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Warner Home Video presents
Swordfish HD-DVD (2001)

"Come on, Stan. Not everything ends the way you think it should."
- Gabriel Shear (John Travolta)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: May 02, 2006

Stars: John Travolta, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Don Cheadle
Other Stars: Sam Shepard, Vinnie Jones, Drea de Matteo, Rudolf Martin, Camryn Grimes
Director: Dominic Sena

MPAA Rating: R for Violence, language and some sexuality/nudity
Run Time: 01h:39m:32s
Release Date: May 02, 2006
UPC: 012569809437
Genre: techno thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C D+A-A B+

DVD Review

Swordfish opens in a highly promising manner, with John Travolta holding forth in a Tarantinoesque rant about Hollywood convention and Dog Day Afternoon. From there it launches into a tour de force suspense sequence culminating in some house-rattling sound effects. Unfortunately, everything goes badly downhill from there as it turns into an absurd computer thriller that is distasteful on just about every level.

Hugh Jackman stars as Stanley Jobson, a convicted hacker who is under court order to stay away from computers and from his daughter Holly (Camryn Grimes). But vixen Ginger Knowles (Halle Berry) shows up at his Texas trailer one day and tempts him back into hacking with both money and access to his daughter. Bringing Stan to Los Angeles, Ginger hands him off to Gabriel Shear (Travolta), who has an elaborate scheme to steal nearly ten billion dollars in order to fight a war on terror. Stan must walk a tightrope between his own incrimination and finding a way to get his daughter back, as he becomes increasingly appalled at Gabriel's methods.

The story ends up being silly, unfolding like a puzzle that disappoints because the hidden schemes are hardly worth the effort of paying attention. Those with any familiarity with computers will find the film's approach to hacking worse than laughable. Like many pictures produced by Joel Silver, there are a number of action sequences that are pretty effective but bound together with too little connective substance. Jackman's relationship with his daughter and porn star ex-wife is never quite credible, and as a result the motivations for Stan to cooperate with Gabriel are never in synch either. Some story elements, such as a corrupt senator (played by Sam Shepard) working with Gabriel, seem completely arbitrary and are dispensed with but no repercussions follow.

Part of the problem with the picture is that its 2001 mindset is thoroughly neoconservative in nature: it is focused entirely on the notion of terrorist states, rather than terrorist criminal organizations. More disturbing, it has a deep affection for an end-justifies-the-means approach to terrorism, including theft, kidnapping, murder, political assassination, and, ironically, enough outright terrorism as all entirely acceptable means of combating terrorism. But the picture has no sense of irony whatsoever, and the commentary by director Dominic Sena makes it clear that he considers Gabriel, who engages in all of these, to be a patriot. In a world where selling arms to actual enemy states and running cocaine in order to raise funds to overthrow other inconvenient governments is considered patriotism, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised.

Obviously, in such a film one can't expect much in terms of acting quality, and the film doesn't disappoint in that respect at least. Travolta is more stiff than usual, completely one-note throughout with a smug superiority. Jackman tries to do something with his part, but the only time it really seems to work is when he's hacking into an elaborate computer system (with a prominently product-placed Dell laptop, of all things); in that sequence he captures some of the glee of the hacker at beating the system. Poor Don Cheadle is stuck with a role as an FBI agent who is required to be completely inconsistent from scene to scene, giving the character a schizophrenic nature that no actor could possibly overcome. Berry is here just as eye candy, spending a fair amount of time in lingerie and with a notorious topless scene that is not in the least sexy and hardly worth the attention it received at the time. But somehow it's fitting; the film appeals to the lurid at every turn (though it hypocritically gets moralistic and tut-tuts about the evils of pornography, despite everything else that it endorses) while never quite delivering.

Rating for Style: C
Rating for Substance: D+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.40:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Though there haven't been too many releases in the HD-DVD format yet, this one ratchets the bar quite a bit higher. Fine detail and texture are quite extraordinary and the stylized candy-coloring is eye-popping. There are no artifacts or edge enhancement visible anywhere. Skin tones are very hot, but that appears to be part of the color timing design, and thus no points are deducted. Warner knows what the selling point of the film is, and it makes a point of mentioning in the setup that the zoom and pan function is enabled to allow the prurient to take a much, much closer look at Berry's topless scene. It survives the increase to 8x reasonably well, without any pixelation even at that extreme, though there isn't the fine detail that some might demand at that close range. Black levels are excellent and the format is shown off beautifully.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Spanishyes
Dolby Digital
English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: The audio is just as much a showpiece as the video. The DD+ soundtrack has plenty of range and presence, and the explosions (of which there are more than a few) have a devastating impact. The obligatory car chases and gun fire also have plenty of oomph, and the aggressive mix is enveloping. There are no problems at all that I detected.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Animated menu
Scene Access with 29 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Alternate Endings
3 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Dominic Sena
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The disc opens with the obnoxious Warner HD-DVD promo that has already more than worn out its welcome two weeks into the format. I'll be happy if I never see it on another disc. Seriously, if someone is watching an HD-DVD, why do you need to promote it to them? Haven't they already perforce been sold on the format?

Now that the rant is out of the way, there are a variety of extras here. Sena contributes a commentary that ranges from thoughtful (especially when detailing issues with script construction and technical aspects) to head-shaking (such as his characterization of Gabriel as a patriot) to overly revealing ("Underwear and guns"). It's certainly interesting, however, and worth a listen to those who actually like the film. The supplemental features include a dispensable HBO First Look puff piece (:15m), a featurette on the climactic effects sequence that prominently includes a bus flyilng through downtown LA, and a slight In Conversation chat with Jackman, Cheadle, Berry, Travolta and Shepard on such hard-hitting topics as what they use computers for and the pleasures of fly-fishing. Much more interesting are two alternate endings that take very different approaches to the resolutions for Gabriel and Stan, using only very slight variants in actual footage. Sena contributes a interesting optional commentary to both endings, and it's intriguing how just a couple lines of dialogue can completely change the message of the film in the final cut. An ugly music video for Planet Rock includes rapid-fire shots from the film. Finally, there's an anamorphic widescreen trailer. None of the supplements is in HD.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

A dreary and nasty film that leaves the viewer feeling in need of a long hot shower at the end. The HD transfer is nothing short of astonishing, however, so if you're looking for a disc to show off the system, this could serve the purpose.


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