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Dick Tracy (1990)

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 12/11/2012

All Ratings out of




Extras: No Extras

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/21/2012

When Tim Burton's Batman was released in 1989, it kicked off a trend of feature films starring The Caped Crusader which have continued to this day (and certainly seen their share of ups and downs). That film also created some other fads as well. The most obvious one is that it sent Hollywood chasing after comic book characters. However, if you look under that, you'll see that many also wanted to emulate Burton's style of having Gotham City look like it existed in the 1940s. Thus, we get throwbacks like The Phantom, The Shadow (which was actually based on a radio play, but it fits here) and also things like The Rocketeer, which was based on a modern comic, but had that throwback feel. However, the one to beat them all to the punch was Warren Beatty, whose Dick Tracy hit the big screen in 1990.

Dick Tracy, based on the comic strip by Chester Gould, follows the adventures of a police detective whose trademark is his yellow hat and trenchcoat. When Tracy (Warren Beatty) is not defending the city against a gallery of unique villains, he spends time with his girlfriend, Tess Trueheart (Glenne Headly), who wants more from their relationship. Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino) has decided that he wants to take over the city, as he simultaneously begins to create a coalition with other bad guys while taking out the competition. He takes control of The Ritz nightclub, where lounge singer Breathless Mahoney (Madonna) performs. As Big Boy's plans escalate, a mysterious figure known as The Blank begins to begins to intervene in both the villain's plans and Tracy's investigations. Meanwhile, Tess and Tracy find themselves caring for The Kid (Charlie Korsmo), a runaway orphan.

Dick Tracy may be one of the ultimate examples of style over substance. With this film, Producer/Director Beatty took a unique approach to the material. He didn't just want the movie to have a "comic book look", he wanted it to look like a comic book. Therefore, the film is dominated by bright, bold solid colors. Everything (and I mean everything) is blue, red, yellow, green, orange, purple, black or white. Very few objects combine colors, save for the stripes on Big Boy's suits. This is accompanied by dramatic colored lighting, thus giving us the impression that this definitely is not our world. In addition, the movie features many matte painting backgrounds which make little attempt to look realistic, thus contributing to the artistic approach. Also, the bizarre villains from the comic strip like Flattop, Pruneface, and The Brow are all presented here in a fashion which matches those seen in print. Special effects makeup artists like Craig Reardon and John Caglione Jr. worked to bring that heightened feel to the film with their unique creations.

All of this work went into creating the look of the film, and apparently no one paid any attention to the story. I only have a passing familiarity with the Dick Tracy comic strip, and given the era from which is hails, I would be willing to guess that the stories aren't that twisty and deep. However, modern audience demand more than what we get here. The script by Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr. brings us a story which is frustratingly linear. The bad buys scheme and Tracy goes after them. I would have normally written "the bad guys do bad things", but we don't get much of that here. Big Boy does murder someone to take control of The Ritz, but after there, there's basically just a lot of talking about taking over the city with the incremental raid by Tracy and his men. The movie moves along at this clip for most of its running time, with a surprisingly (for this film) violent shootout occurring in the third act. I sure that when Beatty wasn't focusing on the colors, he did what he could with this script, but there is no suspense and the one twist, the reveal of The Blank, is surprising because it doesn't make much sense. I'm not sure if The Kid was in the comic strip, but his inclusion here feels very random, as do some of the cameo appearances, which feel like Beatty simply invited his friends to the set.

What made Beatty (whose only directed four movies) pursue this project? Had he loved Dick Tracy as a child? He's OK in the leading role, but he seems to lack the edge needed for the action scenes. Madonna's appearance in the film (and her rumored romance with Beatty) nabbed some publicity for the film, but she's terrible in this, showing no emotion when she speaks. I was actually surprised by how much screentime Pacino gets in this and he chews the scenery in his Big Boy makeup. However, this over-the-top performance feels out of place when compared to other parts of the movie. The work put into Dick Tracy's look keep it from being a total mess, but there were many moments when I was surprised by just how bad it was, given Beatty's experience and track record. He managed to capture the look of a comic, but forgot to include the excitement.

Dick Tracy made me want a combination water cooler/tape recorder on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 28 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing only trace amounts of grain at times and no overt defects from the source material. As one would assume, the colors look very good and are well-represented on this Blu-ray transfer. However, the image is somewhat dark at times. The level of detail is adequate, although some shots look soft. We get similar quality from the depth, which is good, but not great. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 5.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are nicely done, showing good separation. Sounds move from side to side and we get an impression of things happening off-screen. The surround sound effects are a bit more subtle and usually arise only during crowd and action scenes. The shootout and some explosions get the subwoofer involved.

The Dick Tracy Blu-ray Disc contains no extra features.

Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2012.