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Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Disc review by Tim Salmons of The Digital Bits

The Hurt Locker (Blu-ray Disc)

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The Hurt Locker
2009 (2010) - Summit Entertainment
Released on Blu-ray on January 12th, 2010
Also available on DVD


Film Rating: A-
Video (1-20): 18
Audio (1-20): 18
Extras: C

Coming out of left field, one of the most surprising independent flicks released last year was The Hurt Locker; a roller coaster ride of a drama based on the lives of three men in an E.O.D. (read: Explosive Ordnance Disposal) squad stationed in Iraq. The film is a direct product of the first-hand accounts of writer Mark Boal (who was a journalist during the war in Iraq) and Point Break director Kathryn Bigelow.

Taking place three years after 9/11, the story follows the dangerous daily routines of the bomb squad as they move from one assignment to the next, while trying to escape with their lives. Shot with multiple cameras and a documentary-feel, it's very much an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride with a heavy emphasis on character. Jeremy Renner is pitch-perfect as off-kilter Sergeant First Class William James, who communicates directly with his team members Sergeant Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Eldrige (Brian Geraghty) via radio as he disarms devices littered throughout the countryside. The Hurt Locker is an excellent and tight drama, that's very well paced and edited. The only downside for me was the ending, which felt a bit out of character for the overall story.

The film was released with high critical appraisal, but sort of looked down on by (some) veterans and those still serving for its inaccuracy in certain areas. But here's the thing: Movies, no matter how close to reality they get, can never replace or fully recreate real life. As with the theatre, cinema is a fictitious playground that blurs the lines of reality to appropriately and coherently portray a story that works for an audience. Cinema has an advantage over the theatre, however, in that it can blur those lines more accurately by using authentic locations, costumes, props, etc. Doing this gives everything a hyper-reality, which is a far more advantageous and viable method of telling a story. But the key word here is story - not biography or history. While I respect those serving our country, they shouldn't put too much weight on any film, one way or another, or rely on filmmakers to give a 100% accurate account of what goes on in the war. The only way to equal that kind of experience is to actually be a part of it, and not by just seeing it through a telephoto lens.

Sigh. Now that I've said my piece, let's move on to the presentation on this disc. [See Editor's Note below for additional comment on the controversy relating to the film.]

The Hurt Locker looks fantastic. There is a high level of grain through the picture as a deliberate stylistic choice. I happen to love seeing a film print accurately recreated with that level of detail, but it's a preference point, I suppose. Colors are ripe - tans and browns for the most part. There's also a high level of contrast which makes the print look enormously bright, especially during all of the outdoor scenes. Make no mistake though, this is a very crisp presentation. The soundtrack holds together exceptionally well. The DTS-HD Master Audio track really pumps out the sound and makes wonderful use of all the surrounding speakers. With bullets whizzing by and explosions giving the subwoofer a good workout, I couldn't have been more satisfied. You also get an optional Dolby Surround 2.0 track and a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 track, as well as English and Spanish subtitles.

The extras here are on the light side, so we'll go through them quickly. They start off with an audio commentary by director Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal. To be honest, I found it to be quiet boring. They offer little insight and spend the time, more or less, complimenting each other and the rest of the crew. Next, you get the short featurette The Hurt Locker: Behind the Scenes, which lasts about 12 1/2 minutes. It breezes over the details very swiftly and doesn't give that much more insight than the commentary. There's also an image gallery, featuring various stills from the set, with the option of listening to a Q & A recorded at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London while the slideshow of pictures moves by.

If you're in it for the film presentation, then you can't go wrong with this first release of The Hurt Locker in high-definition. But if you're in it for the extras, I recommend you wait for the more lavish BD edition of the movie that's a sure bet now that it has swept the Oscars. In any case, The Hurt Locker is a terrific little film that should keep your heart pounding for its two hour duration, and offer you a glimpse of what some of the men and women who serve have to face in their everyday duties.

Tim Salmons

[Editor's Note: I thought it was important to weigh in here with a few words on the issues that Tim describes above. After reading this review, a few Bits readers (who happen to be soldiers) e-mailed us to comment on the film's unrealistic depictions of the way soldiers operate, and we certainly take their point. Among these are the E.O.D. squad splitting up to go down three darkened alleys alone, traveling without escort, their occasionally reckless actions during bomb disposal work, etc. I must admit, I had problems with these things as well when watching the film. On the other hand, the reason I think audiences have still embraced this movie, is that it's more about the characters than the action - it's a study in why these soldiers do what they do. I think civilians relate to the pride the Sergeant takes in his obviously very dangerous job (he does it because he believes in it, knows he's saving lives, etc), and the difficulty he faces, after doing that job for months on end, in dealing with mundane daily concerns Stateside. Civilian audiences empathize with the guy - and with all soldiers, I think - more after seeing this film. The film helps them to better understand the reality that coming home from war can be just as hard as (if not harder than) going to war. So they use words like "important" and "revealing" when talking about it. And whereas actual soldiers understandably have a very hard time getting past the film's job-related inaccuracies, civilians don't see those as much and simply form an emotional connection to the soldiers depicted. Ultimately, I think the message conveyed by the film - and the impression left by it on civilian audiences - is a good one, even if it's still in many ways a far from fully accurate depiction of the Iraq war or the way American soldiers operate. - Bill Hunt, Editor]
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