Mad City (1997)

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Released 11-Jun-2002

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Listing-Cast & Crew
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1997
Running Time 110:07
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Costa Gavras

Warner Home Video
Starring Dustin Hoffman
John Travolta
Alan Alda
Blythe Danner
Mia Kirshner
William Atherton
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $29.95 Music Thomas Newman

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/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 for the Hearing Impaired
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement Yes
Action In or After Credits Yes, well, sort of...

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

Plot Synopsis

"One man will make a mistake. The other will make it a spectacle."

    Television reporter Max Brackett (Dustin Hoffman) has been near the top of his game. But, after an incident in his past, he has been relegated to a backwater television market in California. Nonetheless, he is still intent on getting the top story for his station, even against the wishes of the station's general manager who wishes that Max would just stick with the 'cat that can count' story, or whatever other boring no-interest human interest story comes the station's way. Today, he reluctantly goes to cover a story at the local museum which is facing budget cuts. It will end up being the story of his life.

    Sam Baily (John Travolta) is an average working-class man. He does his job as best he can working as a security guard at the town's museum. However, with looming budget cuts at the museum, sacrifices have to be made, and one day late to work determines the sacrifice. With the intention of talking to his boss and possibly getting his job back, Sam returns to his place of work one last time. He has taken a few tools of negotiation with him - firearms and explosives (!). With his former employer all-ears, Sam goes about 'convincing' his former boss that she should take him back on board.

    Meanwhile, Max has wrapped up an interview with the museum's manager. He goes to the men's room for a break and chats through his microphone with his sidekick, who is working outside in the station's van. This is when all hell breaks loose, and Max is there to cover it all. Sam has ran out of patience and action seems the only course available. With the first gunshot, Max is on the line with an eyewitness account of a museum of child hostages, a crazed madman and a star reporter poised to cover it all. Max's timing couldn't be better and...after all...the show must go on. Max will make sure it goes on...and on...and on...

    In his stand-up comedy days, comedian Steve Martin once joked that he'd written a book called 'How I Turned a Million in Real Estate into 25 dollars in cash'. While perhaps not quite to that scale, this movie comes close - the film's budget was $50 million but it only managed to take just over $10 million at the box office. Seemingly the perfect star vehicle for Dustin Hoffman and John Travolta, this film fails from the start, with an interesting concept handled poorly almost from the word go. Dustin Hoffman is a fantastic actor with many great roles to his name (Little Big Man: 1970, Kramer vs Kramer: 1979, Rain Man: 1988), but he struggles to find his way with this one. The role is not out of his depth, but the script is half-baked, and by midway through the film you get the impression that the cast has the same impression, too. John Travolta is wasted here. While he can easily play a man on the edge as seen in Face/Off: 1998, this role is too poorly written and there is very little meat on the bone for poor John to pick at. We are to feel sympathy for his character, and deservedly so, but we get so little insight into his life that we only get the most rudimentary notion as to why he has walked into his former place of employment with gun in hand. 'Star' reporter Max Brackett, played by Hoffman, can't seem to make up his mind if he's a reformed tabloid reporter or in fact the greatest of the network's current affairs journalists, and it's this inconsistency that irritates the most. Alan Alda as the high profile network anchor man has an interesting role, but again the character is given only two-dimensional treatment and he just ends up being the bad guy.

    This is one of those films with high ideals and an interesting concept, but in the end which fails to deliver. More attention needed to be paid to the script instead of letting the stars (Hoffman and Travolta) carry the whole film. The end result is that the stars don't end up carrying the film anywhere and by the end seem happy to drop it wherever it falls. Director Costa Gavras does as best he can with the material, but in the end really nothing can save this picture.

     There was much debate between the producers of this film and the producers of another film released at around the same time, that being a little project of director Alex Proyas called Dark City which came out in 1998. The producers of Mad City thought that there would be some confusion between their film and Dark City, so the powers-that-be at Warner Bros. put some pressure on New Line to change the name of their film. By the time it was settled, Mad City had come and gone, leaving New Line to use their preferred title of Dark City. This interesting account can be heard in the Director's Commentary on the Dark City DVD during the closing credits. All these years later, one of these films will go on to be regarded by some as a (cult?) classic of  20th century filmmaking. The other will not. No guesses as to which is which.

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Transfer Quality


    The video transfer of this DVD is of a reasonable standard, but is nowhere near reference standard.

    The film is presented on this disc in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, 16x9 enhanced.

    The image sharpness presented here is quite watchable although a few niggling artefacts, both film-based and video-based, detract slightly from the overall quality of what we see. Much of the film takes place in well-lit interiors and daytime exteriors and the image is always reasonably clean and sharp. Shadow detail is quite good during the feature with darker scenes never failing to reveal a fair amount of detail. Low level noise is not really an issue although there is a fair amount of MPEG pixelization visible that at times takes on the appearance of low level noise.

    Colour use is quite natural and the image is usually very bright and vibrant.

