I-Spy appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen version on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed picture was reviewed for this article. Though the image boasted many positives, some nagging concerns made it look less than stellar.
Sharpness came across strongly. The movie appeared nicely distinct and accurate. I noticed no signs of softness during this crisp and detailed picture. Jagged edges and moiré effects caused no issues, but I did detect some light edge enhancement at times. Source defects offered only a few problems. I saw a few speckles but nothing else. However, the picture displayed some moderate digital artifacting that seemed heavier than I’d expect in this day and age. Much of the movie passed without incident, but a few sequences appeared fairly flawed in this regard.
I-Spy boasted a broad and engaging palette that the DVD replicated nicely. The colors looked vivid and dynamic throughout the film. I noticed no concerns such as bleeding or noise as the DVD demonstrated tight and bold hues from start to finish. Black levels came across as deep and solid, while shadow detail looked appropriately dense but not too thick. Ultimately, I-Spy presented a good image, but the noticeable artifacting caused me to lower my grade to a “B”.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of I-Spy also offered a mix of highs and lows. On the positive side, the soundfield seemed very lively and engaging. I-Spy presented one of the most active mixes I’ve heard in a while, as it used all five channels almost constantly throughout the movie. Elements seemed well placed, and they moved cleanly across the speakers. The film showed a good sense of ambience during the quieter scenes, and even those came to life more vividly than normal. For example, an otherwise low-key segment at an airport used the surrounds to feature the sounds of departing planes. Of course, the many action pieces featured even more dynamic audio, and the rear speakers played a significant role in those shots. The whole thing meshed together very nicely and created a vibrant sense of place.
Unfortunately, some concerns forced me to knock some points off my score. For one, the balance seemed problematic at times. Effects sounded too prominent in the mix, and they tended to drown out other elements. Perhaps the filmmakers wanted this, but it became a distraction since I often found it tough to hear speech above the din.
Even when I could make out the dialogue, the quality seemed surprisingly weak. Speech came across as rather muffled and flat during much of the film. I usually could understand the lines, but they rarely appeared natural or distinct. Music fared better, as the score appeared reasonably clean and distinct. It never sounded spectacular, but it was acceptably solid. Effects generally seemed clear and accurate, and they lacked any issues related to distortion. However, they demonstrated elevated bass levels that threatened to overwhelm the mix. While low-end remained deep and tight, it simply seemed too strong. In the end, when I balanced the good with the bad, the audio of I-Spy merited a “B”, but given the mix’s strengths, this one should have made “A”-level easily.
I-Spy tosses in a smattering of extras, and we start with an audio commentary with director Betty Thomas, editor Peter Teschner, producer Jenno Topping, and screenwriters Jay Scherick and David Ronn. All five participants sat together for this running, screen-specific piece that mixed positives and negatives. On one hand, I liked the light and bubbly tone of the track, as the speakers kept things lively and fun from start to finish. They went over a reasonable amount of information as well. Thomas dominated the commentary; the others chimed in occasionally, but she provided the lion’s share of the information. We learned of changes to the script, sets, locations, effects considerations, casting, stunts, improvs, and a mix of other topics.
Although the group definitely covered a lot of issues, however, the commentary seemed oddly limited. That was because we mostly heard about how great everything and everyone was. Much of the praise went to Murphy, and the participants generally appeared to feel very impressed with the film. All the happy talk didn’t bother me because I disliked the movie; it simply became tedious and dull after a while. Ultimately, the I-Spy commentary offered enough useful material to merit a listen for fans of the flick, but otherwise it seemed too erratic to recommend.
Next we get a collection of four featurettes. Cloak and Camouflage runs four minutes and 24 seconds as it features on the film’s clothes. We hear from Thomas and costume designer Ruth Carter. Mostly Carter takes on a tour of her wardrobe choices during this short but tight examination of the topic.
Gadgets and Gizmos lasts four minutes, 33 seconds and involves producers Topping and Warren Carr, VFX supervisor Carey Villegas, cinematographer Oliver Wood, and production designer Marcia Hinds-Johnson. They cover the subject of effects and other visuals in another decent featurette. Actually, it seems less rich and informative than “Camouflage”, but it does include some nice behind the scenes snippets.
Another similar program comes next. Schematics and Blueprints takes five minutes and presents Hinds-Johnson, Carr, Thomas, producer Andrew Vajna, Wood, art director Bo Johnson, and assistant director Richard Graves. They discuss location selection, the film’s castle, the omnipresence of the name “Kelly Robinson” and a few other topics. Like “Gadgets”, it works decently well but seems most interesting when we take a look at the shoot itself.
Titled The Slugafest, the final featurette fills four minutes and nine seconds, and it provides comments from Thomas, actor Eddie Murphy, Topping, fight choreographer Darryl Taylor, and ex-boxer Sugar Ray Leonard. They trace the evolution of the Robinson character from basketball player to boxer and also go over other boxing issues. After “Camouflage”, this seems like the best of the featurettes, especially when we hear about Murphy’s training and some overanxious sparring partners.
Lastly, I-Spy includes a collection of trailers. Oddly, the ad for I-Spy itself doesn’t appear, as we find promos for Adaptation, Blue Streak, Formula 51, National Security and Punch-Drunk Love.
A big-budget bomb, I-Spy sounds like fun on paper but goes absolutely nowhere on the screen. The movie suffers from a loud and obnoxious tone that prevents it from becoming anything charming or amusing. It confuses aggressiveness for energy and never remotely threatens to turn into a likable or entertaining piece. The DVD offers erratic but generally positive picture and sound along with a glossy but decent roster of extras. An unexceptional DVD for a bad movie, I can’t recommend I-Spy.