Source Code Review

Death doesn’t matter to Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal), and why should it? He has eight minutes to live, die, live again, die, repeat ad nauseum. At least, that’s what he thinks. For the outside viewer taking a peek at this juncture in his life (or is it his life?), it’s a little more complicated than that.

Stevens is part of the Source Code project, a government doodad that can send Stevens back in time (or an alternate reality, parallel universe, “insert theory of existence here”) onto a train destined to explode. Because of limitations, he only has eight minutes, taking over the life of another passenger in a desperate scramble to find the culprit.

It’s not about saving the passengers. They’re dead. It’s not even about saving himself. He’ll be reborn yet again. It creates a world, or at least a tightly timed one, where he can do anything. He can harass people for information, he can profile them, hold them at gunpoint, or otherwise act frantic. The person who bombed the train will do so again, this time with a dirty bomb somewhere in the city. Source Code isn’t afraid of divulging information either, interludes between these intense, tightly directed bomber searches laying out rules and scientific theory that would make a National Geographic special blush.

There’s more to Source Code than the bomber though, that treated as a more of a plot thread that goes out with a whimper. Despite spending an hour focusing on this life-saving task, the film switches gears in the third act, drastically changing its parameters and opening up the action to interpretations and wildly kooky discussions about life, our own reality, and death. Source Code embraces its science and its wildly (possibly) far-fetched logic; never does it feel scared to layer itself with additional happenings and possibilities.

Source Code comes from director Duncan Jones, the same guy responsible for another astounding mind-bender, Moon. His latest bears few similarities, both because of its wider budget and different ideals, but it’s also about an expeditious pacing that doesn’t let anything linger. Source Code has eight minutes to tell a 90-minute story, and it doesn’t waste any of ’em.

Movie ★★★★★ 

Summit dazzles with this AVC encode, a healthy bitrate keeping a firm grain structure on hold without breaking down into fits of noise. More impressively, it keeps the detail, richly textured and vibrant detail that is so rare to see untampered with. The source material seems to be toying with some smoothing, an effect negated to certain scenes or a specific shot. Why it’s there at all is a bit of a mystery, but it comes out to be a minor annoyance in a sparkling transfer.

Source Code is intense with its colors, letting primaries breathe despite a mild reliance on an orange/teal palette inside the “command center” if you will. Flesh tones breathe a little too much, certainly veering towards a bronzed hue that no one would consider healthy. Most of that focuses on Gyllenhaal and Vera Farmiga, Michelle Monaghan along with train passengers remaining naturally tinted.

Black levels fall under the realm of superior, brilliantly realized to give Source Code depth. Dimensionality is never lost, remaining firm even inside a capsule Gyllenhaal is trapped within. There’s little if any light remaining and the blacks just keep on rolling as if they’re not even being challenged.

The film will suffer from a hint of ringing, high contrast edges a bit of a struggle here and there. There’s also some aliasing, break-up visible on the sides of the train. Oddly, the dynamic aerials of Chicago suffer from no faults, simply breathtaking in their beauty behind the opening credits. It’s a “being there” kind of effect given the overwhelming clarity on display.

Video ★★★★★ 

Despite being a film that isn’t necessarily about raging audio, Source Code’s DTS-HD awesomeness is certainly meant to be appreciated. This is a film where a train explodes at least six times, and on various levels. Sometimes its in the distance, sometimes it’s coming from in the cabin, other times it’s cut short while the character is sucked back into a different reality. Each time, the low-end is livid, rumbling the room with a ferocious shot of bass that makes no apologies for being loud.

Surrounds capture the movement of the flames, passing overhead with zeal. The same goes for the intro/outros of Colter’s mind, those brief flashes full of audio content. Inside his own little bubble, his dialogue contains a hefty echo that reverbs in the rears. Also of note is a fantastic score from Chris Bacon, giving it a horn-heavy approach that flavors the music like it’s from a different period, say the late ’80s or early ’90s thriller, and it’s perfect. On Blu-ray, it’s sublime.

Audio ★★★★★ 

Director Duncan Jones is joined by writer Ben Ripley and Jake Gyllenhaal for a commentary track, one that becomes most interesting in the closing minutes as they explain the world via their own thoughts. There’s still no definitive answer. The only other extra is Access: Source Code a somewhat confusing end-user experience that delivers the usual pop-up features, brief video snippets, storyboards, factoids, etc. That’s all well and good, but the constant timer makes you feel like you’re missing something, and the “play all” option didn’t seem to work at all. Of course, there’s no other way to access the content either, because that would make sense.

Extras ★★☆☆☆