    MPEG artefacts mar this transfer at times and while quite watchable, these irritating compression artefacts are fairly visible, such as at 32:11, 36:56 and most noticeably at 48:04 with a sky full of noise and shimmer - freeze frame at this point to see how bad it gets. Aliasing is not a real problem and only visible if it is really looked for. Serial repeat offender edge enhancement again violates parole and is visible on a fairly regular basis throughout this feature. Stand-out times for this repeatedly annoying transfer artefact are at 2:31, 7:54, 61:57 and for the double whammy of edge enhanced edge enhancement, take a look at 89:28 on the video monitor. Film artefacts are visible throughout the feature and consist mostly of white specks, but are not at a level which would detract from the overall quality of the transfer. There is some slight grain visible with an example at 15:55.

    There are quite a number of subtitles available on this disc with the English subtitles being reasonably accurate and quite ably conveying the meaning of the characters' dialogue, although they are not word-for-word accurate.

    This disc is formatted single layer and as such, a layer change is not an issue.

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


    The audio transfer on this title is quite good with a true Dolby Digital 5.1 mix presenting this title in its best light.

    There are three audio tracks available on this disc, these being English, French and Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks.

    The dialogue quality is excellent with the spoken word understandable at all times, even when whispered. Audio sync is almost perfect with no issues of note to report.

    Thomas Newman provides an excellent score for this picture. His work is always interesting and the score for this picture is no exception. As with many of his other popular scores, such as those for The People vs Larry Flynt, American Beauty and Pay It Forward, this is a heavily percussive score that grabs the viewer from the start of the picture. It is a shame that the actual film didn't live up to the music, which is quite good in its own right.

    The surrounds are used frequently during the feature without being overly active and they never draw undue attention to themselves. In general, they convey the ambience of a scene and are quite effective in transporting the viewer into that scene. While the musical score ambience is audible through the rears, also audible is the atmosphere from the scenes and their location. All-in-all, this is a very effective and immersive surround mix.

    Because of the percussive nature of Thomas Newman's score, the subwoofer was always going to get a fair bit of use. As expected, this is indeed the case with much low frequency audio available from the.1 channel. Also, as with the surrounds, the subwoofer takes its place with the rest of the channels and conveys the appropriate amount of LFE required by the film. Besides the music, the film itself gives the subwoofer plenty to do with the various helicopters flying overhead along with the odd gunshot and explosion. This is a good audio mix with the LFE channel playing its role well.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    Extra!  Extra!  Read all about it!...not! In the extras stakes folks, we get the big zippo here with only a static page of cast & crew listed. Most of this can be gleaned off the DVD's back cover, so I wouldn't even consider it an extra as such. With the Special Features list taking almost 1/4 of the back cover, you would have thought we would get something. I would never consider Interactive Menus, Cast & Crew list and Scene Access to be special features so their listing as such is really a bit much. I suppose they couldn't print "Sorry, no extras" on the back, but they might as well have.


    The disc's Main Menu is themed as per the disc's cover with the main menu options listed to the left of the screen. There is an image of the Main Menu on the DVD's back cover in the "Special Features" section. Strangely enough, the image of the menu seems to have been taken from the Region 1 version with the selection layout in a different order and the option of Reel Recommendations pictured. This option is not available on this disc and to picture it on the back within the "Special Features" section just adds insult to injury.

     The disc's menus are themed in a similar manner to the Main Menu and are all silent, static and 16x9 enhanced.

    The Special Features option takes us to a static page with one choice available, that being Cast & Crew. Selecting this offers us a single page listing the major on and off screen contributors to the film. This could have been put on the main menu instead of making us go from the main menu to an almost blank page with one option.

    The Scene Selection page offers us 6 static images representing a chapter. The chapters on this page are numbered only and chapter titles can be found on the inner sleeve of the DVD's cover.

    The Languages menu offers us our 3 audio options (English, French and Italian) along with numerous subtitle options.

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 disc misses out on:     The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on:     While not a plethora of options, perhaps the most missed would be the production notes as some insight into the making of this film might have been interesting. I would like to have seen the trailers as well. A Director's Commentary was slated for this title, although it was pulled from the final Region 1 release and is nowhere to be found. This reviewer couldn't find any information as to whether or not this commentary was actually recorded. As to which version is the better one, one really has to consider which options are important to themselves. We get more language options and better audio options in French and Italian as well as a PAL transfer and local affordability. Region 1 gives us more extras and a bit more material about the film. I would call this one almost a draw. You pick the one you like.


    In the end, Mad City is a wholly unsatisfying film with enormous potential to be a document about the media and its manipulation of facts and events to produce ratings and profits. With an experienced director and two top flight stars, the scene was set for this to be a really interesting film. Sadly, that never eventuated and all we have here is a collection of talent wasted and going nowhere fast. Want to see a $50 million film turn into $10 million at the box office? This is how it's done.

    The video is okay with some minor pixelization and edge enhancement marring proceedings.

    The audio is quite good with an immersive soundtrack and an (as usual) fantastic score from Thomas Newman.

    The extras, or 'Special Features' as some people (certainly not this reviewer) may call them are non existent with only a Cast & Crew page on offer.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Sean Bradford (There is no bio.)
Tuesday, September 17, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDPanasonic A300-MU, using S-Video output
DisplayHitachi CP-L750W LCD Projector. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RX-V2090
SpeakersVAF DC-X fronts; VAF DC-6 center; VAF DC-2 rears; LFE-07subwoofer (80W X 2)

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