Death Race appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Due to a mix of avoidable problems, the DVD gave us a mediocre transfer.
Edge enhancement was the most consistent distraction. Throughout the flick, I noticed haloes of varying degrees; some were more intrusive than others, but I thought they popped up too often. The edge enhancement affected sharpness and made wide shots moderately blurry. Closer images remained fine, though; they showed good clarity and delineation.
No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, but a handful of source flaws appeared. I noticed intermittent white specks through various parts of the flick. Though I don’t think I saw more than six of these, that was six too many; a brand-new movie shouldn’t have suffered from any defects of this sort.
Like virtually all “edgy” action flicks these days, Death Race went with a desaturated palette. The movie took on a bluish tint and rarely featured any prominent hues. The transfer delivered the subdued tones in a decent manner. Blacks were dark enough, while shadows showed reasonable definition. This was never a poor transfer, but it seemed lackluster.
On the other hand, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Death Race proved more consistently satisfying. That came as no surprise; if a movie with so much mayhem couldn’t light up my speakers, I’m not sure what could. The soundfield proved consistently active and involving. Cars zoomed and jumped around the room, and the scenes placed us in the action. Surround usage was quite full, and the mix created a strong setting for the adventure.
Audio quality was always excellent. Speech appeared natural and concise, with no edginess or other issues. Music seemed rich and dynamic, and effects followed suit. Those elements were crisp and clear, and they showed terrific bass response. The audio was good enough for an “A-“.
When we move to extras, we open with an audio commentary from director Paul WS Anderson and producer Jeremy Bolt. Both men sit together for this running, screen-specific chat. They discuss the development of the remake, cast, characters and performances, sets and locations, cinematography and editing, effects, stunts and action, the cars and the racing scenes, changes for the unrated cut, and a few other production notes.
While Anderson and Bolt tend to make mediocre movies, they manage to record good commentaries. A few lulls occur, but they usually fill the time well and give us an informative look at the flick. Although nothing about the commentary stands out as tremendously insightful or memorable, the track covers the movie in a satisfying and enjoyable way. That automatically makes it superior to Death Race itself.
Two featurettes follow. Start Your Engines: Making a Death Race runs 19 minutes, 42 seconds and includes remarks from Anderson, Bolt, production designer Paul D. Austerberry, 2nd unit director Spiro Razatos, picture car coordinator Brian Louis, 2nd unit special effects supervisor Al Broussard, 2nd unit stunt coordinator Andy Gill, picture car mechanic Kaleb Hauge, and actors Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson, Ian McShane, Natalie Martinez, and Joan Allen. It covers the project’s origins, cast, characters and performances, sets and locations, visual design, cars and shooting the race sequences.
Because the commentary already covers so much information, you shouldn’t expect a lot of unique material here. It goes over a lot of topics already discussed by Bolt and Anderson, though the additional perspectives add to our knowledge of the film, and some behind the scenes bits help as well. Nonetheless, “Engines” becomes too redundant to turn into anything special.
Behind the Wheel: Dissecting the Stunts goes for seven minutes, 50 seconds, and features Anderson, Hauge, Gill, Martinez, Statham, Broussard, Bolt, special effects supervisor Louis Craig, and stunt driver Jack Gill. As expected, “Wheel” looks at how the movie delivered all the crashes and stunts. It offers decent details and some nice footage from the set.
The DVD presents both the 105-minute theatrical version of Death Race and a 111-minute unrated cut. I didn’t see the film theatrically and only watched the extended edition here, so I can’t comment on the changes between the two. However, I wanted to mention that the disc includes both options.
A few ads open the DVD. We get clips for The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, Burn After Reading, Hamlet 2, Wanted: Weapons of Fate videogame, Battlestar Galactica, and Blu-Ray Disc. No trailer for Death Race appears here.
Loud, crude, and moronic, Death Race plays like a videogame brought to the big screen – and that’s not a compliment. The action never heats up, and the total lack of involving story or characters makes the movie a chore to watch. The DVD provides mediocre picture along with terrific audio and generally average extras. Other than the sound, nothing here excels, and the flick itself is a dud.