Ah, the summertime. A season for sun, sand, surf, sex on the beach (be it the drink or… well, you know) and, of course, action movies high on concept and low on brain cells. If you don’t have the time to enjoy all of those seasonal treats, fear not: you can experience them all in 122 minutes via Kathryn Bigelow’s 1991 testosterone-soaked guilty pleasure Point Break, now available on Blu-ray Disc from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.
Point Break is about a group of bank robbers know as The Ex-Presidents (each wears a mask of a former commander-in-chief), who have hit California banks with great frequency (30 banks in the past three years), and always during the summertime. When veteran FBI agent Angelo Papas (Gary Busey) comes to the conclusion that the Ex-Presidents are a bunch of surfers, new partner and rookie agent Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) is picked to infiltrate the local surf scene in the hopes of catching the Ex-Presidents in the act. A few initial missteps aside, Utah eventually ingrains himself into both the scene and the group. True to this type of story, the deeper Utah gets and closer he becomes to the gang’s leader, a Zen-adrenaline junkie named Bodhi (Patrick Swayze), the line between good and bad becomes increasingly blurred for the young hotshot agent.
Point Break is a film that the viewer is always one step ahead of the story and characters. You know who the bad guys are right off the bat (you know it before even heading the film starts if you saw the film’s trailers) and you know who lives and who doesn’t. Heck, you even know exactly where the final showdown is going to occur thanks to a rather obvious exposition at the film’s midpoint. As if Peter Iliff’s by-the-numbers story wasn’t enough, the characters don’t really fare much better. Swayze’s spiritual criminal aside, these characters are as one-dimensional and stereotypical as they come.
But let’s face facts: with a film like Point Break, story and characters aren’t the most important facets. They’re merely a clothesline to hang the film’s real attractions on: the bang, the boom, the bullets and beautiful babes (or dudes, if that’s your thing). To that end, I think the film delivers the goods and does it pretty damn well. Bigelow, a talented filmmaker who has deserved a better career, knows how to stage exciting action sequences (having James Cameron as an executive producer on this film probably helped) and keep the story chugging along. The film does go on for just a little bit longer than it should have (about 15 minutes), but Bigelow proved with her work here that she had what it took to deliver a testosterone-driven flick as well as any of her male filmmaking counterparts could back in the early ’90s.
Bigelow’s directing talents were strong, but not strong enough to get a non-wooden performance out of her lead. Reeves’ performance is one that you could run your wood stove on for an entire winter. Some of his line readings are absolutely priceless. If anything, Keanu’s work does show that while he’s still not a great actor by any stretch, the dude has improved a little bit over the past 17 years, even if it’s not enough to make me not cringe when I see those ads for the new, unnecessary remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still coming in December. Klaatu, Barada, Nikto…dude?!?! Ugh!
In the supporting categories, Lori Petty doesn’t fare much better than Pinocchio as the prerequisite love interest, but at least her line deliveries are less wooden and she was kind of cute to look at. The turns by Swayze, Busey and John C. McGinley as the uptight FBI head, however, are all pretty solid for a film like this. They manage to take their characters and bring them up a notch thanks to their performances. Keep an eye out for Tom Sizemore and Red Hot Chili Pepper lead Anthony Kiedis in two small, amusing appearances.
I have always said that depending on the subject matter, films don’t have to be terribly original or deep to be good. All they need is a cast and crew working on it that can give the familiar a fresh-enough spin to make it fun. That is exactly the case with Point Break. If you like action films that have a high-energy level and one that executes the action genre essentials with a fair amount of competence; this is one cinematic wave you might consider riding this summer, and you won’t have to deal with beach crowds, to boot.
To be honest, my hopes were not exactly on the high side for the picture and audio presentations for Point Break. The sound on the DVD edition was a bit on the flat side (what exactly is Dolby 4.0 Surround sound, anyway?) while the picture was a messy mix of grain, video noise and compression artifacts.
The Blu-ray, while not a knock-you-out-of-your-socks transfer along the lines of an action film made today, is a solid presentation nonetheless. Those who have feared Fox, recently due to their overuse of DNR on catalog titles, can breathe easy here: the film’s grain is intact. The colors and picture detail found in the 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encode are decent, and compression and video noise don’t pose any problems. The blacks do tend to crush a bit during some of the nighttime scenes and there is some softness to be had, but overall I found this to be an acceptable transfer and a sizable improvement over the DVD releases.
Fox has bestowed the film with three English audio tracks to choose from: a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround track and the 4.0 Dolby Surround track. I chose to listen to the DTS-HD track for my viewing of the movie, and the sound is quite impressive given the film’s age. Center channel dialogue is clear, the surrounds are well-used and the bass kicks in nicely during the surfing and action scenes. Like the video, this is not demo material by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a track that gets the job done.
Point Break didn’t set the box office on fire back in 1991 (roughly $42 mil at the box office), but it has amassed quite the cult following over the past 17 years. So, it seems only fair that Fox gave it a special edition a couple of years back. It wasn’t an all-encompassing edition, and archive footage aside, there was little to no input from either Kathryn Bigelow or Keanu Reeves. Still, enough folks associated with the movie were around to contribute. The extras, all ported from the SD edition to the Blu-ray, cover enough ground to give fans a decent look behind the scenes. Most of the extras are in 16×9 and 480p Standard-Definition and look decent.
It’s Make or Break (23:03): The making of Point Break covers the basics: the origins of the project, working on the film, how it turned out, etc. The film’s producers, screenwriter and cast members Patrick Swayze, Gary Busey, John C. McGinley and Lori Petty are interviewed. Archive interview footage with Kathryn Bigelow and Keanu Reeves is also included.
Ride the Wave (6:08): A collection of interview snippets with the cast and crew featuring their thoughts on the image of the sport of surfing and the spiritual side of the sport as well. Worth a watch, but not anything beyond that.
Adrenaline Junkies (6:02): a quick look at the stunt work on the film, as well as the rush of adrenaline experienced by the cast while making the film. As always, Busey offers the funniest anecdotes. They really should have let the man do his own audio commentary track for this movie, they really should have.
On Location-Malibu (8:32): the last – and most dispensable – of the mini-docs on the disc, On Location has actors BoJesse Christopher (Grommet) and John Philbin (Nathanial) taking us on a quick tour around the Malibu shore, pointing out spots where certain scenes were shot. This is worth a watch only to see the Malibu shore and preferably with the sound down.
Deleted Scenes: Approximately five minutes of deleted scenes are presented. The scenes are in pretty poor condition and look like they were lifted from a VHS tape. The cut scenes are mostly scene extensions and wouldn’t add much to the movie if they had been left in.
Trailers: The film’s three domestic theatrical trailers are presented and are in decent condition.
Photo Gallery: 25 behind-the-scene photos are presented here. Nothing special and nothing you will ever look at more than once, but it’s nice that Fox included them on the disc nonetheless.
Not the brainiest or most original action film around, but Point Break does prove to be good summertime fun that has aged surprisingly well. Fox has given the film a nice Blu-ray release that should please next-gen DVD fans of the movie and provide a decent rental for everyone else.
– Shawn Fitzgerald