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Face/Off - Special Edition

Buena Vista/Buena Vista . R4 . COLOR . 133 mins . MA15+ . PAL


Face/Off is from director John Woo, one of the biggest “blow stuff up” men in Hollywood, falling behind “characters are so deep” (from a featurette on the Gone in 60 Seconds DVD) producer Jerry Bruckheimer.

So what to think of this film? That’s a tough one. Well some people, such as this reviewer, have a tendency to over-analyse films (and other life events) too deeply, and this film falls into that category. A major theme here is terrorism, something that is just a bit close to home at the moment. In 1998 during Face/Off’s video release, these themes of terrorism didn’t really affect this reviewer as they weren’t so close to home. However, in 2003 the world is a scary place to live, and what’s even scarier is that it’s right on Australia’s doorstep. Maybe this reviewer should just take a step back and enjoy it as a film, however it’s still scary that this film remains on the shelf. And it gets scarier, when video stores often don’t do any age checks on customers meaning that anyone, even a child, can hire an MA rated film, and to be totally honest many parents are ignorant to the Office of Film and Literature Classification’s recommendations for films. This film is definitely rated MA for a reason – kids aren’t meant to be watching these sorts of things – their minds are still impressionable and who knows what will become of them.

So now we’re onto the topic of Hollywood violence. Look at the spurt of high school shootings in the United States, and in recent years even in Australian schools and universities, that some believe are partially to be blamed on the silver screen. One example comes to mind from the US (Columbine) where the killer was known to have watched The Basketball Diaries numerous times in the days leading up to the massacre in which a dream sequence depicts a high school killing spree. Then the debate starts – do violent films, such as Face/Off cause violence and terrorism within society? Now some of you may be thinking, of course not, these films do not influence society, but that may be true for yourself, but what about for other people who may not be 100% stable? This debate can be started with any theme too – sex, drugs, language. That’s your food for thought to decide on your own opinions on this matter.

Off of the soapbox now, this reviewer has put that in the air for you to ponder over, so without any further adieu, on with Face/Off. Academy Award nominated John Travolta (Pulp Fiction (1994) in 1995) and Academy Award winner Nicolas Cage (Leaving Las Vegas (1995) in 1996) team up with director John Woo to bring together more than your average mindless action movie. Yeah, and this reviewer thought they didn’t exist. It’s fast, it’s furious and it’s full of guys blowing stuff up – woohoo?!? Well for some, yeah that’s great, as to quote my buddy Beavis “FIRE!”, but for others not so nice. Anyway, it’s time for this conscience to take a detour. Castor Troy (Cage) is on a mission to end FBI Agent Sean Archer’s (Travolta) life, however in a twist of fate Archer’s son is accidentally killed devastating the Archer family and causing Sean to go on a mission to capture his son’s killer. Six years on, Castor, an international terrorist, and his brother Pollux are up to their old tricks and have planted a killer bomb in Los Angeles. But where is it? In an explosive introduction, several agents are killed and Castor and Pollux are captured, Castor as a “turnip” in a coma and Pollux sent to a secret high-security prison. Problems arise when Pollux refuses to talk to anyone about the bomb except his brother. With the clock ticking, Sean undergoes drastic surgery, removing Castor’s face and applying it to his own body, subsequently assuming the identity of Castor Troy. Archer as Castor is then sent to the prison where his brother is, but the plot thickens when Castor wakes from his coma and gains Sean’s face and identity, creating absolute havoc for all parties concerned. This film then flies on with explosive action sequences, stunning chase scenes, intense moments as well as enough twists and turns to keep everyone guessing until the end. However, the film ends with a totally crappy tone, and as it will contain spoilers, you will need to highlight the following text with the cursor to read. Alternatively you can jump directly to the Video component of this review and skip the next hidden section. Along the duration of the film we meet the Sasha, an accessory of Castor who we discover shares parentship with Castor of her son. In the end of the film, Sean Archer’s character “adopts” this boy into the Archer family. Strange, eh? Would you want to care for the son of the man who killed your son? Tough call, eh? But just after the film’s characters and their tone it makes it highly implausible. Oh well, it is Hollywood.


