Swordfish – HD-DVD Review

ARCHIVE: Original Post Date – May 4th, 2006

The Film

Swordfish stars Hugh Jackman (X-Men) as computer hacker Stanley. Stanley has just spent two years in jail for hacking a program used specifically by the FBI to snoop in on everybody’s email. Enter Halle Berry (also X-Men) as Ginger who has been assigned to recruit Stanley to help stop mastermind Gabriel Shear played by John Travolta (Face-Off). The initial problem here is that Stanley, obviously, doesn’t trust the government. He has been previously forbidden by the courts to come anywhere near a computer. Ginger decides to use a little persuasion in the form of a lap dance and a weapon to give him exactly one-minute to hack into a government computer. It looks like Stanley still has a bit of hacker in him as he completes this task. Stanley is offered $10 Million Dollars to work for Shear as one of his main men. Why on earth Shear would trust Stanley we soon learn.

Shear wants to recruit some of the world’s best hackers, Stanley being one of them, to help him break into a DEA bank account that contains some money. Some money in this cast is being translated into $9.5 Billion Dollars. I must take a quick break here and comment on the work of John Travolta. Ever since becoming a ‘nut-case’ (in the media’s eyes) along with Tom Cruise, it seems like audiences have forgotten how great of an actor he is. Travolta has made some of the best action films in Face-Off and Broken Arrow all while making funny films like Get Shorty. Back to the program though, Shear is able to, through his cunning skill, manipulate and use many people, including us in many scenes.

The film’s supporting roles consist of Halle Berry and Hugh Jackman. I’ve always found Halle Berry to be quite the interesting character. Obviously she has made a stinker here and there in Catwoman, but it seems that when she concentrates and is able to act in her own manner, she tends to shine. One of the more famous scenes, which probably everyone has seen regardless of knowing what film the scene happens to be from, is her famous topless scene. While the scene is nice because Berry is attractive, I still found it to be rather lost in relevance to the film’s central plot. As for Jackman, he delivers another pretty solid role here acting intelligent and precise in scenes all while cleverly trying to trick Shear.

One of the film’s highlights is the extreme special effects. The effects are right down the action fan’s alley. Take one scene that involves an insane explosion (see the special feature entitled “The Effects in Focus”) that literally slows down all while the camera swoops around our head. The film isn’t all big booming special effects though. One of the more effective scenes occurs when Stanley is sitting in front of his computer keyboard looking at eight or nine different monitors. He is obviously working we learn. The funny part is the music he is listening to, which is something I can’t really repeat here, is all played in tune with his striking of the keyboard.

The film is produced by the legendary Joel Silver who, if you call yourself an action fan at all, everyone should know considering he produced one of the more popular films in recent years in 1999’s The Matrix. Just like his resume defines, Silver definitely likes blowing things up, some of which are awesome and amazing to look at. However, when the film wraps, we tend to wonder if Sena and Silver sat down at the drawing board and decided to just throw in a few random explosions to keep the audience happy instead of actually continuing on with a plot that started off very well. In the end though, Swordfish, despite presenting a few interesting ideas, reminds me more of Silver’s Exit Wounds (fun to watch once through, but nothing worth repeating), instead of his classics like 1987’s Predator and 2005’s soon to be classic V For Vendetta.

Video Quality

Originally released on DVD, Swordfish looks mighty fine. The HD-DVD release, as it has with many previously released films, takes the image quality to the next step. The DVD release had numerous examples of edge enhancement. Naturally, the HD-DVD version clears up this problem resulting in a pristine picture that is devoid of any real problems. The actual image transfer is the standard 2:35:1 Aspect Ratio that appeared on the DVD release. One quick glance at the film in your local electronics store will tell you that the film has a very eerie, grainy type of feel to it, which is not necessarily a negative issue, but more of a positive as it helps bring the film’s main themes into a higher light. Overall colors, such as oranges, greens and blacks are full and defined while the overall print remains in tact similar to the DVD release.

Audio Quality

Just like the recently released HD-DVD films, Swordfish comes packed with a Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Audio Track. The dialogue is overly clear while the effects are crisp, booming, loud and defining. For a fine example of the true power of what HD-DVD is capable of, sit down and watch the first ten minutes of the film. For those of you who have seen the film, you will be familiar with how insane the explosion was on the DVD release. Imagine what the feeling becomes experiencing the same explosion in HD. The effects circle your head making you feel that there is an explosion occurring near you.

Bonus Materials

Finally for the HD-DVD release of a film, we can have a few new features!

  • Audio Commentary with Director Dominic Sena: Director Dominic Sena delivers a fine audio commentary providing us with tons of information about the film’s production, sets, actors, shooting, and overall reason for making the film. For you die-hard action fans, this commentary is worth a listen to.
  • The Making of Swordfish: This is your standard HBO making of that features the normal interviews with the cast, comments by production members, and a few quick glances into some shots. Despite being rather brief at 15 minutes, the making of is rather interesting.
  • The Effects in Focus: This focuses on the climatic bus sequence which was done by Joel Silver, which should give you a heads up to what it’s like.
  • Alternate Endings: Here we are given two different alternate endings with optional commentary by Sena. Definitely the best feature here mainly because it’s interesting to hear from Sena why he didn’t pick either of these endings.
  • Music Video: Paul Oakenfold provides us with the music video for the track Planet Rock.
  • In Conversation: Interviews with the Cast/Crew: This feature defines itself.

Closing Thoughts

I can see why Swordfish was picked as one of the entering titles for HD-DVD. While the film is fun to watch once through, the HD-DVD transfer is an all around incredible package. The image quality is taken to the next step while the film’s exemplary action scenes are a perfect definition of what HD-DVD audio is capable of. If you are a fan of the film, or you just want to see what HD-DVD is all about, grab Swordfish, as it’s the first real action film to hit the format.