Release Date(s)1995/2017 (August 9, 2022)
Studio(s)New Regency/Warner Bros/Forward Pass (20th Century Studios/Buena Vista Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B+
Heat is one of the most influential films of the modern crime/action genre, but it’s also a masterpiece of American cinema regardless of any genre considerations. Directed by Michael Mann, and based in part on real historical figures and incidents, the film tells the story of two not so very different men. One, an LAPD homicide detective named Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino), is so focused on and consumed by his work that he’s failing his third marriage. Hanna prowls the streets of L.A. like a wolf, stalking those who would do wrong, even as his personal life falls into ruin. The other, a professional criminal named Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro), is simply doing what he does best—robbing banks and taking scores. McCauley also lives a lonely existence, making no personal connections that he couldn’t walk out on at a moment’s notice. But when an armored car heist goes off plan, drawing the attention of the LAPD, McCauley and his crew decide to take on one last job—a bank heist that could land them more than $12 million—before laying low. As these two hardened professionals gradually become aware of one other—each a predator in their own way—they begin to gain a kind of mutual respect. But Hanna and McCauley also know that they’re on a collision course. And in the end, only one will be left standing.
One of the most interesting aspects of Heat is that the film makes no moral judgements about its characters, regardless of the physical and emotional consequences of their actions. Instead, it depicts them all as fully dimensional human beings, criminals and police detectives alike, and reveals them to be operating according to a strict, if flawed, moral code. Though certainly guarded by the very nature of their work, the characters are refreshingly honest, offering fascinating insights into what motivates them. The cast is led by Pacino and De Niro, each in their prime and at the top of their game, but they’re supported by a dream ensemble that includes terrific performances by Val Kilmer, Jon Voight, Tom Sizemore, Amy Brenneman, Ted Levine, Hank Azaria, Ashley Judd, Wes Studi, Dennis Haysbert, William Fichtner, Diane Venora, Danny Trejo, Tone Loc, Jeremy Piven, and Natalie Portman. Michael Mann’s screenplay is intelligent and well-researched, prioritizing procedural verisimilitude while forsaking the usual crime genre clichés. Heat never glamorizes its violence—character, not action, is the point here—but it also doesn’t shy away from the sheer brutality of it. To the extent there is a kind of romanticism, it’s in the allure of possibility—of the chase, of what could be, or what might have been. This effect is enhanced by the sparse yet glittering Elliot Goldenthal score, Dante Spinotti’s methodical and efficient cinematography, and the industrial Los Angeles settings, which together evoke an ever-present sense of loneliness while making the city a living, breathing character throughout the film.
Heat was shot on 35 mm film using Arriflex, Cine SL, and Panavision Panaflex cameras with Panavision Primo, E-Series, and Super High Speed anamorphic lenses, and it was finished photochemically at the 2.39:1 scope ratio for theaters. The film was scanned in 4K in 2017 so that Mann could complete his Director’s Definitive Edition, which resulted in a new 4K Digital Intermediate. It was subsequently graded for High Dynamic Range (in HDR10 only on this disc) for its eventual Digital and physical UHD appearance, which the studio has finally seen fit to release.
It’s important to note that Mann regraded the color in 2017 to be more in line with his current artistic sensibilities, a decision that’s proven controversial with fans. This manifests itself in two ways: First, the image has been desaturated slightly and pushed a toward bluer cast. Second, the whole film is slightly darker now, with deeper blacks and a higher degree of contrast. You can see these differences right off the bat, when McCauley steps off the Metrolink train in the film’s opening—the shadows on his face are deeper—and as he prowls the hospital emergency room to steal an ambulance. The subsequent scene, in which Chris purchases demolition charges from a construction supply company, also has a more gloomy cast. Nighttime scenes are darker too, including the initial police investigation of the armored car heist, Hanna’s conversation with his wife after their evening out, and the film’s climax on the end of the runway at LAX. But the wider gamut of HDR still allows for greater subtleties in skin tones, skies, and clothing. The highlights aren’t nearly as bright as you’ll find on many other 4K HDR grades, though they are a tad bolder and more luminous than they appear in SDR. Shadows are definitely deeper and more detailed though, so the improvement—while not huge—is noticeable. (It’s just a shame that this title doesn’t include Dolby Vision, because those with dimmer displays would certainly benefit from it.) But the real improvement comes from the simple increase in resolution. Detailing exhibits a significant boost, apart from the usual anamorphic softness around the edges of the frame, while texturing is crisp and well refined. Grain is light-moderate and well controlled. Once you get used to it, this is a beautiful 4K image—one that you’ll appreciate more the longer you watch.
From a sonic standpoint, this disc appears to include the exact same 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix found on the 20th Century Fox Blu-ray in 2017. It retains the smooth and natural staging of the previous Dolby TrueHD mix (from the 2009 Warner Blu-ray, which was by turns lively and atmospheric), while adding a bit more heft. The DTS-HD mix is highly immersive, with a fuller and more engrossing tonal quality, lending added depth to the staging. Dialogue is clear and tight at all times. Surround activity is satisfying, particularly in the set pieces, with good low-end reinforcement. This film certainly deserves—and would have benefitted from—a new Dolby Atmos mix, but this audio was great in 2017 and it remains so now.
20th Century Studios’ new Ultra HD release is a 3-disc set, which includes the film in 4K on a UHD disc and also HD on Blu-ray (the same disc released in 2017, complete with the Fox logo). Each includes the same special feature:
- Audio Commentary by Michael Mann
This commentary originally appeared on the 2005 Warner Bros. DVD release. It’s laid back in tone, but Mann is thoughtful and well-spoken, so the track stays interesting all the way through as he talks about the characters’ motivations, the filming of different scenes, how the story evolved, and more.
There’s also a Blu-ray bonus disc in the package (again, the same disc released in 2017) that includes the following legacy extras:
- 2016: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Panel (HD – 63:23)
- 2015: Toronto International Film Festival Panel (HD – 30:27)
- The Making of Heat Documentary (SD – in 3 parts with a “play all” option – 59:12)
- Pacino and De Niro: The Conversation (SD – 9:58)
- Return to the Scene of the Crime (SD – 12:05)
- Additional Footage/Deleted Scenes (SD – 11 scenes – 9:44 in all)
- Theatrical Trailers
- Surprise of a Lifetime (SD – 2:01)
- Two Actors Collide (SD – 2:29)
- Closing In (SD – 2:18)
The two panels were new in 2017, while the SD features were all on the 2005 DVD. The Academy panel is moderated by Christopher Nolan and features Pacino, De Niro, Mann, Brenneman, Kilmer, Spinotti, and many others, while the TIFF panel is really more of a conversation between Mann and moderator Jessie Wente prior to a screening of the film. The documentary is interesting enough, though with an early EPK vibe, featuring the participation of real-life Chicago police detective Chuck Adamson (the basis for Hanna’s character) and key members of the cast. There are some interesting deleted scenes and alternate/extended moments, mostly involving McCauley’s crew, but they were definitely deleted for a reason. Unfortunately, there’s nothing new for this 4K release extras-wise other than the usual Movies Anywhere Digital code on a paper insert.
Heat is a great film that deserves the appreciation of any serious cinephile, and it’s nice to finally have it looking this good on physical 4K. But the new HDR grade requires a genuinely bright display with good tone mapping to reveal its full potential. So while this Ultra HD release is certainly recommended, be sure to take that into consideration when making your purchase decision.
- Bill Hunt