Heat is one of those movies where a simple glance at the cast indicates you’re in for a treat. Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Val Kilmer highlight the credits of this cops-and-robbers drama, but even the “bit parts” are filled with a veritable who’s who of Hollywood second-tiers. But you knew that. After all, Heat is 14 years old, and it’s long since cemented its place near the top of police-minded action dramas. But with any archival movie re-released on Blu-ray, several questions always arise. Will the video quality look just as good in 1080p? Will the plot and dialogue stand the test of time? Will the action sequences still be able to hold the attention now that we’ve all been desensitized to action and gore for more than a dozen additional years? Fortunately, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has managed to ensure Heat answers with a resounding “yes” to these questions and more.
Heat’s plot is among its most compelling elements, with a top-flight cop (Pacino) questioning his desire to stay in the game while in hot pursuit of a master thief (De Niro) who suddenly finds himself questioning his own motivation as well. With both men pondering retirement but neither fully able to let go, the action-packed movie takes an almost pensive tone in multiple places, providing something for both sides of your brain to chew on throughout the film’s three-hour duration. To say one man wins and the other loses would be doing a disservice to the realization of both men at the end, but suffice it to say, the film’s climactic final scene provides just as many issues to ponder as it does bullets to dodge.
To say the 1080p-VC-1 video transfer in Heat rivals a more-recent Blu-ray release such as Disney/Pixar’s UP or JJ Abrams’ STAR TREK would be a flat-out lie. Remember, Heat is 14 years old, so signs of age and grain are apparent at times. However, you need to take into consideration the cinematographic style of Heat, which definitely plays into the film’s high-definition presentation. Heat is relatively monochromatic, as it takes place in a concrete-heavy urban setting, and the focus leaves a little to be desired in several areas. But, the lack of high contrast fits with the movie’s tone, which shatters the “contrast” between the good guy and bad guy, and the slight grain in spots does wonders to echo the “gritty” vibe of the film’s most intense scenes.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio, on the other hand, is slightly less excusable. All dialogue is crisp and clear, which in a movie of this nature is vital. However, the gunshots throughout the film — and particularly in the insane downtown shootout — sound no more impactful than a peashooter, and in many cases sound as though they were recorded in an tin-roofed garage. True, Heat’s main power lies in its plot, characters and dialogue, but the lack of oomph in all non-character audio is surprisingly disappointing.
The bonus features in Heat are more than capable of inspiring an extended play-through, although I was quite puzzled at the lack of any special features specific to this Blu-ray release. The The Energy RC-Micro home theater system delivered the sound for this review.first bonus feature is the requisition Audio Commentary with director Michael Mann. Although insightful, it seems as though the commentary was recorded in several sittings, so you don’t really get a smooth stream-of-consciousness feeling as you do in most other commentary tracks. Things pick up, however, in The Making of Heat (59 minutes), which is divided into three parts and explores not only the literal behind-the-scenes “making of” elements but also the true story and people that inspired the film. To be perfectly honest, the first of these three sections, which focuses on the real-life events, is the most captivating of the three chapters because it’s just so remarkable that such a story actually took place. That’s not to take anything away from the other literal making-of segments, it’s just that the real-life story is so darn good.
In Pacino and De Niro: The Conversation (10 minutes), fans of both actors get a fair amount of “fanboy fodder” describing how each actor’s strengths and mannerisms played into their on-screen characters and ultimately the two men’s on-screen chemistry. Return to the Scene of the Crime (12 minutes), meanwhile, spends its entirety focused on location choices, while the 10 minutes of Additional Footage provides a sneak peek into 11 short scenes that never made the cinematic version but are viewable here on Blu-ray Disc. For the record, these scenes and all the other bonus features are presented in standard definition only. Again, the lack of special Blu-ray featurettes is surprising.
In spite of being 14 years old, Heat is as powerful a film as it was in 1995 and still provides a captivating ride through the lives (and minds) of middle-aged cops and robbers. The performances of De Niro and Pacino are second to none, and the parallel stories of both men are a fascinating backdrop to the incredible on-screen action in several scenes. Even as the film won’t be a multimedia showcase for anyone’s Blu-ray or surround-sound setups, it’s still a worthwhile Blu-ray Disc release, and Warner is still sitting on a gold mine just waiting to be blown up at retail this holiday season.
Buy Heat on Blu-ray at Amazon.com.
- Score: 8.2
— Jonas Allen