Friday, February 3, 2017

Blu-ray Review: “xXx: 15th Anniversary Edition”

Movie: *** 1/2 out of 5
Video: ****
Audio: *****
Extras: **

Article first published on Blogcritics.org

It’s crazy to think that with the popularity of the Fast and Furious franchise at an all-time high, it’s taken Vin Diesel 15 years to return as Xander Cage. I haven’t bothered seeing the sequel, but heard it’s horrible. With that in mind — and the 15th anniversary Blu-ray release — how does the 2002 original hold up when action films are “smarter” now? While it was never high art to begin with, xXx it was a pretty fun ride back in the day. While it screams its production date with every ounce of its being, Diesel, and director Rob Cohen, keep things moving at a breakneck pace. I was almost 22 years old when I first bared witness to this redonkulousness, but I have to say, it’s never as much fun now as it used to be.

Considering xXx is 15 years old now, it doesn’t really need a synopsis recap. But, in case you forgot, Xander Cage is an extreme sports nut who likes to teach rich people lessons. Like driving their expensive cars off bridges while surfing them down ravines. He catches the eye of Agent Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) who forces him into becoming a new breed of special agent. He’s tasked with infiltrating Russian terrorist Yorgi (Marton Csokas) and his right-hand woman Yelena (Asia Argento) who are set on releasing a biochemical drone called “Silent Night” into Prague’s water supply. Explosions ensue.

Sony originally released xXx on Blu-ray in the format’s infancy in 2006. At the time, it was a fickle disc littered with harsh anomalies and not a single special feature. Now, fans finally get a remastered image, along with an upgraded 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. While I’m sure the original LPCM track was nice enough, the new audio is blistering. Surrounds are always in use with rumbling bass and spot-on dialogue. You never miss out on a single horrible one-liner. As for the video, there are still some instances of crush, a sprinkling of noise, and a few soft shots, but this is a far greater image than what I’ve read the first release was. Colors are bold and contrast never runs hot. Detail is fantastic throughout most of the film, aside from those few pesky instances of softness. While it seems odd that Sony didn’t spring for a 4K remaster — seeing how they have spearheaded the upgrading — this release is still good enough to warrant fans a double dip.

Where Sony does take a step in the right direction, at least this release includes the bonus features from the DVD release. That being said, they’re all highly outdated and in 480p. The sole new extra is the EPK-style “Origins of a Renegade” (6:27) featuring the cast and crew of the new xXx: Return of Xander Cage talking about how much they love the first film and are excited to be part of the sequel. With the rest being ported from the DVD, this is what you’ll find: “Audio Commentary,” “xXx: A Filmmakers Diary U.S. / Pre-Production” (15:27), “xXx: A Filmmakers Diary Prague / Post-Production” (25:26), “Diesel Powered” (6:50), “Visual Effects How To’s” — “Creating the Mountain Avalanche” (1:09), “Creating an Avalanche” (1:18), and “Shack Explosion” (0:37).


“Deleted Scenes” (15:51) include “Sam Jackson,” “Plane Interior,” “The Ivans,” “Underworld Club,” “Blood Splatter Dart,” “Castle Extended/Pole Dancer,” “Girls,” “Grooming a Scene,” “Attack of the Czeck Police,” and “Bora Bora.” All scenes include optional filmmaker commentary. “Starz! On the Set – The Making of xXx” (14:32), “Agent Shavers’ Gadgets Presentation” (3:44), “Designing the World of xXx” (14:35), “Building Speed: The Vehicles of xXx” (6:55), “Avalanche Scene” (5:37), “Drug Farm” (5:08), “The End Credit Sequence — Raw and Uncut” (3:34), “Music Video” (3:09) for Hatebreed’s “I Will Be Heard,” “Music Video” (4:18) for Gavin Rossdale’s “Adrenaline.” The theatrical trailer (2:34) closes things out and is surprisingly in 1080p.

The lack of new extras may be disconcerting for the more hardcore xXx, but for those who were just hoping to revisit Xander Cage’s antics with a fresh coat of paint, look new further. The video may not be 4K, but at least it isn’t an 11-year-old disc anymore either. With the audio also receiving an upgrade, there’s no reason to not pick up xXx’s 15th Anniversary edition. They don’t make them like this anymore, and to a certain extent, that’s a good thing. But for being mindless entertainment — and what else would we expect from a Vin Diesel film — this is the only xXx you need to see.

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