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XIII: The Conspiracy(TV) (2008)
This high-octane series opens with the assassination of America's first female president. Then, a man known only as "XIII" is found in the woods, and he might have information about the murder. He has no memory and doesn't know his identity, but he displays uncanny reflexes and a killer instinct, leading investigators on a mission to discover who he is.
For more about XIII: The Conspiracy and the XIII: The Conspiracy Blu-ray release, see XIII: The Conspiracy Blu-ray Review published by Dustin Somner on February 22, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.5 out of 5.
Starring: Val Kilmer, Stephen Dorff, Caterina Murino, Jessalyn Gilsig, Stephen McHattie, Greg Bryk
Director: Duane B. Clark
» See full cast & crew
XIII: The Conspiracy Blu-ray Review
Imagine The Bourne Identity without all of the cool stuff.
Reviewed by Dustin Somner, February 22, 2010
XIII: The Conspiracy is an unapologetic knock-off of the Bourne film series, which seems fitting when you consider its history. Originally conceived as a European comic strip dating back to 1984, "XIII" borrowed heavily from the themes laid out in Robert Ludlum's 1980 spy-thriller "The Bourne Identity". For any of you video game fans out there, the comic series was also adapted into a stylistic first-person shooter for the Playstation 2 and Xbox, allowing players to step into the role of the amnesiac assassin. I'm not really sure why we need yet another rendition of the Bourne trilogy, but given the success of the comic series in Europe, French producers moved forward with this 2008 television mini-series, hoping to bite off their own piece of the pie.
As the series opens, we're shown the assassination of female U.S. President Sally Sheridan (Mimi Kuzyk) by an unknown sniper. Several months later, an elderly gentleman is out walking in the snow-covered forest surrounding his house, when he happens upon an unconscious man (Stephen Dorff) dangling from his parachute in the tree above him. Taking him under his wing, the man and his wife nurse the gentleman back to health and soon discover he's lost all memory of his past. They decide to help him get back on his feet, but as soon as his strength is beginning to return, a group of highly trained assassins lays siege to the country estate. Narrowly escaping with his life, the man regains fragmented pieces of his memory, which lead him to the name Steven Rowland. In search of answers to a variety of questions (most notably, why there are assassins hell-bent on killing him?), Rowland makes contact with a high-ranking military officer and his lead operative, who reveal his true identity as a cover agent, code-named XIII. Working in tandem with a lead investigator on the assassination case, the three rebels begin to unravel a conspiracy that threatens to destroy the entire American system as we know it, and thrust the United States Government into a state of chaos. Thank goodness we have Jason Bourne…ahem…XIII on our side.
Mimicking a successful film franchise is a recipe for disaster unless you can bring something fresh to the table. Unfortunately, witnessing XIII: The Conspiracy is like eating a piece of stale bread. You know it offers a degree of nourishment, but given the choice, you'd much rather scarf down a nice warm croissant. The Bourne films introduced a new generation to the world of spy-thrillers, and served as an effective shot in the arm to a genre that was starting to feel a bit mundane. I know some could argue the Bourne series borrowed heavily from other bodies of work (The Fugitive), but the same thing could be said of any other entry in the genre. XIII: The Conspiracy plays out like a carbon-copy of the Bourne formula, but removes most of what made the films so great. The action is incredibly boring, the plot is riddled with holes, and everything about the production feels generic. Even the inclusion of two popular actors (Stephen Dorff and Val Kilmer) can't salvage the film from landing in the bargain-bin category. I'm sure there are folks out there who are capable of finding enough entertainment value to sit through three hours of obvious twists and mind-numbing revelations, but I felt downright bored after the initial hour. Perhaps it's time for someone to come up with a fresh idea rather than merely retreading on familiar ground.
