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Heat on DVD

Michael Mann is good at what he does.

He’s definitely a talented filmmaker, and always chooses talented actors and gives them good roles, but there’s nary a Michael Mann film out there that deserves more than a “pretty good.”

Heat is a three-hour, epic crime saga that pairs Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, and puts them onscreen together for the first (and so far, last) time in Hollywood history. It features a great number of characters with flaws, who are so obsessed with their work that it has a negative effect of their personal lives.

De Niro plays Neil McCauley, the head of the gang. He’s a criminal, but he’s not a bad guy. He’s very into his work, so much so that his catchphrase is: “Allow nothing in your life that you cannot walk out on in thirty seconds flat if you spot the heat around the corner.” But even he sometimes longs for the joy of a personal relationship with someone. On the other end is Vincent Hanna (Pacino). He’s a tough cop, but he’s not a bad guy. His relationship with his wife is a little rocky, but he has a soft spot for his stepdaughter. When an armed robbery and multiple murder occurs on his beat, he’s forced to up his tough cop ante and start with the yelling we all know Pacino so well for.

Then there’s Chris (Val Kilmer), friend and co-worker to McCauley. His marriage is also a little rocky, what with his being a criminal and all. But he’s not a bad guy. His part in the story is not as imperative, but other movies have had two flawed not-so-bad guys in them, so why not up it to three?

Basically, McCauley and his gang of thugs want to steal stuff, and Hanna wants to prevent them from doing so. Thus we have the basis for Heat, a film that is revered to this day for being one of the best in its genre.

And it’s pretty good. It’s not the mind-blowing cinematic experience many would have you believe, but it’s pretty good. Its main problem is that it’s quite a bit longer than it needs to be. Some scenes could have been shorter, and others could have been cut altogether, without taking anything away from the end result. There’s too much character stuff going on, when what we really want to see is the action, which is where Heat really shines. Everything is perfectly planned and executed, creating some of the finest heist action scenes ever put on film.

You can never argue with having three great actors in a movie together, but when they don’t get to do what they do best it’s almost a waste. Pacino is great as a criminal (Scarface anyone?), but all he does here is yell (which he’s done for a large portion of the latter part of his career). De Niro is far too reserved, and while it’s appropriate for his character, we keep wanting him to really do something. Finally, Kilmer is one of the best character actors out there (The Doors anyone?), but roles like this remind us more of The Saint than Jim Morrison.

Despite all that, Heat ends up being a fine film, with excellent action and a great cast. The three-hour runtime is a hard one to get through, but if you’re willing to be in it for the long haul, it’s a pretty good ride. Just be ready to hit the road in thirty seconds flat if you see the heat around the corner.

Originally a bare-bones DVD release, this new version features two discs, brand new transfers, and some pretty good supplemental material.

Preserving its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, the picture quality has improved from the old version, but still has some flaws. Overall it’s a bit soft, and you can notice patches of dust during some of the darker scenes, but considering how much happens in the dark, most of the scenes are just fine. Occasional bits of color register well, detail and fleshtones look good, and there are no halos.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is absolutely splendid, however. All five channels are given a great workout, with all of them working almost constantly. Dialogue is perfectly clear, and it meshes well with the sound effects and music. During the action scenes, gunshots whiz past you in all directions, people shout at each other from all corners of the room, and the bangs and crashes make you think something fell down in your living room. While the video is average, the audio track is arguably reference quality.

On disc one, Michael Mann has included an audio commentary. For the first half, he’s constantly going, talking about the development of the project and commenting on his work. During the second half, he seems to get bored and only pops up here and there (and that’s about where we lost interest).

Disc two has quite a few goodies, starting off with 11 additional scenes. Considering the film is already too long and these total less than ten minutes and don’t really add anything, it’s easy to justify their deletion. Next is a making-of documentary that adds up to less than fifteen minutes and is split into three parts (with a “Play All” option). “True Crime” focuses on the real-life cop and criminal who inspired the film; “Crime Stories” discusses the screenplay’s 20-year history and how the movie finally got made; “Into the Fire” crams filming, cast training, shooting the downtown heist, and post-production into its few minutes.

“Pacino and De Niro: The Conversation” is a ten-minute featurette on the creation of the now-famous scene between the two actors, and “Return to the Scene of the Crime” follows location manager Janice Polley and associate producer Gusmano Cesaretti as they head back to certain places that were used in the filming of Heat.

The DVD presentation is better than the previous version, but it’s pretty piddly for a special edition of such a popular film.

Heat, from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
172 minutes, anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) 16x9 enhanced, Dolby Digital 5.1
Starring Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Tom Sizemore, Diane Venora, Amy Brenneman, Ashley Judd, Mykelti Williamson, Wes Studi, Ted Levine, Jon Voight and Val Kilmer
Produced by Michael Mann, Art Linson, Written and directed by Michael Mann


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