Point Break

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Details At A Glance

Category Action Theatrical Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - 1.78:1, non-16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono
Rating Other Trailer(s) None
Year Released 1991 Commentary Tracks None
Running Time 117:10 Minutes  Other Extras None
RSDL/Flipper RSDL (57:00)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 2,4 Director Kathryn Bigelow

Fox Home Video
Starring Patrick Swayze
Keanu Reeves
Gary Busey
Lori Petty
Case Transparent Amaray
RRP $39.95 Music Sharon Boyle
Mark Isham
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Dolby Digital 5.1
16x9 Enhancement
Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking Yes
Subtitles Czech 
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    There are three kinds of James Cameron films, as far as I am concerned. The first of these kinds contains the absolute dogs (Titanic), and the second group contains junk food for the brain (Terminator 2, Aliens). The third, and best, kind of James Cameron film is the kind where he lets go of the directorial reins and hands them over to Kathyrn Bigelow on his way to the executive producer's lounge. Point Break is one such film, and it was launched with a massive publicity campaign in spite of this, whereas the better of the two films I've seen produced under this arrangement, Strange Days, was not. Personally, I don't mind Point Break as an action ride, but the lack of a substantial plot tends to make it a once-every-so-often viewing experience. If you enjoyed Terminator 2, then you will at least find enough viewing pleasure in this film to be able to say that the forty dollars wasn't a waste. What makes this film so interesting is that, for all intents and purposes, there are really only five famous faces in this film, and at least two of them wouldn't be particularly well-known until years after this film. The film starts out with Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) on his first day on the job as an FBI agent, an opening which led to the tagging of this film as "Ted becomes a policeman" by some unkind critics. He is paired-off with a veteran FBI agent known throughout the film as Pappas (Gary Busey), and they are assigned to track down a group of men known as the Ex-Presidents. The Ex-Presidents are a rather nasty bunch of guys who rob banks by day and surf by night, at least according to Pappas, whose theory is ridiculed by other agents. However, it turns out that Pappas has a couple of pieces of scientific evidence with which to back up his theory, and Johnny is soon assigned to learn to surf in the hopes that he will somehow make contact with the members of the Ex-Presidents group. After some false starts, a young woman named Tyler (Lori Petty) takes pity on Johnny and teaches him to surf.

    As Johnny surfs, and manages to get himself entangled in some surfer territorialism, he is set upon by a foursome of thugs, including one curious-looking man referred to as Tone (a cameo appearance by Red Hot Chili Peppers vocalist Anthony Keidis). What makes this cameo all the more curious is that it occurred in a film that went into its theatrical run here just as the band's single Under The Bridge (the one that made them as famous as they are today) was released. Johnny puts up a brave fight but is eventually overwhelmed by his four opponents, at least until the enigmatic surfing guru Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) appears. Soon, Johnny and Bodhi form a bond, and Johnny is slowly welcomed into the tribe of surfers that Bodhi is more or less the leader of. Complicating the issue to a small degree is the fact that Tyler and Bodhi were once an item, but this element of the story is rather curiously underplayed in a fashion that is actually believable. Johnny and Pappas execute a raid on the surf-thugs who attacked Johnny, believing them to be the notorious Ex-Presidents, and discovering that they couldn't possibly be. After this sequence, a rather shoddily-executed scene follows in which Johnny comes to the realization that Bodhi and his group are in fact the Ex-Presidents. I can't help but feel that some kind of flashback or overdub would have helped this scene make a little more sense. Anyway, a series of chase sequences ensue, the first of which makes Bodhi aware of Johnny's true occupation. This is where the James Cameron influence of this film really takes off, with car chases and violence helping to move the story along at a nice pace. The sequence in which Bodhi, dressed up as Ronald Reagan, uses a combination of a petrol pump and a Zippo to torch a petrol station could have been made a little more amusing by having him singe a giant-sized copy of the U.S. Constitution, but the sequence is an exciting action feast as it is.

    If you enjoy action, then you will certainly enjoy Point Break, although it does have a slightly limited replay value. Why Kathryn Bigelow hasn't been assigned to direct more films of this variety is beyond me, as her more recent piece of work, Strange Days, is a riveting piece of science fiction that should be transferred to DVD immediately (yes, Fox, that's a demand). I would consider this film to be worthy of buying due to the fact that it sustains viewing at least a couple of times a month.

Transfer Quality


    Fox have had a reputation for some time for producing deficient transfers, and I was curious to see how this one would hold up because I had seen it during the original theatrical run nearly a decade ago. Although I disagree at times with Paul C's view that this is a reference-quality transfer, it certainly isn't very far off it. The transfer is presented at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, complete with 16x9 enhancement. The image is sharp and clear at all times, but not exceptionally so, which is probably more the fault of source material. Shadow detail varies from being perfect in some night-time shots to somewhat unclear in others, but this was because of the manner in which the film was shot. Film grain was a rather inconsistent problem, with most of the film being remarkably smooth in spite of how it has aged, while scenes like the finale have enough grain to start looking like a twenty year old film. Low-level noise was completely absent from the transfer, and even people who've only caught this film on VHS have remarked on this factor.

