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  • Writer's pictureTyler Foster

Blackhat 4K UHD Review




Arrow Video

Blu-ray Release: November 28th, 2023

Video: 2.39:1/2160p (Theatrical/International Cut), 1080p (Director's Cut)/Color

Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Subtitles: English SDH

Run Time: 133:28 (Theatrical Cut) | 132:55 (International Cut) | 132:08 (Director's Cut)

Director: Michael Mann


When a cooling tower on a nuclear power plant malfunctions and causes the reactor to melt down, the authorities are all over it, especially when they discover evidence that the disaster is a form of stock market manipulation that is going to make somebody millions, if not billions. With a hacker suspected as the culprit, Captain Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang) of the People's Liberation Army's cyber warfare unit is assigned to investigate, and he is surprised to discover that the foundation for the code used to cause the incident is an updated version of code that he himself co-authored back at MIT. With his networking engineer sister Lien (Tang Wei) in tow, Chen travels to the United States, where he forms a tentative alliance with FBI agent Carol Barrett (Viola Davis). Barrett wants the assistance, but her boss, Henry Pollack (John Ortiz), insists she keep a close watch, lest the Chinese try and steal any government secrets. Chen's first request: spring his old friend -- and the other, primary author of the code in question -- Nicholas Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) from federal prison, where he's serving time for hacking several banks. Hathaway agrees if his sentence can be commuted, and soon all of them, including Hathaway's escort, Deputy Marshal Jessup (Holt McCallany), are off on a global search to try and find the blackhat behind the hack before they cause more destruction.



When Blackhat was released in 2015, the movie bombed at the box office, grossing less than $20m on a $70m budget. Revisiting the film on 4K UHD, it's almost hard to understand why. With Ferrari positioned as one of the 2023 awards season films to beat, it's interesting to consider the vagaries of which filmmakers people are championing at a given moment. If Blackhat were coming out today, it's hard to imagine it'd be any less anticipated than Ferrari, even if it were appreciated more as a techno-thriller than a potential Oscar winner. Blackhat may be Mann in a minor key, but it's still a perfectly solid movie that delivers on the things that Mann is known for: slow-burn but propulsive thrillers about driven and detail-oriented people, meticulously working their way through some sort of problem, and I see no reason why the movie doesn't deserve, say, 70% of the recognition and re-evaluation that Miami Vice has received in the last few years.


To get some of the movie's flaws out of the way first, it would be fair to say that Hemsworth makes for an occasionally uneasy fit in the lead role. He's not bad, but the choice to do an American accent and his basic look (not much different than some of his outings as Thor) can come off as awkward or clunky even when his actual performance is fine. The film's pacing can drag in spots, something that no doubt contributed to Mann's decision to create what was later labeled a "Director's Cut" of the movie (more on that in the extras section). A romance between Hathaway and Lien starts out like an afterthought and improves as it goes along, but it's not nearly as convincing enough to be worth the amount of time the movie devotes to it, even when the two characters' desire to be with one another becomes an important part of the story. There are also some minor quibbles to be had with the ending, such as a somewhat anti-climactic reveal of the blackhat in question (not that it needs to be flashy, but the movie does feel as if it's building it up), crowd behavior that sticks out like a sore thumb (nobody sees a guy being stabbed in the face?).



Still, the core of the movie is the investigation, and the investigation is fascinating. Mann, working from a script by Morgan Davis Foehl, does a good job of getting at the vulnerablility of technology, starting with an extensive opening sequence that flies inside a computer and then even inside a microchip, down to the tiniest flashes of light scurrying about along circuits and wires. Although we've seen this kind of shot in movies before (everything from The Fast and the Furious to Josie and the Pussycats), Mann's camera keeps drilling deeper and deeper, emphasizing the diminishing scale of these devices that have such power over the world we live in. Just one of these tiny flashing lights, barely larger than the tip of a thumbtack, causes a nuclear reactor to blow up. Meanwhile, there is always a sense that our characters are being followed by the looming eye of digital surveillance, their information stored in databases and drives, all waiting for someone who knows how to exploit a certain weakness or sneak in the right back door. Even within the ranks of our protagonists, nobody trusts each other, with the FBI worried about the Chinese, the Chinese worried about the FBI, and even the NSA worried about the FBI. In some ways, Blackhat's fear of a technocracy was prescient (if obvious), the very same kind of paranoia that Chris McQuarrie explored in the latest Mission: Impossible movie through the contemporary use of AI.


