Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
Columbia-TriStar, widescreen 1.85:1/16x9, languages: English Dolby Surround [CC], subtitles: English, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai , single side-dual layer, 28 chapters, rated R, 122 min., $24.95, street date 12/14/99.
Academy Awards: Nominated for Best Song-"Against All Odds", 1985.
Directed by Taylor Hackford. Starring Rachel Ward, Jeff Bridges, James Woods, Alex Karras, Jane Greer, Richard Widmark.
Dark passions explode in this steamy, sinister love story starring Rachel Ward and Jeff Bridges. Terry Brogan (Bridges), a cynical ex-football star, is hired to find Jessie Wyler (Ward), the runaway mistress of a ruthless L.A. nightclub owner, Jake Wise (James Woods). According to Jake, Jessie had stabbed him and vanished with $50,000. But Terry's mission is soon forgotten when he tracks down and falls in love with the beautiful Jessie on a Mexcan island. Trouble brews, however, when Jake dispatches his hechman, Hank Sully (Alex Karras), to bring the lovers back. Driven by passion for the mysterious young woman, Terry quickly finds himself trapped in a complex web of corruption, betrayal, and murder. Packed with riveting excitement and vivid sensuality, Against All Odds grabs you and never lets go.
More than fifteen years after its theatrical release in 1984, Against All Odds seems destined to spend most of eternity remembered better for its hit title song by Phil Collins than for anything that happened onscreen. Appropriate fate or unfortunate victim of neglect? Not really either, though I lean much more heavily toward the former; while a decent film, AAO offers little that makes it memorable.
AAO is actually a remake of 1947's Out of the Past, although the filmmakers take pains to stress that the new movie is very different from its inspiration. Since I've never seen OOTP, I can't comment on whether or not this is the case. As such, I can only take AAO on its own merits, and I generally found it to be a competent but somewhat dull little film.
It's supposed to be a film noir and provides a mild level of intrigue. Still, I couldn't help but feel uninvolved in the characters and disinterested in the situations. Suspense movies should pull you in and keep you on the edge of your seat, but I was fully reclined during this film; I was a little curious to see how things would ultimately conclude, but not very.
I don't have any serious problems with AAO. Hackford is a competent director who makes the film go at a solid pace, and with the possible exception of "femme fatale" Rachel Ward, the acting seems fine. (Ward did sexy and seductive well, but couldn't quite achieve other emotions.) Jeff Bridges and James Woods appear well-suited for their roles and perform them effectively.
But in the end, Against All Odds just didn't do it for me. I watched it, I found it slightly interesting, but I pretty much forgot it as soon as it ended. I've been humming the song all day, though.
Against All Odds appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. In general, the picture looks pretty good, though it never reaches a consistent level of excellence.
Sharpness seems very strong throughout the film and portrays a consistently crisp image; I rarely noticed any softness or haziness in the picture. Happily, this occurs without many problems; moire effects or jagged edges were very rare, despite some complex scenery in the Mexican locations. The print used for the transfer appeared very clean with virtually no scratches, hairs, marks, speckles or grain.
Colors seemed decent but unspectacular. At the risk of sounding wishy-washy, they were neither strong nor weak; they were just kind of there. At times the movie appeared somewhat flat and blah, though; this didn't happen a lot but gave the film a slightly tired look at times. Black levels usually looked fine but sometimes lacked intensity and appeared too light; the most notable instance occurred during the climactic scene, at which time the nighttime backdrop seemed fairly pale. Oddly, shadow detail sometimes appears too intense. During that same scene, for example, it was often hard to make out various important objects. (I don't want to say more - it might give away part of the ending.) Despite these issues, AAO really looks pretty good and should be satisfactory for all viewers.
A dilemma occurs when choosing what audio mix to use for Against All Odds. If you examine the packaging, this should not be the case; the box lists only a Dolby Surround mix. Technically, that's true; you have no option other than to listen to a version that uses the front three channels and features monaural audio from the rear. However, two separate - and very different - mixes appear on this DVD; although both work under the same constraints, they often do not sound much alike.
