Payback – Straight Up: The Director’s Cut appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Across the board, the movie seemed pretty solid.
Sharpness exhibited no significant concerns. A few shots seemed a little ill-defined, but those were rare and minor. Jagged edges and shimmering created no problems, and I noticed only light edge enhancement. Source flaws appeared absent. I saw a little grain but no other potential distractions.
Movies like Payback don’t usually boast lively hues, and the palette of the flick looked as cold as I expected. The colors seemed full within their chilly, desaturated parameters. The flick accentuated blues and dark tones. Blacks were deep and dense, but shadows could be a little heavy. Some low-light shots came across as slightly thick, though these didn’t create issues. Overall, the flick looked very good.
As for the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Payback, it benefited the material. The soundfield provided an expansive affair. Music demonstrated very good stereo delineation, and effects opened up to spectrum well. Most of the audio focused on the Chicago streets, and those segments broadened the mix to bring us into the settings. The smattering of action sequences also contributed good use of the various channels and created a strong feeling of place and events.
Audio quality was very good. Speech always remained concise and crisp, with no flaws audible. Music seemed vivid and rich, as the score showed nice range. Effects also came across as clean and accurate. Low-end demonstrated good oomph when necessary. This was a fine track.
When we move to the extras, we open with an audio commentary from writer/director Brian Helgeland. He offers a running, screen-specific discussion. Helgeland covers characters, cast and performances, story, themes and changes from the theatrical cut, sets and locations, visual design and other production subjects. In addition, he offers some insights into the reasons he was fired from the film.
Those elements provide the most intriguing aspects of this track. The rest of it works just fine, as we get a good look at the flick and its creation. However, we should get the most from the more controversial side of things, which Helgeland doesn’t cover in depth, but he digs into enough to satisfy. Overall, he presents a useful discussion.
Two featurettes appear under the banner of “Paybacks Are a Bitch”. On Location in Chicago runs 30 minutes as it presents movie clips, shots from the set, and interviews. We hear from Helgeland, filmmaker Richard Donner, director of photography Ericson Core, costume designer Ha Nguyen, producer Bruce Davey, stunt coordinator Mic Rodgers,
and actors Deborah Kara Unger, Mel Gibson, Gregg Henry, David Paymer and Lucy Liu. We learn a little about the novel’s path to the screen and Helgeland’s route to the director’s chair, his work as director and issues related to his inexperience, casting and characters, visual and stylistic choices, filming in Chicago, costumes, and various scene specifics.
A companion piece, On Set in Los Angeles goes for 19 minutes, 38 seconds, and features Helgeland, Unger, Nguyen, Core, Donner, production designer Richard Hoover, and actors James Coburn, William Devane, and Maria Bello. It looks at performances and more character issues, sets, and a few other production bits.
Taken together, the two “Bitch” featurettes create a nice little production diary. We get a good feel for various aspects of the shoot and learn a lot of useful tidbits along the way. A few repeat from the commentary, but not too many redundant parts appear. I especially like the tales about Helgeland’s relationship with Donner; they flesh out the pieces well.
For a look at this new edition, we go to the 28-minute and 54-second Same Story – Different Movie – Creating Payback: The Director’s Cut. Here we find notes from Helgeland, Gibson, Unger, Core, composer Scott Stambler and editor Kevin Stitt. We learn of some differences between the two versions of the film as well as the work that went into recreating this 2007 cut. “Story” gives us a pretty blunt look at the issues that caused Helgeland to leave the film; it doesn’t sound like there’s any animosity between the parties, so they open up to discuss these topics. We also find nice notes about the differences. It’s a very good little program.
Ironic note: Helgeland clearly regards Donner as a mentor, and he expresses how he worried what reaction he’d receive when Donner found out he got fired. Helgeland fretted because he didn’t think Donner would ever allow himself to be kicked off of a film. Guess Helgeland forgot Superman II.
Next comes The Hunter: A Conversation with Author Donald E. Westlake. In this 10-minute and 47-second featurette, the novelist discusses his series of “Parker” books and their development. The show doesn’t focus a lot on the specific adaptation for Payback, but it gives us a nice overview of the novels and proves quite informative.
Finally, we get some Previews. Here we locate ads for Braveheart, Babel, and various CBS TV programs on DVD.
A dark, cynical crime fantasy, Payback entertains in a brutal, sadistic manner, but it never manages to be anything more than moderately compelling. It feels stuck in its late 90s era and lacks the spark of better films from its genre. The DVD presents very good picture, solid sound and a nice set of supplements. Though I’m not wild about the movie, this is a strong DVD and will definitely be of great interest to fans of Payback.