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Unstoppable Blu-ray Review

Unstoppable (2010) movie poster Unstoppable

Theatrical Release: November 12, 2010 / Running Time: 98 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Tony Scott / Writer: Mark Bomback

Cast: Denzel Washington (Frank Barnes), Chris Pine (Will Colson), Rosario Dawson (Connie Hooper), Ethan Suplee (Dewey), Kevin Dunn (Oscar Galvin), Kevin Corrigan (Inspector Scott Werner), Kevin Chapman (Bunny), Lew Temple (Ned Oldham), T.J. Miller (Gilleece), Jessy Schram (Darcy Colson), David Warshofsky (Judd Stewart), Andy Umberger (Janeway), Elizabeth Mathis (Nicole Barnes), Meagan Tandy (Maya Barnes), Dylan L. Bruce (Michael Colson), Jeff Hochendoner (Clark), Ryan Ahern (Ryan Scott), Christopher Lee Philips (Baker), Kevin McClatchy (Hoffman)

Buy Unstoppable from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + Digital Copy DVD Video on Demand


By Aaron Wallace

Unstoppable doesn't waste any time. The premise is established within minutes of opening and the central story is already underway while there's still plenty of popcorn left in the bowl. The fast pace compliments the taut narrative,
which has a momentous story to tell in only a short amount of time... maybe just the right amount of time.

The plot summary reads like a fact pattern. As a result of employee error, a train is unmanned and out of control, hurtling at full speed toward a risky bend in a Pennsylvania railway. Runaway trains aren't uncommon, we're told, but this is a worst-case scenario.

The train's air breaks aren't connected. Eight of its cars are filled with some of the most explosive chemicals imaginable. That railway bend it's headed toward? It's surrounded by a giant oil depot that will light up the Eastern seaboard if there's a collision -- and there will be a collision if that train passes at more than twenty miles per hour. It's currently moving at more than seventy.

Every city the engine will pass is more populated than the last, and there's precious little time for evacuation. To make matters worse, there are other trains on the tracks too. One of them is hosting a field trip, which means its passengers are mostly schoolchildren.

The other important train on the path has only two men aboard: seasoned rail engineer Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington) and young conductor Will Colson (Chris Pine, Star Trek). The latter is new to his job and might have gotten it because of family connections. Barnes is skeptical of Colson's smooth sailing into the new gig, and the overconfident novice doesn't appreciate it one bit.

Headstrong Colson's stubbornness results in a small error that comes at a big price. Because of it, these two men are stranded as the locomotive's most likely victims. Their contentious relationship must be put aside if they're to live, and if they do that, they might have a shot at becoming heroes too.

All of the facts in Unstoppable come together in a perfect storm of misfortune. Not since Final Destination has Murphy's Law guided a film with such fatalism. And yet however unlikely it all seems, to the extent of what most of us know about trains, it all appears entirely possible too. For that matter, something quite like this did in fact happen once, and that true-life event, known as the "Crazy Eights" incident, inspired the film.

Rookie conductor Will Colson (Chris Pine) and veteran engineer Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington) are together called into action to stop the "Unstoppable" train.

This is a riveting experience, with not one second squandered on anything that doesn't keep you on the edge of your seat. At 98 minutes, it's a short movie, but it seems even shorter, flying by with the audience's rapt attention at full alert. Director Tony Scott and screenwriter Mark Bomback emerge as masters of narrative, hardly a consistent achievement for either of them in the past.

Probably the most interesting component of the movie is its signature storytelling device: the network news report. Countless journalists are live on location and following the train as the whole nation watches on in horror and suspense. Scott uses them for exposition and to build tension. Just like real reporters might, they fill us in on every little problem, both actual and potential, and frequently remind us of just how devastating the end result could be.

The news reports effectively make viewers forget that we're watching a movie. For big portions of the run, Scott makes us feel like we're watching a live news report instead, like this is actually happening and breaking live on TV. The film has that kind of urgency, and it's electrifying. News networks wish they had something this compelling to fill a 24-hour cycle.

Denzel Washington stars as a veteran locomotive engineer who helps devise an incredible plan to stop a runaway train and prevent certain disaster in a heavily-populated area. Chris Pine stars as a young train conductor who becomes an unexpected hero in "Unstoppable."

After an hour and a half, we've seen little more than an action movie. Unusually engrossing and satisfying, but still just an action movie. That doesn't mean there isn't depth. The characters are archetypal but their interactions totally believable. With just a minute or two devoted to backstory for each Frank and Will, the movie supplies enough to feel for their families when they find out what's going on, and more than enough to root for these two brave men to make it out of this okay.

The all-star cast also includes Rosario Dawson, Kevin Dunn, Ethan Suplee, and Kevin Corrigan. Each of them, our two leads and the various bit actors all deliver solid performances. I've often been critical of Washington's acting,
but while he's no different here than he has been in anything else, he fits his character's bill perfectly. All the drama comes from the action, which means this isn't exactly an actors' film, but they handle their work as if it is.

There's even a moral to the story, the one about sacrifice and heroism that we've heard plenty of times before. There's something refreshing about it, though, because the screenplay doesn't have to tell us who the heroes are. We see it for ourselves. I can recall the word being used twice but the movie simply won't slow down long enough for sentimentality. Neither Frank nor Will make any bones about the true motivation for their actions, which has more to do with saving their relationships with their estranged families than anything else. But we see the spark of heroics in them anyway, and then we hope we'd find it in ourselves too.

Unstoppable will change neither cinema nor your life. It isn't an important movie or necessarily a great one, but it's one of 2010's most finely made. Now it's available on both Blu-ray and DVD. For a deeper look at the Blu-ray, which also includes a digital copy, keep reading below.

