Release Date(s)2009 (July 20, 2021)
Studio(s)Hasbro/Paramount Pictures (Paramount Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: C
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: C
Hasbro’s G.I. Joe line of toys, with their associated comic books and animated series, had a long journey to reach the big screen, but after a protracted development process, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra finally hit theaters in 2009. The film was helmed by Deep Rising and The Mummy director Stephen Sommers, from a script credited to Stuart Beattie, David Elliot, and Paul Lovett (though in some ways it was scripted by committee). Beattie, Michael B. Gordon, and Sommers himself contributed story ideas, but everything was under the watchful eye of the Hasbro toy company, as well as the creator of the comic series, Larry Hama. The abundant and frequently problematic visual effects were farmed out to six different companies. As a result of all of that, there was never much hope for any narrative or visual consistency.
The story involves a group of American soldiers led by Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans) transporting experimental “nanomite” warheads manufactured by the M.A.R.S. Corporation when they’re ambushed by high-tech mercenaries led by The Baroness (Sienna Miller). Duke and Ripcord find themselves recruited by the paramilitary G.I. Joe organization led by General Hawk (Dennis Quaid), and their adventures will uncover a plot for global domination by the Cobra Command, as well as some secrets involving old friends.
The cast is serviceable, though they’re not given much material with which to stretch themselves. Stephen Sommers fans will appreciate the appearance of veterans from his past films including Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Kevin J. O’Connor, Arnold Vosloo, and Brendan Fraser. Action scenes are reasonably coherent, at least by the standards of this kind of film, though the physics are as absurd as ever—it’s best not to think about what happens to the Cobra base at the end. There’s also some strong violence for an ostensible family film, and the body count is quite high, but all of it tends to be appropriately cartoonish. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra isn’t the kind of film which was meant to be taken seriously.
Cinematographer Mitchell Amundsen shot G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra on 35 mm film using ARRIFLEX 235 and 435 Xtreme cameras, as well as Panavision Panaflex Millennium XL cameras, all using Panavision C-Series, Cooke and Angenieux anamorphic lenses. (Some visual effects plates were also shot with a Beaumont VistaVision camera and Panavision Primo lenses, while additional material was photographed digitally using Red One cameras in 4K in the Redcode RAW format.) The film was then finished originally as a 2K Digital Intermediate framed at 2.39:1 for its theatrical release. For Ultra HD, Paramount has likely upscaled that DI to 4K, re-scanned live action shots (without VFX) in native 4K from the original camera negative and dropped those in, and graded the resulting presentation for HDR—both Dolby Vision and HDR10 options are available. The actual improvements in resolution are marginal, although some fine textures do look a bit more detailed. However, this does tend to throw some of the already dodgy CGI into sharp relief. Shots that don’t feature any effects look the most detailed, but they’re in the minority considering that there are nearly a thousand VFX shots in the finished film. The HDR grade provides a warmer glow than the Blu-ray, but there’s not much difference in the color gamut. Contrast is stronger with brighter highlights and deeper blacks, but the latter is at the expense of some crush—there’s no nuance in the darkest areas of the screen, just blackness. It’s a look which isn’t incompatible with the comic book and animated source material, but it’s far from the best that the format has to offer.
The primary audio option on the disc is the same English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track from the Blu-ray. While an Atmos remix would have been nice, this is a solid track that upmixes nicely. The surrounds are extremely active with directional effects—bullets and other munitions fly precisely through the soundstage. The bass is deep for the music and the frequent explosions, but the level of the track is a bit low, so you may need to raise it to feel that impact. This isn’t a film with many quiet moments, but the few there are keep things alive with atmospheric effects. Additional audio options include English Descriptive Audio and German, Spanish (Spain), Spanish (Latin America), French, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin, Portuguese, and Russian 5.1 Dolby Digital. Subtitle options include English, English for the Hearing Impaired, Cantonese, Danish, German, Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Dutch, Norwegian, Portuguese (Brasil), Portuguese (Portugal), Russian, Simplified Chinese, Finnish, Swedish, and Thai. Commentary subtitles include: English, German, Spanish (Spain), Spanish (Latin America), French, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese (Brasil), and Russian.
Paramount’s Ultra HD release of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is a 2 Disc set which includes a Blu-ray in 1080p, as well as a Digital Copy code on a paper insert within the package. The previous Blu-ray release included a DVD with additional special features, but none of those are included here. Only a single extra is retained on both discs:
- Audio Commentary by Stephen Sommers and Bob Duscay
Director Stephen Sommers and his long-time editor (and occasional producer) Bob Duscay have an easygoing style and keep the track moving. They talk about their history together, and the challenges that they faced with the production including an accelerated pre-production due to a Writer’s Guild strike. They also discuss the actors, the globe-trotting locations, and the visual effects—occasionally admitting which ones don’t work very well, but they’re definitely more satisfied than most viewers will be. They spend a fair amount of time covering the relationship between the G.I. Joe franchise and the film, explaining the difficulty of designing things for live action that would still satisfy fans of the cartoons and the comics. They also point out many of the numerous Easter eggs. The duo won’t change anyone’s feelings about the film, but fans should find plenty of interesting information here.
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is every bit the live action cartoon that it was intended to be. Paramount’s Ultra HD version of the film isn’t a huge upgrade over the Blu-ray, but there are small but noticeable improvements—although hang onto the old disc to keep all of the missing extras.
- Stephen Bjork