Review for Heat (Director's Definitive Edition)
Once again, if you want to own a Twentieth Century Fox title on disc, buy it now. Don’t hesitate. It took Disney about a year after buying the company to rebrand it to Twentieth Century Pictures to distance it from any possible Murdoch controversy, but it seems that they started early on getting rid of any links to the past. Most Fox discs are apparently being allowed to go out of print, and with Disney notoriously stingy coming to their own back catalogue, they may be reluctant to reissue old Fox movies and TV shows under the new Twentieth Century Pictures label, when they can monetise and control them on their streaming services instead. Besides, some titles may not fit in under the Disney brand. I can’t see them releasing Heat for example (maybe it will revert to Warner who originally released it).
Heat is an odd title for me. It’s a film that just hasn’t been good value for money. I first saw it in the cinema on the week of release and I loved it. I had to own the movie, and I got it on VHS. I watched it once, and I loved it. Then someone invented DVD, and I got a player, and one of the first videos I wanted to double dip on was Heat. I watched it once, and I loved it. It must be the run time. There’s something about long films that just makes me reluctant to revisit them; finding a three hour chunk of time free to devote to a film gets harder and harder. But damn it, I wanted to watch Heat in high definition, and I had to place an order to import the German release. Maybe I’ll watch this disc more than once...
Neil McCauley leads a crew of thieves pulling off high stakes thefts in Los Angeles. Professional, resourceful and highly organised, they come to the attention of the police when a security van heist gets out of hand as they have to draft in a temporary member. Lt. Vincent Hanna leads robbery-homicide as they pursue this crew, and his dogged determination and devotion to the job puts a strain on his marriage. McCauley has a policy of not forming any attachments that he couldn’t sever and walk away from in 30 seconds if he feels the Heat around the corner, but as they plan a massive bank job, he meets a woman...
The original Warner Blu-ray for Heat has been around for some 11 years, but this is the Director’s Definitive Edition from 2017, which got the re-mastering that fans had long demanded. The results are something of a mixed bag. The film gets a 2.40:1 widescreen 1080p presentation on this disc, with DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English, 1.0 mono Portuguese and DTS 5.1 Surround German, Spanish and French, with subtitles in these languages plus Dutch, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, Bulgarian and Chinese. The image is clear and sharp, detail levels are great, and the film is stable, free of age or print damage. One of the big aspects of the film was the use of the night time city-scapes, and the effect is really good in high definition. But, the film does feel as if a little too much in the way of post-processing has been applied, a touch a DNR here, some static grain there, and maybe a smidge of colour timing making the skin-tones feel just a little orange. I have no nits to pick with the audio though, an excellent surround track that is truly immersive, with a carefully designed soundstage, subtle and understated when it needs to be, thunderous and jarring when the action demands it. The dialogue is clear and audible throughout, but there are a couple of lip sync issues where there’s ADR, and apparently Michael Mann has been tinkering for this definitive edition, and there have been dialogue changes from the theatrical version.
You get one disc in a thin BD Amaray in this German release. The disc has Disc 1 printed on it, implying a Disc 2, and sure enough, you can buy a 2-disc release of The Director’s Definitive Edition, which has three hours of featurettes, filmmaker panels, and deleted scenes on the second disc. I went low budget this time, as I really only wanted to see the movie, and this vanilla disc boots to an animated menu.
The sole extra is the audio commentary from director Michael Mann, and it’s a nice, informative track.
When you see a 170 minutes runtime listed on the back of a case, it can be a daunting prospect, but sitting down in front of Heat for 170 minutes is just so easy. The time just flies by. Heat still is an epic crime thriller, one of the best, if not the best crime thrillers of the 1990s. It’s still just as effective a film today, a gripping drama that holds the attention from beginning to end.
At its core, Heat is a heist movie, with ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’. The police chase the robbers, and the robbers try to get away with their ill gotten goods. The stakes are high, and the thefts are intricate and well planned, while the police have to put in some serious legwork and use their smarts to keep up with the thieves. But this is the least of Heat. What elevates this film, and justifies its run time is that it’s a character study as well, mostly of the two leads, DeNiro’s Neil McCauley, and Pacino’s Vincent Hanna. They are both flawed characters, and in many ways both driven by greed.
You’d expect that of a thief, but McCauley’s greed is less about the take, which is always pre-planned and timed down to the second, so they get only what they want, and don’t stop for opportunistic bonuses, it’s more about having it all. Despite what he says about being ready to walk away at a moment’s notice, he gets into a relationship, and if he feels he’s been wronged, he’s unable to not right that wrong. That seed is sown at the start of the film, when his crew has to bring in another guy at short notice, and Waingro turns out to be the loose cannon that almost wrecks their plan, and who by doing so brings down the Heat in a way that they’d rather not have.
Vincent Hanna’s greed is that he wants to be the successful, over-achieving cop, and have a happy home life as well. That’s clearly impossible, and the strain on his marriage is quickly made apparent. You can see his point that making pillow talk about his day at work, about murder victims and the human detritus that he has to deal with would be something to avoid, but that doesn’t leave much to talk about for someone who’s working the job 24/7.
The thing that really still strikes me about Heat is the realism, and not just when it comes to the action. This is a film where explosions are understated, maybe blowing out a few windows instead of erupting in giant CG fireballs, and the gun fights are jarring in the noise, and the random nature of them. The victims are usually innocent bystanders caught in the wrong place. This isn’t a movie where the hero’s gun gets more LFE than everyone else’s.
But again, it’s really with the characters that the realism is felt. They all feel like full, rounded people. Many of Neil’s crew are family men, they love their families, they talk about random, normal stuff, and not in that lyrical way that Tarantino characters do; they are just ordinary. Neil is the odd one out in that he lacks attachments, tends to avoid people, and doesn’t even have furniture in his house. It’s telling that Eady talks to him first, and his first reaction is suspicion.
The same is true, to a lesser degree for the police unit chasing them. They too have lives outside their work, and we do get a glimpse of that, although in this regard the emphasis is more on Vincent Hanna’s disaster area home life. Most importantly though, Heat never glamorises the thieves, and it’s clear from the opening of the film that, while they may be normal, everyday people in all other aspects of their lives, they are also cold-blooded murderers. That might lead to a sense of ambivalence towards the end of the film, where you might feel invested in certain characters, feel their actions are justified. It’s a good film that makes you question your preconceptions and sensibilities.
If you just want to watch Heat (and your Internet connection isn’t good enough), then this single disc Blu-ray release from Germany is ideal, but if you want extras, the two disc version is the one to go for. Then again, the Director’s Definitive Edition does tweak the visual transfer a little bit much to my liking, and you might want the original Warner Blu-ray instead, with the older transfer.