environment) is accurately presented. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack is equally stunning, with expertly-balanced sound effects ranging from the loudest explosions to the lower-key sounds of sloshing through swampy waters and various other types of background ambiance. Thomas Newman’s score is utilized so dynamically in the film, it was vital for it to be placed just right within the surround spectrum. No worries on that front. A top-notch technical presentation. Note that the picture is framed at 2.35:1 throughout rather than the 1.85:1 that was used for IMAX presentation.
Sometimes less is more when it comes to supplemental features. The hour’s worth of featurettes (most run under four minutes individually) gives a pretty standard but effective overview of the production. The best feature is director Mendes’ super informative commentary track. A second track with the producers and production designer leaves a little to be desired, but if you just can’t get enough Skyfall anecdotes, it’s worth at least sampling (nowhere near as compelling as Mendes though). There’s also some footage from the elaborate premiere at London’s Royal Albert Hall. It’s not the most expansive package of extras, but the Mendes commentary and featurettes should be enough to satisfy most appetites.

Skyfall on Blu-ray is, of course, essential viewing for James Bond fans. But anyone looking for a rock solid action thriller needs to see it too. Stylishly photographed, well-acted, and expertly paced, this is one that holds up to repeat viewings.

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