Speaking of retread, the whole idea of corrupt politicians and government leaders is becoming a bit clichéd. I'd never suggest the men and women running our country are saints, but when you begin portraying them as self-destructive terrorists, my attention has a tendency to wander. In the case of XIII: The Conspiracy, the entire concept of a government run by political figures who share an ideological cause is about as far-fetched as it gets. It's much easier to envision one or two rogue agents working in pursuit of global destruction, but when you assemble a group of the highest officials in the oval office, and present the viewer with an illogical scheme to overthrow the government, you've officially stepped over the line. How could we possibly believe these "enemies of the state" went through all the trouble to get elected, continue their daily business as leaders of a country, and spend their evenings around a cheap table in an abandoned warehouse plotting the country's destruction? Where are the Secret Service agents when they have these little meetings? Why do they chat at length about their plans on ordinary cell phones? These are the things that ruin the experience, because they eliminate the element of authenticity, and constantly remind you this is a fictional television show.
XIII: The Conspiracy Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in 1080p utilizing the AVC codec (at an average bitrate of 15Mbps), XIII: The Conspiracy offers a presentation that remains entirely average. The unremarkable level of fine object detail is the main culprit behind my lack of enthusiasm, displaying varying degrees of clarity from shot to shot. Part of the problem could be related to the low-budget production values (allowing out of focus shots to make the final cut), but given the wild swings in the bitrate meter, I'm willing to bet the transfer is at least partially to blame. From a coloring standpoint, the spectrum demonstrates a consistent push toward yellows and greens in the outside world, while incorporating icy blue tones within the government's tech-heavy command center. The coloring isn't necessarily off-putting, but the nature of the drab hues never presents a great deal of improvement in the upgrade to Blu-ray. Black levels create further problems in the depth of the image, with the darkest elements in most shots descending only as far as dark gray. The weak blacks combined with drab coloring, wreak havoc on contrast, creating a level of shade variance that often produces only high-level shadow detail. Lastly, I noticed a subtle use of edge enhancement in a handful of scenes, adding an overly-digital appearance to several shots.
There's no question this is superior to a standard definition presentation, but the marginal production values dampen the potential for improvements in the leap to 1080p.
XIII: The Conspiracy Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Despite including a lossy 5.1 mix, the audio presentation rarely incorporates a shred of surround use. XIII: The Conspiracy isn't an action heavy film, so the main elements in the mix are restricted to dialog and the musical score. Beginning with the dialog, every spoken line is appropriately clear and distinct, with volume levels that never drop below ideal levels. Even during moments when the actors whisper into cell phones or speak with extremely low vocal tones, the volume of the mix retains an appropriate balance, removing the need to constantly grapple for the remote control. From a music standpoint, this is as generic as it gets. The synth-heavy score is laced with face-paced bass lines meant to ratchet up the tension at specific moments of the film, creating a certain level of unease. The results would be far more effective if we weren't already bombarded with this type of musical selection on other television productions such as "24", so the end result winds up sounding a bit cheap. All in all, this is a mediocre audio presentation that remains serviceable, but doesn't offer a value-added component to the overall technical quality of the disc.
XIII: The Conspiracy Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Interviews (480p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 32:55 min): Stephen Dorff and Val Kilmer are interviewed separately regarding such topics as their acting career, the experience of working on XIII: The Conspiracy, and themes from the film. I've always been a fan of both actors, but the superficial questions rarely allow them adequate opportunity to speak candidly.
Behind-the-Scenes (480p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 34:16 min): Separated into three sections, this supplement begins with on-set footage of a scene incorporating green screen. The second section shows Dorff preparing for one of his action scenes, and the third segment simply presents the actors and crew working on a coffee-shop scene from the series. Film students might find this worthwhile, but I'd imagine most viewers won't waste their time.
Rounding out the extras, we have a standard definition trailer for XIII: The Conspiracy.
XIII: The Conspiracy Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
XIII: The Conspiracy is a plodding retread down a well-worn path. Clocking in at almost three hours in length, I'd hoped the series would offer enough twists and turns to hold my attention from start to finish. Sadly, the major revelations are all in place within the first hour of the story, and the overall nature of the "conspiracy" is as far-fetched as pigs flying. With the exception of a minor surprise at the end (setting up a sequel), the series offers little entertainment value, and zero lasting appeal. Rent it if you must, but avoid a purchase until you're able to judge the series for yourself.
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