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Details At A Glance

Category Action/Thriller Theatrical Trailer(s) None
Rating Other Trailer(s) None
Year Released 1995 Commentary Tracks None
Running Time 163:34 Minutes  Other Extras None
RSDL/Flipper RSDL (78:42)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Movie
Region 2,4 Director Michael Mann

Warner Home Video
Starring Al Pacino
Robert De Niro
Val Kilmer
Diane Venora
Jon Voight
Tom Sizemore
Natalie Portman
Danny Trejo
Henry Rollins
Hank Azaria
Case Snapper
RRP $34.95 Music Elliot Goldenthal
Pan & Scan/Full Frame No MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Dolby Digital 5.1
16x9 Enhancement
Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 5.1, 448 Kb/s)
French (Dolby Digital 5.1, 448 Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking Yes
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    Ever since The Godfather, Part II hit the silver screen, there have been a large number of punters crying out for a film in which Al Pacino and Robert De Niro face off together. Twenty-one years later, director/writer Michael Mann elected to give those enthusiasts what they wanted, but with a small bonus. Instead of facing off in mere parallel action, Pacino and De Niro find themselves facing off against each other in the most explosive on-screen game of cat and mouse since The Terminator. I have never seen such a great collection of my favourite actors in a single film, either, so this film works for me on that level. We have stellar performances from Natalie Portman as a pre-pubescent girl in crisis, Danny Trejo as a professional thief, and Henry Rollins as a Darth Vader to William Fichtner's Emperor in the finance world. Even Val Kilmer seems better as a professional thief with a gambling problem than his usual self. The film begins with Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) taking his cohorts Chris Shiherlis (Val Kilmer), Michael Cherrito (Tom Sizemore), and a big, scary Spanish man known only as Trejo (Danny Trejo) on an explosive armoured car robbery. Along with them for the ride is a rather scruffy man known only as Waingro (Kevin Gage), who basically turns the robbery from a simple case of grand larceny into first-degree murder with his own stupidity. Needless to say, McCauley and his regular partners are very unhappy about this and they decide to get rid of him on a permanent basis. Unfortunately, they fail in a way that still puzzles me, and Waingro soon hooks up with an unscrupulous businessman by the name of Van Zant (William Fichtner), whom McCauley has already threatened with death due to other hassles stemming from the robbery. Meanwhile, a police lieutenant by the name of Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) finds himself called to hunt down McCauley before he and his associates' greed for gold claim too many more victims. Needless to say, this puts a massive amount of strain upon his relationship with his third wife Justine (Diane Venora) and his stepdaughter, Lauren (Natalie Portman).

    I can only pick very minor faults with the story in this case, and they are moot because the rest of the story excels. Come to think of it, so does pretty much all of the acting involved in its execution. Natalie Portman's performance as the dysphoric Lauren really moves me because of its authenticity. She really does a great job of conveying a character with such a major chunk missing out of her life. Essentially, she puts in a good performance helped along by some very well thought-out characterization on Michael Mann's part. If anyone ever tells you that her acting skills merely consist of sitting around and looking pretty, this is a great film to dispel that myth with. There are also enough cameos from other wonderful actors in this film to sink the Executor, and Hugh Benny (Henry Rollins), Van Zant's lieutenant is not least among them. While the pace in the sequences used to build up the story and drama are somewhat slow, the action is very powerful. All in all, this is one of the most overlooked performances in both Al Pacino's and Robert De Niro's illustrious careers. This has to be one of the most overlooked classics of the 1990s by far.

Transfer Quality


    While Warners have yet to pull the finger out in some other departments, they have done a very good job with this video transfer. The transfer is presented at the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, complete with the 16x9 enhancement that this film richly deserves. The results are somewhat less brilliant than one would normally expect, but for the most part this can be squarely laid on the director's and photographer's combined intentions. Unfortunately, the manner in which this film was shot also places a lot of stress on the MPEG encoding, and it shows at times. In many shots, the backgrounds were deliberately blurred to give them a COPS-like feel, and the superior resolution of this DVD magnifies the results, with a lot of background lights exhibiting a faint shimmer. While this is a somewhat detracting artistic choice, it is an artistic choice all the same. Important details, such as the actor doing the talking and whom they are talking to (essentially, the main focus of the action), are razor-sharp. Shadow detail is a little lacking here and there, but these also appear to be artistic choices on the crew's part rather than any fault of the transfer. To make a long story short, this is quite probably the best transfer you're ever going to get of this film.

