Universal // 1992 // 126 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // June 28th, 2007
"The world isn't run by weapons anymore, or energy, or money. It's run by little ones and zeroes, little bits of data. It's all just electrons!"
Now here's a re-releases catalog title I can get behind. Universal presents one the coolest techno-thrillers to emerge from the '90s, and slaps a fine-looking coat of HD paint on it.
Redford, Poitier, Aykroyd, Kingsley, Phoenix, McDonnell, Strathairn...that's a lineup. This exquisite cast was put to use well in this post-modern heist film, which pits Robert Redford's Martin Bishop, a man with a dark past, against an old nemesis bent on installing a socialist utopia.
Here's the skinny: a brilliant scientist has created the ultimate code-breaking machine, a device that will grant its owner unfettered access to the most secure desktops in the United States. Martin Bishop and his team of "sneakers" -- geeks and espionage experts who make a living breaking into powerful institutions to test their security -- are approached by government agents to secure the box. Bishop is reluctant, but ultimately plays ball because they know of his unsavory past.
But the truth behind the box, and the people who hired him to get it, will force Bishop and his comrades to pull off the ultimate "sneak," and prevent the global economy from being hijacked by a well-dressed hippie who can't let go of a grudge.
A great little film sees its best yet incarnation with Universal's HD DVD presentation. Long a favorite of mine, Sneakers actually never made it into my standard DVD collection, so it is with a wide embrace that I welcome the diminutive Toshiba red case into the living room. The neon motion detectors have never looked redder and Branford Marsalis's score has never sounded better.
First, a bit about the film, which I suspect much of the world's population has already seen, but what the hey, let's burn some bandwidth. This is a supremely entertaining heist thriller, stocked silly with a top-shelf cast, peppered with sharp writing and plotted and paced extremely well. Though lacking any neck-breaking twists -- save for the big reveal of who's behind the whole thing -- the film relies mainly on the strengths of its characters and the near-impossible challenge they have set before them. Really, there isn't a weak performance in the bunch, from Redford's wry every-man to Strathairn's impressive rendition of the blind computer genius Whistler to Mary McDonnell and her bodacious Pat Benatar haircut, Sneakers is a two hour clinic on how to fabricate unique and engaging on-screen characterizations and apply the maximum amount of Aquanet before Al Gore comes pounding on your dressing room door with a cease-and-desist order. When you toss in the almost too-clever techno-thieving, Director Phil Alden Robinson's work is a winner. Plus: James Earl Jones!
Onto the meat of these HD DVD reviews: the specs. Frankly, I haven't been completely bowled over by some of the Universal catalog titles I've checked out and would go as far to throw "disappointed" around as an adjective. I want my next generation optical disc format to blitz me with quality, and if the video treatment of Sneakers is any indication of what may be to come for older Universal titles, then consider the flames of hopes fanned. The movie looks great with its 1080p VC-1 encoded makeover (I viewed the film in 1080i). Whenever the sneakers crew toys around with their gadgets, you'll really be able to soak up the improvement in detailing. Broader, establishment shots (location shooting was done in San Francisco) are especially beautiful and the color work is universally strong. My favorite eye-candy scene? Funny enough, the ducks-at-the-reservoir sequence, simply because you'll be able to delineate every single beak in that flock. Sharpness staggers slightly in the darker moments, but it's not bad. On the aural end, the arrangement was a bit front-loaded, but the discrete surround channels kicked in occasionally. The magnificent score sounds fantastic. Boilerplate extras come with, as high-def-specific bonuses are sadly M.I.A.: a laid-back but informative feature commentary with writers Phil Alden Robinson, Lawrence Lasker and Walter Parkes, "The Making of Sneakers," a recycled 30-minute extra featuring cast and crew interviews and the theatrical trailer.
I almost forgot how partisan this movie was. "The RNC is broke." Subtle!
One of my favorite films granted glorious rebirth in the high-def world. A little more effort with the extras, however, would have been greatly appreciated.
The accused is given a Winnebago.
Review content copyright © 2007 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital Plus 2.0 Stereo (French)
Running Time: 126 Minutes
Release Year: 1992
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Director's Commentary
* "The Making of Sneakers"