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Paramount Studios presents
Face/Off Special Collector's Edition HD-DVD (1997)

Castor Troy: Hello? This is Sean Archer.
Sean Archer: Well, if you're Sean Archer, then I must be Castor Troy.

- John Travolta, Nicolas Cage

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: October 29, 2007

Stars: John Travolta, Nicolas Cage
Other Stars: Joan Allen, Alessandro Nivola, Gina Gershon, Dominique Swain, Nick Cassavetes, Colm Feore, John Carroll Lynch, CCH Pounder, Margaret Cho, James Denton
Director: John Woo

MPAA Rating: R for intense sequences of strong violence, and for strong language
Run Time: 02h:18m:49s
Release Date: October 30, 2007
UPC: 097361232744
Genre: action


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ B+C+A B+

DVD Review

The DVD Review and the Extras Review are by Rich Rosell.

Hong Kong action director John Woo was already something of a household name well before he started making films for western audiences in the early 1990s, with stylized classics like The Killer and Hard Boiled easily cementing his place as a man with a vision. His dalliance with casting John Travolta as a warhead-stealing bad guy in 1996s Broken Arrow seemed to work out well for all involved, and in 1996 Woo paired Travolta and Nicolas Cage together in Face/Off, a wildly fantastic action picture full of Woo's trademark choreographed gun battles and caffienated pacing.

Overanalyzing the intricacies of the plot would just reveal the goofiness of it all, so it's best to just roll with it. The concept requires a big, thirsty gulp of belief suspension by viewers, as we're presented with the notion that surgically switching faces—a cool-looking high-tech process—is something that is very do-able. If you don't get past that, you're going to be in big trouble, as Woo places good guy FBI agent Sean Archer (Travolta) and evil gun-for-hire Castor Troy (Cage) in a grand game of Freaky Friday-styled cat and mouse. Archer assumes the apprehended Troy's face in order to infiltrate his operation, but when Troy busts out of confinement after having Archer's face affixed to his noggin, it's role reversal city as Archer-as-Troy and Troy-as-Archer find themselves walking in the other guy's shoes.

This requires a neat variation for Travolta and Cage as the film progresses, as they are required to play polar opposites of their original characters. Cage's Castor Troy, as shown during the opening sequence, is a veritable bad ass—reinforced by a rather grim murder that makes the whole thing "personal"—but when Travolta becomes Troy, it is up to Cage to play heroic and act as if it's really Travolta under his skin. And vice-versa, as the face of FBI good guy Sean Archer is suddenly wrapped in the actions of a killer.

Not that Face/Off is anything close to being a thespian-fest, but it's fun to see the action-fodder nuances of Travolta and Cage getting to play both hero and villain over the course of a couple of hours. And as if to further stretch the appeal of the film, Woo stacks this one with an interesting cross-section of supporting players—including Joan Allen, Gina Gershon and Colm Feore—all of whom slather on the right degree of compassion or vileness to raise their potential stock character quotient up a notch or two, all of which Woo uses to his advantage to help sell the whole face-switching concept that is key to story.

Woo is not shy about cramming the slightly overlong 140-minute runtime with a vast parade of explosions and shootouts, almost as if he was on some kind of quota system. The screenplay from writers Michael Colleary and Mike Werb (whose previous credit was the god awful Darkman III) presents its illogical logic with the right blend of bravado and bullshit, and though the story runs on a little too long, the Archer and Troy characters get dragged through some expected personal turmoil. No doubt this could have been tightened up a little, but it's full of all sorts of highly stylized glorious excess, something Woo seems immensely comfortable with, and the conflicted duality of the characters identities adds a neat layer to all of the on-screen mayhem.

Face/Off is like a big bag of lit firecrackers, it is constantly going off in huge bursts of noise and smoke, and it's tough to not just sit and stare in popcorn-munching wonder at the explosive fury.

