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Salt: Extended Edition (Blu-ray Details)

Unique ID Code: 0000137992
Added by: David Beckett
Added on: 9/12/2010 20:33
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    Salt: Extended Edition

    7 / 10

    Salt is the latest political action thriller by renowned Australian director Phillip Noyce, the man behind Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger and The Bone Collector - evidence that he has some pedigree when it comes to making a neatly constructed and engaging thriller with a political subtext. Salt came to him as a screenplay written for a male lead to play a CIA agent who goes on the run when he is suspected of being a Russian spy, so Noyce was slightly taken aback when Angelina Jolie showed up for an audition (dressed as a man) and basically asked him if there was any good reason why it couldn't be a film with a female lead.

    Deciding to go with Jolie meant rewriting the script with a completely different third act and dénouement but, by the sounds of it, this was probably for the better as I can't imagine the original idea carrying the same adrenaline rush and sense of thrill.

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    After an opening prologue in North Korea where Salt is imprisoned, tortured and accused of being a spy, the narrative itself begins with Evelyn Salt wanting to go home early because it's her wedding anniversary. With colleague Ted Winter, she leaves the office and is in the process of 'clocking off' when another CIA agent informs them that they have a Russian defector in the building and Salt would be the best person to carry out the initial questioning.

    With all manner of high-tech equipment trained on the man, including something that seems to be a portable MRI machine that focuses on his head so you can tell if he's lying or not, the interrogation begins. After a whole story about orphaned children who were brought into the Soviet system, brainwashed and trained to be sleeper agents, Salt asks him to get to the point and he claims that one agent will assassinate the Russian President when he is speaking at the funeral of the American Vice President that day at St Bart's Cathedral. Just as she is leaving the interrogation room, the man says "Salt." She turns and asks him what he wants and his reply is that the agent's name is Evelyn Salt.

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    Being branded a traitor by a Russian defector who has passed the most stringent of lie detector tests, Salt is taken aback and, knowing what happens to the families of other people in that position, worries for her husband's safety. Winter seems to be on her side whereas another senior agent, Peabody, wants to take her into custody until he can be sure that she is not a traitor. Temporarily locked in the interrogation room, Salt finds a way to get out and run through the building, taking out surveillance cameras as she goes and then manages to escape the entire CIA substation to try and prove her innocence.

    The trouble is, the more she runs and ignores requests to turn herself in, the guiltier she appears. Matters came to a head when the Russian President begins to speak at the funeral and suddenly disappears when an explosion rips a hole in the floor and Peabody comes across Salt standing over his body with a gun and, after she has been handcuffed and taken away, Peabody can't find a pulse on the President.

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    Angelina Jolie has a history of action films, beginning with a starring role in Gone in Sixty Seconds and continuing through films like the two Lara Croft movies, Mr and Mrs Smith and Wanted whilst displaying her thespian talents in Girl, Interrupted (for which she won an Oscar) and Changeling. The part of Evelyn Salt requires both from her, just as the two Tom Clancy adaptations required Harrison Ford to be both a great actor and someone who could handle himself in the action sequences.

    There is no question that Jolie has the physicality for the role and, as she has proved before, is capable of getting in tremendous shape for physically demanding roles and, when it comes to handling firearms and even unarmed combat, she is very convincing as a highly trained CIA agent who knows Muay Thai and can fashion a weapon out of office supplies. I'm not quite sure why, but my parents had extreme trouble believing that Angelina Jolie could outrun and beat up CIA agents whilst my brother and I spent a great deal of time pointing out that someone who is sufficiently well trained, fast and knows exactly where to hit can knock out anybody if they hit them with a well timed punch or kick. I was less convinced by the subtleties of her performance as she occasionally looked a little bored, flat and placid. This may be to do with Phillip Noyce's direction which called for her to be someone who is in complete control of her emotions and is able to suppress them to the extent that she is almost robotic but I would quite like someone who is on the run for their very life, thinks her husband is being held hostage and may be killed and knows a great deal about Russian terrorists to show a little emotion and tension.

    When it comes to the male roles of Winter and Peabody, you have they ever reliable and solid presence of Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejofor who can both act and come across as extremely skilled and powerful physical specimens who have both the intelligence and physicality that being a CIA operative would demand.

