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DVD Review: Death Race (Blu-ray)
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Death Race
Unrated Blu-ray Edition
Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson
Starring Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson, Ian McShane, Joan Allen
Universal Home Entertainment
Release date: December 21, 2008

The suggestion that Hollywood is out of ideas seems more and more prevalent these days, especially with the proliferation of remakes. So it’s not surprising that a remake of a film from over 30 years ago isn’t going to have much originality. However, for a mindless action flick, Death Race isn’t bad. You really can’t think too much about this one or your head might start to hurt. It’s basically Twisted Metal: The Movie.

Jensen Ames (Jason Statham) is a former professional driver living in the United States after an economic collapse has changed everything about the way the country works. Prisons have become privately run businesses, one where life is expendable in the name of profits and entertainment. The Death Race is 3-part battle/race between prisoners shown on pay-per-view where participants can die but a five-time winner is promised their freedom. Jensen is framed for murder, sent to prison, and offered a place in the competition. Naturally, it’s not that simple, as the prison warden (played by Joan Allen) is conniving and manipulative to serve her own purposes.

Does any of the plot really matter though? I don’t image too many people would pick up this movie for a deep and introspective narrative. No, this is a definitive “guy movie” and guys want to see hot women, fast cars, and lots of violence. This movie has all three. Oh, did I forget to mention that each death racer has to have a female co-pilot from the neighboring women’s prison, all of whom just happen to look like models?

So for a movie that is essentially eye candy and little else, high-definition is a very nice added feature and the film looks pretty sweet in full 1080p. The disc contains two versions of the film, though the unrated in only 6 minutes longer but has some pretty brutal parts in it. Another nice bonus which many Blu-ray movies still seem to lack at this point is numerous special features are also in full HD 1080i/p. It may not seem like a big deal, but when the main feature is in HD and the bonus features are not, it is extremely noticeable when switching directly between them.

The disc also features a English DTS-HD 5.1 Master audio track (Spanish/French DTS 5.1) for the main movie with English Dolby digital 2.0 for the bonus features

The disc makes full use of Blu-ray profile 1.1 (picture-in-picture) features as well as profile 2.0 (BD-Live). Certain bonus materials can be watched simultaneously with the main feature with cast and crew providing the usual commentary. But, for the first time I can recall, users can add their own commentary track if they have a microphone they can plug into their system. The feature is also promoted to allow viewers to record their own “play-by-play” tracks for the race sequences and then share them with other people, which brings us to the BD-Live aspects of the disc. BD-Live is still rarely utilized on Blu-ray movies right now because is requires an updated profile that was not part of the first generation of Blu-ray players. Certain players like the PS3 can be updated by downloading a patch, but others cannot, so the features that use this have not become widespread just yet. With Death Race viewers can connect to an online message board and chat with other people who are watching the movie in addition to sharing their commentary tracks. It’s an interesting, if not terribly exciting, concept and I’m really curious to see what future releases do with the online capabilities of these movies.

Other bonus features include detailed tech specs on all the cars featured in the race and features on the stunt work and a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the movie.

The disc also features one bonus feature I felt was great idea but missed the mark just slightly. You can actually cut your own action sequence together from the second race featured in the film. Using your remote control you can switch between six different camera feeds showing different parts of the action. If you wanted to, I suppose you could try and recreate the scene exactly as it appears in the film, but I’m willing to bet most people will try and have more fun with it. As a professional video editor, I thought this was an awesome idea. You get raw footage from six cameras pre-synced and see what it is like to cut together a big budget Hollywood movie action sequence, just like the real editor would do. However, there is one big problem with the setup that brings it all down. You have to make the cuts in real time. There’s no pausing, slow motion, nothing. Even as a professional, this is not an easy setup to follow, especially using a remote control. Yes, editors do this all the time, but typically only to make “rough cuts” and professionals have tons of training and setups that allow them to easily switch between any camera they want. Your average user will likely find the setup cumbersome and the end result somewhat ugly. If nothing else it may give people a bit of perspective on how hard editing can be, but more than likely will just annoy them.

The Blu-ray set also comes with a DVD containing a digital copy of the movie. This was my first experience with the growing trend of digital copies sold with the movie, and I have to say it couldn’t be much easier to figure out. The disc prompts you to open iTunes, at which point you enter the registration code included with the disc and the digital copy transfers to the computer. It took roughly two minutes for the whole process.

So while the movie is not anything special, it is fun to watch, which is all you can ask from something like this. The Blu-ray version looks great and the special features obviously had some thought put into them. The features take advantage of the perks Blu-ray can offer and in style. Aside from some less-than-great controls on some (which is probably something only editors would find fault with) there’s a lot to enjoy here.

Final Score
Movie: B
Picture Quality: A
Sound Quality: A
Bonus Features: A-

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