“I’m just a civil service engineer!”
Yes, Walter Garber (Denzel Washington) is just a civil service engineer, but he’s also capable of chasing down a villain through the crowded streets of New York because the police were unable to. Good for him.
The Taking of Pelham 123 is directed by Tony Scott, and comes with all of his usual and annoying camera tricks, from nauseating spins, heavily saturated colors, jump cuts, and more. It is an acquired taste, one that will either draw you in or push you out in 10 minutes.
John Travolta is always a great villain, with a hateful smirk and psychotic side that anyone can buy. He has decided to hijack a New York City subway train, holding it ransom for $10 million, although the plot does go deeper than that.
Despite knowing almost nothing about the hostages themselves (none of them are developed), Scott delivers some legitimate tension, although logic problems ruin much of the fun. If you need to deliver the money to the train before hostages are killed (on the other side of the city), why would you put it into a police car to dangerously maneuver through crowded streets? Was the helicopter guiding and escorting the caravan not a more logical solution?
Of course, if that happens, the audience wouldn’t be treated to multiple inter-cut car crashes. Unfortunately, Scott couldn’t contain the story, choosing to push Denzel out of his small booth and onto the streets for a final showdown. It’s a shame, because the interplay between Travolta and Washington behind a microphone is excellent thanks to believable performances. The final act is one that feels out of place and unnecessary, despite leading to a fun face-off moment as the two meet for the first time.
Truthfully, this is a small story, a simple hijacking that has been overblown more than it ever needed to be. The original Walter Matthau classic back in 1974 handled the material with less gloss, which is what it needed. Pelham is fine for what it is, but toning this down would have led to increased intensity the shameless and needless car crashes cannot produce.
Tony Scott’s usual array of saturated colors are (mostly) beneficial to the disc. Aside from some minor red push, everything carries a glossy, gorgeous pop. Flesh tones are accurate, and the bright contrast is perfectly calibrated.
Blacks are rich and deep, with minimal crush. Shadow delineation is generally superb. Facial detail is well defined, if inconsistent. A minor interrogation between John Tuturro and Denzel Washington shows a definite flatness, softening up for the entirety of the conversation. Sporadic shots throughout also share the same problem.
Film grain is nicely handled and unobtrusive. Noise is barely noticeable. Some significant ringing over the opening credits is worrisome, but non-existent for the rest of the film.
A DTS-HD mix is surprisingly effective despite the heavy amount of the dialogue. The subway system is lively, with echoes and a constant stream of trains moving through the speakers. Gunfire likewise rings out in all channels, with bullets slightly cranked up as they miss their mark in the rears.
The subwoofer gets a mild workout from the throbbing, bass-filled soundtrack. A run-away train at the end of the film generates a sufficient rumble as it barrels down the tracks. The unnecessary chase sequence has a few moments to shine, including multiple collisions that feature shattering glass across the soundfield .
Two commentaries could have been combined, but nonetheless, Tony Scott leads the first one solo, while writer Brian Helgeland and producer Todd Black helm the second. A fine half hour making-of titled No Time to Lose details the struggles of shooting everything in New York and the troubles it caused to the city.
The Third Rail is half that length, detailing the subway system itself. From the Top Down is a featurette on the film’s hair stylist that comes off as an advertisement for a Beverly Hills hair salon, but it still unique amongst extras.
BD-Live support includes the solid Movie IQ, where filmographies about the actors and people involves can be pulled up on the fly. CineChat support is included, along with the usual Sony online splash page which contains additional trailers not found on the disc itself.