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When the DEA shut down its dummy corporation operation codenamed Swordfish in 1986, they had generated $400 million which they let sit around; fifteen years of compound interest has swelled it to $9.5 billion. A covert counter-terrorist unit called Black Cell, headed by the duplicitious and suave Gabriel Shear, wants the money to help finance their raise-the-stakes vengeance war against international terrorism, but it's all locked away behind super-encryption. He brings in convicted hacker Stanley Jobson, who only wants to see his daughter Holly again but can't afford the legal fees, to slice into the government mainframes and get the money.
For more about Swordfish and the Swordfish Blu-ray release, see Swordfish Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on April 28, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: John Travolta, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Don Cheadle, Vinnie Jones, Sam Shepard
Director: Dominic Sena
» See full cast & crew
Swordfish Blu-ray Review
An all-star cast can't save this good-idea turned mediocre movie turned average Blu-ray.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, April 28, 2008
Audiences love happy endings.
If you told me that I had the option of watching a generic action movie I've seen a dozen times before with one or two mystery "name" actors versus a film that I knew next-to-nothing about going in except that it starred the likes of John Travolta (Hairspray), Hugh Jackman (The Presitige), Halle Berry (X-Men: The Last Stand), Don Cheadle (Reign Over Me), Sam Shepard (Black Hawk Down), and Vinnie Jones (The Condemned), I'd choose the latter every single time in search of something new and fresh, not to mention seeing what this conglomerate can do together. One film actually does star this sextet of some of Hollywood's finest, and that film is 2001's Swordfish, directed by Dominic Sena (Gone In 60 Seconds). Like First Knight, this is a film I'd screened before but my recollection was virtually nil; that the film starred Travolta and involved some kind of bank robbery were the only memories I could recall as I sat down to again watch the film, this time in glorious Blu-ray high definition (well, the video anyway).
Computer hacker extraordinaire Stanley Jobson (Jackman) has recently been released form a prison sentence received for his on-line crimes. Living in isolation in Texas, he is approached by the seductive Ginger Knowles (Berry) and offered $100,000 to listen to a proposal for his employment, a hacking job he knows he can accomplish but cannot commit for fear of a return trip to the slammer. Nevertheless, the sweet smell of cash lures him in, and the cunning, resourceful, and creepy Gabriel Sheer (Travolta) tests his ability at gunpoint. Passing by the seat of his pants, he is let in on the plan: Gabriel wants to steal several billion dollars from the government and he needs Jobson to write the computer virus that will accomplish that task. Jobson enters into a world he can't imagine, where nobody is as they seem, and he must ultimately choose with whom and on what side of the law he'll wind up.
Swordfish certainly comes out of the gate swinging for the fences, but like many a Pittsburgh Pirate batters, completely fails to even make contact. As the film opens, Gabriel invokes the name of the great Al Pacino classic Dog Day Afternoon. Specifically, he discusses how such a film could be improved upon, making it a more violent, take-no-prisoners film, and the ball is practically placed on a tee here, just waiting to be smacked out of the park. Gabriel thoroughly convinces us of his idea, and we're led to believe that Swordfish's story will be that which he passed along to us. In a way, it is, but the execution is miserable. Invoking the name if Dog Day Afternoon in Swordfish would be like Creature invoking the name of Alien or Platoon Leader invoking the name of Platoon. Granted, none of these fine actors are of Pacino-caliber, and we should never expect them to be, at least in a film like this (Travolta can definitely pull off an inspired performance if given the right material; see Pulp Fiction). They are all fine, for the most part, doing all they can to bring credibility and star power to the project which fails not because of the actors, but because of the bland characters they portray, characters inhabiting a film filled to the brim with decent ideas but ultimately careless execution.
Swordfish honorably attempts to be different here and there, a difficult task to pull off for the filmmakers in the midst of the film's numerous clichéd and tired sequences and characters, and perhaps even more difficult for an apathetic audience to recognize, an audience fed up with the same old, same old coming out of Hollywood. At least Swordfish isn't afraid to spell out its plot, intentions, and even finale for all to hear and digest throughout the movie, though the first time through we may not recognize that we're being told the story, and discernment comes only after the final frames of the movie thankfully roll on by. To be sure, like so many movies these days, there is a solid concept here, one that is definitely lost in a sea of contrivance and banality. The characters are completely flat, one-dimensional snores who try their darndest to be hip, original, and interesting. The screen is graced for 99 minutes by the intelligent yet shady and ultimately psychotic bad guy, the once-evil ex-con who only wants to live out the remainder of his days in peace and away from trouble, the attractive girl who cannot be in frame without wearing tight or revealing clothing (and she may or may not be who she seems!), and even the corrupt politician. There are also several action and stunt sequences that oh-so-badly want to be trend-setting and "cool" but wind up dismal and uninteresting. By the time the "surprise" ending rolls around, it's hard to care that we see something I cannot recall ever seeing before, and in this case, the major special effect signifies the movie is coming to an end, a definite cause for celebration. Swordfish even features the "let's get artistic" visual style that is noticeable but really adds little dramatic effect to the proceedings. Unfortunately, we can count Swordfish as yet another valiant effort that ultimately falls apart, a film with a story that gets so bogged down in contrivance and convention that, even despite the film's clearly stated intent to be different, fails to become anything more than another yawner and a wholly forgettable experience. In fact, the best moment of the film is the aforementioned opening monologue by Travolta, telling us exactly why this movie just might be (and very well could have been) different than all the other indistinguishable action vehicles coming out of Hollywood today.
