Liam Neeson will always be Qui-Gon Jinn to millions of movie buffs. To others, he’ll always be Darkman. But before you think it’s safe to say Liam Neeson will never be confused with the Terminator, or any other character immortalized by Arnold Schwarzenegger, you need to watch Taken, a film that adds a modern-day twist to “Commando,” a film in which Schwarzenegger defeated a small army to save his daughter (Alyssa Milano) from certain death.
In Taken, Neeson plays a semi-retired government security officer who has decided to take time off to finally bond with his teenage daughter. As overprotective as he is, he eventually caves-in to his daughter’s desire to travel to Paris with a friend, even after he discovers their itinerary is less academic than he was led to believe. While checking in with his daughter via cell phone, he overhears a virtual play-by-play as her friend — and eventually his daughter — are abducted by a group of very bad men. Neeson pulls out all the FBI-like stops in his arsenal to identify the kidnappers and make his way to Paris, where he then proceeds to go against an entire immigrant army to save his daughter from being sold into sex slavery. He succeeds of course, as did Schwarzenegger save Milano, but the plot is much more modern-day and taboo than any 1980s film would have ever dared tread.
Taken on Blu-ray Disc comes in a two-disc set featuring a digital copy of the film as well as two versions: the Theatrical Version and the Unrated Version, which is just slightly extended and seems to have a bit more gratuitous violence. That’s right: Liam Neeson, super-spy, with gratuitous violence? Who’d have thunk? The AVC-encoded video presentation of both versions is impeccably crisp, though a few dark sequences involving Parisian prostitutes do show a few signs of grain. This is technically a shortcoming, but considering the theme and purpose of each scene, it adds some unintentional grit that fits them both well. Other than these scenes, though, the overall picture quality, from contrast to depth to black levels, is great. Had there not been some errant/miscoded characters in two subtitles early in the film, the video would be almost demo quality for your latest and greatest HDTV.
The audio is also fantastic, even where most action films are concerned. Using the aforementioned Commando as an example (even Transformers would work), there’s often so much booming and so many explosion in films of this type that it’s hard to pick up on nuanced audio cues and ambient noises. Not so in Taken, which is an action film when it needs to be but a dialogue-driven drama for the majority of its minutes. Because of this, environmental cues are important to help set the stage, and Taken’s use of the surrounds and rear channels placed you in the film’s world with ease. From echoes in the Parisian alleys to water lapping alongside the boats in the climactic final scene, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio shines. A common shortcoming in action films — the volume balance between dialogue-heavy and action-heavy scenes — is avoided completely in Taken as well, which is nice. The only instance where you’ll be tempted to adjust the master volume on you’re A/V receiver comes halfway through the film, when Neeson first identifies the people responsible for his daughter’s abduction. In this scene, Neeson engages in a heated indoor gunfight with more than half a dozen Albanian thugs. The caliber of the guns mixed with the tight-quarters setting makes for some deafening moments. Like the video grain in the prostitution scenes, the loudness makes sense and helps set the scene, but it would’ve been nice had the audio engineers toned it down just a bit.
The bonus features with Taken on Blu-ray include two commentary tracks, one with the director and cinematographer and one with the writer. Ironically, though, these tracks only coincide with the unrated version, which both shows you The Energy RC-Micro home theater system delivered the sound for this review.where the production team’s preferences lie and gives viewers instant insight into why certain elements were added or extended. The Black Ops Field Manual, a feature-length picture-in-picture bonus, is also available only on the Unrated version of Taken. The Black Ops Field Manual gives geographical locators, anatomical/forensic information and general spy trivia via black boxes that appear in the bottom left corner of the screen as appropriate. There’s also a funny “mission dashboard” that plays at the top of the film indicating how many people have been killed, how many have been injured, how much time he has remaining in his search for his daughter, and how far he has traveled so far (in both miles and kilometers, of course).
Le Making Of (18:24, 480p) — the “making of feature” for those who are feeling dense today — incorporates interviews with the cast and crew, including extensive commentary from Neeson and he director. The content of course discusses the normal making-of elements, but it remarkably also explores the backstory of Neeson’s character. This exploration isn’t something you encounter often in an action film, but Taken isn’t your normal action film. Neeson is a reluctant hero, so his backstory and motivations are particularly important to the film. It’s also just nice to see Neeson give the making-of feature so much face time; often you see main stars skip out of town after production wraps and give these things either the minimal amount of attention or dismiss them entirely.
In Inside Action: A Side by Side Comparison (11:05, HD), viewers can watch six brief scenes exactly as they were filmed, complete with cameras in the way and the booms waving about, with the finished product shown right on top of it split-screen style. If you’ve never appreciated the beauty of cropped shots, color correction and editing shots together, watch this bonus feature for a serious “come to Jesus” moment. There’s absolutely zero commentary here, just raw video, so viewers can see for themselves just how unglamorous moviemaking can be — and just how important editing is.
Taken is one of the better movies I’ve seen in recent months, and it’s one of the better Blu-ray releases too. Seeing Neeson take such a keen interest in the lineup of bonus features is a breath of fresh air in today’s prima donna Hollywood, and it almost makes up for the overall lack of bonus features in general. Even with the short featurette lineup, though, Taken is certainly worth adding to the Blu-ray section of your entertainment center. Neeson has seldom been better, and the story, while somewhat exhausted, has been infused with just enough modern-day intrigue to keep viewers’ interest for the complete length of the film.
Click here to buy Taken on Blu-ray from Amazon.com.
- Score: 9
— Jonas Allen