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Terminal Island: The very near future. The world's hunger for extreme sports and reality competitions has grown into reality TV bloodlust. Now, the most extreme racing competition has emerged and its contestants are murderous prisoners. Tricked-out cars, caged thugs and smoking-hot navigators combine to create a juggernaut series with bigger ratings than the Super Bowl. The rules of the "Death Race" are simple: Win five events, and you're set free. Lose and you're road kill splashed across the Internet. International action star Jason Statham leads the action-thriller's cast as three-time speedway champion Jensen Ames, an ex-con framed for the murder of his wife. Forced to don the mask of the mythical driver Frankenstein, a "Death Race" crowd favorite who seems impossible to kill, Ames is given an easy choice by Terminal Island's ruthless Warden Hennessey (Joan Allen): Suit up and drive or never see his little girl again. His face hidden by a hideous mask, he must win the insane three-day challenge in order to gain freedom. But to claim the prize, Ames must survive a gauntlet of the most vicious criminals--including nemesis Machine Gun Joe (Tyrese Gibson)--in the country's toughest prison. Trained by his coach (Ian McShane) to drive a monster Mustang V8 Fastback outfitted with 2 mounted mini-guns, flamethrowers and napalm, an innocent man must destroy everything in his path to win the most twisted spectator sport on Earth.
For more about Death Race and the Death Race Blu-ray release, see Death Race Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on January 16, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Jason Statham, Joan Allen, Ian McShane, Tyrese Gibson, Natalie Martinez, Max Ryan (I)
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
» See full cast & crew
Death Race Blu-ray Review
Race on out and add 'Death Race' to your Blu-ray collection.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, January 16, 2009
Terminal Penitentiary hosts three days in the ultimate in auto carnage!
If ever there was a movie meant to be the ultimate in hard-hitting, death-defying, blood-pumping, every-clichéd-phrase-in-the-action-movie-review-handbook entertainment, that movie is definitely Death Race. About as far from The Duchess or Made of Honor as a movie can be, Death Race is all about violence, glorious violence, set to a virtually nonstop soundtrack of automotive mayhem and featuring more expended ammunition than Yuri Orlov could possibly ever imagine. Forget the Oscars, forget good acting, forget memorable characters, and definitely forget pesky little hindrances like a quality script and profound depth and meaning. Death Race is just good old fashioned, 100% male-centric entertainment. There is nothing masking that fact; the film doesn't try to play out with any sort of significance or meaning behind its plot. No, Death Race is an unequivocal success because it hides behind nothing, bears all, and never once during its 111 minute runtime is it afraid to be one of the most electrifying, gruesome, and most importantly, fun pure action movies around.
It is the year 2012. The economy is in shambles, unemployment and crime are on the rise, and corporations run prisons for profit. Terminal Island is one such prison, and it is there that select inmates participate in a deadly new sport known as "Death Race," a fight-to-the-death automobile extravaganza where armored cars with hood-mounted machine guns race to the finish line and lay waste to everything in their path -- including their opponents. When the sport's most famous participant, a disfigured driver dubbed "Frankenstein," dies after a race, former racer and convict Jensen Ames (Jason Statham, Transporter 3) is framed for his wife's murder and incarcerated at Terminal Island. The prison's warden, Hennessey (Joan Allen, Face/Off), coerces Ames into filling in for Frankenstein, promising him that should he win one more race, he'll be set free and allowed to reunite with his infant daughter. With his identity known only to his crew and female navigator Case (Natalie Martinez), Ames sets out to win the three-stage race -- and his freedom.
Death Race's basic plot premise plays out like that of The Condemned in that both films feature expendable convicts forced to perform in a deadly game broadcast over the Internet, all for profit and ratings. Basic plot similarities aside, Death Race is The Condemned on Barry Bonds steroids, taking the action and violence to new levels, aided, of course, by armor plated cars, heavy machine guns, and curvy navigators. The film refuses to slow down, and is never bogged down by any superfluous plot elements that deter from the primary action. Speaking of the action, director Paul W.S. Anderson (Event Horizon) utilizes the now seemingly standard action movie herky-jerky camera movements, combined with rapid-fire cuts to add a shaky, hyperactive realism to the film's many action pieces. The technique does deliver a sense of danger to the shots, but it also detracts from the ability to fully take in the visuals and the action.
Death Race delivers the goods, sufficiently, in other aspects, too. Perhaps most importantly, the film's set and prop design is very good. The locales seen throughout are appropriately dark, grimy, unwelcoming, and harsh, just as one would expect of both a prison film and a bullet-ridden car-racing movie. The cars themselves become characters in the film. What works very well here is that they look believable and fit right into the rest of the film. These aren't James Bond-like souped-up Aston Martins, nor are they particularly ugly, over-the-top beasts as one might expect to see in a Mad Max movie. The cars have a few tricks up their manifolds (or wherever cars hide their tricks), but mostly rely on power, weapons, a heavy-duty steel shield, and most importantly, driver acumen and skill to fend off fellow racers. While certainly not superb, the acting in the film is sufficient. Jason Statham, of course, delivers his usual fine performance, fine for the types of pictures he generally stars in, anyway. He once again plays a hard, no-nonsense character with plenty of physical skill but also a heart, only reluctantly accepting the challenge and participating in the mayhem for the sake of what remains of his family. The film is otherwise populated with a hodgepodge of characters, none of whom are the least bit memorable, but that serve their purposes sufficiently enough. The other drivers are all appropriately clichéd. Ames's "pit crew," for a lack of a better term, is annoying. Joan Allen's character is a mere prop to ad cohesion to the story. She plays the part well enough, though with little enthusiasm, and although the part seems written for a sinister character, she seems unable to convey that feel.
