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Release Date: August 15th, 2006
Movie Release Year: 2005
Release Country: United States
COLLAPSE INFO -

Unleashed (Combo Edition)

Review Date August 14th, 2006 by
OVERALL
Give It a Rent
  • TECH SPECS & RELEASE DETAILS
    Technical Specs: HD DVD/DVD
    HD-15/DVD-9 Double-Sided Combo Disc
    Video Resolution/Codec: 1080p/VC-1
    480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only)
    Length:102
    Release Country:United States
    Aspect Ratio(s):2.35:1
    English Descriptive Audio: English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround
    English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
    English DTS 5.1 Surround
    Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround
    Subtitles/Captions: English SDH
    French Subtitles
    Spanish Subtitles
    Special Features: 2 Featurettes
    2 Music Videos
    Movie Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
    Release Date: August 15th, 2006

Story Review Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

2.5 Stars out of 5

'Unleashed' is nothing if not unusual -- the original title of the film outside of the U.S. was 'Danny the Dog,' and that just about sums it up. Jet Li stars as a man raised as a canine (complete with hi-tech dog collar around his neck) and trained to be the ultimate fighting machine. Bob Hoskins co-stars as his spit-spewing, scene-chewing captor, along with Morgan Freeman as a blind piano teacher slash Mr. Miyagi mentor.

Released theatrically in 2005, it seems no one quite knew what to make of 'Unleashed.' Its plot is obviously absurd, but it never quite crosses over to 'Showgirls'-style camp; meanwhile, by focusing more on its dramatic elements than on pure action, the film failed to a score a lasting appeal with what should have been its core audience of die-hard action fans.

But while 'Unleashed' may be something of a rudderless production, it's not one without its positive attributes.

The first, and most obvious is Jet Li himself. Though he's displayed a remarkable, riveting intensity in such epics as 'Hero,' 'Romeo Must Die' and 'Kiss of the Dragon,' Li has largely suffered in the US from the misconception that he is little more than a humorless Jackie Chan. 'Unleashed' is perhaps Li's finest work to date, as he grounds what could have easily been a completely ridiculous character with a genuine pathos that's made all the more impressive by his extremely limited use of dialogue in the film, leaving only his physical mannerisms and facial expressions to do the talking.

And while the film may disappoint action fans who demand non-stop pyrotechnics, 'Unleashed' does boast a couple of impressive, over-the-top sequences that truly stretch the boundaries of genre -- the film's opening five minutes set the bar from the get-go, with Li's virtuoso choreography and pure physicality always a wonder to behold. (Even when I could scarcely believe what was happening onscreen, I was never less than riveted by Li's amazing abilities.)

Of course, none of these factors make 'Unleashed' a great film (or even a good one), but to its credit, at least it's different, and I'd much rather praise a film that aims high and misses than one that shoots for the lowest common denominator and scores. So if you are looking for a more unusual example of the martial arts/action genre, 'Unleashed' might be worth a try. Just remember: you've been warned.

  • TECH SPECS & RELEASE DETAILS
    Technical Specs:
    HD DVD/DVD
    HD-15/DVD-9 Double-Sided Combo Disc
    Video Resolution/Codec:
    1080p/VC-1
    480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only)
    Length:102
    Release Country:United States
    Aspect Ratio(s):
    2.35:1
    Audio Formats:
    English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround
    English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
    English DTS 5.1 Surround
    Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround
    Subtitles/Captions:
    English SDH
    French Subtitles
    Spanish Subtitles
    Special Features:
    2 Featurettes
    2 Music Videos
    Movie Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
    Release Date: August 15th, 2006

Video Review

4 Stars out of 5

'Unleashed' gets a very pleasing 2.35:1 widescreen transfer on HD DVD, presented in 1080p video using the VC-1 compression codec. It is a nice improvement over the standard DVD version, with superior detail and bolder colors (it's easy to compare the two for yourself with just a quick flip of the disc, as this is one of Universal's first HD DVD/DVD combo releases).

