Spy Game (2001)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 29-Aug-2002

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Main Menu Audio & Animation
Featurette-Clandestine Ops (19)
Deleted Scenes-9 +/- commentary
Featurette-Script-To-Storyboard Process Featuring The Director
Notes-Requirements For CIA Acceptance
Audio Commentary-Tony Scott (Director)
Audio Commentary-Marc Abraham (Co-Producer) & Douglas Wick (Co-Producer)
Theatrical Trailer
DVD-ROM Extras
dts Trailer-Piano
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2001
Running Time 120:19
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (78:52) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Tony Scott

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Robert Redford
Brad Pitt
Catherine McCormack
Case ?
RPI $24.95 Music Harry Gregson-Williams

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
English dts 5.1 (768Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (96Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (96Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English Audio Commentary
Czech Audio Commentary
Greek Audio Commentary
Hungarian Audio Commentary
Romanian Audio Commentary
English Audio Commentary
Czech Audio Commentary
Greek Audio Commentary
Hungarian Audio Commentary
Romanian Audio Commentary
English Titling
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Spy Game is another in the long list of rental titles that has passed through its rental window and made it onto the shelves of your local DVD store. You can check out my original review of the bare bones rental disc if you want, though I'll quickly recount the plot for those that may have missed it the first time around.

    Director Tony Scott has a reputation for films that are somewhat loud, visual spectaculars, with only a passing regard to character development. Think Top Gun, Enemy of The State, Crimson Tide, and Days Of Thunder to name but a few. I initially baulked when I saw the Spy Game trailer at the cinema earlier this year due to his name being in the credits and the thought of just another run-of-the-mill action thriller. While it does fall into that category quite well, it as some elements (most notably Robert Redford) that lift it marginally above the pack, and as a result is certainly worth a look.

    The story is set in 1991, just as the Cold War had all but thawed out.  Robert Redford stars as Nathan Muir, a CIA operative, who just happens to be on his last day on the job before taking a deserved retirement. Muir's an old-school spy with plenty of street cred and experience, and he is not beyond bending a few rules to accomplish the task at hand. If this means treading on a few of the toes of those above him, then so be it. He sees them as simply getting in his way. When he learns that his old protégé Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt) has been busted in China while attempting a covert operation in a prison and summarily sentenced to death, Muir must use all his nous (and give up a quiet last day on the job) to find a way of saving Bishop's life.

    The problem for Muir, is that those in CIA working on the case would rather disavow all knowledge of Bishop and sacrifice him, in order to allow the planned Presidential trade talks in China to go ahead smoothly. Muir is called in early on his last day to a crisis room to discuss his knowledge of Bishop and hand over all documents pertaining to his relationship with him. Muir smells something wrong when not all the information about why Bishop was caught in a Chinese prison in the first place and what the agency is doing to rescue him is forthcoming. It's all "need to know only" - and he obviously doesn't need to know. He feels the heat from the archetypal bad-agent while getting the soft touch from the agency director who tries to steer him to getting through his last day. Muir decides to use all his resources and experience to put a plan into action to get Bishop out of China, with or without the official help of his CIA colleagues.

    Although the actual story unfolds in less than 24 hours, the plot is developed in a series of flashbacks. It shows the Muir and Bishop relationship growing via various field engagements over a series of years in Vietnam, East Germany and Lebanon. It is during the time in Beirut that Bishop developed a relationship with an aid worker in Elizabeth Hadley (Catherine McCormack) that while not really going anywhere in those scenes, is sort of important to the plot. It is interesting to note that the character of Hadley had considerably more screentime in the first cut as evidenced by the deleted scenes. For reasons explained by Tony Scott much of this was trimmed, which left the Hadley character with much less depth than planned.

    Robert Redford is excellent (as usual). He brings a sense of quality to what would probably be an otherwise bland and forgettable set of characters. In fact, this is really Redford's film. Without him, the whole thing would have probably sunk without a trace, as the Bishop character in particular seems a little one dimensional. The story certainly has flaws, a couple of gaping plot holes not helped by the cutting of a couple of scenes, and that usual Tony Scott feel to the whole thing, with lots of sweeping aerial shots, rapidly panning camera angles and rather loud scene transitions that we have seen many times before.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


    It would appear from my second viewing of this film, that this is not the transfer that was used for the original rental disc. I say this, as the same faults that were so evident on that disc are still very much present here. In hindsight it is not surprising that the video transfer suffers somewhat due to exactly how much has been crammed onto this disc. In addition to the dts soundtrack, there is a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, two commentary tracks, and a swag of extras. Something had to give and it looks like it was the picture. I don't know about you, but if getting a decent image means dumping a commentary track from the producers, I know which one I'm willing to sacrifice.

