Bringing Out The Dead

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson


Paramount, widescreen 2.35:1/16x9, languages: English DD 5.1 [CC] & Dolby Surround, subtitles: English, single side-dual layer, 30 chapters, Interviews with Cast & Crew, Theatrical Trailers, rated R, 121 min., $29.99, street date 5/9/2000.

Studio Line

Directed Martin Scorsese. Starring Nicolas Cage, Patricia Arquette, John Goodman, Ving Rhames, Tom Sizemore, Marc Anthony, Cliff Curtis.

From acclaimed director Martin Scorsese comes one of his most compelling and unforgettable movies. Nicolas Cage stars as Frank Pierce, a paramedic on the brink of madness from too many years of saving and losing lives. One fateful night, Frank meets Mary Burke (Patricia Arquette), the daughter of a man Frank tried to save. Together, Frank and Mary confront the ghosts of the past, and discover that redemption can be found among the living.

Picture/Sound/Extras (A/A-/C-)

Martin Scorsese started off the 1990s on a high note with GoodFellas, possibly the best film from an acclaimed director. However, the rest of the decade saw him producing movies that were only moderately successfully critically and even less popular with audiences.

Bringing Out the Dead saw Scorsese finishing off the decade with a project that could have sparked both movie-goers and critics alike. Granted, the picture's box office prospects didn't seem terribly strong based on the subject matter as it appears rather unlikely that a gritty drama about ambulance drivers would set any records. However, the film did benefit from a strong cast of popular actors like Nicolas Cage, Ving Rhames and John Goodman, so who knows? Maybe people might have thought it was a combination of The Flintstones and The Rock (add your own Viva Rock Vegas jokes here). Hey, it even involved a ghost (sort of), so maybe some of that sweet, sweet Sixth Sense buzz would rub off on it!

I guess not, since movie-goers stayed away in droves, as the film's meager $16 million gross indicates. Still, at least Scorsese still had his beloved critics to embrace him - or did he? BOTD didn't receive poor notices, but they seemed largely pretty lackluster - surprisingly mediocre for a Scorsese film. I guess this shouldn't seem startling at this point in his career, since none of Scorsese's movies since GoodFellas have earned consistently positive reviews, but it always seems almost shocking when it happens; Scorsese's reputation is so great that I think if any film he delivers isn't an instant classic, it seems weak.

Expectations probably raised higher than usual since this was Scorsese's first collaboration with screenwriter Paul Schrader since 1988's Last Temptation of Christ; prior to that, they'd teamed on the classics Raging Bull and Taxi Driver.

BOTD is actually a decent film but it appears terribly inconsistent. Ironically, it reminds me of an action flick in that all of the high adrenaline scenes work terrifically well, but when the movie slows to get in the more "human" aspects of our lead character, Frank (Cage), it really slows; these scenes almost uniformly involve Cage's real-life-soon-to-be-ex-wife Patricia Arquette as Mary, the drug-using daughter of one of Frank's patients. Maybe I just have no patience anymore, but whenever I saw that funky gray-roots hair of Arquette's, all I could think was, "Nic, stop trying to score with the messed-up babe and hop back into the truck! There's nutbags to save!"

When the film concentrates on the exploits of Frank and a roster of comically odd partners - we find Goodman, Rhames and Tom Sizemore in these supporting roles - then it delivers the goods. The scenes can seem somewhat repetitive at times, but they often are electric and wildly entertaining. All three of Frank's partners feature very dissimilar personalities, an aspect that makes the different adventures more compelling. Add to that an interesting turn from Latin pop heart-throb Marc Anthony, who becomes completely unrecognizable as the crazy Noel, and these "street" scenes make for some very stimulating film-making.

But they don't complete the movie, so we get the obligatory semi-love interest/getting Frank back in touch with humanity parts that involve Arquette. The chemistry between the two is nil, which seems surprising (or maybe not, considering their current separation), and I found virtually all of these scenes to fall flat. My urge to grab my remote and zap that "fast forward" button was great, but somehow I resisted.

It's too bad Scorsese couldn't have mustered a more compelling boy/girl relationship than what we find, as Bringing Out the Dead had promise. The action scenes are consistently quite exciting and perversely fun, and the film's visual style works well also. It's not a dud, but it's only mediocre overall, and it's always a disappointment to have to write that about a Scorsese film.

Bringing Out the Dead appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although many of Paramount's early efforts got them a reputation for not-so-hot DVDs, though days seem far behind as we witness fantastic transfers such as the one on this disc.

Sharpness appears absolutely immaculate from start to finish; at no time did I discern even the slightest hint of softness or haziness. No moiré effects or jagged edges seemed evident, and artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV appear minimal. The print used for the transfer looks clean and fresh; I discerned no speckles, scratches, hairs or grain.

Colors are bold and bright, with no signs of bleeding or noise even during the many scenes of red lighting. Note that BOTD uses some unusual lighting at times, with a pretty stark, harsh look at times, and the DVD replicates this wonderfully. Black levels are deep and rich, and shadow detail appeared clear and smooth. Overall, this is a terrific-looking DVD.

The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack seems strong as well, though it's not quite up to the standards of the picture. The forward soundfield appears broad and nicely-defined; the center channel dominates, but plenty of music and effects also come from the sides. The surrounds largely bolster the music and add to the movie's general ambience; I rarely detected any split surround usage, but the rears effectively added to the film's atmosphere.

Although the soundstage is only good, the audio quality cranks things up a notch. Dialogue appears warm and natural with no intelligibility difficulties. Effects are clear and realistic, and the music seems clear and smooth; both of those aspects of the track feature some fine bass as well, and the entire mix appears well-balanced and crisp.

Paramount still have a lot of work to do if they ever want to compete with the supplemental features included on the best DVDs, but efforts such as Sleepy Hollow and BOTD at least indicate that they're more willing to try. The main extra we find here features about 11 minutes of interviews. We hear from Cage, Scorsese, writer Joe Connelly, Arquette, Goodman, and Rhames as they discuss the film. These clips are interspersed with scenes from the film, which I could have lived without, especially since the piece seems pretty brief. Still, the interviews are decently compelling, and they add a little spice to the DVD.

Other than that, all we find are two theatrical trailers for BOTD. Yes, it's a pretty lackluster collection, but I find Paramount's baby steps to at least be heading in the right direction.

When a film combines Martin Scorsese, Paul Schrader, Nicolas Cage and a supporting cast of strong actors, one expects a masterpiece, but Bringing Out the Dead isn't that film. At its best, it makes for a reasonably thrilling and darkly entertaining view of the "mean streets", but the movie becomes bogged down by many rather dull moments that attempt to flesh out the main character. The DVD provides very good sound and absolutely stunning picture; the supplemental features are slim but interesting. Scorsese's reputation is strong enough that his presence alone makes the movie worth a rental, but beyond that, Bringing Out the Dead doesn't deserve a lot of notice.

Related Sites

Current as of 5/23/2000

Official Site--Contains sypnosis, production notes, clips, and images.
James Berardinelli's ReelViews--"Despite the lack of energy and the lethargic pace, there's something darkly compelling about Bringing Out the Dead."
DVD MovieGuide Profile: Nicolas Cage--Our special coverage includes profile, DVD reviews, and descriptive links to the best dedication sites. to purchase are the DVD at special discount, the novel by Joe Connelly, and the original music soundtrack featuring various artists. the DVD at special discount.
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