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    Acting aside, Phillip Noyce's direction is extremely well-planned, executed and finalised in post production with some tremendous cinematography, CGI effects and stunt work -- some of it by Jolie who, by most accounts, insisted on doing her own stunts even if it involved walking around on a ledge 12 floors up with only a thin wire preventing her from falling to her death! The editing is suitably frenetic with some extremely quick cuts and angle changes to make the action sequences as involving and effective as possible and it does help to take the edge off some of the more ludicrous aspects, Salt controlling a car by zapping the policeman in the driver's seat with tazer to make him push down on the accelerator being one example. Screenwriter Kurt Wimmer isn't exactly the best that the industry has to offer and has had a fairly mixed career, mixing films like The Thomas Crown Affair and Street Kings in with complete dross like Ultraviolet and Law Abiding Citizen and, whilst this is nowhere near the worst film he has ever penned, it isn't the best either.

    As Noyce says in one of the extra features, even though the Cold War is over with the War on Terror taking its place and Russia is no longer a behemoth of a country (that it was as the U.S.S.R.), it is still immensely powerful and something that is in some way alien and dangerous. Therefore, having the 'bad guys' as Russian still works and this could have been set in the 1960s or '70s and you would still have the same feeling about Russian spies within your society. It may be that this is due to their slightly dubious democracy system, the way journalists who speak out against the Russian treatment of people in Chechnya or the fact that Russia can basically turn out the lights in Europe because of their control of oil and gas pipelines but it is still a major player on the world stage.

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    Salt is a film that is spectacularly daft with strange and impromptu costume changes by the titular character who escapes from the CIA substation wearing only a bra, blouse and skirt (having used her knickers to cover a surveillance camera), dons a pair of trousers a bit later but then steals a 'Russian-style' hat and, the next time you see her, she has a complete outfit to match the hat, looking like someone from Doctor Zhivago! There are many scenes when you just need to put your brain on standby and throw logic out the window but others where it is an extremely well made thriller with fine performances and action sequences. It will never challenge the likes of The Bourne Supremacy (and The Bourne Ultimatum) or Casino Royale for the finest contemporary spy thriller ever made but it is still something that is eminently watchable as long as you don't take it too seriously.

    The Disc

    Extra Features
    In terms of sheer watching hours, this review has taken much longer than any other I can remember as there are three versions of the film, movieIQ, a Picture in Picture option and a commentary so, whereas a normal review requires one watch through the film and again with a commentary if there is one, this required me to watch the film five times! The three different versions have only minor differences with the endings providing the major differences. The Theatrical Version leaves the way open for a sequel which is firmly shut down in the Director's Cut which has a rather interesting voice over and the Extended Edition is completely different, finishing in Russia. It is worth checking the different versions out and there is an option to have an icon appear on the top corner of the screen when there is a difference from the theatrical version which helps.

    The commentary with Phillip Noyce is pretty good and informative as he explains the amount of research he had to do and how crowd scenes were inflated by using blow up dolls! He is a fairly enthusiastic and busy speaker so there is very little in the way of dead air and he is joined by the visual effects supervisor Robert Grasmere, for several scenes to explain what is real, what is digital and exactly how the process of marrying the two was achieved.

    I went through all of the featurettes before putting on the Spy Cam Picture in Picture option and was surprised and pleased to find that hardly anything was duplicated from the various featurettes and that the pop-up windows contains separate information which is new and exclusive to this option. There are interviews with members of the cast and crew, behind-the-scenes and rehearsal footage.

    The Ultimate Female Action Hero (8:05, SD) is basically a piece describing how great Angelina Jolie is to work with and how committed she is to a role, volunteering for stunts they didn't actually need doing and the lengths of training and preparation that she went through to do this, only two months after giving birth to twins. You have contributions from the likes of Phillip Noyce, stunt coordinator Simon Crane and Liev Schreiber.

    The Real Agents (12:33, SD) is a brief piece about real spies with contributions from former agents who talk about the sort of work they did, how they got into espionage and the more tricky situations they faced -- a female former CIA operative recalls taking her baby into a meeting with Yasser Arafat in which they were discussing security arrangements because she didn't have a babysitter only to find that the leader of the PLO took quite kindly to the infant and bounced it up and down on his knee! It is fascinating to get the point of view of real agents say can make your own mind up as to how realistic depictions of them are in feature films.

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    Spy Disguise: The Looks of Evelyn Salt (5:26, SD) features contributions from Phillip Noyce, Angelina Jolie, costume designer Sarah Edwards and make-up artists Colin G. Jamieson and Kazuhiro Tsuji who talk about the various costumes, hairstyles and make-up/prosthetic work that transforms Salt into a bloke at one point.

