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The Walk: Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + Digital HD Review

The Walk (2015) movie poster The Walk

Theatrical Release: September 30, 2015 / Running Time: 123 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Robert Zemeckis / Writers: Robert Zemeckis, Christopher Browne (screenplay); Philippe Petit (book To Reach the Clouds)

Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Philippe Petit), Ben Kingsley (Papa Rudy), Charlotte Le Bon (Annie Allix), James Badge Dale (Jean-Pierre/J.P.), Clément Sibony (Jean-Louis), César Domboy (Jeff/Jean-Francois), Benedict Samuel (David), Ben Schwartz (Albert), Steve Valentine (Barry Greenhouse)

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With films like Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, and Cast Away, Robert Zemeckis has told some of cinema's most enduring, iconic, and moving stories. What Zemeckis has never before done is tell a true story.
He does that in The Walk, bringing to the screen in IMAX 3D no less an incident you may well have learned about from Man on Wire, 2008's Academy Award winner for Best Documentary.

Familiarity with the subject -- Philippe Petit's daring and illegal 1974 tightrope walk between the tops of the Twin Towers -- might seem an obstacle to Zemeckis' often visceral and exciting brand of filmmaking. It's not, though, because this is one of those "too good to be true" tales perfectly suited for a narrative feature film and one helmed by a maestro of visual effects and other technical facets.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt adopts an unfashionable hairdo and a French accent to play Petit, who describes his fascination with the high wire beginning on a circus visit at age 8. Philippe ties some ropes between two trees, eventually getting down to just a single one that he can comfortably sashay across. Though this early sequence feels like it could be the start of a standard issue biopic, The Walk quickly shakes that feeling.

In "The Walk", Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) tells his remarkable story from the torch of the Statue of Liberty, overlooking the Twin Towers.

Philippe, narrating his story from atop the Statue of Liberty with the World Trade Center in glorious view behind him, tells of his success as a silent Paris street performer, his act of juggling, unicycling, and the like attracting enthusiastic crowds. Some of those crowds are taken from Annie Allix (Charlotte Le Bon of The Hundred-Foot Journey), a singer who becomes Philippe's first accomplice and first to know of his dream to walk on a wire suspended between the tops of the world's biggest buildings, those two 110-story skyscrapers of Lower Manhattan.

Mentored by Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley), the multilingual patriarch of a family of tightrope walkers, Philippe finds further accomplices in a photographer (Clément Sibony), an electronics store owner (James Badge Dale, resuming the scene-stealer duties he briefly held in Zemeckis' Flight), a life insurance salesman who works high in one of the towers (Steve Valentine), and a couple of iffy allies ("Parks & Rec"'s Ben Schwartz and, comic relief, Benedict Samuel).

Despite the title, the movie spends a lot of time on the build-up to the big walk. Philippe and his supporters make friends, research the towers, and hatch an elaborate plan that hinges on getting a lot of supplies all the way to the roof of one of the towers.

Jean-Louis (Clément Sibony) photographs Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) performing a low tightrope walk early in his career.

Though the outcome isn't in doubt if you've seen Man on Wire or recognize what makes for the kind of movie that would be released to thousands of theaters,
The Walk still puts you on edge and maintains a tight grip. The prospect of moving 140 feet across a 2"-thick metal wire over 1,300 feet in the air is breathtaking and terrifying in theory. You can bet that Zemeckis and his seasoned crew, from long-time collaborators (editor Jeremiah O'Driscoll) to new ones (Polish cinematographer Dariusz Wolski), do everything in their powers to make that experience palpable and cinematic.

Gladly, the team keeps this from being pure spectacle or a gimmick that lives and dies with your ability to see this on a giant or slightly larger IMAX screen in 3D (premium formats were the film's exclusive home for nine days). The screenplay, which Zemeckis wrote with his mocap technician Christopher Browne, is full of humanity. It also maintains an appropriate amount of humor that befits both its hero and the charismatic actor portraying him. The Walk has the feel of a heist movie, which serves it well. It doesn't push the period setting too hard (a use and reprise of Sly & The Family Stone's "I Want to Take You Higher" seem a touch on the nose), but it does a good job of recreating the not so distant past (one prominent Sony logo notwithstanding) with tactful costuming and facial hair plus a well-assembled international cast bigger on talent than fame.

The film even finds the right note on which to end, neither ignoring nor exploiting the specter of 9/11 that obviously hangs over the entirety. This probably could have been made in the 1970s with matte paintings and Irwin Allen producing, but you're glad it's instead coming now, when filmmakers are able to make it all look entirely real and these unforgettable buildings can be seen and appreciated again with the dramatic and historic weight they will forever hold.

Gordon-Levitt's adult career has been so productive that it's easy to forget he is one of the rare actors to make it from child stardom. His leading man powers are on full display as he performs a more extreme characterization than you might expect for the wide release Hollywood version of this tale. Zemeckis has always done a spectacular job of hanging on to artistic credibility while making movies for the popcorn-eating masses of the multiplexes. This one is no exception. It's a dynamite piece of entertainment that also happens to be fulfilling, enriching, and striking as art.

