Snake Eyes

When director Brian De Palma is on the money, he’s one of our greatest directors. Whether he’s pumping out pseudo-Hitchcock like “Dressed to Kill” and “Obsession” or popular popcorn fare like “The Untouchables” and ‘Mission: Impossible,” De Palma knows how to tell a story.

snakeyesWriter David Koepp is one of Hollywood’s hottest players, churning out such hits as “The Lost World: Jurassic Park,” “Mission: Impossible” and “The Paper.” Actor Nicolas Cage parlayed an Academy Award for “Leaving Las Vegas” into a lucrative action-packed career that includes “The Rock,” “Con Air,” and “Face/Off.” Gary Sinise’s high-profile career includes his Oscar-nominated performance in “Forrest Gump,” plus winning roles in “Apollo 13,” and “Ransom.” So how could one of our greatest directors, most prolific screen writers, and two highly respected actors deliver such a piece of donkey do as “Snake Eyes.” That’s the question that kept bugging me after sitting through this painfully numbing experience. How could so much add up to so little, and how could so much talent not recognize the fact that they were making garbage? The film’s biggest enemy is the coming attractions that literally give away the entire film. Even worse, the two-minute trailer is a much better movie, if you can call it that. At least the coming attractions manage to make the plot crackle. In the film, it just burns out. “Snake Eyes” is supposed to me a mystery-suspense-thriller that is neither suspenseful nor thrilling, and the only mystery is why most of the film bites more than Mike Tyson in a boxing ring. The action centers around the assassination of the Secretary of Defense at a crowded heavyweight boxing match in Atlantic City. Nicolas Cage stars as police detective Rick Santoro, a flamboyant, corrupt cop who never does anything unless there’s something in it for him. In a dazzling extended hand-held camera shot that seems to go on forever, we follow Santoro as he makes the rounds at the auditorium, eventually catching up with all of the players who will be pivotal to the plot. At first, Cage’s Santoro is obnoxious and boorish, way over the top. When he finally focuses and gets down to business after the assassination, he’s much more interesting. Gary Sinise starts off promising enough as Santoro’s best friend from childhood, now a Navy Commander charged with the security of the Secretary of Defense. Decked out in full military blues with a head of jet black hair that looks more like a piece than the real thing, Sinise is a commanding presence. Like a well-oiled machine, the plot mechanics click into place, leaving any room for real suspense or surprises. Koepp’s screenplay (from a story co-written by De Palma) strives to be a modern day “Roshomon,” but that’s like comparing apples and wolverines. Like “Roshomon,” the plot unfolds through the eyes of several witnesses, who each tell their own version of what happened. Eventually Santoro manages to put all of the pieces of the puzzle together, but he’s way behind the audience. When the Secretary of Defense is shot, Santoro seals the arena so he can look for witnesses among the 14,000 spectators. It’s during this time that the film asks a lot of the audience. We’re supposed to believe one incredible coincidence after another, and as if that weren’t bad enough, the filmmaker’s continually insult our intelligence with moments so absurd they defy logic.


VISION: [ ] 20/20 [ X ] Good [ ] Cataracts [ ] Blind

Even though the landscape is littered with compression artifacts, they’re not enough of a bother to dismiss the digital transfer altogether. Delivered in the film’s original 2.35:1 widescreen ratio, the transfer does an excellent job with the film’s intricate lighting design. De Palma uses a variety of lighting sources, some natural, others garish, and whoever mastered the DVD transfer did a superior job of maintaining the integrity of the colors. This is evident in the opening moments of the film. Cage’s character is seen in a television control room bathed in garish red. To check out how honest the color saturation is, check out the television monitors and background images in the same scene. The blues are striking but not hot, and the blacks are so strong they could envelop whole galaxies. The attention to detail is especially exciting, including a depth-of- field that goes on forever. Flattering flesh tones and precise color saturation that never bleeds or fades combine to create a pleasing picture.

HEARING: [ X ] Excellent [ ] Minor Hearing Loss [ ] Needs Hearing Aid [ ] Deaf

Chaos plays an important role in “Snake Eyes,” and both the 5.1 Dolby Digital and Dolby Surround soundtracks do an excellent job of enveloping you in the middle of the madness. The “Snake Eyes” soundtrack is filled with one aural surprise after another, and the DVD captures the intricate mix with perfection. Not only is the ambient noise superior, but both the stereo separation and spatial split are uncommonly strong. There’s lots of action coming from all speakers, making good use of the low and high ends. The basses aren’t nuclear, but they do punch up the action. Th dialogue mix is powerful, punctuating pivotal dialogue above the rumble of the crowd. The stereo and echo effects are distinct, while the musical score pierces the room with clarity. Nicely rendered. The DVD also features a French language Dolby Surround track.

ORAL: [ ] Excellent [ X ] Good [ ] Poor

Closed Captions in English for the Hard of Hearing.

COORDINATION: [ ] Excellent [ ] Good [ X ] Clumsy [ ] Weak

While the DVD doesn’t crap out, the only extras are the original theatrical trailer and standard issue main and scene access menus.

PROGNOSIS: [ ] Excellent [ X ] Fit [ ] Will Live [ ] Resuscitate [ ] TerminalRent the DVD just to marvel at De Palma’s incredible opening shot. It’s the only way you’re going to see it in widescreen, and even though the film isn’t a keeper, the opening shot is worth the rental.

VITALS: $29.99/Rated R/98 Minutes/Color/12 Chapter Stops/Keepcase/#335417




HMO: Paramount Home Video

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