Many of Mann's movies, including Heat and the aforementioned Miami Vice movie, are also big on atmosphere, and Blackhat is no different. Tastes may vary, but Blackhat is an especially beautiful example of Mann's commitment to digital photography, and unlike Public Enemies, here that aesthetic suits the material. The score, credited to Harry Gregson-Williams and Atticus Ross, but (according to interviews with Gregson-Williams after the fact) mostly composed by Ross with contributions from Leo Ross, Ryan Amon, and Mike Dean, feels like a companion to the score for Heat, with a soothing ethereal quality that enriches the film's almost hypnotic rhythms. Those sweeping CGI shots inside the computer also help Mann keep hacking visually interesting, and the film is peppered with action, including various shootouts involving Richie Coster as a deadly hired gun. The film's climactic action sequence isn't a masterpiece, but the entire lead into the final act is excellent, with the character dynamics and Mann's filmmaking working in perfect synchronization.



Video

Many directors have discussed the switch from 35mm film to digital, but few have embraced the actual look of digital photography quite as fully as Michael Mann. Since Collateral back in 2004, Mann has leaned into the DV aesthetic, to mixed response (at this point, the look of Miami Vice is considered one of the film's achievements, whereas I think the clash between the period setting and technologically advanced "look" remains a distraction in Public Enemies). For my money, I found the 4K UHD transfer of Collateral to be sort of distracting, with the 2004-era digital video creating the dreaded "soap opera" effect when presented in 4K. Blackhat contains one or two shots that have that feel to them, but on the whole this is a much more pleasant use of digital cinematography, with the hyper-real clarity creating its own kind of beauty in Arrow's new 4K UHD presentation. Aside from some nasty banding in the movie's closing shot (which, for all I know, is inherent to the original photography; it's also present in the Director's Cut), this is a reference-quality transfer with great depth, a truly stunning degree of clarity, and very nice color reproduction via HDR that helps make the film's visually striking international locations look as good as they've ever looked. To be fair, Blackhat almost certainly looked fine on Universal's Blu-ray; this is still a fairly recent movie, and I'm sure the digital-to-digital transfer was as good as it gets, but I think people will be pleased with this upgrade, which no doubt provides greater shadow delineation during the film's darker scenes (an area where this type of photography can struggle), and again, has some really eye-popping depth thanks to the clarity provided by the additional resolution.


Audio

Sound is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. I don't have the older disc to compare, but according to various sources, this is, surprisingly, not the same track included on Universal's 2015 Blu-ray, which some felt was disappointing. To me, this sounds solid in a fairly unremarkable way, with crisp dialogue, a nicely dimensional and enveloping presentation of the score, and some more spectacular effects during the movie's occasional action sequences, including some nice low-end and directional effects during the reactor explosion and two major shootout sequences late in the film, respectively. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are also included.



Extras

First things first: although there is an assortment of new extras on this 4K UHD of Blackhat, there's one that stands out above the rest, one which almost wasn't included: the director's cut of the film. Mann is a notorious tinkerer; even beyond the revisions made to films like Heat and The Last of the Mohicans on home video over the years, he apparently retools some of his work even when it won't see the light of day. In 2016, Mann brought a "revised cut" of Blackhat to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and a version with further revisions aired on FX in 2017. Given the film's dismal box office, it seemed unlikely that Universal would spring for a new release, and it was further disappointing when Arrow announced this edition without the Director's Cut back in May 2023. Thankfully, the disc was delayed to November, and the Director's Cut is now included on a second disc (albeit on Blu-ray only, not 4K UHD).


Whatever reasoning Mann had for moving the reactor explosion to the beginning of the movie, it's hard not to feel like the effort to change it and conform the theatrical cut of the film around the new layout was a waste of time and money. It is somewhat evident watching the theatrical cut and very evident watching this version that the scene was intended to go in the middle, and the film plays much better as a result, with the movie's threat and urgency building naturally. Although there were some pieces of character dialogue that I missed (such as a little bit more personal intimacy between Hathaway and Lien), there's no denying that the alternate version of the film feels more propulsive. It's fair to say that the increased pace helps paper over the flimsiness of the romance in a different way, but I still missed the minor excisions. I also think the opening shots of the Earth could've been preserved, as the new cut has a fairly abrupt opening. On the other hand, I preferred the director's cut approach to U.S./Chinese collaboration, with a bit of dull material with Ortiz's character snipped out. On the whole, I still think the theatrical cut of Blackhat is a solid techno-thriller, but the director's cut is an interesting improvement.