Matching its unusual premise, 'Unleashed' also boasts an interesting visual aesthetic. The dominant colors are an acidic yellow and a rich cyan, which makes for a consistently eye-popping picture. Sure, the image is rather blown-out with blazing whites, and mid-tones somewhat compressed to give an intentionally somber, confined look, but I liked how colors are very vibrant and unreal, yet not too processed to cause smearing, noise or a loss of detail. Despite its many obstacles, this transfer manages to retain a sharp and three-dimensional look, with fine details visible even in long shots and in the darkest scenes. The film's frequent bursts of fast-cut action also pose no compression problems, nor any noticeable instances of artifacts, blocking or pixelization. Again, a very solid, eye-popping transfer all around.

Audio Review

4 Stars out of 5

'Unleashed' also sounds quite good on HD DVD, sporting a new Dolby Digital-Plus track that bests the previous DVD release handedly. (Note that the HD DVD version was announced as having a DTS track, but it is a bit of a cheat, as it's only included on the DVD side of this combo disc.)

Comparing the HD DVD Dolby Digital-Plus track to the Dolby Digital and DTS mixes on the DVD side, most noticeable is that sounds are more distinct on the HD DVD side, and that dialogue is no longer overwhelmed by the bass. The DTS especially felt too thumpy, while the Dolby Digital-Plus has a richer mid- and high-range that gives the track considerable pop. Surrounds also boast fuller discrete action on the HD DVD's Dolby Digital-Plus track -- imaging was more transparent between channels, and subtle atmospherics came through with more clarity. However, the film's sound design remains a bit spotty with action scenes benefiting from a nice 360-degree soundfield but everything else paling in comparison. Also distracting to me (although common to martial arts soundtracks), any sound effect relating to a karate move or crunching bones is so obviously pumped up in the mix that it becomes rather humorous. But if you are a fan of the genre, you probably wouldn't have it any other way.

Special Features

1.5 Stars out of 5

Alongside 'National Lampoon's Animal House,' 'Unleashed' is one of Universal's two initial HD DVD/DVD combo releases, and alas, the studio gives short thrift to HD DVD users on both. All of the extras on 'Unleashed' can only be accessed on the DVD side of the platter, and I'm over it already. Although given the fact that the supplements here are pretty anemic anyway, you won't be missing much if you don't bother to get up and flip over the disc.

First up is the formulaic "The Collar Comes Off: Behind the Scenes of "Unleashed.'" This is your basic making-of EPK, featuring director Louis Leterrier, Jet Li and Bob Hoskins discussing the movie. Running 13 minutes, this one's so overstocked with film clips tht the interview bits probably add up to three minutes tops. Even more worthless is "Director Louis Leterrier: 'Unleashed.'" This one only runs five minutes, and Leterrier says absolutely nothing of interest other than how great the cast was, and isn't Jet Li a kick-ass martial artist. (Strangely, a third featurette that appeared on the previous standard DVD release, called "Serve No Master," is not included here, although it too wasn't very good, so don't lose any sleep over it.)

The only other extras are two music videos, for The RZA's "Unleash Me" and Massive Attack's "Atta Boy." And as is par for the course for Universal these days, no theatrical trailers are included.

But by far the most unfortunate omission on this disc is the the unrated and extended cut that was previously released on standar-def DVD. Why it's not included here -- even just on the DVD side -- is a real mystery. I've come to expect that all HD DVD releases include the same extras as their standard DVD counterparts, so I really hope this undernourished release is just an aberration on Universal's part and not the start of a trend.

Final Thoughts

While Jet Li gives a surprisingly emotional performance, 'Unleashed' is a strange movie that's probably destined to languish on the back shelf of a video store. Universal has produced a nice transfer and soundtrack for this one, although the extras are fairly slim. I also have to say I'm getting quite annoyed with the shoddy treatment the HD versions are getting on these HD DVD/DVD combo discs -- why no extras on the HD DVD side? And where's the unrated extended edition? Hrumph!

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  • Editors Note

    Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.

  • TECH SPECS & RELEASE DETAILS
    Technical Specs:
    HD DVD/DVD
    HD-15/DVD-9 Double-Sided Combo Disc
    Video Resolution/Codec:
    1080p/VC-1
    480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only)
    Length:102
    Release Country:United States
    Aspect Ratio(s):
    2.35:1
    Audio Formats:
    English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround
    English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
    English DTS 5.1 Surround
    Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround
    Subtitles/Captions:
    English SDH
    French Subtitles
    Spanish Subtitles
    Special Features:
    2 Featurettes
    2 Music Videos
    Movie Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
    Release Date: August 15th, 2006