Director Tony Scott's recent films have grown increasingly surreal, as the director has used a seemingly infinite array of visual trickery in films like "Man on Fire" and, most notably, in the particularly trippy "Domino". While the idea of Scott taking on a remake of "Taking Of Pelham 123" would seem like an attempt to create a more straightforward picture.
However, the opening credits announce that this is purely a Tony Scott picture, as rapid-fire edits set-up the story and Jay-Z's "99 Problems" is mixed in with train sounds and the score by composer Harry Gregson-Williams. "Pelham" may not be the kind of bad dream visual storm of "Domino", it is another visually muscular, bold effort from the director. There are some unnecessary visual gimmicks in the film, including the camera spinning around a conversation like in Scott's "Spy Game", but if there's a master of the unnecessary visual touches, it's Scott.
The picture opens with Ryder (John Travolta) - a former Wall Street commodities trader, making one wonder how soon it will be until - and a bad of armed men entering a train in a station in NYC. Soon enough, they've hijacked the train and are making demands to the dispatcher routing the trains, Walter Garber (Denzel Washington). Garber, initially skeptical of his ability to do anything, finds himself trying to contact the mayor (James Gandolfini) and other city officials (including one played by John Tuturro) in order to get Ryder $10M before time's up. While others try to take over, Ryder wants to deal with Garber.
The film's performances are reasonably good, although Travolta's effort isn't along the lines of his memorably unhinged effort as the villain of "Broken Arrow". Washington is impressive, offering a dignified, powerful and surprisingly subtle (given what's going on) performance Gandolfini and Tuturro certainly have given better performances elsewhere, but both of them deliver decent efforts.
The picture does not compare with the original, but Scott does succeed in generating impressive tension and urgency, as the picture races forward at a nearly non-stop pace, with Scott's visual style and Washington's excellent performance propelling the picture. This is a sleek, high-energy remake; while it doesn't compare to the original and certainly has some faults, as a tense action picture it works more often than not.
VIDEO: "Taking of Pelham 123" is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Picture quality is first-rate, as the image remained crisp and solid, even in some of the darker sequences within the tunnels. While a touch of edge enhancement was seen, the picture otherwise looked clean and detailed, with no specks, marks or other wear on the print. Colors remained bright and well-saturated, with no smearing or other faults. Black level also remained strong throughout. Overall, this was a very nice presentation from the studio.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation is superb, with surrounds kicking in during quite a few of the scenes to deliver sound effects, ambience and reinforcement of the score. Audio quality is excellent, with tight, deep bass and crisp, well-recorded effects.
EXTRAS: Two commentaries are offered: one with director Tony Scott and the other with writer Brian Helgeland and producer Todd Black. Scott can always be counted on to deliver good commentary, and this time is no different. While there are a few gaps of silence throughout the track, the director offers up an excellent discussion of the production, from a thoughtful discussion of his approach to taking on the story to working with the cast to the research (he discusses visiting the actual MTA control room). The writer and producer also offer a terrific commentary. Having known each other for a long time, the two bounce thoughts off one another and paint a pretty good picture of the entire development process (as well as a different perspective on working with the actors.)
"Making of" is a nearly 30-minute look into the production, with excellent behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with cast and crew. We hear (and see) more about the sheer depth of the research that goes into a movie like this, the difficulty of location filming in NYC (a lot of the filming was done in actual subway tunnels), casting and much more. Although a few moments in this piece feel promotional, the majority of this featurette is quite good.
"The Third Rail" is a 15-minute documentary that looks into not only the use of the subway system for filming the movie, but at the utterly massive task of running the system on a day-to-day basis. Overall, this is an interesting look at both the realities of a major subway system and how the film crew had to be trained before the production started.
"Marketing" offers trailers for the film and finally, we get "Styling Character", a look at the hairstyles for the film. Previews for quite a few other films from the studio are also offered, including for "District 9" and "Angels and Demons".
Final Thoughts: This is a sleek, high-energy remake; while it doesn't compare to the original and certainly has some faults, as a tense action picture it works more often than not. The DVD offers very good audio/video quality, as well as some terrific extras. Recommended.
The Film B+