    The colours have a moderate feel to them that accurately reflects the steel-and-concrete jungle of Los Angeles where most of the film takes place, although the scheme is variable in some scenes. While there are no bright, vibrant colours, the myriad of lighting in night-time scenes is very well done. Essentially, it appears as though the director intended to make the viewer feel as if he or she is sitting right in the midst of the action like an invisible witness. The night-time scenes in this film are gloriously detailed, and they become a real delight to look at. MPEG artefacts were pretty much absent from the presentation in spite of the occasional threat here and there, and as I clarified before, the blurring inherent in backgrounds is not because of the MPEG encoding. Film-to-video artefacts consisted of some rather minor aliasing or moiré effects, but this was limited to a small number of such things as night-time shots of buildings, or a few shots involving the presence of high-class menswear. Film artefacts were mostly absent, except for the very occasional speck on the film, and indeed this DVD looks as if it were transferred from a very pristine print. This is a very recent and youthful film, and looks it from start to finish in spite of the minor qualifiers. However, if there's one thing I am not happy with, it is the way the camera (as opposed to the actual telecine projection) wobbles and weaves in amounts that range from slight to dreadful in some scenes. The brief hand-to-hand combat between Al Pacino and Henry Rollins towards the end of the film is, surprisingly, a scene that suffers the least among those that have this problem. There's just a little too much undue influence from the likes of Oliver Stone, methinks.

    As is customary for Warner Brothers titles, the subtitles only have a polite relationship with the actual dialogue. This is particularly problematic for the English for the Hard Of Hearing subtitles, as the indications of whom is speaking which line are particularly unhelpful. [Addendum March 15, 2000: During some conversations involving Val Kilmer's character, listed in the credits as Chris Shiherlis, the subtitles in English for the Hard of Hearing refer to his character by the moniker of "MARCIANO". Needless to say, this makes these subtitles rather useless to anyone who actually is hard of hearing, and further makes a joke of the presentation this film has been given on DVD.] The packaging only mentions about three quarters of the available languages (English, French, Italian, Dutch, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, and German), and also mentions an option that is absent from the disc (Italian for the Hearing Impaired, as it is written). It's bad enough that such an excellent film is packaged in these damned snapper cases, but can't we at least have accurate labelling of the disc's features that is pleasant to look at?

    This disc is presented in the RSDL format, with the layer change occurring at 78:42, between Chapters 24 and 25. This is probably the best place in which a layer change could occur as it allows the compression space to breathe while being in a location that will cause the least disruption. I'd rate it as slightly better than being just a "good" position. If you're not picky like I am, then you probably won't notice it at all.


    The audio quality is similar to the video, except that it is slightly more immersive due to the fact that it is unaffected by deliberate choices at the film production level. The audio is presented in a choice of two languages, both in Dolby Digital 5.1: English, and French. Because I have no command of French, and no interest in acquiring any, I stuck with the English audio track. It would have been nice to hear the dialogue, particularly Al Pacino's and Robert De Niro's, dubbed in Italian. It would have been ever nicer from my viewpoint to hear Danny Trejo's lines dubbed in Spanish, but what we have in English is a real treat, anyway. The dialogue was clear and easy to understand 99.99% of the time, but there was the occasional utterance that fell below the line of clarity. This is somewhat annoying in the rare instances where it takes place, given that the film already demands some effort to be listened to. All in all, I feel that parts of this film could have been a little better balanced for sound quality, but what we do have here is very good, anyway. Audio sync was never a problem, although I could swear that some of the dialogue in a few scenes could have benefited from this.

