Red Review (Movie Only Edition)

Red is loaded with action, the type of ridiculous stunts that are right in tone with the film’s comedic nature. Where else will you see John Malkovich playing a retired CIA agent whose aiming is so precise it can blow up an RPG rocket in mid-air? You’ll never see Bruce Willis stand up after exiting a spinning car, gun cocked and loaded to fire at oncoming traffic again either. Red is just that awesome, and so is Willis.

This Robert Schwentke directed piece is full of surprises too, and not just within its completely ridiculous action either. The winding plot focuses on a group of aging CIA agents brought back into the fold when one of their own becomes targeted by someone with deeper connections than the agency itself. That person’s identity remains secret, spread out through a laundry list of actors, each perfect for their respective roles.

This screen adaptation (Red was originally a graphic novel) comes from writers Jon and Erich Hoeber, the same team responsible for the absolutely abysmal Whiteout back in 2009. Whatever issues present in that Kate Beckinsale clunker have been completely eliminated here, the scripting tighter, the cast livelier, and the Beckinsale factor kept in different fashion thanks to Mary-Louise Parker’s “fish out of water” character.

Social Security administrator by day, Parker is thrust into a romance with Bruce Willis, tagging along as he seeks out his potential killer. She begins to love the lifestyle (and Willis’ character) as time passes, the every woman forced to deal with increasingly stressful situations, her face easily picking up on her current mood.

Red needs that studio kick, a smaller budget and lesser cast unable to handle the material. No one but Malkovich could play a character who was experimented on by the government with LSD… for 11 years. Helen Mirren, just a few years after her Oscar nod, touts a sniper rifle as a keen-eyed assassin. The hilarity of the images themselves is much appreciated, only enhanced by the performance. Red is the type of movie that needs a core group of actors who love the content and the script they’re performing. It has that and more, like explosions. Lots of explosions.

Movie ★★★★☆ 

Summit produces an AVC encode for Red, the source material brightly colored and pleasingly saturated. Flesh tones, aside from a marginally pasty, chalky look, are natural. The digital intermediate was used to brighten up the primaries, cool down a few backgrounds, and give the images some additional life.

The backgrounds is where Red loses the digital transition, the grain structure at times poorly resolved, the worst of it inside the nursing home at 17:43. While generally not a nuisance, there are enough instances of spikes the encode cannot resolve to be noteworthy.

That overly compressed appearance leads to other faults, including limited definition. Close-ups are sporadic, lacking a striking sharpness that can give the images a kick. A couple of the exterior shots, homes and government offices alike, are precise. Bricks and other objects are resolved beautifully. It’s a wonder then why the mid-range struggles with regards to the actors, not just soft but flat. Facial detail is routinely poor, yet when it’s great, there’s no question that it is doing everything it should. The quality of it all seems to be on a shot-by-shot basis, a distraction for the videophile.

Blacks are rich and full bodied, crushing a mild level of shadow detail in a few spots. The impact is far less detrimental than the general detail drops. Contrast is consistent, Red an overall bright film giving it dimensionality when combined with those black levels. It’s a shame the finest of details can’t work with that combo to give it the final bit of life it needs.

Video ★★★★☆ 

Summit has done an appalling thing for this Blu-ray release of Red. They have released the film in two versions, one a standard movie only edition (reviewed here) and a special edition with various extras. Here’s the kicker: Not only does the movie-only edition have its extras excised, the uncompressed DTS-HD mix is gone too. It has been replaced with a Dolby Digital track right off the DVD.

There is little doubt the DTS-HD mix would be reference. Even this paltry Dolby Digital mix is aggressive and pleasing. It’s the decision to actually pull this off in the first place that is so utterly absurd. How are you benefiting the format by doing this? Do people who don’t care about extras suddenly not care about audio? The idea of a low cost alternative is great, but what are you saving by eliminating an audio mix that’s already been completed? Why bother putting out a new release (or any for that matter) that doesn’t take full advantage of the format? How long before a special edition gets an AVC video encode and the movie-only disc only is MPEG-2?

Stupidity aside, Red does sound good, just not great in this form. Gunfire is consistent in how it tracks through the soundfield, placement fairly precise as the camera pans around. The movie makes great use of shattering glass too, the debris strongly passing overhead/behind the listener. Positional dialogue is appreciated too, used with some frequency.

Where the compression hurts the most is the bass, muddy and lacking the full impact now commonplace on the format. Explosions don’t hit like they should, lacking the range expected of a studio release. The score is at times lost too amidst the action, poorly separated from the barrage of bullets. It’s the type of effect experienced listeners will pick up on immediately, the wealth of action discs that are completely flawless overwhelmingly showcasing the ability of TrueHD, PCM, or DTS-HD. Going backwards this late in the game is embarrassing, and not something DoBlu will support.

Audio ★★★☆☆ 

Since this is a movie-only release, there are no extras.

Extras ☆☆☆☆☆