The Color of Money

This review is sponsored by

Details At A Glance

Category Drama Theatrical Trailer(s) None
Rating Other Trailer(s) None
Year Released 1986 Commentary Tracks None
Running Time 114:45 minutes Other Extras None
RSDL/Flipper RSDL (64:34)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Movie
Region 2,4 Director Martin Scorsese
Touchstone Pictures
Warner Home Video
Starring Paul Newman
Tom Cruise
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio
Helen Shaver
Case Amaray
RRP $34.95 Music Robbie Robertson

Pan & Scan/Full Frame No MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Dolby Digital 4.1
16x9 Enhancement
Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 4.1, 384 Kb/s)
French (Dolby Digital 2.0, 192 K/bs)
Italian (Dolby Digital 2.0, 192 K/bs)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
Macrovision ? Smoking Yes, definitely
Subtitles Dutch
English for the Hearing Impaired
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    Well, if you have not worked it out by now, or not yet read the reviewer profiles that have been posted on the site, I have something of a soft spot for the work of Martin Scorsese. So when this film was announced for release, it was an obvious pick to indulge in, not the least because I had been nothing but underwhelmed by the poor quality of the VHS tapes that have been released of the film. Whilst I would hardly rate it amongst the best things that Scorsese has ever done, I often think that my poorish opinion of the film is in some way as a result of the poor quality transfers it has copped. Having now seen it in all its digital glory, I am still curiously underwhelmed by the film, but at least I know it was not the poor quality video tapes that are the reason. This sucker is a very dark looking film.

    Whilst it is not quite true to call it a sequel to The Hustler, Paul Newman reprises his role as Fast Eddie Felson here to good effect. Now older and wiser, and retired, Fast Eddie still hangs out around the pool joints, where he stumbles upon a young pool hustler in Vincent Lauria (Tom Cruise), who reminds him somewhat of his younger self. He sees Vince as an opportunity to return to the thrilling days of his younger years where he was a king of the pool table. So Vince becomes his new protégé and his girlfriend Carmen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) a new hustling business partner. Imparting his knowledge upon Vince, Eddie is aiming for one thing and one thing only - Vince at the 9 Ball Classic in Atlantic City, making big bucks off the bets. Or is he? This is no joy of a relationship though as Vince is a brash young guy not readily disposed to the nuances of playing the pool hall stooges for all they have got. However, he finally learns the meaning of life, pool-hustling style which leads to an interesting situation in Atlantic City, where obviously there is the inevitable showdown between the master and the pupil.

    Not exactly the most inspiring story at first glance, but like many a Martin Scorsese film, what is on offer is moulded into something more than the words written in a screenplay. It is also a most interesting casting for the film, for in many ways Tom Cruise is to the eighties and nineties what Paul Newman was to the sixties and seventies. Paul Newman is quite superb as the rejuvenated hustler and it is clear to see why he copped the Oscar for Best Actor for this in 1987. However, Tom Cruise was no less compelling as the brash young protégé, whilst Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is similarly no less compelling as the tough-as-nails, somewhat streetwise girlfriend. However, where this film does really score is the direction from Martin Scorsese, which keeps what could have become quite a languid film moving along at a very nice pace, to which you have to add the wonderful cinematography under the control of Director of Photography Michael Ballhaus.

    Still, this is one instance where the whole is not so much more than the sum of the parts but rather something less than the sum of the parts. And I really wish I knew why this film, despite the wonderful parts, just leaves me wishing for something more.

Transfer Quality


    Part of the reason for this however has to be the transfer, which I presume is what Martin Scorsese wanted, even though I find it far too dark.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and it is 16x9 enhanced.

    The problem with the transfer being so dark is that it results in an overall lack of definition that frankly I find disappointing. In particular, shadow detail is very poor, which is a great opportunity lost in my view. The overall feel of the transfer as a result is quite claustrophobic. Some scenes are worse than others, but one notably poor example is in the car with Carmen leaning close to Vince - it is extremely difficult to see where Vince's hair ends and where Carmen's hair begins, and indeed to differentiate the foreground from the background. The transfer is not helped by not being especially clear. No doubt this darkness was intended to capture the dingy feel of the pool halls, but all it ends up doing is making the film very difficult to watch. There does not appear to be any problems with low level noise in the transfer, although at times the picture does seem a little grainy.

