'Assault on Precinct 13' *** 061705
DVD Review (2005)

The Work = ***
There are those that just inherently hate remakes. Frankly, I have never been of that mindset. I am a big fan of 'The Maltese Falcon' starring Humphrey Bogart and directed by John Houston. It is easily one of my favorite films and many critics would agree that it is a great film. It is also not the first filming of 'The Maltese Falcon', there was a version filmed some years earlier but now viewers are often not aware of the original film adaptation.

I bring that up because it is always important to remember that whether a film is a remake or not is not necessarily a qualifier of the film being good or not. There are good remakes and there are bad remakes. I'm a big fan of the original 'Dawn of the Dead' and guess what? I'm a fan of the remake. Is it as good as the original? No. But it didn't try to be the original, it took its own spin on the script and made something exciting and entertaining. Here, now, I am reviewing a remake of the excellent John Carpenter film 'Assault on Precinct 13'.

Is it as good as the original? Once again, no. It is, however, once again, an entertaining one. The new 'Assault on Precinct 13' takes its own spin on the story. For one thing the precinct in the remake is actually the 13th precinct. For those of you that aren't familiar with the Carpenter film, it was made on a very tiny budget. According to Carpenter, when they needed to show the windows being shot up with gunfire, they simply shot the windows with real guns. In the original the assault of the title is on precinct 9 but the distributor thought 13 sounded better so they changed the title and released it.

The original is a slow, plodding, thriller that in many ways is a tip of the hat to the westerns of Howard Hawks and John Ford. (For you film dorks the actor who plays Scar in 'The Searchers', has a role as an officer in the Carpenter film.) Also in Carpenter's film Darwin Joston gave the performance of his career as the most dangerous incarcerated criminal, Napoleon Wilson. For the remake, the filmmakers wisely chose a cast of solid actors that help to keep the film engaging.

For the central criminal they managed to find a suitable replacement in the form of Laurence Fishburne. He plays Marion Bishop, a notorious gangster, with such a cool command that it is easy to see why other characters step back when he steps forward. Fishburne has often impressed me with his screen presence and he, like many great actors, is able to say often ridiculous dialogue and act in over the top situations and somehow make it all seem real and convincing.

Ethan Hawke, Maria Bello, John Leguizamo, Drea de Matteo, Ja Rule, Gabriel Byrne and more fill out the cast of cops and criminals in 'Assault on Precinct 13'. I especially liked Leguizamo’s disheveled look and drugged out performance. The plot is similar in both the original and the remake: a group of cops and criminals spend one last night in a precinct about to close down. While they are there the precinct comes under siege from unknown attackers and the group inside is cut off from the rest of the world and must fight for survival.

Director Jean-Francois Richet keeps things moving along and there are plenty of shootouts and clever quips from the characters. Some of the action sequences, especially as the attacks begin are very exciting and drew me right in. All of the actors gave their characters personality and helped to make them people I cared about. The villains are a largely faceless wave of high tech assailants with unknown motives (with a few exceptions anyway.)

One thing that I really liked was that for once the villain was really brutal. When he offs the psychiatrist I did not see it coming and while I was bummed because I liked her character, it was nice to see a villain follow through with his threats.
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I must say if I had an overall complaint with film, it is that I wish it ended on a bigger note. The opening is very strong and the earlier sequences were so thrilling that the later ones seem kind of bland by comparison. Still I give credit to the filmmakers for making a thorough villain who for follows through with his actions.

At the end of the day ' Assault on Precinct 13' is a pretty good action film. The first half especially rocks. The action has impact, the actors bring spark to their roles and the music helps to build tension. For me, I prefer the original but the remake is certainly not a bad film. I wish the final quarter had packed more of a punch but it is still an enjoyable film. Fans of the genre should really enjoy it and fans of the actors will probably want to check it out.

The DVD = ***

The Look
'Assault on Precinct 13' has a solid transfer that shows off its nice cinematography. The film is presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen.

The Sound
The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 track in English and French and a DTS 5.1 in English. I only listened to the English Dolby track. This sounded like a good mix to me. The effects were loud and had impact and the dialogue was clear and easy to understand. The DVD also had subtitles in Spanish and French.

The Bonus
There’s a couple of previews (although Universal did not include the trailer for 'Assault on Precinct 13' itself, which is a shame.) There is a wave of featurettes on the DVD with no play all feature which the DVD needs. They are broken down by different aspects of production and are fairly light in terms of content. Although largely promotional they at least have comments from the cast who really helped to make this film work. The featurettes do give a brief bit of background on the director and have some brief info on the production design, firearms, and stunts. There is a commentary with Richet, writer James DeMonaco, and producer Jeffrey Silver. This was an enjoyable commentary and easily the best feature on the DVD. The three get along well and talk about references, anecdotes, the history of the production and some production stories. This is an all around good track that makes up for the lackluster featurettes. It is a shame they couldn’t have been edited into a full fledged product documentary with info on the genesis of the production and more background on the cast and crew.

All Together = ***
While not as good as the original this is still an easy one to recommend. You have to be able to enjoy action films but as long as you are you will probably like ' Assault on Precinct 13'. The film a brutal villain who’s motivation is at least understandable. Actually the writing, directing and especially the actors help to make all the characters fleshed out and real. The first half is stronger than the second but it may just be me that was bothered by that. The featurettes on the DVD are weak but the commentary is good and make up for them. That combined with the strong action, good and sometimes brutal action make this an easy recommendation for action fans.


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