SNEAKERS - DVD REVIEW
Universal Home Video // 1992 // Region 1 // US/Canada // 126 Minutes // Rated PG-13
DVD Release Date: June 3rd, 2003
Stars: Robert Redford, Sidney Poitier, Dan Aykroyd, David Strathairn, River Phoenix, Timothy Busfield
Writing Credits: Phil Alden Robinson, Lawrence Lasker, Walter F. Parkes
Director: Phil Alden Robinson
Reviewed by Mike McGee // June 4th, 2003
"You know, I could have been in the NSA, but they found out my parents were married."
Film Review (B+)
The NSA. The CIA. The Russians. Cryptology. Sounds like the makings of a heavy spy thriller. Well, not exactly. In Sneakers, Robert Redford plays Martin Bishop, an ex-hacker on the run from the law for some semi-harmless hacking he did in his younger days. While on the run, Martin creates a new identity and a new profession as a data security expert working with a ragtag team who helps exploit holes in the system. However, Martin's past begins to catch up with him, and his motley crew of security experts get involved with a Cryptology system that has them in over their heads.
This movie is highly entertaining. It's light, fun, and probably has more plot holes and technical flaws than an episode of Alias. However, just like Alias, Sneakers provides some highly memorable characters which elevate this film where others have failed. By not trying to be as heavy handed as other films such as The Net or Antitrust, Sneakers takes a more whimsical approach to the subject matter, and we happily get taken along for the ride.
This film also unites an eclectic group of misfits headed by the charming Robert Redford, which appear to be straight out of the TV show Mission Impossible. First up is Sidney Poitier's character of Donald Crease, the straight laced ex-CIA agent who's able to maintain a bit of order and respectability to the crew. Next is simply "Mother," played by Dan Aykroyd. He's a paranoid conspiracy nut who has opinions on virtually every controversial subject known to man, and loves expressing them. Next we have "Whistler," played perfectly by David Strathairn. Whister is has an acute sense of hearing due to his loss of sight. His ability, and more importantly his disability, offer one of the more entertaining scenes in the film involving their surveillance van. Next is Carl, played by River Phoenix. Carl is a bit of an odd, hyperactive computer geek who's out of place in the real world but seems to fit perfectly in this odd mix. Rounding out the crew is Mary McDonnell's character of Liz, a former love interest of Martin's who provides some stability and outside perspective to these misfits.
The villain in this picture is played by accredited award winning actor Ben Kingsley. Kingsley plays another former hacker named "Cosmo" who becomes disillusioned with society, and has plans to disrupt the system in monumental ways. Cosmo and Martin were originally friends, and the film takes on a bit of a Superman/Lex Luthor feel, where their paths have now changed, yet there is still an underlying friendship between the two. There's even a small role from the always interesting Donal Logue who plays Dr. Gunter Janek, an eccentric cryptology mastermind who uses his skills to break some of more complex codes in existence.
It's a fun popcorn film about computer nerds that can be watched over and over. Selfishly, I have an even greater appreciation for this film because it was filmed in my location. We get to see some beautiful shots of the San Francisco Bay Area, and the bridges here even play nicely into the storyline. Their "lair" is also filmed in the now abandoned Fox Theater in downtown Oakland. Thus, I had to love it! This film is clever, yet doesn't take itself too seriously, and the cast has great chemistry together. It's great fun!
Video Quality (B+)
Video: Widescreen (1.85:1)
Enhanced for 16x9: YES
It should be noted that this review is for the new collector's edition. Primarily, this DVD hosts a new enhanced widescreen transfer of the film. The result? A much better picture. The new transfer on this DVD release is beautiful for a catalog release. There's very little film grain and the overall detail is excellent. Colors appear a tad muted and flesh tones can appear somewhat orange at times, but it's not a major issue. Black levels look good, and there is quality detail in the darker interior scenes as well. Very nice transfer that will please fans, and improves over the previous release.
Audio Quality (A-)
Audio: English (Dolby Surround 2.0), French (Dolby Surround 2.0), Spanish (Dolby Surround 2.0)
Subtitles: English (for the hearing impaired), French, Spanish
This is an exceptional audio mix. Much like Universal's re-release of Midnight Run, this is not remastered for 5.1, but it's a another example of a DVD which sounds excellent in a 2.0 surround mix setting. The dialogue is clear, and ambient sounds all sound superb. The clever score produces a theater-like experience. The music fulfills the complex task of producing a whimsical atmosphere at times, while also exuding the fast-paced momentum of a thriller. Very nice.
DVD Extras (A-)
Commentary: (Writer/Director Phil Alden Robinson, Writers Lawrence Lasker and Walter F. Parkes)
Making of Sneakers (Video 4:3)
Theatrical Trailer (Video 4:3; Letterboxed)
It's odd that the back of this DVD only makes reference to the Director providing commentary. That's not true. We're actually lucky to have not only the Director, but the other writers included as well with in this commentary. This commentary is a computer geek's paradise. Lucky, I am a computer geek. Any commentary track that mentions downloading a shareware anagram application to create the title sequence lets you know that these guys are geeks as well. Writer/Director Phil Alden Robinson is quite sharp and fills us in on some interesting background information of the filming.
Since all the writers are present, it's quite fascinating to hear about the progression of the various drafts of the script, and what finally materialized on screen. Speaking from the perspective of the writing staff, their commentary pinpoints minor lines and nuances in the script that provide greater detail to the story as a whole. It all works. The commentary is both entertaining and enlightening. Fans of the film will really enjoy this commentary.
Making of Sneakers.
This really is one of the more entertaining "Making Of" featurettes I've run across. Since this was a catalog title, I was expecting this segment to be nothing more than the typical "extended trailer" created for marketing purposes. However, it includes vintage interviews from the writing staff, as well as fairly recent recap interviews with Writer/Director Phil Alden Robinson and Writers Lawrence Lasker and Walter F. Parkes. The conversations here are enlightening into the evolution of the Sneakers script and how it took a process of nearly ten years and multiple major studios to finally get this film made. Created originally as a side project while researching the script for War Games, Sneakers evolved into an equally interesting project worthy of its own film. You really get a sense that these guys know their hacker/cracker history, and the segment even includes an interview with legendary Phone Phreak John Draper, a.k.a. "Captain Crunch." This is an excellent addition to the DVD. Running time: 40:00.
Letterboxed for the standard TV ratio, this trailer is quite funny and highlights some of the more amusing elements in Sneakers. It ends as more of a thriller, and much like the film itself, it's hard to classify. We also get to see the name and titles in a Commodore 64 type font. Nice. Running time: 2:50.
This is a single-menu page showing some other films that Universal thinks you might enjoy. It's simply the cover art images to Field of Dreams (also directed by Phil Alden Robinson), Spy Game starring Robert Redford, and The Sting.
I must admit, this film is a guilty pleasure of mine. Are there plot holes? Sure. Are there technological issues that are glossed over? Yes. Is the film entertaining despite all of this? Absolutely. This is an odd movie to pin down. It's a bit of a caper movie similar to Oceans Eleven or Kelly's Heroes, where each amusing character has a specific job or function, and it's simply fun to watch them work. With an extremely odd cast, believe it or not, they actually work well together. It's a popcorn movie with funny lines and interesting scenarios which are worthy of repeat viewings. It's highly recommended.
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