'Out of Sight' was, at the time of its original theatrical release in 1998, a movie I just didn't want to see. I figured it was going to be just another smug, too-ironic-for-its-own-good rip-off of 'Pulp Fiction' and 'Get Shorty.' Turns out, when I finally did get around to seeing the film on video, I was completely wrong. 'Out of Sight' remains not only one of the only films that came out of the '90s crime caper boom that I actually liked, but one that -- dare I say it -- is more genuine, smart, sexy and hard-boiled than anything Quentin Tarantino ever made.
George Clooney stars as career criminal Jack Foley. After Foley busts out of prison with the help of his old pal Buddy Bragg (Ving Rhames), they set their sights on pulling off one last score by robbing rich tycoon Richard Ripley (Albert Brooks). But FBI agent and Foley hostage Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez) has other ideas. As the three head to Detroit to pull off the heist, Sisco begins to find her attraction to Foley is getting in the way of her moral obligations as a U.S. marshal. Will Karen turn Jack in, or risk it all for love?
'Out of Sight' has all the elements of a film I shouldn't like. There is the tired plot of the thief with a heart of gold, trying to go straight after one last heist. There's the obligatory love interest with conflicting emotions, who is never sure whether she should give our hero the tongue, or lash him with a whip. And then there is the uber-hip dialogue, the ugly violence-as-sight gag humor, and the over-the-top celebrity cameos played more for the enjoyment of the filmmakers than the audience. Yet what so elevates 'Out of Sight' above just another 'Get Shorty'-like pastiche of cliches and conventions is that director Steven Sodebergh finds the humanity in the situation and the characters. Though it was widely reported at the time that tensions on the set flared between Clooney and Lopez (with the famously diplomatic actor calling her a euphemism for female genitalia I can't repeat), they generate tremendous heat onscreen. It has been a long time since I've seen love scenes so demure yet so intensely sexy (for my money, neither Clooney nor Lopez have ever been hotter, before or since). Soderbergh also devotes enough screen time to their early, playful cat and mouse sparring that by the film's end, we care about these characters deeply, because we know they care about what happens to each other.
'Out of Sight' is also notable as more than just another top-shelf, hard-boiled crime thriller because it came at a key point in the careers of its makers. At the time, Steven Soderbergh was suffering a career slump after such noble art-house failures as 'The Underneath' and 'Schizopolis,' while both Clooney and Lopez were struggling to establish themselves as major screen stars. Even the supporting cast, including Don Cheadle, Steve Zahn and Ving Rhames had yet to truly break out as recognizable Hollywood faces. 'Out of Sight' didn't exactly transform each of their fortunes, but it was a crucial stepping stone to later career triumphs. Not one of them does a big star turn, and even the more self-conscious, showy scenes of whip-smart dialogue don't seem coy. 'Out of Sight' is the kind of below-the-radar, mid-budgeted Hollywood film made by up-and-coming, hungry talent that all involved should look back at with a big smile. Eight year later, it remains a compulsively watchable, terrific B-movie in the best sense of the term.
How often does an HD DVD come along that exceeds your expectations? I wasn't anticipating all that much from 'Out of Sight,' perhaps out of the mistaken belief that any film older than, say, five years is bound to suffer some age-related deficiencies. Of course I was wrong, and was rather floored by this transfer, which looks so terrific at times that it just may be my favorite HD DVD catalog release yet from Universal.
Presented in 1.85:1 widescreen and 1080p/VC-1 video, 'Out of Sight' looks superb. The most immediately striking aspect of the presentation are the colors. Saturation is so rich and vibrant that hues almost scream at you off the screen. I really was not expecting such a vivid picture. In fact, colors are so strong that they teeter constantly on the brink of oversaturation, and if I have any complaint at all about this transfer, it is that sometimes in the darkest scenes colors can look a bit fuzzy. However, it is a small price to pay for such a striking image.
All other aspects of the transfer are excellent. Blacks, contrast and the cleanliness of the source material are first-rate. There is a thin veil of grain but it is inherent in the film and completely in keeping with the intended gritty visual style. Detail is pretty fabulous, and over and over again I was knocked out by the depth to the image. Compression artifacts are also not a problem, and again except for some slight noise on the most vivid colors in dark scenes, there are no issues with posterization or macroblocking. Yes, my expectations were somewhat low going into this one, but 'Out of Sight' delivers the kind of significant upgrade over standard-def that the high-def formats are supposed to be all about.
Unlike the video, I can't say the audio terribly stunning. That's not really the fault of this disc, however, as the film's sound design was always a bit in the doldrums. It's not poor, just very front heavy. (Note that separate Dolby Digital and DTS versions of 'Out of Sight' were released on DVD, but no DTS track is offered here. Having said that, I never felt there was a significant upgrade with the DTS version, so for me its exclusion here is not much of a loss.)
That aside, this Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround track (encoded at 1.5mbps) is technically strong. Dynamics are healthy, with a very spacious and pleasing mid-range and clean highs. The .1 LFE is punchy and solid, with decent low bass extension on harder-edged sound effects like gunshots and car sounds. Surround use is fairly meager, however. Aside from David Holmes' excellent jazzy score, what little discrete effects there are feel a bit obvious and forced. Don't expect much in the way of envelopment or atmosphere here, but bottom line, 'Out of Sight' sounds perfectly fine.
The standard DVD release of 'Out of Sight' never had that many extras, so unsurprisingly neither does this HD DVD port. Still, 'Out of Sight' makes a solid case for quality over quantity, for what we do get here still holds up eight years on.
The first highlight is the screen-specific audio commentary with director Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Frank. I've always enjoyed Soderbergh's commentaries, and in my opinion he is up there with Kevin Smith and John Carpenter as the filmmakers best at doing them these days. Though Soderbergh steers relatively clear of the whole George Clooney-Jennifer Lopez thing, he and Frank are both fun and informative while revealing what did (and didn't) work during the making of the film. The infamous car trunk scene is a good example, which apparently had to be re-shot because the chemistry between Clooney and Lopez wasn't working. A strong track.
Next up is the 29-minute "The Making of 'Out of Sight,'" which, despite its boring title, is a pretty good featurette. Though the structure is totally formulaic, with the usual on-set interviews with Soderbergh, Frank, Clooney, Don Cheadle, Ving Rhames and Catherine Keener, it doesn't really feel like the typical, fluffy EPK. The cast and crew offer up a bit more depth than usual, especially on the motives of their characters and the film's obvious debt to Elmore Leonard. Though maybe a tad dated, this one is still worth a watch.
Rounding out the extras are ten Deleted Scenes, all presented in 480i pillarboxed video. Most of the scenes are undistinguished extensions or mere filler, but we do get the first try at the "Car Trunk" scene. It becomes immediately clear why the scene was reshot, which perhaps should serve as a lesson that reshoots on a movie are not always a bad thing.
'Out of Sight' holds up as a very smart, very sex crime thriller. It helped re-establish Steven Soderbergh as a commercial force before his full-fledged comeback with the one-two punch of 'Traffic' and 'Erin Brockovich.' This HD DVD really startled me -- sure, the soundtrack is hardly explosive and the extras not overflowing, but the transfer is really quite outstanding for a somewhat older catalog title. So in terms of pure visual quality, this one is highly recommended.