In case you’re keeping track of such things at home, People Magazine recently voted Matt Damon Sexiest Man Alive. His character in Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen, however, exudes everything but machismo, particularly in this latest Las Vegas heist. Ocean’s Thirteen follows the model established in the original Ocean’s Eleven with the Rat Pack and resurrected in the like-named movie starring George Clooney and Brad Pitt. But after so many iterations and so many variations on the same basic plot, the series is finally showing signs of age, even when its 37-year-old co-star is still on top of People Magazine’s sexy list.
Ocean’s Thirteen, like the other movies in the series, finds the dapper gang of Pitt, Clooney and Damon on a mission to pull a fast one on a successful Las Vegas casino owner. Their grand plan, as always, is incredibly complex, somewhat convoluted and even international in scope, but of course they pull it off with aplomb. After all, the team in Ocean’s Thirteen is trying to regain money for their double-crossed and aging friend Reuben, and viewers would never want to see an old man robbed.
By trying to make the heist seem bigger than ever, the producers added some seemingly insurmountable problems for Ocean’s gang. These challenges range from a worker’s strike at a Mexican dice-making factory to a broken-down underground tunnel drill to a “cougar” who wants nothing more than to get Matt Damon in the sack–even when Damon just wants to prove that he can be an integral part of the heist. The problem with all this, as entertaining as it seems on paper, is a wandering plot that loses sight of some good character-development scenes and instead just tries to confuse viewers and hope they stay along for the ride.
To the movie’s credit, Ocean’s Thirteen does succeed in this regard, as you’ll never actually consider turning it off. However, several scenes beg the question of whether the writers themselves really knew what they were doing, or whether they simply wrote themselves out of a hole to make the plot more “unpredictable.” The problem with that thinking is that we all know Ocean’s team is going to get the cash, much like we all know Indiana Jones is always going to get the girl and save the artifact. In making Ocean’s Thirteen a bit more complex, the producers really just detract from the overall enjoyment and fun factor.
Warner Home Video presents Ocean’s Thirteen on HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc a VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer. Had no one mentioned I was watching a high-def title, I never would have known I was. The colors are over saturated and downright putrid, the grain and noise is overwhelming, and the contrast is way off the charts! That said, this was the director and cinematographer’s intended look for the film. While the transfer is accurate to their intentions and the original master print, as a high definition showcase title, it stinks like the film’s predictability.
Oddly enough, Warner has excluded lossless audio for this marquee release in favor of a DVD standard Dolby Digital 5.1 track. As a large chunk of the film is set inside a fictional casino there is plenty of opportunity for enveloping surround use which, sadly, never fully materializes. Most of the audio is directed from the front channels that at times muffles the dialogue. No amount of jockeying the volume will fix the issue as increasing the dialogue conversely increases the infracting noise, score and effects. Like the video, this audio mix is hardly indicative of a high-definition disc.
An utterly disappointing video and audio presentation is partially made up for with a pair of high definition-exclusive special features. First up is an amusing Commentary by Director Steven Soderbergh and Screenwriters Brian Koppelman and David Levien. This trio begins by offering a disclaimer that their tracks are being recorded separately, yet had they never mentioned it there’s no indication this is true. A pleasant mix of jokes, inside tidbits and decision making explanations round out a rare commentary that’s hard to turn off.
The second exclusive, Masters of the Heist (44:02), offers up intrigue and mystery missing from the feature film. A quartet of real-life huge heists, some solved and some not, are closely examined through dramatic recreations and interviews. Presented in standard-def full-screen video, there’s no logical reason why this documentary is exclusive to HD DVD and Blu-ray. I’m glad it was as I found the heists depicted fascinating, especially the missing Rembrant paintings.
The remaining special features are available on DVD as well, though the first, Additional Scenes (4:34), is presented in high definition. The scenes are comprised of only a handful of extended and deleted scenes, none of which adds anything to the Ocean’s Thirteen experience. To be frank, these scenes are like gristle on a steak: sure, it’s there, but there’s a reason you cut it off in the first place, and it’s not something you really want to re-visit or taste for the first time. The second bonus feature, Jerry Weintraub Walk and Talk (2:24), is an incredibly short tour of the set with the producer in which he describes trying to create a mostly functional casino for the film. This feature could have been interesting had there been signs of life on the set, but a casino is only so intriguing when it’s devoid of activity, and you get the impression Weintraub was drunk while giving the tour so he could both seem a bit more entertaining and forget that his set was dead.
The final bonus feature comes to the rescue, as it’s by far the most well-planned and well-produced of the bunch. Called Vegas: An Opulent Illusion (22:47), this feature is essentially a mini documentary about the founding, evolution and future of Las Vegas and its casinos. Divided into three parts, this feature begins with the history of Las Vegas, complete with archival photos and video, and includes multiple interviews with Vegas insiders, experts, architects and casino owners. The section describes Sin City’s small-but-opulent beginnings and delves into its renaissance in 1989, when the Mirage first opened.
The second section focuses on casino architecture and planning, with architects discussing the thought that goes into overall design, walkway placement, slot and table positioning and even lighting. After watching this you’ll feel completely manipulated and used, yet still fascinated with the true art of casino design. That fascination pales in comparison to what you’ll feel in the third section, though: “the life of a whale.” Whales are the high rollers, the ones who have rooms, cars, trips, amenities and meals comped by the resorts in exchange for a commitment to gamble at the “comping” resorts casino. It’s safe to say most people reading this review aren’t whales, so this will be your only chance to see some of the facilities, rooms and amenities that whales experience every time they fly to Las Vegas. Unfortunately, some of the same footage from the first two sections is repeated ad nauseum in this one as well — and you can only see a Las Vegas Strip fly-over so many times before you want to poke(r) your eyes out.
Sadly, that’s essentially how Ocean’s Thirteen, and this high-def package as a whole, leave you feeling when all is said and done. The film’s entertaining, but we’ve all seen the same basic movie two or three times already. The bonus footage is interesting, but it can only be seen so many times before we’re ready to move on. The high-def presentation, handicapped by the director’s intent, is easily confused with poor standard-def. And Clooney, Pitt and Damon all reprise their Rat Pack-like roles perfectly, but even they seem uninspired at times and bored with the roles. Ocean’s Thirteen is a fine rental, but it’s definitely not a high-def disc for which you should go “all in.”
– Jonas Allen