This is fun stuff.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Fans of this movie may well find the HD transfer somewhat disappointing, especially on larger and more unforgiving screens. It looks as if it has been overly filtered to remove grain, resulting in smeary details, and then heavy edge enhancement has been applied in an attempt to create artificial sharpness. The product features heavy ghosting, especially on the opening titles, with rings around any high-contrast objects. That's more of a problem in the first half, since the second half tends to be darker overall. But it does give an unpleasant digital edge to the proceedings, which will make those who hate grain happy, but it sure doesn't look much like film.

That said, the differentiation between black levels is excellent, and shadow detail is reasonably solid. Textures jump off the screen, such as the purple satin shirt Cage wears in one scene. The frequent extreme closeups look very good. There's enough clarity present that you can tell quite readily that during the climactic motorboat sequence there are stunt men involved rather than the stars. Less processing would have made this look terrific, but the engineers need to learn to keep their hands off the filter and edge enhancement knobs.

Image Transfer Grade: C+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
+
English, French, Spanishno
DTSEnglishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Both DD+ EX and DTS 6.1 tracks are offered, and while the DTS is quite a bit louder and thus gives the illusion of greater depth, both are definitely solid, with plenty of oomph to explosions. The driving beat of the score comes across with, and surround activity is in no wise lacking. There's good directionality to the frequent gunfire effects, and they pack a nice punch.

Audio Transfer Grade: A

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 40 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
6 Deleted Scenes
1 Alternate Endings
2 Documentaries
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by John Woo, Mike Werb, Michael Colleary
Packaging: Elite
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: All of the extras are ported over from the standard Special Collector's Edition DVD, with the exception of three unrelated trailers. Happily, each and every one of the extras is presented in HD.

Paramount has issued this worthwhile Woo upgrade as a two-disc set, housed in a keepcase with one disc per panel. A slipcover that is an exact match to the case cover art—front and back—is also provided.

Disc 1 carries the feature, which is cut into a healthy 40 chapters, and is available with optional subtitles in English, French or Spanish. There's also a set of seven deleted scenes (08m:18s) presented in anamorphic widescreen, with an optional commentary pieced together from director Woo and writers Mike Werb and Michael Colleary. Included in this block is a fun alternate ending, one that adds another layer of suspense onto things.

The big plus on the first disc is a pair of brand new commentaries from Woo, Werb and Colleary. The first has all three of them together, while the second features just Werb and Colleary. As you might expect, there is a bit of overlap between the two, and at over a total of 4-1/2 hours of commentary that's a whole lot of talking. Fans will likely opt for the track featuring Woo, and by doing so will get most of the benefits of hearing the key points of both, considering the Werb/Colleary track is basically a more in-depth variation. I don't think the Earth would have wobbled off its axis had there just been the one commentary, but having a choice is never a bad thing.

Disc 2 begins with The Light and The Dark: Making Face/Off (01h:04m:02s), a five-part doc that is broken down into the following sections: Science Fiction/Human Emotion (09m:45s), Cast/Characters (17m:22s), Woo/Hollywood (21m:34s), Practical/Visual Effects (09m:42s) and Future/Past (05m:59s). This is viewable either as one long doc, or viewers can select the individual segments. Assembled from ten year old and current interviews, this one covers all of the expected components of the production, albeit with the occasional bit of generic happy talk, and having the ability to cherrypick which bits to watch makes this far more endurable in small chunks. Some of the content addresses things talked about in the commentaries, so once again there is a little repetition, but there's enough behind-the-scenes footage to make that tolerable.

As an adjunct for Woo completists, there's John Woo: A Life in Pictures (26m:06s), which has the director providing a personal recollection of his life and career, mixed with photos and clips from his films. Probably not that much new here if you're a fan, but an interesting capsule summary of his work.

The original Face/Off trailer is also included on the second disc.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

A preposterously absurd premise is made enjoyable by the gunplay theatrics of John Woo and a solid cast, led by Travolta and Cage. This two-disc collector's edition dramatically bumps up the caliber of the audio of the 1998 release with even bigger, louder Dolby Digital 5.1 EX and DTS 6.1 mixes, and that makes the second disc's 65-minute doc gravy. Well worth the upgrade. Woo hoo!

 


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