Having not liked Jason Statham in anything other than "THE BANK JOB," and not liking the concept of the original Roger Corman film that the new incarnation of "DEATH RACE," has been based, this reviewer refused to see it in theaters. UNIVERSAL has released the film simultaneously on blu-ray and dvd. Fortunately, on occasion, blu-ray gives reviewers the chance to be unexpectedly surprised, as was the case with "DEATH RACE," while watching it over the holidays.
Jason Statham stars as Jensen Ames, a prisoner convicted of a murder he didn't commit, finding the opportunity to win his freedom by winning a death-defying race, against other prisoners. The film never tries to be "SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION," and there are few redeemable or innocent characters. The futuristic setting isn't too obvious, and the cars aren't ridiculously imagined as they were in the original. The comedic aspect of the original is also gone, making this an improvement, presented as a gritty action film and not apologizing for it. Statham is fine in the role, but as cliche'd as various characters appear, director W.S. Anderson has never done better than here, moving the film along with break-neck pacing, and creating a raw environment that never gets overwhelming or feels dumb.
UNIVERSAL has provided the correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio for both dvd and blu-ray. While colors are intentionally muted in both formats, grain(while necessary for this film's gritty look)is more abundant on the dvd. The dvd offers impressive contrast and impressive detail, but it can't compare to what's been achieved with this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 blu-ray! WOW! Blu-ray transfers like this demonstrate that even without rich colors, an image can still jump off the screen! Virtually every scene demonstrates the full-potential of blu-ray, with impeccable contrast, for flawless imagery in the typically darker settings. While a good transfer on dvd can be impressive, even great "dvd" contrast is limited in potential, not so with blu-ray.
UNIVERSAL has provided a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix for the blu-ray and Dolby Digital 5.1 mix for dvd. While the Dolby Digital mix of the dvd is first-rate, featuring fine balance, great bass and an immersive experience, it can't compete with the dynamic range of the lossy mix on blu-ray. Bass packs a much bigger whallop in DTS-HD, and the blending of a pumped up score, low bass and the consistent panning effects are notably more engulfing than on the standard dvd mix.
Most of the extras found on the dvd are on blu-ray as well, including a dull commentary. However, the featurettes are great, and the picture in picture capability of running great extras on blu, make for plenty of fun revisits to the film. UNIVERSAL has consistently been the best with this type of extra. There are plenty more extras on blu, however, due to BD-LIVE capability!