Philippe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) simultaneously charms and annoys his fellow French street performer, musician Annie Allix (Charlotte Le Bon).

With his varied hits, Zemeckis is one of the most commercially successful filmmakers of all time. Despite that tradition of crowd-pleasing, The Walk completely failed to find an audience in theaters. You can place some blame on the decision to open this as an IMAX exclusive for nine days before opening nationwide. Neither debut impressed and by its third weekend, moviegoer interest in the film was virtually nonexistent. The Walk finished with a domestic gross of just $10.1 million, making it by far the biggest flop of Zemeckis' directing career (though much less costly than the mocap family film Mars Needs Moms that he produced) and one of the biggest financial disappointments of the year.

The public's apathy definitely and inevitably seems to factor in The Walk's modest awards season prospects. I maintain some hope that the film is recognized in some of the
Academy's technical categories (the score by Alan Silvestri, a mix of whimsy and awe, seems especially worthy of recognition), including Visual Effects and Cinematography. But I would not be surprised if it is outright shut out when the nominees are announced on January 14th.

The Walk's PG rating is a bit surprising and puzzling. The MPAA has largely reserved that second-tamest label for most new animated films. The Walk earns it even with some language, a little bit of nudity, and a drug reference, spawning the longest ratings description I've ever seen. (Interestingly, the documentary received a PG-13 for some of those same elements.) This is not a family film, but it's one that most kids should be okay watching. To compare it to past fall releases, it's more like Life of Pi than Hugo (despite Kingsley playing another Papa in France), though it will not dominate the Oscars' technical categories like those fellow auteur-steered 3D productions both did.

The Walk hits stores today in a single-disc DVD, a Blu-ray + Digital HD edition, and the two-disc Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + Digital HD set reviewed here.

The Walk: Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + Digital HD combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray 3D & Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English, Portuguese), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, Thai, Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, Cantonese, Chinese Simplified, Chinese Traditional, French, Indonesian, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Thai
Extras Subtitled in English, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Thai
Release Date: January 5, 2016
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50s)
Suggested Retail Price: $40.99
Clear Keepcase with Side Snap in Lenticular Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone Blu-ray ($34.99 SRP), DVD ($30.99 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Between Robert Zemeckis' technical virtuosity and Sony's digital prowess, you can bet The Walk looks exquisite on Blu-ray. The film's dazzling effects-enabled compositions are razor-sharp and crystal clear. Meanwhile, the 5.1 DTS-HD master audio mix does a fine job of distributing sounds, period songs, and Silvestri's appealing score.

Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley) coaches Philippe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in this deleted scene. The real Philippe Petit advises Joseph Gordon-Levitt in "First Steps."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Relegated to the standard Blu-ray, the all-HD bonus features begin with a section of seven short deleted scenes (5:44). Viewable individually and as a group, these include the film's original opening (with unfinished VFX)

and a bunch of smaller snippets including Philippe with Papa Rudy and Annie and J.P. watching Philippe from the street.

"First Steps: Learning to Walk the Wire" (9:11) details Joseph Gordon-Levitt's training by the real Philippe Petit. Priceless training footage and idea exchange is complemented by remarks from the director, the star, and Petit.

"Pillars of Support" (8:27) explores Philippe's team, considering the supporting characters and the actors playing them.

"The Amazing Walk" (10:48) focuses on the titular act, both in real life and as the film's effects-laden arresting climax.

The Blu-ray opens with trailers for Aloha, Ricki and the Flash, Concussion and Risen. The same four items repeat from the menu's "Previews" listing, while The Walk's trailer is sadly nowhere to be found here. The Blu-ray 3D contains 3D trailers for Goosebumps and Hotel Transylvania 2.

Making listings a bit difficult to read, the scored, static menu simply retools the poster art that has been recycled for the cover art. As always, Sony equips the discs to support bookmarking and resume playback wherever you may have left off.

The clear, thin side-snapped keepcase is topped by a creative lenticular slipcover (whose Rotten Tomatoes certified fresh sticker gladly comes right off) that moves Philippe along the wire. Joining the two full-color discs inside, we find an insert for the Digital HD with UltraViolet (whose code doubles for Sony Movie Rewards points) and another promoting The Walk VR Experience and other Sony Blu-rays.

Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) makes his incredible walk on a tightrope strung between the tops of the Twin Towers.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Walk remains one of my favorite films of 2015 and the one I am most compelled to recommend in light of the tiny audience it has found. Entertaining, inspiring, technically dazzling, and just plain fun, this movie is one that should appeal to most viewers, even if they didn't realize it.

Sony's Blu-ray 3D edition shows off the film's top-notch technical facets and adds some good extras to boot. This is a highly recommended release.

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Charlotte Le Bon: The Hundred-Foot Journey | Ben Kingsley: HugoIron Man 3
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Reviewed January 5, 2016.



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