Reviews

Heat

3

An upgrade that doesn’t do justice to Michael Mann’s crime epic…

The truth is, it’s just a cops‘n’robbers movie. Truth is, it’s just about the best cops‘n’robbers movie you’re likely to see.

Michael Mann’s film is great enough to carry all its flaws. Eyes-a-bulging and roaring his way through too much of the script, Al Pacino gives his most overcooked performance (“She’s got a... GREAT ASS!”) since Scent Of A Woman. But it’s all those little moments of silence that thrill just as much as the thundering verbal and physical violence on display.

Mann’s epic, mythic mirror-duel between Pacino and Robert De Niro’s ice-blooded master-heister (he smiles just four times in the entire film) lives through its glinting details and slick, stunning looks. Meaning it should be a major event on Blu-ray, which has the power to reveal new flickers of emotion in the faces of its cast and show us the full sweep of Mann’s beautiful LA doomscape.

Heat has a chequered history on DVD, though. Successive editions have been marred by print damage, scratches, weak blacks and colour imperfections. It’s baffling when you consider Mann’s addiction to gleaming cinematography and stories where the style is the substance. You can double that frustration for this Blu-ray.

Boosted from the Heat: Special Edition, it’s the best the movie has looked on the small screen. But, for our money, it looks like an up-scaled DVD rather than a breath-snatching hi-def experience.

The muted, stylised blacks and blues of LA are strong without ever feeling as vibrant as you’d hope. Skin tones are accurate, too, but nothing really dazzles. The transfer often looks soft, leaving you searching for sharpness and detail that isn’t there. Is it a problem with the original print? If so, Heat is aching for a full-scale restoration, despite being just 15 years old.

Like we said, Heat is a surprisingly quiet movie: as much about the whispers as the bangs. Mann’s quest for audio realism meant it was hard to pick out dialogue on previous DVD releases.

Happily, this Blu-ray puts that right, with the clean, hard lines of Mann’s script pinging out clearly. That spectacular daylight bank-robbery benefits too, as chaotic new details fill up the background. Punchy and precise, yes, but again, not the HD eardrum-popper you’re probably craving.

What the Heat Blu-ray is missing, blatantly, is care and attention. Final proof arrives with the ugly, functional extras menu, ripped straight from the Special Edition DVD. Suffice to say, no HD-only extras. But what’s there is good.

Tasked with three hours of chat, Mann drifts in and out, but when he’s in, he’s in: studious, detailed and thoughtful. Everything from memories about dead hookers draped over dumpsters (“The disposal of bodies really stayed with me...”) to revelations that Hank Azaria’s astonishment at Pacino’s over acting (“When I think of a woman’s ass, something comes out of me...”) was genuine – none of it was in the script.

Even better is the hour-long The Making Of Heat doc, tracking the movie from pre-production through the shoot to the editing suite. We get the inside skinny on the real Neil McCauley and the cop who brought him down. There’s a discussion of the characters and themes. And finally a behind-the-scenes look at the actors’ weapons training.

Outside a tour of LA, which Mann scouted for a full 65 different shooting locations, the only other major extra is a 10-minute featurette about the most famous cup of coffee in Hollywood history. Pacino reveals it was De Niro who suggested they didn’t rehearse the scene.

Mann agreed. “It’s going to be at a certain height only once,” he explains. “Everything will just click once. And you don’t want that to happen in a rehearsal. I didn’t really view the characters as flip-sides of a coin, I viewed them as antithetical to each other.” “That scene was written many times and I couldn’t wait to get to it. They were so tuned to each other. Each take had a separate, unifying something to it. Each take was different.”

Seems obvious, then, that those takes would be included on the Blu-ray. Fat chance. Instead we get 11 missable deleted snippets, which are really just extensions of scenes already included in the movie.

That’s not the only gaping hole here. Fans have long been begging for LA Takedown – Mann’s terrific made-for-TV dry-run for Heat – to be included in the package. But it’s yet another opportunity missed.

So is Heat worth the Blu-ray upgrade? True, it’s priced at just £17.99 and packs all the goodness of the two-disc Special Edition DVD. But if you own that and have an upscaler, we’d say wait.

An essential Heat Blu-ray might be incoming. But brother, this is not it.

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