Although it's understandable, it's a bit of a shame that Arrow didn't have the resources or the authority to reconstruct most of the director's cut using the existing 4K UHD footage, and then drop in HD inserts when necessary, if not just find the footage to upgrade to 4K as well. The Director's Cut looks good, but having come off the theatrical cut, the reduced clarity and comparatively muted colors are quite noticeable. Note also that there is also a third cut of the film included on the 4K UHD. This "International Cut" snips a single short scene and is completely superfluous.


  • Commentary by Bryan Reeseman and Max Evry - These two have a very casual and laid-back tone, with a fair amount of joking around, which makes sense as they've recorded various commentaries together. They try and tackle whatever they can, including real-world hacking incidents, quoting interviews and quotes from the cast and crew, and commenting on the film as it plays out on-screen. It's a dense track, with the pair rattling off facts and insights as fast as they can think of them, and offer the occasional critique and negative comment on the film (for example, Hemsworth's handsomeness), although they are mostly positive. Note: for whatever reason, this commentary can only be played over the International Cut.

  • "Firewall: Filming Blackhat" (18:44) - The first of the two new video interviews sits down with cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh. He talks briefly about his history as a cinematographer, starting out in New Zealand, working with Alison Maclean and Jane Campion, and then dives into Blackhat. His discussion is built around the cameras used on the film, including the Arri Alexa, the first RED camera, and various other types of camera equipment, including some discussion of lighting design, the amount of cameras used on a given scene, and the ability of the cameras to capture images in low light. He also speaks about Mann's visual inspirations (In the Mood For Love) and Mann's differing approach when it comes to working with a colorist.

  • "Zero Day Threat: Building the World of Blackhat" (30:33) - Much like the other new video interview, production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas starts out by talking about his route into the film industry, which is fairly unconventional, including a pit stop working at Sony on Discmans before getting a gig with Industrial Light and Magic. He also touches on a Steven Spielberg project that never saw the light of day. The discussion largely focuses on the challenges and excitement of working on a film that takes place in multiple countries, with a very particular kind of filmmaker, especially when the design mandate is a very specific type of realism. Hendrix talks about feeling like he was in a Mann film, on a speedboat going around Hong Kong at night with the neon lights going, as well as the Batman-esque toolbelt he assembled when they were scouting the movie. There is also a great explanation of the collaboration betwen himself and Mann, where Mann let Hendrix do what he felt was right and then work through it together, as well as a fun story about a shot in the movie looking up through a transparent keyboard at the hands using it. There is also a breakdown of what was built for the film, and what was a location -- the amount of work that went into the mid-movie shootout with the shipping containers is quite surprising -- and nice discussion of how production design is a team effort. No question that an interview with Mann himself, or perhaps someone from the cast, would probably make for a more flashy headliner for this new edition of Blackhat, but Hendrix does a great job of illustrating Mann's meticulous working methods, and he is an entertaining and animated speaker, as well.

  • Archival Extras - "Cyber Threat" (13:02), "On Location Around the World" (9:30), and "Creating Reality" (17:01) are all ported from Universal's 2015 release of Blackhat.

  • Image Gallery - 16 promotional stills.


For whatever reason, no trailer for Blackhat is included.


Note also that the retail release includes an extensive booklet with writing on the film by Andrew Graves, a reversible cover with the original theatrical poster artwork on one side and new artwork by Doug John Miller on the other, and a nice outer hardbox with that theatrical poster artwork, as is Arrow's customary treatment for limited editions. Genre Grinder received check discs with no packaging for review.



Conclusion

Blackhat is yet another example of a movie that was a little ahead of its time. Not only is the movie's techno-paranoia plot more relevant with AI and deepfakes creating justifiable concerns about technology in an era where truth is already easily manipulated, but the contemporary wave of appreciation for Michael Mann and his various obsessions and quirks as a filmmaker also helps the movie feel in vogue now in a way that it wasn't in 2015. Although it's a bit of a disappointment that Mann wasn't available to contribute anything to Arrow's new 4K release, like a commentary track, and that his Director's Cut is only available in HD rather than 4K, this upgraded edition is still a satisfying release and absolutely worth picking up if you're a fan of the film.


The images on this page are taken from the Blu-ray copy – NOT the 4K UHD – and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images.

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