G.I Joe, TNG return to the home screen in new Blu-ray editions.
By Jim Bray
What would Paramount Pictures do without Gene Roddenberry or Hasbro?
Roddenberry is known chiefly for creating the Star Trek universe, which has become so darn profitable for Paramount that could probably stop making everything else and live off its profits into perpetuity – or at least for a very long time.
And Hasbro is the toy company whose "library" has spawned movies based on board games (Battleship), giant robots from space (Transformers) and even action figures (G.I. Joe). While the success of Hasbro-based-or-inspired movies hasn't been as gigantic as Star Trek, the video/movie versions of the toy company's products haven't been around nearly as long. Who knows that the future holds, especially given Hollywood's penchant for squeezing every dime out of a franchise.
So it should come as no surprise that Paramount continues to reap from the seeds it has sowed, in this instance via a pair of new Star Trek: The Next Generation releases and a kind of sequel to the original G.I. Joe film.
I never saw the first Joe, but from what I understand that isn't a bad thing. It would have given me some perspective when going into at G.I. Joe: Retaliation, which I understand is a big improvement over that original G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra flick, but it isn't as if I went into this review expecting high art, either – though I'm always willing to be surprised.
But if you enjoy big explosions and action scenes, with lots of CG effects and enough story hung on the skeleton to keep you going for 110 minutes, G.I.Joe: Retaliation is an interesting diversion. And some of the action scenes – in particular a nearly vertigo-inducing one on a gigantic rock face (no, not the Mt. Rushmore type!) – are pretty darn good.
The G.I. Joe team is an international bunch of super soldiers. Their nemeses are the Cobra organization, two of whose top leaders – Cobra Commander and Destro – are imprisoned in a horrible state of existence one might suspect is inhumane even considering that these guys are baddies. Another Cobra bigwig, Zartan has disguised himself as the President of the United States, kidnapped the real McCoy (both parts played by Jonathan Pryce), and is impersonating him in order to bring to fruition his plan for world domination.
And, as the film unfolds, it's a pretty neat plan, though it also seems to have derived more than a couple of its ideas from the old Bond flick "Diamonds are Forever." Not that that's necessarily a bad thing…
Anyway, after the "president" frames the Joes for treason and launches a sneak attack on them that wipes out most of them, we're left with only three American Joes alive: Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) and Flint (D.J. Cotrona). On the run for their lives (and for, uh, Retaliation),they seek help from the man held up as the namesake for the Joes, retired General Joseph Colton (Bruce Willis), so they can expose the fake President and take down Cobra – at least until the next sequel.
Meanwhile, there are other Joes on the far side of the world, including Snake Eyes (Ray Park) who, aided by Jinx (Elodie Yung) raid Cobra's mountain fortress on a mission to kidnap Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee). I'm not sure why, but in the end Storm Shadow switches teams, so I guess it's all good.
That's about all you need to know about the story, such as it is, and if I give any more away there'll be even less to it for you to wonder about. Suffice it to say that before the good guys win, there's plenty of ammo expended, swordplay played, nifty vehicles showcased and all kinds of other mayhem unleashed, all in a loud and proud and mostly blood-free way suitable for all but the faint of heart.
The cast is good. Johnson has become a decent action star and, while he basically plays the same role he always does, it's always good to have Willis on hand, even in a small role such as this one.
Paramount sent the Blu-ray in a package that also includes the DVD (which falls to hand better than the Blu-ray when you open the package) and a digital copy. The HD picture, 1080/24p of course, is excellent. The picture is rich and features very nice black levels – with good "depth" despite our review copy only being a 2D version (you can get 3D is you want). The 2.35:1 aspect ratio image is razor sharp and very detailed as well.
Audio is presented in a 7.1 Dolby TrueHD track and it's really in your face. In my home theater, I ran the volume about five points lower than I usually do, and the bass was still rattling teeth. Yet the dialogue is always clear (if not always necessary or smart) and the sound effects are all around the room, in your face, your scalp, your ears….
Extras include an audio commentary with director John Chu and producer Lorenzo di Bonaveturna, and like the movie it's okay but could have been a lot more interesting. You also get about four minutes worth of deleted scenes whose deletion is hard to argue against.
