Plot: What’s it about?
The institution known as Alcatraz has been closed for a long while, but when its doors were open, it was the ultimate prison. Now it has been updated and reopened, meaning it will be home to the most nefarious criminals in the system. And the prison will even be used to carry out death sentences, with the first one lined up just after it reopens. An inmate is to be executed, but he has some knowledge that is most valuable. While on the outside, he managed to steal two-hundred million dollars worth of gold, but while he was arrested and convicted, the gold was never recovered and he refuses to reveal its location. Even so, he is slated to be electrocuted and when he dies, so does the hope of finding the treasure trove of stolen gold. But some people are willing to go to extremes to gain that information before he dies, including a band of commandos who storm the prison, with some help from an inside man, Donny (Morris Chestnut). At the same time, an undercover agent (Steven Seagal) has to convince his fellow inmates to battle against the invading commandos, even if that means being on the side of the law. With tensions escalating and time running short, can the agent manage to take control the situation?
As this movie is an action movie, you’d expect fights, gun battles, extreme stunts, and some wicked violence. I mean, we even have some rappers involved, so you know this one isn’t aimed at the kiddies, right? But we’re proven wrong, as Half Past Dead is a PG-13 movie and in order to secure that, it seems as if the filmmakers had to excise some violence, brutality, and even harsh language. You would assume prison would be filled with profane tirades, but the inmates here never curse, even though they’re supposed to be the worst of the worst, as far as hardened criminals are concerned. So as we’ve seen all too often of late, we have a movie that should have been rated R, but was forced into a PG-13 setting and while that means more teens can purchase tickets, the tradeoffs aren’t balanced. If this would have been a hardcore prison picture, kind of like Oz meets The Rock, it might have been a huge success, but instead it comes off like a watered down knockoff, right down to the poor box office results. Half Past Dead isn’t terrible, but it could have much better and that’s the real disappointment here. If you’re an action junkie or just love Steven Seagal however, you’ll want to give this one a rental. This Blu-ray release offers the same supplements plus enhanced technical merits, so if you’re a fan, this is the version to check out.
Steven Seagal is back once again and per usual in his recent efforts, he has a rapper right by his side. I don’t want to seem out of place here, as I’ve seen some good performances by rap stars, but this simply wasn’t the right choice here. We have Steven Seagal, who has a presence that exudes solitude, you just know he wouldn’t be a team player. Maybe it is all of his previous movies, but its hard to imagine him as half of a buddy movie, especially with a criminal being played by a rap artist. I couldn’t even see him as a traditional partner on the police force, so this comes off as more than a little out of balance. But he looks as mean as ever and tries to do what he can, which is about all we can ask. And unlike the recent Seagal vehicle The Foreigner, he is allowed to focus on action and let dialogue take a backseat. Other films with Seagal include Exit Wounds, Fire Down Below, On Deadly Ground, Out for Justice, and Marked for Death. The cast also includes Ja Rule (Turn it Up, The Fast and The Furious), Nia Peeples (Deep Star Six, Alone with a Stranger), and Morris Chestnut (The Best Man, The Inkwell).
Video: How does it look?
Half Past Dead is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is a very good transfer, but it does lack the polish and depth of a top tier presentation. I found detail to be more than solid, with some scenes that look quite impressive, but I was never floored by the depth or detail. The print is in great condition however, with minimal debris and only some light grain at times, while noise and artifacts never prove to be a concern. The colors are on the cold side, but that is due to the prison environment and contrast performs well throughout. A nice upgrade over the standard release.
Audio: How does it sound?
This Dolby TrueHD 5.1 option sounds good, with a little presence that I expected. This mix offers more depth and power than the standard release’s soundtrack, which should please fans. The action scenes have the proper levels of punch, so those carry the kind of impact you’d expect. Not on the level of the elite soundtracks of course, but good nonetheless. The music has a lot of life also, with deep bass and lively surround presence. The dialogue remains clear and is never hard to understand, so even the subtle elements come through well here. This disc also includes French, Spanish, and Portuguese language tracks, as well as subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Thai, and Korean.
Supplements: What are the extras?
All of the extras from the DVD have been ported over, so that is good news. An audio commentary is the main supplement here, as director Don Michael Paul lends his thoughts on the picture. As Paul talks about the project’s interesting history, some cool information comes out, but in the end, this session isn’t too memorable. I would have liked to know about the changes made to obtain the lower rating, as well as more insight into the project evolved over time and what he might have changed. This disc also includes some deleted scenes, a behind the scenes featurette, and the film’s theatrical trailer.