Unstoppable Blu-ray + Digital Copy Combo cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
Blu-ray: DTS-HD MA 5.1 (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish, French, Portuguese)
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, Portuguese, Cantonese, Traditional Chinese
Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled or Captioned
Release Date: February 15, 2011
Two single-sided discs (1 BD-50 & 1 DVD-5 DVD-ROM)
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Blue keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($29.98 SRP) and On Demand

VIDEO and AUDIO

As expected, the 2.40:1 widescreen, 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer looks excellent. A great amount of contrast, a consistent and entirely welcome level of filmic grain, and deep and pronounced colors all make this a pleasing picture. Nearly the entire movie is set outside but that doesn't compromise the visuals. Scott makes the most of it, with a blue-heavy color palette that underscores the seriousness of the characters' dilemma. Details like rain specks on windows, tire tracks in the mud, and cracks in the seat leather all come through beautifully.

Unstoppable is a Best Sound Editing nominee at this year's Oscars, and the DTS-HD MA 5.1 track shows us why. Harry Gregson-Williams' score is forgettable but effective, and it comes through with fullness and clarity in this track. Same goes for the dialogue. But it's the sound effects that are the real winner here, and they sound entirely believable, dimensional, and immersive in this excellent audio mix.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

The bonus features add up to a hefty total runtime, but they're incredibly repetitive. You will hear the following two facts over and over again, often within the same supplement: (1) Director Tony Scott does not like "CG" for train movies and wanted to "make it real" and (2) Scott was so hooked on the screenplay that he read it in 90 minutes, even though he's quite a slow reader. Watching these bonus features, those two items are so engrained in my head that I doubt I'll ever forget them.

The only bonus feature you really need to watch is "The Fastest Track: Unleashing Unstoppable" (29:41, HD). This lengthy and informative making-of piece goes into greater depth than your average featurette.
While I wouldn't begin to complain that Fox included all the other extras I'm about to tell you about, none of them add all that much to the insight you get in this one.

There are two feature-length audio commentaries. Tony Scott is behind the microphone for the first one, where he goes on and on about his refusal to use CG. He also begins and ends with nearly verbatim rants about how most directors are full of you-know-what when they talk about their inspiration for making movies. Scott just wanted to make an action movie... and he wanted to "make it real."

The second commentary ("Tracking the Story: Unstoppable Script Development") is more an eavesdropping session, in which we get to hear Scott and screenwriter Mark Bomback work through an early draft of the screenplay. Their conversation mostly keeps pace with the movie, which makes this is a pretty cool idea. Unfortunately, the sound quality is muffled, and that makes it a challenge to stay attentive for more than thirty minutes or so. I also have to mention that even though Unstoppable is PG-13, Scott has a mouth on him that could make Scorsese blush. He's plenty profane in his solo commentary, but the F bombs in this track are absolutely relentless.

Then come the shorter featurettes. "Derailed: Anatomy of a Scene" (10:01, HD) looks at the movie's big train derailment scene, with a focus on how badly Scott wanted to "make it real." Then there's "Hanging Off the Train: Stunt Work" (14:25, HD). The stunt work deserves special attention, you see, because Scott had to make sure it looked absolutely real.

Get the point? If not, "On the Rails with the Director and the Cast" (13:25, HD) puts Washington, Pine, Dawson in a roundtable with Scott, where he explains to the actors that he simply couldn't settle for CG, he had to "make it real."

For variety's sake, Fox has thankfully included the film's theatrical trailer (2:26, HD) as well. I don't think it's a particularly good trailer, painting the movie as much cornier than it actually is. That might explain why the movie fell below the $100 million benchmark at the domestic box office despite glowing reviews and audience scores. Still, the inclusion of a theatrical trailer is always a good thing.

The Blu-ray includes a digital copy disc, as well as an explanatory video, "Digital Copy How-To" (3:35, HD). There's also a BD-Live platter, which has only one real exclusive: "Feeling the Heat - Unstoppable Pyrotechnics" (3:02). Things like this, a short and non-interactive featurette that could have just been on the disc instead, reveal BD-Live to be the gimmick that it is. At three minutes, this is nothing but a fluff piece and not worth the annoying amount of time it takes to load a BD-Live menu.

Of course, the usual Fox BD-Live offerings are here too: a "What's New" portal that samples supplements from other current Fox releases via the internet and the utterly pointless IMDb "Live Lookup" feature. There's also an option to download your digital copy via Wi-Fi using the pocket Blu app on your phone (assuming yours is compatible). Finally, BD-Live also repeats two of the disc's bonuses: "Hanging Off the Train" and the theatrical trailer.

The disc opens with an Ice Age-themed Digital Copy promo and trailers for Love and Other Drugs, Street Kings 2: Motor City, and 127 Hours. A sneak peeks menu adds an additional 5-minute preview reel with an FX commercial and ads for Machete, and Casino Jack.

The main menu screen is a simple montage of film clips set to the film's generic action score. The Blu-ray and digital copy discs are housed inside a standard blue keepcase with a digital copy insert inside. There's also a plain cardboard slipcover replicating the cover art.

Novice conductor Will Colson (Chris Pine) hangs on for the ride of his life, as he attempts to prevent a massive disaster.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

There's a lot of content on the Unstoppable Blu-ray, but only two items really need your attention. One is the movie, which is skillfully crafted to keep audiences engaged in its absorbing story. The other is a half-hour bonus feature that does a pretty decent job covering the making of the film. Everything else is overkill, but on the strength of those two alone, I recommend Fox's Blu-ray release, which serves up top-notch audio/video too.

More on the Blu-ray / Buy from Amazon.com / Buy on DVD / Rent/Buy Video on Demand

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Reviewed February 22, 2011.



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