    The score music by Elliot Goldenthal easily places him in my top five favourite film music composers, although I've never heard any memorable scores by him before or since. Let's just say he has earned a place on the ground floor of that list with his efforts in this film. The intense action scenes, particularly the robberies, are accompanied by surprisingly well-moderated bursts of energetic, percussion-reliant music that has a suitable sort of cops-and-robbers feel to it. Moments such as the marital disputes and Lauren's suicide attempt are accompanied by subtle or dramatic orchestral or choral pieces depending on the scene. The previously mentioned scene in which Vincent discovers Lauren dying in his bathtub is a real triumph as far as tear-jerking, gut-wrenching musical accompaniment. I only know of two pieces of film scoring that moved me as much as this one, and they're both part of the Star Wars saga. Reflective moments are accompanied by slow, warm, and subtle pieces that I could have happily opened a few veins to during my first viewing of the disc. This is a film score that, while not being as constant as I would like, is one that even the great John Williams would be proud of.

    The surround presence of this DVD is somewhat variable. Dialogue was always placed in the left and right channels regardless of its point of origin on the video output, and was occasionally enhanced by the centre speaker. Low-level sound effects such as waves crashing and distant engine rumble were also sent through the centre speaker, while the more subtle parts of the music were very gently sent through the back speakers. Rather than being an enveloping sound mix, this is a sound mix designed to create the illusion that you're watching the events on the screen from a lounge chair somewhere in the set. It works well enough on this level, although the surround presence does kick straight into the variety you'd associate with a no-brainer action movie as soon as the more aggressive scenes kick in once more. The subwoofer spent quite a lot of time with little to do, and even gunshot sounds seemed to be deemed unworthy of its support by the people behind the encoding. This is quite disappointing, given how many opportunities there are for subwoofer integration.


    Bereft promises made unto me (by Warner Brothers), I always remember watching them fade on blackened winds of not knowing what DVD collectors want. The extras I just couldn't see, for they are just an optional section, and Warners' optional sections are empty. [With sincere apologies to Esoteric for butchering one of their best songs like this.] A commentary track by Michael Mann, Robert De Niro, and Al Pacino would have been a nice addition, but this is Warner Brothers we are talking about.


    The menu is very poorly themed around the movie, and the background graphics look like a 24-bit bitmaps downconverted to 256 colours with exceptionally poor optimization. The scene selection menu is an absolute and utter farce, offering direct access to about eighteen of the fifty-two total chapters on the disc. While I was discussing this problem with members of my family who also remember the early days of VCRs, they told me this reminded them of the time when Warner Brothers VHS tapes cost twice as much and took twice as long to get into the marketplace. In other words, Warner Brothers have a long history of putting their prices at the opposite end to the value for money they are providing us. This is little more than a continuation of that lack of regard for the punters.

R4 vs R1

    Given that we both speak the same language, the preferential treatment given to Region 1 in this case makes me sick.

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;

    It is a tough call, given how hard anything other than a commentary track in Dolby Digital 2.0 would push the compression. My opinion is that one should hang onto their money and wait for such an extra to be added. If you absolutely can't live without this title, stick with the Region 4 version.


    Heat is a modern-day masterpiece presented on a well formatted, but poorly packaged and presented DVD. While this film could have been, and should have been, a lot better, its epic length and photography could have allowed it to become much worse.

    The video quality borders on excellent, although it is hindered at times by its need to reflect deliberate flaws put into the film itself.

    The audio quality, while being somewhat variable in terms of presence, has enough grand moments to set it apart from many other action films.

    Given how great this film is, Warner Brothers could have earned four stars in the extras department just by including a commentary track. As it is, the poorly designed menus are worthy of point deductions from zero.

Ratings (out of 5)

© Dean McIntosh
February 20, 2000
Amended March 15, 2000
Review Equipment
DVD Grundig GDV 100 D, using composite output; Toshiba SD-2109, using S-video output
Display Panasonic TC-29R20 (68 cm), 4:3 mode, using composite input; Samsung CS-823AMF (80 cm), 16:9 mode/4:3 mode, using composite and S-video inputs
Audio Decoder Built In (Amplifier)
Amplification Sony STR-DE835
Speakers Panasonic S-J1500D Front Speakers, Sharp CP-303A Back Speakers, Philips FB206WC Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Subwoofer