Walk With Him

Robert Zemeckis takes the enigmatic story of Philippe Petit and wraps it in 3D spectacle. The Walk plays as a cartoonish, even breezy heist film, albeit one without a heist. Here the goal is a ludicrous stunt.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt proves a bizarre bit of casting as Petit, neither French nor well suited to the accent given his stardom’s visibility. That aside, he gives the character color, an oddball and eccentric demeanor. He’s attracted to wire – Petit thrives on conceptualizing stunts. It’s ego. It’s charisma. It’s bravery. Maybe lunacy, too.

The Walk is mildly biographical, beginning in Petit’s younger days as his obsession grew. Wires are a fixture of his adolescence and into young adulthood. He’s an unusual figure, if entertaining. Petit swallows rejection and finds a means to continue until his “art” is fully exposed.

Central to feature’s tale is the World Trade Center, a daring move forward for major studios who spent much of the ’00s wiping or removing its images from their films. Petit’s story, through time and with tragedy, has become a historical landmark. There’s comfort in what was accomplished inside of and on top of those buildings. His public deviancy and daring tightrope act opened the Twin Towers as landmarks in a way ribbon cutting ceremonies would not suffice.

This exists purely for awe, packing the back-end of the film with dense pockets of tension and carefully planted slip-ups.

Zemeckis’ feature is unabashedly needless; Man on a Wire provided the full breadth of authenticity. This exists purely for awe, packing the back-end of the film with tension and carefully planted slip-ups. The Walk is no different than Titanic – the boat will sink as sure as Petit will be successful, but reaching those narrative climaxes is thrilling.

At two hours, The Walk is stubborn. Petit’s natural charisma (as pouring from Levitt) is limited in its ability to hold this kooky true story together. His interactions with bit players are menial and the eventual pay-off weaker still – that’s reality, but also why Man on a Wire is the rightful format for Petit’s journey.

The intentions are all IMAX. That’s where The Walk can be best sold. Outside of the theatrical run, The Walk will forever appear flimsy, a near-fantasy retelling of this slightly off-kilter rope walker. Given the proper space, The Walk is enormous. The height, the scale, the unnerving motions; all are tremendous in their impact.

By the final salvo, it’s irrelevant who is playing Petit and less so who his associates were. What matters are the visuals, and Zemeckis, with years of experience telling stories in pseudo-real animated form, is capable of directing computerized images. If character arcs fail to pay out, Petit’s stunt still does. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Movie]

The Walk Blu-ray screen shot 16

Digitally formed images earn a usual pass on Blu-ray for a modern release, although Zemeckis and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski shoot the feature with a softened appearance. Image clarity lacks weight. Close-ups feel softer than most by design. The tide of visual effects which wash over the third act diminish the fidelity on human actors too. Definition is passable while a fine encode by Sony captures the material without fault.

By the climax, The Walk turns into a visual bright spot. Peering down from Trade Center is alluring. Crowds are visible from the 100+ stories high. Plaza details are evident. Lines are flawlessly rendered on the building themselves and New York’s skyline dazzles. Vertigo is authentic.

Pulling away from The Walk’s showmanship, it’s often too dull by design. Black levels are pitiful when needed most. Post-production tinkering takes a colorful story and washes it all in blues. Flesh tones are pale and those few splashes of color – notable in an art school and in the closing moments – feel out of place. Early flashback sequences use only a pittance of color. They’re predominantly black & white which is pleasing compared to the sullen, out of place blues. The Walk is in little need of impressing until the final chapters, but it’s a visual slog to sit through.

Oddly, The Walk was given a 2.35:1 aspect ratio when the IMAX and 3D presentations are better suited to taller ratios. This makes it difficult to grasp the scale when at home, sans those with enormous scope screens.

This is a 3D conversion, not surprising since key moments are digitally generated anyway. The front half is capable in its depth, situated in rooms primed to take advantage of layering possibilities. Foreground objects are infrequent. A majority of 3D effects are of the fall-in variety. Papa Rudy’s (Ben Kingsley) home is shot to layer an extended hallway. Pieces of classic 3D showmanship are notable too. Petit’s juggling act slings bowling pins into the overhead camera and a rope will drop toward the lens later.

Key is the build-up of height effects, opening with miniature stunts on trees, into a circus act, onto Notre Dame, and then the dizzying capability of the Towers jaunt. Looking down from finale is a definite set-piece, screen size or otherwise. Even in the windowed 2.35:1 frame, 3D establishes what authentically feels like hundreds of feet of space. It’s easy to believe some would be sensitive. Darker scenes prone to cross-talk during the set-up are forgiven as the sun rises. Morning light is sufficient. [xrr rating=4/5 label=2D-Video] [xrr rating=4/5 label=3D-Video]

Ambiance is all the DTS-HD mix will need to produce. Cities, both in London and New York, offer unique soundscapes. Heavy traffic in New York, lighter living in Paris. Weather effects are prominent, splashing rain and thunder into the soundfield with some aggression. Dialog will make passes into the stereos where appropriate, namely as Petit is hiding from guards near the top of the Tower.

Breezy conditions will greet Petit from his line once in the center. Some excited dialog will be featured prominently in the extended channels too. For a finale, a helicopter will pan in, rotors whirring in the rears as it passes by cleanly between channels. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Audio]

A trio of featurettes are offered as bonuses, the first detailing Levitt’s training to become a tightrope walker. Pillars of Support looks at the supporting cast, while Amazing Walk peers at the visual effects and 3D conversion. The three combine for around 30-minutes of content. Some brief deleted scenes are the closing bonus. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Extras]


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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