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Unstoppable (Blu-ray Review)

2 Mar, 2011 By: John Latchem

Box Office $81.5 million
$29.98 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of action and peril, and some language.
Stars Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson, Kevin Dunn, Ethan Suplee.

Tony Scott’s latest thriller proves you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to create an effective and engrossing film.

The premise is simple enough. A mishap at a train yard in Northern Pennsylvania leaves a half-mile-long train loaded with toxic chemicals barreling through the state at a high-rate of speed, threatening to derail in a highly populated town. The story is based on a real incident involving an unmanned train speeding through Ohio in 2001, though without as much collateral damage as on display here.

Scott quickly and efficiently sets the plot into motion through “an unfortunate combination of human error and bad luck,” as described by Connie Hooper (Rosario Dawson), who’s in charge of the yard that let the train get loose.

The situation is quickly assessed at the corporate level in one of those scenes where stereotypical greedy executive types ignore the judgment of their experts and base their decisions solely on profit, which in movie terms means everything they do will fail.

As the train picks up momentum toward what is destined to be the worst train disaster in history, the only hope turns out to be a couple of working-class engineers who happen to be running freight on the same line. They’re played by Chris Pine (best known as Capt. Kirk in the Star Trek reboot) and the always dependable Denzel Washington, which in movie terms means whatever they try, however improbable other characters say it will be, will probably work.

Pine and Washington display a winning chemistry that is really what carries the film and gives the audience a rooting interest in the inevitable finale. The screenplay gives the audience just enough information to keep up, while Scott’s direction, while overly reliant on sweeping camera moves and rapid cuts, keeps the pace moving as quickly as the runaway train at the heart of the story.

The film’s look isn’t as sharp as one might expect from a new Blu-ray, but offers a gritty feel appropriate to its blue collar Pennsylvania exteriors. This is a film that makes good use of its location work and relies more on practical effects and stuntwork than CGI.

In one of the Blu-ray exclusive featurettes, “Derailed: Anatomy of a Scene,” which focuses on a key sequence in the middle of the movie, Scott puts forth the notion that the film might be the first production to set up an actual derailment.

Other featurettes exclusive to the Blu-ray include “Hanging Off the Train: Stunt Work” and “On the Rails With the Director and Cast,” which is a roundtable discussion between Scott, Washington, Pine and Dawson.

The primary featurette is the half-hour making-of program “The Fastest Track: Unleashing Unstoppable,” available on both the DVD and Blu-ray. The extras were produced by Charles de Lauzirika, so you know you’re in good hands.

The only other extra common to the DVD and Blu-ray is Scott’s commentary, in which he discusses his technical process a lot but also spends a lot of time recapping the film. A bit more insightful is the Blu-ray’s “Tracking the Story: Unstoppable Script Development,” an alternate audio track of the writing sessions between Scott and screenwriter Mark Bomback.

The Blu-ray also includes some BD Live exclusives, such as the Live Lookup mode and the featurette “Feeling the Heat: Unstoppable Pyrotechnics,” available via streaming or download.

About the Author: John Latchem

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