An hour-plus long documentary "G.I. Joe: Declassified" is an eight part production that looks at the usual "making of" stuff such as stunts, casting, production design, effects, etc.
Trekking back to the well…
As for Star Trek, Season Four of The Next Generation had a really thankless task and, fortunately, has aged better than I'd remembered.
It was thankless because Season Three really set a high bar; in my never humble opinion it was the series' finest hours, and the fact that it ended with the first part of the cliffhanger "Best of Both Worlds" episode I think is the best Trek episode ever made that bar even higher.
The season begins with Part Two of "BOBW," which wraps up the story in a grand way and ends up with the physically-restored Picard (Patrick Stewart) back in the saddle – but can he exorcize the Borg demons he's sure to be carrying with him?
That question is looked at in more depth with the second episode, "Family," which has Picard going back home to France to lick his wounds figuratively while, much to the Klingon's chagrin, Worf's human parents visit the Enterprise in its drydock above Earth and embarrass him the way parents have embarrassed their kids since time immemorial. Meanwhile, Wesley Crusher (unfairly called "the Jar Jar Binks of the Star Trek universe," by "Big Bang Theory's" Sheldon Cooper) gets to see a recording made for him by his long-dead father.
And if that isn't enough family for one episode, stick around for other episodes! In fact, the third episode is about "Brothers" and the season-ending cliffhanger "Redemption," brings us the other side of Worf's family. We also see Chief O'Brien's budding relationship with Keiko, and more.
Season Four seems to look more inward – toward home and family – than outward (and how much more outward can you find that the Borg, who come from a distant part of the galaxy), and when it first played out on syndicated TV I thought it really paled in comparison to Season Three. But looking back on it now, a couple of decades down the road, even some of the episodes I had deemed the weakest are enjoyable. I even found parts of "Family," possibly my least favorite episode back then, quite moving.
As with the other seasons, Number Four is presented in its original TV aspect ratio of 1.33:1 which, considering the great job Paramount has done of converting the original series HD broadcasts now in syndication to widescreen, is a shame. Still, it's hard to fault someone for not manipulating the picture! >
Season Four also continues the tradition of including extras spread across the discs. For the most part, they consist of relatively short documentaries, including the new "Relativity: The Family Saga", a couple of audio commentaries, and interviews with cast and crew. They're pretty standard stuff, but that's okay; they're full of Star Trek Lore. No pun intended. Well, not much.>
And if you like the way Paramount spliced "The Best of Both Worlds" together into a single feature, you'll love the (sold separately) treatment given to the fourth season-ending cliffhanger "Redemption," in which Worf works to restore his family honor against the backdrop of intrigue at the top of the Klingon high council. >
It isn't nearly as good as "Best of Both Worlds," but what is? Overally, it's a neat story that gives more insight into those Klingon bastards who killed Kirk's son a long time ago and far away in the galaxy. >
Worf and his bro Kurn offer to throw their support behind wannabe ruler Gowron in return for restoration of their family name, while working against them are the Duras sisters and the heir to the throne they claim to have discovered. At stake is civil war in the Klingon empire, something the Federation doesn't want to see but which some at-first-unknown "advisors" to the Duras sisters want to foment. >
It's a very good if not great episode, featuring some nice character development, some pretty nifty sci-fi drama, political intrigue, strange bedfellows, action, and even the "return" of an old Trek player. It's pretty neat, and Paramount has edited together both parts (Part Two kicks off Season Five, which isn't out yet) seamlessly.
Extras include an audio commentary, the feature "Survive and Succeed: An Empire at War" and the previews to both parts.
The picture quality of both Season Four and "Redemption" is first rate. Paramount has done a wonderful job, aspect ratio notwithstanding, of bringing the series into the 21st century, including the recreation of the special effects from their original film elements. That's something that was missing from the DVD releases, whose special effects quality left a lot to be desired. Here, however, the picture looks marvelous, sharp and colorful and detailed.
The audio is presented in 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and it's also very good. You'll notice it right from the "booming whoosh" of the Enterprise as it streaks by the camera during the opening credits. I listened in 5.1 one, and the fidelity is very nice and all the channels are used well.
Trek fans will surely want this in their collection.
Copyright 2013 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.