If you check the "audio options" box on the DVD's menu, you'll see that Dolby Surround 2-channel is one option and Dolby Digital 4-channel is the other. What differences occur between these two? Well, I think the Surround mix was more forceful and provided more low end, but that wasn't always a positive; this version often seemed boomy and indistinct. While the Digital track appeared more precise and cleaner, it generally lacked as much life; no, I didn't encounter the flaws of the Surround mix, but nor did I hear the added liveliness either.
In regard to the soundstage provided by each, that area also varied markedly. AAO isn't exactly a slam-bang film for audio, so both mixes seemed acceptable; which better duplicates the original sound is a complete mystery to me, though. At varying times, each mix offered a more full soundstage, but there seemed no rhyme or reason to this. I alternated between the two and every time I thought I picked which one I liked best, I'd soon change my mind. Ultimately, I concluded that neither is truly better; they're simply different.
That said, I'd probably pick the Digital mix for future viewing just because the occasional mushy qualities of the Surround track bothered me most. While the Digital edition seems a bit sterile at times, I think it reproduces the audio more cleanly and provides a more satisfactory listening experience.
For either mix, the soundstage seemed forward-based, but the surrounds received a fair amount of usage. The Surround version appeared to favor the rears for main music, while the Digital rendition used them more for ambient music and effects. The rear audio seemed noticeably clearer for the Digital version.
Quality generally appeared very good for either mix, though the music differed the most. As I mentioned, I heard more low end on the Surround track but discerned greater clarity from the Digital mix. Dialogue was a strength of either version; at all times it appeared very clean and natural and was extremely well-reproduced. Effects varied in quality but generally seemed acceptable; at times some thinness intruded, but not to a terrible degree. Ultimately both audio mixes for Against All Odds are decent but unspectacular; however, they stand up quite well considering the age of the film.
Columbia-Tristar (CTS) call this DVD of Against All Odds a special edition, and that's not just marketing hype; they've tossed in a lot of good extras here. First, we receive two separate audio commentaries. Both feature director Taylor Hackford but pair him with different participants: commentary one includes screenwriter Eric Hughes, while track two brings in actors Jeff Bridges and James Woods.
That second one will clearly receive the most attention from people, so I'll start with it. Actually, although it's listed second in the menu, it was the first recorded. Commentaries with actors can be very hit or miss - Bridges himself offered little during his Arlington Road track - but this one's excellent. Hackford, Woods and Bridges seem to really enjoy each other's company and they appear to have a great time as they recount anecdotes from making the film and discuss various details. Woods especially comes across well with a great deal of humor (especially from his running joke about Richard Widmark's love of hotcakes). Terrufic commentary!
The track with Hackford and Hughes also works well but it's drier and more technical, as one would expect. Hackford dominates the commentary - that man can talk! - but both participants provide some good information. Hackford repeats some of the facts related in the first talk, but not too much. Although this track isn't nearly as much fun as the other one, it's still a strong commentary that offers a complete picture of the making of the film.
In addition, we get seven deleted scenes. All told, these account for about 19 minutes of screen time. The clips themselves are in kind of rough shape, but they're interesting and are more compelling than most excised segments. The scenes can be viewed on their own or along with commentary from Hackford and Hughes. While I would have liked to know more about the reasons behind these scenes deletion, their remarks are useful.
Two music videos show up on this DVD. As expected, we find the clip for Phil Collins' title track. It's a good song, but the video itself is pretty standard fare: shots from the movie intercut with bits of Phil singing. Also available is Kid Creole and the Coconuts' performance of "My Male Curiosity". This isn't a traditional music video, really, because this clip shows their bit from the movie; it just eliminates the other actors. Bad song from a campy novelty act, dull video.
Of course, AAO features some DVD regulars. We get trailers for AAO itself plus for three other Bridges movies: Starman, The Last Picture Show, and Arlington Road. Talent files for Bridges, Ward, Woods and Hackford appear; these are the typical bare-bones bios I've come to expect from CTS. Finally, the DVD's booklet provides some basic but decent production notes.
Although CTS have produced another very fine DVD - with good picture and sound and some excellent supplements - Against All Odds doesn't get much of a recommendation from me just because it's a pretty dull film. If you're already a fan of the movie, you'll be exceedingly pleased with this disc; it's terrific. But otherwise, it merits a rental at best; it might be worth checking out just to listen to the entertaining audio commentary from two of the actors and the director.
Current as of 2/21/2000
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