Death Race Blu-ray, Video Quality
Death Race crashes onto Blu-ray with a high quality 1080p transfer presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. There is a slight golden push to much of the image, and flesh tones veer slightly towards the red side of the scale. Most every shot reveals high-quality imagery that shows off the strength of both the transfer and the Blu-ray format, as the film exudes a cinematic look and feel in every shot. Film grain permeates the image, but it is never seen in abundance. Black levels are remarkably rich and deep. Parts of the film, particularly interior shots that don't take place in the prison, is shot with a soft light that gives the film a warm look. Otherwise, the film often features a rather cold, unwelcoming, steely look that matches up nicely with the action and style of the film. It's definitely not a bright, happy Disney movie for sure, but the visuals add to the hard, violent world presented in the film. The transfer also features solid depth and detail across the board, from character features (scars, wounds, and tattoos), to all of the minutiae that make up the cars, the track, and the prison. Death Race is an upper-level transfer, one that might not immediately come to mind as demonstration-worthy material, but one that could easily serve that purpose if called upon.
Death Race Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Death Race speeds onto Blu-ray with another explosive DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack from Universal. This mix offers a fine sense of space that effortlessly pours from every speaker, filling the room with rich, clear, and loud music and effects. The film's nearly nonstop music sounds fantastic, insofar as the quality of the presentation. Bass is deep, the beats and lyrics of some of the rap material fill up the listening area, and it often seems to come from all directions. Nevertheless, Death Race isn't about music; it's about revving engines, explosions, and machine guns. Machine gun fire thumps away as heavy caliber weapons fire downrange and impact onto the armor-plated bodies of the vehicles, the sensation similar to one of Blu-ray's current definitive reference moments, the armored stagecoach robbery sequence in 3:10 to Yuma. The first major, extended action sequence comes in chapter eight during the first stage of the race. The track never takes the foot off the accelerator, pounding away aggressively yet precisely with hard-hitting thuds, crashes, explosions, music and dialogue, all delivered with both excitement and ease. Like the movie, this mix never slows down, and even the best systems will do some heavy lifting to ensure proper delivery of this one, but it's easily worth it. This is the kind of mix sure to drive the neighbors crazy.
Death Race Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Universal delivers Death Race to Blu-ray with a decent selection of bonus materials. Leading things off is a feature-length commentary track with director Paul W.S. Anderson and producer Jeremy Bolt. This track is informative but a bit bland, though the information provided, particularly by Anderson, makes it worth a listen. The track opens with a rather detailed and lengthy discussion on the origins of the film and the development of the project, and moves along to other topics, such as the style of the film, the look of the varied sets, and of course, the cars. There are some lengthy gaps of silence in several spots. This disc also includes U-Control functionality. This time, two pop-up windows are available -- Picture in Picture, which offers standard behind-the-scenes material, and Tech Specs, which allows viewers to learn more about the drives and their cars, and access a "race report" and a "leader board."
Create Your Own Race allows viewers to assemble their own racing scene from seven different angles, replay the scene, and share it through the disc's BD-Live (Blu-ray profile 2.0) page. Start Your Engines: Making a 'Death Race' (1080p, 19:44) is a standard making-of piece that features cast and crew interview snippets, behind-the-scenes footage, and plenty of clips from the film. Behind the Wheel: Dissecting the Stunts (1080p, 7:51) takes a closer look at the impressive stunt work seen throughout the film. Death Race is also D-Box enabled. Finally, this disc is BD-Live enabled, the page currently only offering a selection of trailers for additional Universal Blu-ray titles. Disc two of this set contains a digital copy of the film. Played on a second generation iPod Touch, the quality is generally strong, with minimal picture anomalies normally associated with digital copy content. The sound is passable, but the movie definitely suffers when not played back on a quality home system.
Death Race Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Death Race won't be remembered for its qualities that are critiqued come Oscar time, but it's completely entertaining, which in a movie like this, is all that counts. Looked at through that narrow perspective, it's a complete success. That narrow perspective is all the film offers, playing as nothing more than an action junkie's shot of adrenaline, and taken in that context and viewed by those who want nothing more than blood and guts entertainment, Death Race is simply hard to beat. Once again, Universal has delivered a first-class Blu-ray presentation of a new release film. Featuring excellent image quality, another reference-grade, hard-hitting soundtrack, and a selection of supplements that is neither too cumbersome nor terribly incomplete, this package is hard to resist, particularly for hardcore action fans. It is to those fans that Death Race earns an enthusiastic recommendation.
Death Race: Other Editions
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Death Race Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Death Race 2 Announced on Blu-ray - October 6, 2010
Universal Studios Home Entertainment has announced Death Race 2 for Blu-ray release on January 18, 2011, in a BD/DVD/Digital Copy combo pack including the unrated and rated versions of this direct-to-video prequel to the 2008 action thriller Death Race. Danny Trejo, ...
• Death Race Announcer Contest Extended - January 12, 2009
Owners of the 'Death Race' Blu-ray listen up: Universal Studios Home Entertainment is currently holding a contest where viewers can submit their own commentary for one of the films intense race scenes via the "My Commentary" BD-Live feature for a chance to win ...
• Death Race Feature Cost Universal $750K - December 22, 2008
In a recent interview with Eclipse Magazine, British director Paul W. S. Anderson was asked about the upcoming Blu-ray release of his film 'Death Race', which was released yesterday. One interesting note was that a feature special exclusive to the Blu-ray release ...
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