    The colours were a little muted, but this is another artistic choice rather than any fault of the transfer. Skin tones were absolutely spot-on and perfectly natural, as opposed to the slightly red look I have grown used to with the last few transfers I have looked at. There were no instances of chroma noise or colour bleeding at any point in this film. No MPEG artefacts were apparent at any point in the film, which is remarkable when one considers the amount of scenes in this film that are comprised of blurred water backgrounds. Film-to-video artefacts were more or less completely absent, with only one or two very minor instances of aliasing occurring at points where they are hard to notice, let alone remember. Film artefacts were minimal, with only the odd vertical line showing up towards the end of the film for maybe about fifty or so frames. The only real noticeable occurrence is during the skydiving sequence that takes place before the last robbery, where a thin vertical line takes up the entire height of the frame for a second or two.

    This disc is presented in the RSDL format, with the layer change occurring at 57:00, during Chapter 10. Unfortunately, a new player certainly doesn't hide the change completely, as there is a very slight pause which you can miss on the first viewing, but my amplifier helped make it very easy to notice. Given that it is also in the middle of a walk, it's not as if the placement was very judicious. Placing this layer change between Chapters 9 and 10 would have been preferred since the two Chapters do not blend into one another to begin with.


    There is a single audio track on this disc: English in Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded, which is true to the original theatrical exhibition. This, sadly, limits the amount of times I can go back to the film and hear it in a badly-dubbed foreign language, which is a real pity when I think about how much I would love to hear Patrick Swayze's lines dubbed in Spanish. Dialogue was generally clear and easy to understand, with only the very occasional and very minor distortion that I believe also occurred during the theatrical exhibit due to high levels of ambient noise crowding the mix. There was also the odd audio sync problem here and there, but this was due to sloppy looping in the original production of the film, and took place in scenes where it would obviously have been just a little difficult to capture all the actors' voices on location during filming.

    The score music was composed by Mark Isham and "supervised", according to the credits, by Gary Goetzman and Sharon Boyle. This makes it hard to know who to give credit for this music to, and that is a damned shame because it is brilliant music that augments the on-screen action very well. Granted, it is no Star Wars score, but the compositions on offer here really augment the mood of the scenes in a way that few other scores do. I wonder if there is some kind of fancy term for the marriage of musical phrases to pure emotions, because enough composers in the film scoring world (and in the truly alternative musical world) do it with such grace that it must be some kind of recognized art.

    The surround presence was subtle, and created a great augmentation for the on-screen action that gets the emotions of the viewer rising at the appropriate times, and even the end of the night-surfing sequence is made all the more impactful by the surrounds. I'm not an outdoors kind of person, but this soundtrack just literally made me feel as if I was sitting right there on a beach watching the interactions between the characters in some scenes. The sound effects were given a fairly wide stage, which is certainly very good considering the number of deep gunshot sounds there are in a number of sequences. Sadly, the soundfield given to the score music was a little narrow, but reflective of the way in which the score music was used in the theatrical presentation. It has a certain kind of shrill and ethereal quality to it.

    The subwoofer was used quite heavily to support the waves and gunshots, amongst other things such as fattening the score music, and was very well integrated into the overall sound scheme. This is how a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix should be done.


    Well, there are not many extras here, but for a no-brainer action film, they are acceptable.


    The main menu is very plain, but very nice to look at. I believe it is a slight rearrangement of the theatrical poster. All of the menus are 16x9 enhanced. The scene selection menu is comprehensive, but the numbers indicating choices between groups of scenes (the scenes are grouped in fives) are so hard to read that even I would remark upon it.

Theatrical Trailer

    This is the trailer that got me thinking that I should go and see this film in the first place, and it is a great summation of the film that gives away nothing except the level of action and excitement you can expect from the film. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, but, curiously, without 16x9 enhancement. As is the case with many theatrical trailers from the time, it is in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, which is fair enough given that this trailer was actually intended to be broadcast onto television sets rather than home theatre equipment.

R4 vs R1

    This film is not yet available in Region 1.


    Point Break is an immersive action film worth adding to your collection, even if you may have to leave it a few weeks between viewings. It is presented on an excellent DVD that counters the reputation Fox have gained after Titanic.

    The video quality is almost identical to the original theatrical version, warts and all. Even the inherent problems in the original theatrical exhibition are identically represented in the DVD.

    The audio quality is quite simply the best Dolby Digital 2.0 surround soundtrack you will ever hear. It is a superb example of the right way to encode a 2.0 surround mix, and immersive to a degree that few other DVDs match.

    The extras are light, but the theatrical trailer is certainly nothing to turn your nose up at.

Ratings (out of 5)

© Dean McIntosh (my bio sucks... read it anyway)
May 1, 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