Plot: What’s it about?
Detective Frank Bullitt (Steve McQueen) is a man’s man, a no nonsense police officer who backs down from no one and seeks justice at any cost. So when Walter Chalmers (Robert Vaugh), a local politician with grander ambitions, assigns someone to guard a crucial mob informant, he chooses Bullitt. He and two trusted partners are to guard the informant, who has already dodged multiple attempts on his life, in what should be a routine assignment. But something goes bad and before sunrise, the informant and one officer are on the brink of death at a hospital, while the other officer is dead. Chalmers is livid and holds Bullitt responsible, telling him he will ruin his life if the informant passes on. Instead of sitting around, Bullitt takes what limited information he has and sets out to uncover the truth about the incident. The killer even tries to finish the informant off in the hospital and while he isn’t captured, Bullitt sees him and turns up the heat. As the informant struggles to survive and Chalmers continues to pressure him, can Bullitt settle the score in time?
Bullitt has perhaps the greatest chase scene in all of cinema, an epic sequence that is so good, it steals the show and the rest of the movie is left behind. When you think of Bullitt, you probably think of two things, that chase sequence and of course, star Steve McQueen. McQueen is a true icon, a figure of such cool stature and to me, Bullitt has his core performance. McQueen had other great roles, but this is the one that stands above the others, at least in my opinion. Even when he delivers some shaky lines, he does so with great skill, this was just a natural role for him. If we look beyond the famous chase scene, Bullitt is a grounded crime drama that strives to have realism, as well as action. As expected, the film is pretty dated after almost four decades, but I still think the movie holds up on the whole. I do think some sequences run out of gas before they end, but there is enough here to carry the plot through and the entertainment value is solid. Then when McQueen hits a hot run of dialogue or when that incredible chase begins, Bullitt moves from solid to superb. I still wouldn’t call Bullitt a great movie however, more like a good movie with some great elements, including the iconic chase. This new HD-DVD edition sports some minor improvements in technical areas, as well as the extras from the Special Edition. If you already own the Special Edition, an upgrade is tough to recommend, but if you’re a first time buyer or just own the older release, then Bullitt on HD-DVD is a no brainer.
Video: How does it look?
Bullitt is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. I really wanted this movie to look incredible in high definition and while it does look good, it doesn’t have that wow factor I had hoped. The print looks solid, but grain is an issue and in some scenes, proves to be quite troublesome. But then again, that is kind of unavoidable in this case and while the grain does soften the visuals here and there, it is part of the film’s base. I found detail to be a touch better than the standard DVD, but not a world of difference, so those looking for knockout high definition transfers will be let down. Again, the visuals here are well presented and better than before, just not by that much.
Audio: How does it sound?
A nice new Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack is on deck, but keep your expectations in check. Yes, the movie sounds good, but restrained and limited. This is no fault of the soundtrack however and short of a total audio overhaul, this is probably as good as the material is going to sound. The presence is sparse, but kicks in a little more when it needs to. The chase scene lacks the power and presence it would have in a more modern picture, but still sounds acceptable. I think the overall sound here is better than the previous editions, though still a little limited. No problems with dialogue though, as vocals are loud and clear throughout. This disc also includes French and Spanish language tracks, as well as subtitles in English, Spanish, and French.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Up first we have commentary from Peter Yates, who recalls production from the director’s perspective. As is to be expected, Yates’ memory is a little shaky at times, but he has plenty of stories from the shoot. He spends ample time on the production of the chase sequence, as well as time on his approach as a director. Now we move to The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing, an in depth look at the role editors play in cinema. This piece looks at numerous productions however, so more than Bullitt is focused on. Even so, this is a great inclusion and film fans should delight at all the insights provided. Steve McQueen: The Essence of Cool is up next, a substantial collection of interviews with the man himself and those who worked with or admire the man. This look back on the legends covers McQueen’s career, with looks at some of his movies, as well as his personal life. In a welcome approach, both the good and bad sides are examined, so this is by no means a fluff piece, but a substantial look at the life of an icon. This disc also includes a vintage featurette, as well as the film’s theatrical trailer.