Thirty floors of Hell.
No movie pinned me to my seat this year like The Raid: Redemption, and I have been craving this Blu-ray. Shockingly, what should have been a home run by Sony ends up as possibly the most crushingly disappointing home video release of all-time.
First, the good news. The Raid: Redemption is the finest pure action film I have ever seen. The plot is simple. An Indonesia crimelord has transformed an apartment building into his base of operations. One morning, a group of elite cops make an incursion, only to find themselves locked in and under siege by wave after wave of bag guys. Leading the counter-offensive is rookie cop Rama (Iko Uwais), a vicious fighter with a deep sense of duty and — surprise! — a pregnant wife at home. On that no-frills narrative rests a series of the most delirious, thrilling, and brutal fight sequences ever put to film.
Now the bad news. This Blu-ray is a joke.
When I walked out of the theater after seeing The Raid: Redemption, my hands were literally shaking. The action had juiced my system with so much adrenaline I felt like I had just downed three mocha lattes. A big reason why the action was so effective is the skill with which director Gareth Evans (who flashed his potential in the cool but inferior Merantau) plotted out his fight scenes, shot them with a steady hand, and allowed his insane stunt men to execute in full view. These bouts are like vicious ballets, but so nicely assembled they don’t look rehearsed. Plus, Mike Shinoda (of Linkin Park fame) was brought on to supply the score for the American release, and he delivers a harsh driving aural experience which pounds in a big way during the melees.
So when the Blu-ray arrived on my doorstep, I excitedly dropped what I was doing, fired up the rig, and settled in for what I was sure to be A/V nirvana. What I got was an astoundingly terrible technical treatment, fronted by a video transfer so unimpressive it undercuts the entire film and cheapens the remarkable footage Evans had shot. I actually thought there was something wrong with my Blu-ray player, like maybe the laser had malfunctioned. Instead of rendering a high-definition image, perhaps the player’s setting was stuck on Thai Bootleg quality. Then I checked the disc case to make sure I hadn’t inserted a DVD version of the film instead. Nope. This was it. This was the Blu-ray. Truth be told, a DVD would have offered better digital fidelity than the embarrassment that played on my screen.
The first obvious flaw is the utter murkiness of the colors. The Raid: Redemption is a gritty film set in a tenement, but the depth of color work was nowhere near this bad when I saw it in the theater. Grays and browns ooze together into a smear of grainy slime, delivering soft visuals that require genuine effort to piece together, especially in the darker scenes, of which there are plenty. NBC’s Olympics streaming video boasts sharper quality than what Sony offers with this release.
The audio doesn’t fare much better. We get two tinny DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio tracks (the original Indonesian, and a pointless English dub), but the score has been noticeably ratcheted back. To even approach the intensity of my theatrical experience, I had to crank the levels up far beyond what I should have.
For extras, we get a nice commentary track from Evans; forty minutes worth of behind-the-scenes video blogs; an extensive interview with Evans, Shinoda, and Joe Trapanese; brief featurettes on the score and stunts; and couple of disposable joke segments (The Raid as claymation and early ’90s animation).
The Raid: Redemption (Blu-ray) is a ruinous release that manages to do the impossible: makes me want to watch the digital copy instead. The only antidote is the film itself, whose merits are towering. This is truly an exceptional example of pure action moviemaking. Even amidst the wreckage of this home video debut, I would still encourage a viewing. Trust me when I say you have never seen anything like it.
The film skates, but this disc needs to be disciplined Mad Dog style.