    The Modern Master of the Political Thriller: Phillip Noyce (9:15, SD) has one hell of a claim as its title given the superb work that Paul Greengrass has done with The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum, United 93 and Green Zone but, that niggle aside, he discusses how he became interested in the world of espionage and other members of the crew and cast talk about what he is like to work with (or for, depending on your point of view) and they all (unsurprisingly) speak about him in glowing terms saying what a perfectionist he is, his great demeanour on set and the lengths of detail he goes into to make a film as good as possible.

    False Identity: Creating The New Reality (7:14, SD) is a section principally with visual effects supervisor Robert Grasmere where he talks through the various CGI sections, why it was necessary to use digital effects, some are fairly obvious such as the impossibilities of shooting feature film in front of the White House, but others are done because they simply work better and necessitate the digital creation of a lift shaft. The sheer level of CGI and its detail is quite amazing these days and you only need to look back several years to see how bad some digital effects looked. Now you can create an entire building with trees, external walls and lights, removing the existing environment, and it is utterly believable in a process that doesn't cost the earth and could be done on a home computer.

    Salt Declassified (29:47, HD) is a pretty good making of that goes behind the scenes showing you exactly how various stunts were created, the scenes enacted in front of green screen but does seem like a made for TV puff piece as it goes through the plot and some basic details including interviews with Angelina Jolie, Phillip Noyce and Liev Schreiber in which they talk about the film and their character. Even know it isn't the greatest ever making of (the rear cover gives it the subtitle An Undercover Look at the Secrets of Making Salt), it is still quite watchable as a recap and look behind the scenes at how the film was made.

    'The Treatment': Radio interview with Phillip Noyce (27:12, SD) is an interview with an American radio station in which Phillip Noyce does a pretty good job at publicising the film and going over the synopsis without giving away any spoilers whilst the interviewer, Elvis Mitchell, gets him to talk about his career in general and practice of approaching fictional films with a journalistic eye. Sadly, there is no slideshow of behind the scenes photographs and publicity images whilst the interview is playing, just one photograph of Noyce, so you may want to switch your plasma/LCD off for the duration to avoid screen burn.

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    The Picture
    I only saw this in the cinema on August 26, 2010 (yes, I am so sad that I keep a database of everything I've watched, and when) so this is being released a little over three months after it began its theatrical run and, as you should expect from a modern blockbuster, the picture quality is outstanding. Considering the heavy use of CGI, it blends into the overall film extremely well and I was surprised at the number of scenes that employed CGI with some using it quite subtly whereas others were 90% digital. Some of it looks fake and is quite clearly digital whereas other bits are so well done that you don't realise that there is CGI.

    As for the quality, the 1080p picture is extraordinarily well presented with deep contrast levels, excellent colours and no instances of moiré, aliasing or DNR that I could see and it is an excellent picture that, as I've said, perfectly integrates the CGI into action sequences that are extremely impressive. The editing, by Stuart Baird and John Gilroy helps to make the action scenes as frenetic as possible and Robert Elswitt's cinematography is very good, making sure that everything that should be lit, is and everything that should be in focus is nice and sharp.

    As with most SPHE releases, this comes with a good selection of alternate audio tracks and subtitle options including an English audio descriptive track and English HoH/SDH subtitles to cater for the visually impaired and hard of hearing. Check the disc details section for the full list.

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    The Sound
    The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is suitably bombastic for a film like this, employing the front and rear surrounds extremely well with plenty of LFEs rumbling away during the action sequences when there is gunfire, car chases or explosions. With the surrounds busy with the atmospherics and action sound, the centre channel is mostly left free for the dialogue which is presented clearly and without any distortion or anything else to interfere with the lines the actors deliver.

    The score, by James Newton Howard, is pretty much the sort of thing you would expect from an action thriller which does its best to crank up the tension and emphasise the more emotional scenes and built up to an action sequence. It will never go down in history as one of the great cinematic scores but does its job well enough and is perfectly acceptable.

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    Final Thoughts
    If you don't take this at all seriously, Salt is an enjoyable piece of popcorn fluff that will hold your attention for the entire film, helped in part by a running time of 140 minutes. The film is very well made with a reasonable and plausible central performance by Angelina Jolie although it is still a far cry from the Bourne films in terms of the writing and direction. The package is extremely good with three different cuts of the film, plenty of extra features (which sadly aren't all in high definition) and very impressive AV quality.

    If you liked the film at the cinema then this is something to seriously consider buying but, if you haven't seen it, it is well worth a rental for a Saturday night piece of escapism.

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