Stanley Jobson (Hugh Jackman) is down on his luck and working for very little, following his parole from prison for computer hacking crimes. But he's one of the best hackers in the world and this brings him to the attention of the sinister Gabriel Shear (John Travolta). Lured to a meeting by the sexual charms of Shear's associate Ginger Knowles (Halle Berry) - and more importantly the prospect of 100 grand just to show up, Jobson takes the bait and gets himself involved with Shear's plan to electronically steal billions of dollars from secret government accounts. As he goes along with this caper (for a 10 million dollar payday) he discovers that there is more to Gabriel Shear than just being a thief, as his involvement with government plans regarding an unauthorized war on terrorism come to light.
What is at the end of the day a fairly standard popcorn action movie, Swordfish has gained a notoriety due its unfortunately incredibly bad timing. It's underlying theme of terrorism and particularly a scene where a vehicle is crashed into the side of a skyscraper sat too uncomfortably with the real world events of September 11th, causing it to be prematurely pulled from UK cinemas. Warner have pushed on with its US DVD release however to show us that the notoriety is undeserved, as really this is just another summer action movie, albeit with a few interesting touches (along with quite a few bad ones). The opening few minutes of Swordfish are truly excellent. Gabriel (Travolta) in monologue form delivers a speech about the state of Hollywood today, and the lack of realism in movies. Were the filmmakers being ironic (doubtful), as most of what he says could be applied to this movie. For instance, the film was sold on its computer hacking theme, but the technical aspects of it are laughable. Security firm RSA got involved with promotion for the movie, with the message that using their products would protect you from an attack like that carried out here. Fear not, because if anyone out there is grappling to put together three dimensional cuboid multi-headed hydra worms then I'm glad that RSA have got that covered. It is always a problem (as inevitably mentioned in the director's commentary) that if you make computer hacking realistic then it is extremely dull to watch. The trouble is the way it is spiced up here insults the intelligence of even the average person who knows just about enough to shop on the Internet.
On the plus side, John Travolta plays the villainous Gabriel with a great deal of style, proving that bad guys are becoming something of a forte of his, though he was probably better at it in both Face / Off and Broken Arrow (we'll forget about Battlefield Earth). The idea to make him look "European" involving giving him a dodgy haircut and a soul-patch - is very American, though he does drive a TVR Tuscan complete with British licence plates. Halle Berry does a convincing job as sexy yet knowledgeable Ginger, though she's become better known in this movie for the debate about how much of her fee was for the topless scene. Hugh Jackman continues to prove that he's a star on the up, though he doesn't exactly need to stretch his talents here. And Vinnie Jones is clearly a Dominic Sena favourite, as he appears in two of his films in a row, following up from Gone in 60 Seconds. This time he gets two (count 'em) lines, though one of these is truly awful.
Swordfish is a lot better than director Sena's previous effort Gone in 60 Seconds though in reality he is a popcorn movie maker and this film is nowhere near as serious as it thinks it is. Added to this, events in the real world have somewhat overtaken it. Still, there's plenty here to enjoy, notably some fun performances from actors playing characters who are shades of "bad", rather than any particular good guys, and some well-paced action sequences. It's not anywhere near as good as I was hoping, but it's still just about worth a look.
Much like Sena's previous movie Gone in 60 Seconds, the picture here has been stylized into his "Southern California" look, ie a heat-haze colouration tints the picture in many scenes, and the transfer deals with this well. It's not perfect though, as on many occasions colour smearing is evident, particularly across people's faces in semi dark sequences. And to those people (probably VHS tape renters) who complain that the opening few seconds of the movie suffer from picture break up: it's meant to be like that!
No complaints about the sound at all; this is a big noisy movie, and has the big noisy soundtrack to go with it. Plenty of directional effects from the Dolby Digital 5.1 track and it provides the full and powerful soundstage required. There is also a 5.1 track re-dubbed into French Canadian, if that's your chosen language.
The first point to make about the extras is how disappointing the menus are. Static and largely silent, someone had the initial idea of making them computer-like, with "run program" instead of "play movie", "system folder" instead of "extra material", etc, but never took it any further than that. An opportunity wasted.
The extras themselves are:
The alternate endings section provides two variations on the ending of the movie. These are variations rather than being completely different, as there was apparently an original plan for an airport shootout ending that was probably scrapped before even being filmed. These two endings are similar to the one actually used, but provide very different outcomes. Going along with Dominic Sena's (optional) commentary I have to agree that the most appropriate ending was used.
The featurette The Making of Swordfish is a fifteen minute HBO first look piece. All the usual ingredients are here, but yet again this is another movie plug that should really be watched after the movie.
Following on from this is The Effects in Focus which goes into more detail about the production of the bus sequence. This involved a mixture of blue screen stage and effects work, and real location shooting (something that certainly won't be possible post September 11th). Interesting, but hardly much detail weighing in at just eight minutes.
The commentary by director Dominic Sena is quite technical, talking about scene design, plotting and editing. Of particular interest was his concern of how to remove some of the "adult" aspects of the movie in order to make a TV version.
The Profiles section is the standard filmography listings for the main stars and crew. Dominic Sena only gets a name check but no listing - possibly because this is only his third feature. Finally on the video section is the theatrical trailer presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 format.
The packaging boasts heavily about the DVD-ROM features of this disc but once again, like so many others, this turns out to be little more than fancy links through to the website. A disappointment.
Swordfish is a reasonably entertaining actioner that suffered from very poor timing with real world events. The disc itself is OK rather than being anything special, but on balance, it's just about worth obtaining.