Taken Blu-ray Review

Taken Blu-ray Disc ReviewIn Luc Besson produced Taken, Liam Neeson plays Bryan Mills, an ex-government operative who must use “a particular set of skills” to recover his kidnapped American daughter in Paris, France. How he acquired these skills are never explained, nor is exactly what his job entailed for the past 30 years prior to retirement other than “prevent bad things from happening.” All that matters to Bryan and the film’s success is how those skills can be applied to piece together his daughter’s whereabouts before a timer runs out on her life.

Bryan’s skills are a balanced combination of counter-intelligence smarts and hand-to-hand and firearms brawn. His smarts are used to piece together clues that lead him from one location to another where his daughter may or may not be held. Whether via a cell phone, photograph, translation or slick tongue, Bryan always has a clever new trick up his sleeve when the trail appears to have run cold adding a whodunit element to the chase.

Once Bryan reaches a potential location for his daughter, the brawn kicks in and he immobilizes anyone who gets in his way with quick, lethal strikes. Plot holes strewn throughout Bryan’s chase and his adversaries existence are numerous enough to drive several figure eights through. But the scripted fights are dominated by realistic perfectly executed “one hit, one kill” encounters you would expect from someone with 30 years of secret government training as opposed to carefully choreographed combat ballets lasting over a minute each.

In most kidnapping films, “anyone” applies to the villain’s cadre of heavily armed thugs. In Taken, Bryan ruthlessly harms any person he must in order to beat the clock and save his daughter, innocent or otherwise. There is no remorse, no second-thoughts or forgiveness. The desperation Liam exhibits through Bryan’s actions are what make you scream “what is he going to do next?” after he successfully tears apart another section of Paris. Just when you don’t think Bryan will step over a moral line, he jumps over it and never looks back.

Fox brings Taken on Blu-ray Disc with the original theatrical cut and a new unrated cut that adds approximately two additional minutes of indeterminable footage. Both versions are offered in their original 2.4:1 aspect ratio with 1080 video encoded via AVC MPEG-4. Video quality is not exceptional compared to Blu-ray’s best offerings but more than adequate, especially given the strong lighting techniques utilized by the French crew. There is a lot of complex light play where heavy darks crash against bright whites which the transfer handles admirably. Black crush is kept to a bare minimum despite many opportunities where other transfers may have fallen victim.

The transfer carries over a persistent light veneer of grain from the film print that works well with a natural color palette and natural skin tones. Detail is strong but not excellent; again, an area where Blu-ray’s best operates on another level of distinction. Even so, Taken’s Blu-ray transfer should more than satisfy anyone looking for a superior presentation over what standard definition DVD has to offer.

Aggressive elements in Taken’s sound design are restricted to the handful of action sequences that mainly take place during the film’s second half. When they kick in, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is spectacular and a joy to soak up. The defining moments are low bass extensions during explosions, embedded in the score and general thuds associated with things crashing into one another. Dialogue never drowns amongst the heaviest of effects-laden sequences, and surround use – though limited – is effective in expanding the sound field when employed.

Taken’s bonus features are a mix of average and sub par fare, none of which are necessary viewing material whether the film resonates with you or not. Most are presented in standard definition, except where noted, and the lone Theatrical Trailer is actually for another Fox title, Notorious.

Audio Commentaries – A pair of available commentaries are mixed to the unrated version only. Director Pierre Morel, cinematographer Michel Abramowicz and stunt choreographer Michel Julienne take the mic first in French with English subtitles. The trio takes a conventional approach to their discussion with running explanations and pointing out the obvious. Their French voices come across as dry and bland compared to writer Robert Mark Kamen, the lone contributor to the second commentary with far more voice inflections projecting from his American accent. As expected from a writer, Kamen picks apart how and why scenes were written and how his words evolved into what you see in the final product. He seems genuinely surprised when reflecting on learning Liam Neeson had been cast as the protagonist.

Black-Ops – A BonusView mode that adds a counter to the screen depicting the time Bryan has remaining, and his kills, injuries and miles/kilometers traveled updated in real-time. The lower portion of the screen is devoted to intermittent appearances of a GPS locator and fast facts. Add them together and the tool is slightly gimmicky since updates are sparse and little changes through the film’s first act.

Le Making Of (18:24) – This main featurette is hard to turn off since its director was wise enough to lead off with Liam Neeson interview snippets. The star’s absence in the commentary tracks increase the need to hear him talk about the film and role. When Liam talks, it is hard not to listen.

Avant Premiere (4:48) – All I will say about this is an uncomfortable feeling ensues watching Liam arrive at the premiere gala with his recently deceased wife Natasha Richarson.

Inside Action: Side by Side Comparisons (11:05, HD) – The lone high definition standalone feature is nothing short of strange. Rather than a more traditional comparison of storyboard-to-film, this compares the final shot with a documentary camera just behind the shooting cameras.

Watching a desperate Liam Neeson run loose in a foreign country to save his daughter’s life while unveiling an old and mysterious “particular set of skills” gives Taken its fun and makes it easy to recommend. The old man has a lot of vengeance in his blood and still knows how to throw a good karate chop to the throat and move to the next target. Fox’s Blu-ray edition of Taken delivers enough of an audio/video showcase to sign off on, but the bonus features can be “taken” or skipped altogether.

– Dan Bradley

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