Face/Off’s video transfer is presented in a widescreen aspect of 2.35:1, the film's original theatrical aspect. This 'Special Edition' DVD has a glorious anamorphic transfer, even including dual layer formatting – much nicer than the highly intrusive flipper technology. And boy is this remaster a beauty! So let’s look at the colours – everything a good colour should be – bright, vibrant, solid and bold. Even the blacks get this healthy treatment, with the transfer showing no signs of posterisation or low level noise. The richly detailed image grabs your attention during the opening sequence and throws you through over two hours of twists and turns, with razor-sharp precision and superb clarity. The bummer to this high detail is the over-apparent nature of aliasing, which disrupts the picture occasionally, but not enough to become frustrating. Film artefacts scoot past here and there, however you should be warned that you need to keep your eyes peeled to see them. The cleanliness of the image is just another subtle reminder of the absolute beauty of what a DVD transfer can look like compared to a grubby theatrical run print.


If the sharpness of the video transfer doesn’t cut you up, the English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is sure to blow you away. The first thing you’ll notice about this audio track is that it is loud. Not just you’re average every-day loud either, but this baby is loud. Well to put it in perspective, usually a film sounds great at a volume setting of around 50. For Face/Off, the receiver was originally set at 35 and she kicked out a mighty punch. However (ha ha, you knew it was coming), this is actually more of a downside than an upside. The booms are big and the soundstage is broad, but what about the dialogue? Ah yes, the important dialogue is just a mouse’s whisper compared to the gun-toting antics of Cage and Travolta. So here are your options – 1) crank it up, get deafened in the process and hear the dialogue, 2) keep it down, enjoy the action and miss the dialogue or 3) keep the remote handy and continually adjust accordingly. Sadly, the third option won, which got quite disruptive during the film’s 133 minute duration. But at least we know the remote still works.

The front of the soundstage carries the dialogue crisply, yet quietly, and spits it out from the centre channel. The front and rear left and right channels have loads to do independently, providing awesome action sequence effects which really just swallow you up. The woofwoof gets a growl fairly often too, with even the simplest of sounds changing character through the depth of the bass. The score, composed by John Powell, is challenging, carrying with it a modern, unique and experimental feel. For another fine example of Powell’s work, take a look at The Bourne Identity with an awesome display of modern scoring adding so much tension and exhilaration to the action sequences. Simply put, this score just works, and the detail of the broadly built soundstage makes it sound even better.


The 16:9 animated menus look slick and modern, providing a funky navigation system, as well as Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. The short, sad list of extra features is then accessible from the, you guessed it, extra features page. First up is your stock-standard theatrical trailer which has been edited in a very luring and effective manner. It features a letterboxed video transfer and Dolby Digital 2.0 audio, and is an intelligent and effective advertising element for the film. Next up is a brief featurette entitled Action Overload, which sticks together one minute of action footage from the film built over a piece of the score. The cast and crew biographies are more than your standard boring attempt, as Nicolas Cage and John Travolta are given a “good guy” and “bad guy” run down, however the same promotional-type information still exists.


This reviewer is a little thrown over whether to recommend this movie or not. It’s violent, and very violent at that. In today’s world of global terrorism, it’s a little scary to see some of the threads of this film as they do remind you of instances in recent years that have actually occurred, and aren’t just concoctions from a writer’s mind. For stable-minded adults, this film is an enjoyable (if slightly disturbing) action flick, however keep an eye out for the littlies getting this disc as it holds a little too much bada-boom for their little eyes to see.

Buena Vista’s transfer is superb, with the only major criticism being a slight volume issue, and the extras are welcome. For fans of the film, this 'Special Edition' sure is special, and for a night’s entertainment, it’s an entertaining ride even if it’s not really suitable given recent events.

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      And I quote...
    "With all these big explosions, someone’s making up for a size deficiency elsewhere..."
    - Martin Friedel
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Philips DVD 736K
    • TV:
          TEAC EU68-ST
    • Receiver:
          Sony HT-SL5
    • Speakers:
          Sony SS-MSP2
    • Centre Speaker:
          Sony SS-CNP2
    • Surrounds:
          Sony SS-MSP2
    • Subwoofer:
          Sony SA-WMSP3
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          standard s-video
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