The Raid is the best damn guy movie of the 21st century. Sure, we’re only 12 years into said century, but still, The Raid is remarkable.
Tension in the film isn’t built upon any dramatic story shifts or genuine character arcs. It has those, but they’re secondary to the finest display of cinematic martial arts since Tony Jaa busted heads in Ong Bak. Raid is a flurry of jaw dropping, awe-inspiring, and marvelous violence, as cringe-inducing as it is innovative. The mixture of guns, knives, machetes, and hand-to-hand combat ensures a lack of repetition, and camera work schools the Michael Bay shaky cam into submission.
It works because of limited care for the stock characters. There’s just enough to get by. Rama (Iko Uwais) has a baby on the way as heads into a drug lord’s apartment complex as part of a special forces police squad. For the most part, it’s stocked with goons carrying outstanding Muay Thai prowess, apparently a requirement to enter the gang. It’s a structure free of police for over a decade, degradation to the building never turning away the loyal.
Into this hell steps a 20 or so man team, primed for violence until the mission turns sour. They become trapped, frantic, and survivalists. They’re picked off without so much as an offense. As it turns out, they work better in small numbers.
With only a few members to left to focus on after a stairwell shootout, Raid splits the bulk of the work. Separated, the squad becomes individualized crime fighting elements, tackling the hordes of aggressive tenants with bravado, guts, muscle, and willpower. Luckily, apartments are spacious, with furniture and decor lining the walls, never the center of the room. It’s clear The Raid is ready for a fight.
Eschewing a low budget with crammed corridors redressed, the film finds a way to make those preposterous twenty-versus-one conflicts logical. Call it the 300 style if you will, where the next combatant in line rushes forward because one is all the space allows. Within those tight walls, choreography takes over, introducing a level of unsophisticated aggression that uses concrete or lighting fixtures as the men see fit. Everything feels raw, making those punches and wall slings utterly painful.
The Raid is, effectively so, a live action video game. The building offers a handful of levels to conquer and cinematics intrude on the furious spurts of action. Director Gareth Evans, for all of his talents composing Asian-inspired slug fests, doesn’t do much of anything with the dialogue. It doesn’t help that Sony’s Blu-ray release is made up of dubtitles instead of a true translation, but that’s probably looking for an excuse to give those scenes a pass. Know what though? Despite the droll nature of conversation here, there’s always a line of tension running in the undercurrent; a fight is destined to break out at any time.
To be upfront, The Raid was not shot on superior, high-end equipment. For the consumer side, the Panasonic AF100 is on the peak, but professionally, not so much. Knowing that, you have to wonder is that’s the sole attribute leading to this abysmal looking Blu-ray presentation.
Shot mostly under low light, it’s easy to assume that whatever came from the lens raw was a shockingly noisy mess. That lends some credence to a theory that Sony would have been generous in their application of noise reduction. It’s hard to imagine a director taking their work, smoothing it out, and causing such alarming smearing to flow across the frame. There’s nothing left to this movie in motion, and as you can probably imagine without even seeing it, there’s a lot of motion.
Image breakdowns are everywhere, artifacting severe enough at times to lessen the image down to the inferior levels of DVD. Banding can be see against even the simplest of frames. Wide shots are composed of a series of imprecise blobs. When black levels fail (and they will), usually hidden compression rises to the surface to become a dominant piece of the image non-quality.
It’s too easy to knock The Raid for color timing choices, especially when you consider the other factors bringing the experience down. This is a movie tinted blue, and not subtlety either. Contrast is cleaned out for chilly shades of white. Overhead lighting flattens out the piece and saps it of energy.
There is some definition here, a handful of close-ups offering a glimpse of what could have been, or maybe even was. Even the fine detail is a victim of the overbearing processing though, offering more fodder for the smearing or appearing mushy and imprecise. All of this doesn’t even consider one-off issues like phantom interlacing that pops up during a sequence with a flashing light. What a mess.
Two audio options exist on the disc, or three rather if you include a variation. You can listen to the original Indonesian language with the stock score (reviewed here). The other options, an English dub or Indonesian, includes a second score composed by Linkin Park. All are available in DTS-HD.
For the original mix, it contains some artificially inserted elements. That’s obvious from the early shot of the police van driving to the complex in a heavy rain. The surrounds stick out and carry further than they should. Gunfire does much the same, although it makes for obviously active soundfields.
What this track does well is motion. As a horde of villains pound on the door of an apartment, the cops inside struggle to find an impromptu escape route. The door sounds travel front to back, left to right, and spin with the camera. The element is never forgotten. Punches and other assorted violent moves pick and choose speakers too, especially as people are swung around into objects.
There’s a grand, guttural push from the LFE too, lighting up to enhance fear from approaching enemies or boost the flurry of gunfire. This track doesn’t miss much, and even punches are sorted out with a bit of low-end activity.
Forty minutes of video blogs cover the making of the film from pre-production training to post-production editing. Details are plentiful. An Evening with Gareth Evans, Mike Sinoda, and Joe Trapanese is a question and answer session that took place after a screening. Behind the Magic covers the process of scoring the film for the localized audience.
Gareth Evans takes the viewer through the anatomy of a fight scene for a few minutes, the scene intermixed with some brief behind-the-scenes snippets. In Conversation is split into four sections and Evans and Sinoda chat up various topics. A promo for the reworked music is disguised as some type of bonus feature called Inside the Score. Two comedic pieces include the film’s action scenes remade as an anime and another done with claymation cats. Sony crams on a few trailers to wrap this one up.