THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The DVD revolution has been great for movie fanatics. Not only can you own a copy of your favorite movies, but the DVD format allows for the addition of extra features that help you analyze everything there is to know about them. The DVD of Spy Game is typically packed (the box promises 10 hours of extra features) and, with the addition of the Total Axess feature that allows users to get even more goodies off their DVD-ROM drives, it should be a best seller.

Robert Redford and Brad Pitt star in Tony Scott's political thriller Spy Game
Spy Game stars Brad Pitt as Tom Bishop, a CIA spy who, in the opening scene, is captured while rescuing a political prisoner from a Chinese jail. The incident comes at a bad time, since the U.S. President is negotiating an important trade policy with China. The agency brings in Nathan Muir (Robert Redford), Bishop's mentor, for questioning. They want to know how Bishop was recruited, what happened on his other missions, and whether or not he followed procedure. Muir quickly surmises that the CIA is "looking for a reason" to let the Chinese kill him - which they have threatened to do in 24 hours.

The film, which is primarily set in 1991, initially goes back and forth as Muir recounts the past operations he conducted with Bishop, including a time when the younger spy was reamed out for not following orders. Then the agency drops a bombshell: when Bishop was captured, he was not carrying out an authorized mission. Muir believes his protégé may have been trying to help Elizabeth (Catherine McCormick), a former "asset" that Bishop got close to.

I loved the first 90 minutes of Spy Game. The part of Nathan Muir is tailor-made for Redford; he's a guy who sees through the red tape, is a little bit smarter than those around him, and isn't afraid to take chances. There's tension in the scenes where Muir tries to figure out his colleagues' motives without tipping his own hat. I also enjoyed the way the story flips back and forth in time, showing us how the younger spy learned from the older one. Director Tony Scott gives the film a fast, stylish pace without sacrificing the intelligence of the story.

However, the movie lost me in the last half-hour. The explanation for why Bishop tries to help Elizabeth - and what it means - gets muddled. Muir eventually does something that is also important to try to save Bishop, yet the film throws the information at us so quickly that it's easy to get confused. By the end of Spy Game, I knew what had happened, but I didn't know why. That confusion was just enough to detract from my enjoyment enough to earn the film a mixed review.

Although the movie itself isn't as successful as I would have liked it to be, the DVD contains an impressive number of extras. Director Scott provides audio commentary throughout the film, and there are a handful of deleted and alternate scenes he also talks about. The alternate ending was a bit of a disappointment, though, as it didn't seem substantially different from the release ending. In addition to the usual trailers, production notes, and making-of segments, the Spy Game DVD has one particularly interesting feature: a list of requirements one must have in order to become a CIA agent. (By my estimate, I almost qualify!)

The sound and picture quality of the disc are superb. Scott's widescreen compositions look fabulous on a TV screen, and the outstanding musical score from Harry Gregson-Williams pounds out of the speakers dynamically. Coincidentally, I had in my possession a VHS screening copy of the film that Universal Pictures sent me last year for awards consideration. For comparison, I looked at the DVD and VHS side-by-side and the difference is amazing. The DVD image is much clearer and sharper.

Perhaps the strongest selling selling point of the DVD is the Total Axess feature. Pop the disc in your CD-ROM player and you can log onto a special website offering features such as screensavers and wallpaper, a copy of the original screenplay and a trivia contest. Also available are the following:

  • The Spy Game World Premiere - An exciting look at the starry, red carpet event in Los Angeles
  • An Additional Exclusive Interview with Redford and Pitt
  • Choosing the Right Director - An interview with producers Marc Abraham and Douglas Wick
  • "The Toughest Scene" - Director Tony Scott shares his insight on the most difficult scene
  • Tony Scott Directing Brad Pitt - Behind-the-scenes footage
  • CIA training - Tony Scott shares some fascinating information from his research
  • Operatives and Assets - The actors discuss their characters
  • Working with Redford - Candid remarks from the director

    Spy Game is the first feature released with Total Axess. For movie lovers, the additional way to access special features is something to celebrate. At press time, the Total Axess website was still in testing mode and not scheduled to go "live" until April 9 - the release date of the DVD. Because of this, I was not able to check out all the additional features, although I am impressed enough with the quantity of them to do so in the near future.

    DVDs offer so many fascinating bells and whistles that it's easier to recommend movies that might not have warranted a recommendation theatrically. Spy Game - the movie - is an interesting but flawed film. But if you have a DVD player, you might want to check the picture out for the good stuff it does have and then enjoy the interesting special features afterward.

    The movie: 1/2 out of four

    The DVD - 1/2 out of four

    Spy Game is rated R for language, some violence and brief sexuality. The running time is 2 hours and 7 minutes.

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