Swordfish Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in 1080p high definition and framed at 2.40:1, Swordfish is certainly a nice film to look at from a visual perspective. Despite the somewhat artistic look and feel (just about every scene is bathed in unnatural light, giving off either a golden or greenish tint), the image retains a very high level of depth and detail sure to satisfy fans of the film looking for a mostly sharp and clear image, one that is definitely a boost in quality over previous home video versions of the film. The distinct sepia-tone look of the film boasts strong color reproduction of a mostly grain-free image. The look of the film gives us not necessarily a theatrical appearance but rather a "lived-in" look that, save for the awkward use of artistic license with the tint, appears natural and deep. Several shots do appear to be overly soft, but these occurrences don't appear very often, and they provide the most glaring flaw in the transfer. Black levels are spot-on, deep and pure, and detail in darker scenes stands out wonderfully. Detail is impressively high throughout, no matter the lighting scheme. Check out a scene in chapter 13 where Stanley is wearing a corduroy sports coat; every line, seam, and stitch is plainly visible, especially in close-up, static shots. I was impressed by the detail evident in backgrounds as well. A few early shots in the film where we see some pavement with wet patches here and there looked marvelously real, and you almost feel as if you could get off the couch, walk into the television, and jump in the puddles. Even the sheen and polish of several of the automobiles in the movie is evident and clear. This is a very good image, and although the quality has been far surpassed over the last year and a half since this film's initial release on Blu-ray, it looks excellent for a catalogue title.
Swordfish Blu-ray, Audio Quality
If any of the early Warner Brothers' titles that lacks a high-definition lossless audio option screams to have one, this is it. The sound design for the film is robust, active, and engaging, but the limits of the Dolby Digital mix become apparent in several scenes. The first thing I noted, beginning with the dialogue and then about the track as a whole, was a slightly lower volume level than I am used to. I had to crank my receiver up a notch or two to feel like I was getting the entire impact of the proceedings right from the get-go. Even some up-tempo music heard throughout the film, at times, sounded reserved, a bit shy, seemingly afraid to come out of hiding and shine. Later on, at the same location, the music seems to have undergone some metamorphosis because all of a sudden, it's as loud, clear, and boisterous as if you were in the middle of that club. The ubiquitous car chase sequence, found in chapter 18, about an hour into the movie, proves to be first real action piece since the beginning, and the best sonic experience of the film, surpassing even the ending. This sequence features more hip, up-tempo music that works the subwoofer hard. Ear-shattering effects, loads of gunfire, and the incessant squealing of tires creates a cornucopia of action bliss, the impact of the bullets slicing through the sheet metal of several vehicles probably my favorite effect of the sequence. The rat-a-tat reverberations of the M249 SAW fired by Gabriel is also a highlight; while not as defined and frightening as some machine gun fire I've heard, held back a bit by the lossy nature of the mix, it proved to be a fun experience nevertheless. For a Dolby Digital mix, this is a very good one. As usual, I must reduce the score by a full point for failing to provide a high-definition sound option on a high- definition medium.
Swordfish Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Swordfish hits Blu-ray with a very average set of supplements. Think of the most basic "special edition" you've ever seen hit home video, and Swordfish probably contains that same serving of supplements. Leading things off is a commentary track with director Dominic Sena. He's definitely chatty, and I found it rather funny that his first noticeable pause for other than a breath occurs just when Gabriel says something about "short-sighted directing." Sena is nothing if not detailed, recounting numerous stories from the set and providing a plethora of anecdotes detailing almost every process of the creation of the film. It's hard sitting through a commentary track for a dull movie, but Sena makes the task tolerable, listening to him proving to be a bit more engaging than the movie itself.
HBO First Look: 'Swordfish' (480p, 15:01) screams "generic," a prototypical behind-the-scenes piece designed to make audiences want to see this film, an extended preview of sorts that intercuts interviews with the cast and crew with clips from the movie. Effects In Focus: 'The Flying Bus' (480p, 8:13) takes audiences behind-the-scenes for the making of this crucial sequence. Swordfish: In Conversation (480p, 12:46) features clips of actors Hugh Jackman, John Travolta, Halle Berry, Don Cheadle, Sam Shepard, director Dominic Sena, and producer Joel Silver discussing various aspects of the film. Two alternate endings with optional commentary by director Dominic Sena (480p, 3:47 and 2:07), a music video by Paul Oakenfold entitled Planet Rock Club Reel (480p, 4:10), and the theatrical trailer for Swordfish (480p, 2:11) conclude the extra materials.
Swordfish Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Swordfish may very well appeal to a wide array of movie fans, and probably rightfully so. The film features several A-list stars, a rocking soundtrack, action, and an intriguing, if somewhat badly executed, story line. Unfortunately, the end product doesn't quite manage to come together to create a unique, fascinating action thriller, but rather a forgettable, dull, and lifeless film, one that has all the elements thrown into the grinder and whatever is churned out seems to be what appears in the final cut of the film. This Blu-ray edition of Swordfish is mostly tasty -- it sports fine video quality, a "good enough" last-generation Dolby Digital soundtrack, and an average set of extras. However, even fans of the film may be hard-pressed to add this to their collection if they already own the DVD version, as the only real improvement is in the 1080p video, and with all of the great Blu-ray titles out there, putting Swordfish on the top of your "to buy" list only makes sense if the movie is offered at a heavy discount. Definitely a Blu-ray to take a pass on for everyone but the most dedicated fans of the movie or the Blu-ray format.
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