    The colours are in general quite reasonably rendered but with the dark tendency of the transfer, they lack any sort of vibrancy at all. The result is a not-too-natural feel in my view, with some skin tones being especially poor. Without some nice, bright, vibrant colours, the transfer has a quite dirty appearance to it that again may reflect what Martin Scorsese intended. Overall however, this really looks a lot older than it actually is and does not compare well to other films of similar or older vintage reviewed recently.

   There did not appear to be any significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer, apart from what is presumably inherent problems with lack of detail and loss of focus on panned shots. There did not appear to be any significant film-to-video artefacts in the transfer. Since we are talking about a fourteen year old film, film artefacts are present and unfortunately some are rather noticeable.

   This is an RSDL format disc, with the layer change coming at 64:34. It s a pretty horrendous layer change, extremely noticeable and mildly disruptive to the film and it really does beg the question as to whether there is any thought actually given to the positioning of the change to minimize disruption. It would also help if Di$ney could take on board the almost seamless layer changes that Roadshow seem to be able to produce.


   And the decidedly average video transfer is matched by a decidedly average audio transfer.

   There are three audio tracks on the DVD: an English Dolby Digital 4.1 soundtrack, a French Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack and an Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. As is usual for Di$ney releases, the language options are not changeable on the fly and have to be accessed through the menu. I listened to the English default.

    There is some problem with the dialogue in the film, which is anything but clear and easy to understand at times. I had significant problems trying to find a volume level that would enable me to listen to the dialogue easily without being blasted through the wall into the next room every time music kicked in. I can only conclude that the soundtrack was mixed by someone who has no idea whatsoever about natural sounding soundtracks.

    There did not appear to be any audio sync problems with the transfer.

    The musical score comes from Robbie Robertson of The Band fame, although to be honest the score does not do much for the film. Most of the musical accompaniment comes from various songs, and these have a far more powerful influence on the film.

    And just to round it all off, apart from the rather unusual 4.1 format of the sound, the whole effect is ruined by a shocking balance in the soundtrack. The bass is made far too prevalent in the mix and overpowers everything. The result is a completely unnatural soundscape that completely lacks belief whenever the bass channel kicks in - and I do mean kicks in. During those periods when the bass channel is mercifully silent, which is more often than not thankfully, this dialogue-driven soundtrack is acceptable but nothing more. At no time did I feel as if I was a part of the soundscape and always felt as if this was something unnatural that I was definitely listening to rather than being a part of. There is virtually no detail in the soundtrack, which is lamentable given the opportunity to have that nice clinking of pool balls adding a little ambience in the rear. There is nothing at all subtle about the soundtrack here and I really cannot find anything to praise.


    The universe is an ever expanding thing with a finite amount of matter contained therein. Accordingly, as the universe expands, the matter becomes more thinly spread so that conglomerations of matter within space become rarer. In other words there is a lot of damn space in space. There is on this disc too.


    I presume it has one, but it has so little to do that I did not even remember to check it out. It could be the best I have ever seen for all that I know, but since it has no real function, do I really care?

R4 vs R1

    This film is due for release in Region 1 on 14th March, so we have another instance where we steal the march on that region. Since the release that is currently scheduled in Region 1 is about as devoid of any extraneous matter as space, it would seem that Region 4 will remain the region of choice, owing to the inherent superiority of the PAL system. Believe me, I would hate to see this in NTSC.


    A film that leaves me absolutely cold despite it coming from Martin Scorsese. I have concerns about both the quality of the video and audio transfers, and these are compounded by a lack of extras and one of the worst cover presentations I have ever seen inflicted upon a film by a major studio. In all honesty, give this a wide berth - but if you need to see it, hop down to your local video store and hire it. You will save yourself the better part of $30.

    A very average video transfer.

    A very average audio transfer.

    No extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris
18th February 2000

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 84cm. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built in
Amplification Yamaha RXV-795. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL