Virtual Reality… Troopers! Extreme! Go!

To live again in pre-9/11 1995, where the fear wasn’t terrorism, but that a murderer would spring to life from the interior of a virtual reality headset and kill us all. Even better, that killer could be Russell Crowe.

Terrorists in Virtuosity’s version of 1995 by comparison? They’re celebrities. TV news broadcasts their message. Times have changed.

Virtuosity does have the benefit of being ahead of itself, bringing in the, “convict saves the world from technology” trope. It’s still used. Michael Mann’s Blackhat can attest. It is also lucky to use VR as a catalyst – mostly – rather than deeply integrate itself into the plot device. Director Brett Leonard’s Lawnmower Man was not so fortunate.

Plus, there’s Russel Crowe hamming it up as SID 6.7, the game show host-esque villain whipping through one liners and generally being a narcissistic doofus, bleeding entire personalities. His performance is almost enough to pull Virtuosity into a tolerable state.

If Washington has a dud on his resume, it’s been found now with time.

The rest is concerned with Denzel Washington swimming through wacky science and emotional issues, all decrepit plot functions upon release let alone all these decades later. If Washington has a dud on his resume, it’s been found now with time. Pedestrian action scenes are swallowed by bold production designs, unavoidably dwarfed by low resolution CRTs. Elsewhere, this near-future L.A.’s action merely echoes Demolition Man, sans the energy or kooky enthusiasm of the Sylvester Stallone/Wesley Snipes project. Other than some VR chairs and a well photographed (if illogically constructed) prison set, Virtuosity has minimal future aspirations.

Virtuosity is not putrid; the film is pile of comedic anecdotes on media violence and unnecessary tech. Harmless attributes, mostly, but there is little to read or take away. SID invades an early Ultimate Fighting Championship event and fans are so engrossed in the fight, no one seems to notice or care about the man who is thrown from an upper balcony. That is not a statement so much as it is obliviousness, or maybe the scenario is exaggerated to such a degree, no one thinks it’s real. Viewers then flare the ratings of a political debate as crew are held hostage, but who wouldn’t watch? This is not a sign of indulging on violence so much as it is natural – if potentially graphic – drama.

An attempt to razzle dazzle with a back-and-forth finale cannot save the film from existing in a cinematic dead zone. Virtuosity is simply confusing as it sprouts justification for the VR end of its tale. By then, all of the purpose has been exhausted for routine brawling on a skyscraper. How mundane. [xrr rating=2/5 label=Movie]

#grrmondays @ 9:16

Blu-ray debut time for Virtuosity, a film which has been dumped on the format with at least a little bit of care. The master here is low on resolution, possibly one of those early contenders for HD broadcast. Softness is pervasive, if not unnatural to the period. It’s messy, but within acceptable parameters. If this is a master five, six, or even seven years old, results are impressive considering.

Grain is present, mostly light though. This Paramount production slipped over into Warner’s control, and the new owners produce a disc with staggering bitrates, rarely dropping below 30 Mbps. However, this is not enough to alleviate the presence of visible smearing which is too frequent to be missed. Small head movements are consistently greeted by a trail of digital information.

Fidelity is common, more so than smearing, at least. Facial definition is clean and every pixel of those CRT screens is evident. The smallest signs of print damage are inconsequential.

What holds up best is color, plucked from the ’90s with heavy primaries. Denzel opens the film in a dazzling blue police suit. It cannot be missed. Before color grading took this style of natural saturation away, Virtuosity used the color spectrum in full. Flesh tones are gorgeous and the multitude of rooms dedicated to VR are flushed with different hues. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Video]

Pizazz continues with the DTS-HD mix, invigorated by hefty surround use immediately and a love for the stereos. Opening moments capture the full breadth of a subway, the train pulling in and away in appropriate channels. Gunfire then rockets into the LFE (muffled as it sounds to show a bit of age) before things settle down.

A motivated score is spread across the front channels, highly aggressive in separating elements. Each new track will do something to be noticed.

The only loss is consistency. A prison brawl feels surrounded by inmates, yet Russel Crowe’s visit to a club barely feels extended into the rears. Up until the finale with helicopters and frequent gunfire, Virtuosity’s up and down attitude toward maintaining itself sonically is a slight disappointment. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Audio]

Warner releases the disc barren. There is no bonus menu or trailers. [xrr rating=0/5 label=Extras]

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.


Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.

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