The train roars. No, seriously, Unstoppable’s massive chunk of metal actually emits the sound of a creature from some SyFy Channel movie. There’s even a little mechanical gurgle that sounds like something from Transformers. Take one point for the sound design.
Then, you have “that” scene, where a character has to describe the enormity of the situation to a corporate head who apparently knows nothing of the business he runs. This is where all the tension starts, the audience informed of the chemicals being carried by a runaway train, the talk of potential damage, corporate politics, and that the train is the size of the Chrysler Building. Take one point for overbearing cliches.
From there though, Unstoppable is a stable, consistent thriller. Being directed by Tony Scott, it’s only natural that things explode, cars flip, and objects are disintegrated. The camera can’t stop either, spinning around with nauseating results or shaking so badly actual focus is a thing of the past.
Denzel Washington is fine in his second train movie in as many years playing Frank, the grizzled railroad veteran on his way to forced retirement and slashed benefits. Will (Chris Pine) is the newcomer, already despised by those with seniority. They find a common bond though with women, one losing his wife to cancer, the other to a restraining order. Conducting a bullet on wheels heading head-on for another bullet on wheels tends to change personal feelings.
Unstoppable find the time to develop these key characters, leaving everyone else as either family or other railroad employees. Frank and Will are they keys though, crucial in building up to a grandly scaled finale filled with minimal visual effects and loads of real trains. The sights have weight and heft, the type of movie that only becomes stronger with a larger screen and audio equipment.
Frantic pacing, yelling, and little time to think keeps the familiar Scott pacing flowing. Any decent thriller needs those elements to work as intended, and Unstoppable crams 90-minutes of chaos into its oversized, glorified “based on a true story (but in actuality heavily overemphasized)” frame. It’s a fun flick despite the stupid.
You know you’re in a Tony Scott movie the second the digital film appears on screen. Garish colors, ridiculous contrast, brutal black levels, and overlaid noise makes Unstoppable look like every other film he’s ever had a hand in. Everything is bathed in that tiring orange/teal palette, and some objects seem to be specifically chosen just because they were naturally those shades. Denzel conducts an engine with that look, the track map in the control room is layered in those hues, and the helicopters swarming are no different.
It makes for flesh tones that look sickly, tinted with yellows and greens that are hardly pleasing to the eye. Any trackside trees are overblown with deep greens, and few other primaries are ever allowed to completely breathe. Even the opposing runaway train has a reddish look that is influence by the color timing.
The deep, meaty black levels can take shadow detail with them, but as with the blown out contrast, it’s all standard material for Scott. It creates images with tremendous depth at the expense of a natural richness. That said, detail remains, superbly even. Close-ups when the camera isn’t spastically moving around are rife with the finest of details, from sweat to skin pores. Even the mid-range excels with purity, the sharpness rarely losing its hold. Aerials, some of which are undoubtedly digital with their total lack of grain, are all flawless. Viewing distance is phenomenal, and fines lines are rendered without any aliasing or flicker.
Unstoppable carries a distinct grain structure, one with a mixture of added video noise. The intent is obvious, but the encode isn’t always up to it. Chroma noise can litter walls, although thanks to the rapid-fire editing, few problems ever appear on screen for more than a few seconds. Impressively, despite losing to the noise, the encode handles a mass of grain spewing from a train car near the end of the film with few problems. Image integrity is never lost.
Car engines are cool, planes can pack a punch, but trains are spectacular. Their raw power is immense, and the subwoofer gets one heck of a workout in this DTS-HD mix. The sound design is much like the video in that it emphasizes everything to the nth degree. Nothing is left to the imagination. Somewhat repetitive shots are filmed from underneath the train, each presenting a pure tracking effect and low-end rumble worthy of hi-def audio.
Stereos are used effectively for any view from the front of the train, the slight side-to-side rocking creating a split rattle between the speakers while distinct dialogue never becomes overwhelmed. Because Tony Scott loves doing this stuff, the train bashes through multiple objects on its trek, the first being a cleared horse trailer at 35:05. The ferociousness of the blast is felt with a raw, powerful rumble.
There are explosions too, the largest one earning its title as an engine derails and goes boom… loudly. There’s no rest for the sub, and it’s the type of audio accompaniment that suits the intensity of the visuals.
There are no extras as Fox does not send screeners prior to release dates and this review is based off a rental exclusive.