    The original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is presented here, complete with 16x9 enhancement.

    The transfer is nice and sharp with a high level of detail. You can see every line on Robert Redford's face - and they are abundant, man, he is getting old!. There are no problems with any shadow detail. Grain is only occasional, though at 81:35 it is quite dominant in the background of the image. There is no low level noise.

    The colours are solid with natural skin tones and solid blacks all round. There are no problems with oversaturation or any other colour issues. Different tones of colour have been used extensively to differentiate between the various locations and eras, and these various shades such as a cool blue image for Berlin and a high contrast decolourised tinge for Vietnam works quite well and allows easy transition between locales for the viewer.

    Artefacts abound in this transfer, as they did in the rental disc. There is a mild shimmer or aliasing in many many scenes. The most notable example occur at 8:59 on the side of a building, at 9:47 on CIA Headquarters, 11:30 on a desk lamp, 13:01 and 27:18 on Robert Redford's jacket, and the  worst of all, on the conference table in CIA headquarters at 16:07 and 52:15 (these being the two worst cases, but this problem arises virtually every time said table appears on screen and is very distracting). Some really jarring examples on the Vietnam battleground at 21:24, 23:26, 24:12 are also really quite annoying. There is also a rather noticeable moiré effect at 15:17. Film artefacts are mostly absent, which is to be expected given the youth of the material.

    There are only two subtitle streams on this disc; English and English Titling. What's the difference I hear you ask? Well, English Titling only subtitles those moments when a foreign language is spoken, when we usually get burned-in English subtitles - this actually gives you the option to turn them off. A neat touch. As most of us will likely want them on, stream two is the default and is turned on. In addition to languages, there are also several location captions that appear when the titling is turned on. I would strongly recommend that you watch with this option on, as the early scenes in the prison don't quite make sense without them. The normal English subtitles work fine, though are not completely accurate. There are also subtitles available for both of the English commentary tracks. Both commentary tracks see all of the speakers comments prefaced with their names so you can keep track of who is talking. This is a good idea.

    This is an RSDL disc with the layer change occurring at 78:52, right on a scene change, and is barely noticeable.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The audio is without a doubt the highlight of this package. It's loud, it's brash, and it comes served up as both Dolby Digital 5.1 and dts soundtracks. I listened to the dts soundtrack the first time round, then switched over to the Dolby Digital 5.1 for a comparison. It's actually a little difficult to directly compare the tracks, as quite frustratingly you need to switch back to the main menu, select the other soundtrack, and then start the film again. A real pain. Needless to say, both tracks offer a superb range of dynamics, with a great deal of low end activity and plenty of surround use. I really can't separate them. Maybe the bottom end is better with the dts, but it is hard to tell. Fear not if you are without the means to play dts tracks, as the Dolby Digital is just as good and this is approaching demonstration material for your speakers and amplifier. There are four soundtracks in total on this disc. The original rental disc tracks, the English Dolby Digital 5.1 and dts soundtracks are joined by two audio commentary tracks encoded at the low bitrate of 96 kb/s.

    Dialogue is excellent, with no problems to report. The are no audio sync problems.

    There is plenty of atmospheric and tension building music. The score pops up throughout and while it gets a little repetitive, it suits the style of film well.

    The surround channels see action from virtually the opening scene, with lots of volume and plenty of panning effects zipping from front to back and across the rear channels.

    Much like the rear channels, the subwoofer sees plenty of action throughout. There's a particularly good explosion at 25:02 that sees it rumble nicely.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    The major difference obviously between this disc and the rental variety is the inclusion of a few extras.

Featurette - Clandestine Ops

    This is really just a fancy name for what is a series of chapters that should have been in a making-of featurette. There are nineteen mini-featurettes that have to be selected individually, which is a real pain as most only run for a couple of minutes. There really should be a play-all option (this is available in the deleted scenes so why not here?). Topics covered include a few on the shooting locations, some pretty lame character biographies for the CIA staff members, casting, and technical advisers. Images from the film are presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 but are not 16x9 enhanced. A small picture in picture style window appears throughout the film scenes showing either behind the scenes or director Tony Scott commenting on the scene. There are also several biographical paragraphs with still images of the various CIA characters featured in the film. They range in running time from 46 seconds to 3:37 minutes.

Deleted Scenes

    There are nine scenes on total. Five are deleted scenes with the other four being alternate scenes from ones that did make the final cut. Playable with a commentary track from director Tony Scott (which is always useful), he at least gives a brief idea why they were removed or altered. The main reason for their deletion was to completely remove an underlying subplot involving the Muir and Hadley characters. Running times for these ranges from 27 seconds to 7:04 minutes for the alternate ending. Scenes are all 2.35:1 but are not 16x9 enhanced. The video quality is only average.

Featurette - Script to Storyboard

    Running for 2:52 minutes, this is a brief featurette narrated by Tony Scott and showing some of his own storyboards and how they translated to the finished film.

Notes - "Requirements for CIA Acceptance" Featurette

    A couple of pages that read a bit like a selection criteria in a job advertisement. It's all about the requirements you need to meet to become a CIA employee.

Audio Commentary - Tony Scott (Director)

    Tony Scott is not what I would call an entertaining commentator, but there is some moderately interesting information on offer here. Only partially screen specific, he takes off on a couple of tangents when he gets discussing a bit of history about a subject or relating a story about the inspiration for a particular character. When a particularly important scene occurs he tends to shut-up and let the action happen before resuming his commentary. He does like to go on about the use of the helicopters which becomes a bit of a running joke. Another interesting tidbit is his interpretation of the script to finished film ratio. I've heard several directors in other commentaries state that one page of script translates to one minute of screen time, and Tony Scott reiterates this, but apparently he likes to 'edit fast' so he uses a ratio of one page of script is forty seconds of screen time. So that's why all his films seem so quick and fast paced. Interesting enough, but not a commentary track I'll listen to again.

Audio Commentary - Marc Abraham (Co-Producer) & Douglas Wick (Co-Producer)

    Just how do producers get a gig to do a commentary track? I mean to me, the producers are likely to be less interesting than listening to the Grip or the Chief Gaffer's thoughts on the production (now there's an idea). I got pretty bored with this commentary fairly quickly. The guys discuss their role in the whole thing and offer their thoughts on several of the scenes including casting choices. They also continue the running joke about the use of helicopters.

Theatrical Trailer

    An almost TV-like commercial style sees this trailer running for 2:23 minutes. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is non 16x9 enhanced. Audio is provided by a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Loud and brash much like the film. It doesn't give away too much plot.

dts Trailer


R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.


    The Region 4 version of this DVD misses out on;

    The Region 1 version of this DVD misses out on;

    The aliasing is not as prominent on the Region 1 disc, and there are a couple of additional extras that sway me to favour that disc, though they are not of a must-have nature. I'll leave it to your discretion, though I do favour the Region 1 title despite the NTSC formatting.


   While not the greatest espionage thriller ever made, Spy Game will offer a decent night's entertainment. The slick and brash direction of Tony Scott once again makes the whole process seem like a big commercial for television, but with Robert Redford in the cast a certain credibility is evident that lifts the whole plot above the run-of-the-mill.

The video is not without flaws, in particular aliasing.

The audio soundtracks, complete with dts and Dolby Digital variants, are excellent, with pumping dynamics, heaps of bottom end, and constant surround use.

The extras are numerous, though the making-of is a little light on and the inclusion of the second commentary track from the producers is, in my opinion, a waste of time.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Darren Walters (It's . . . just the vibe . . . of my bio)
Sunday, September 08, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDLoewe Xemix 5006DD, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Calida (84cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationHarmon/Kardon AVR7000.
SpeakersFront - B&W 602S2, Centre - B&W CC6S2, Rear - B&W 601S2, Sub - Energy E:xl S10

Other Reviews
The DVD Bits - John Z
MovieHole - Gareth
AllZone4DVD - Kevin S

Comments (Add)
Missing Extra - Trigger Mike (The Bio Of An Egomaniac)