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Baby Driver (Blu-ray Review)

This past summer saw writer/director Edgar Wright land a huge hit with his film Baby Driver. That was great news to keep track of, as Wright speaks a cinematic language that I quickly picked up back with Spaced and Shaun of the Dead and have enjoyed ever since. Like his other films, Baby Driver takes a central concept, strips other movies for parts, and builds a Frankenstein monster of a finished product that is so wonderful to watch it’s scary. In this case, we have a car chase/heist movie that also happens to be a musical. However, Baby Driver is not a musical in a traditional sense. Music informs the film in a way that allows for a great sense of rhythm to play throughout this fun ride. Now the sleeper hit has arrived on a Blu-ray packed with extras.

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Film:

 

Let’s dig deeper into what makes this movie a musical. Thanks to Wright’s direction and the impressive number of needle drops featured in this film, Baby Driver is synced to its soundtrack. Take Baby (Ansel Elgort), the young, expert getaway driver and hero of the movie. He begins the movie waiting in a car, listening to “Bellbottoms” by John Spencer Blues Explosion. Baby lip syncs to the song and dances in the car while in waiting. Soon enough, a trio of bank robbers (Jon Hamm, Jon Bernthal, and Eiza Gonzalez) enter the car and Baby is off. Perfectly timed to the music, all driving sound effects hit every beat of the song. This chase concept is how the rest of the film plays out.

It’s not a new technique, but having that style be done to this extent is not at all common. Wright makes it all so much fun through his visuals and editing, easily keeping you engaged. Add to that the action element, which seems like the next logical step for the director that provided memorable fights and cool action set pieces in his comedies Hot Fuzz, The World’s End and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Baby Driver starts with an opening chase sequence so good, the film dares itself to continue to match up. That’s where the rest of this unique world comes in.

A thing to understand is how stylized the world of Baby Driver is. Characters speak in hardboiled dialogue, and the plot is no different than one you’d find in noir-era gangster films. Working from a story Wright has been crafting for over two decades; Baby drives for Doc (a well-cast Kevin Spacey). Doc is the kingpin of a criminal syndicate that employs a rotating crew of criminals for various heists. This strategy allows for lots of different interplay between Baby and the various crooks, letting the film to shift gears between comedy and tension. One character representing both sides is Bats (Jamie Foxx), a live-wire never shying away from murder as a go-to answer for his troubles.

Putting the focus back on Baby, the film’s musical nature is partly due to the character, as he has permanent tinnitus. Baby uses music from various stolen iPods to drown out the noise in his ears. How that makes him an unparalleled getaway driver, I’m not sure, but the film is all the more fun giving him such a unique talent. That said, Baby is no mastermind, as cunning as he may be. He makes mistakes, and while Baby only performs this job so he can pay a debt owed to Doc, there’s a thrill he gets from the chase only matched by living a new life with a waitress he meets at the local diner. This waitress is Debora (Lily James), who becomes the focus Baby has as far as leaving the world of crime behind.

Baby Driver

Despite the twists and turns, Baby Driver is not shockingly original from a story standpoint. It hits a few standard beats and leaves characters in the position of making the most out of stock types. That said, Baby Driver is also not just a case of style over substance. Like Wright’s other films, the aggressive filmmaking is matched by actors in various emotional states and delivering strong performances. Even in a world where Spacey can rattle of lines like, “He has a hum in the drum,” the film still allows for moments of poignancy that speak to who these people are.

That’s all to say Elgort is pretty great here. His character is cut from the same cloth as Ryan Gosling in Drive or Ryan O’Neal in The Driver. Baby is quiet, but confident and the added visibility of him being in over his head at times keeps us aware that this is just a kid placed in a crazy world. Elgort works well handling the musical rhythms of this film, along with sharing chemistry with his costars. Whether stoic or nervous when placed against threats like Foxx or Bernthal, he fits in. On the romance side, he and James work well together, playing as a more boilerplate plotline, as opposed to something twee (impressive, since the film’s romantic lead is basically hipster Speed Racer).

As for the rest, the blend of scary and silly crooks (Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea has a small role as Eddie No-Nose, who details specific no-no’s concerning his artificial nose) make for a fine group of performers taking on this whiz-bang of a feature. Spacey serves as the best focus for the satirical aspects of the film, highlighting Wright’s ability to acknowledge how his crime story is nothing new as a plot, regardless of the extra oomph he puts behind the wheel as a director. It’s a strong enough performance to read into how his intimidation serves as a strange way of endearment towards Baby.

Others shine as well. Foxx is terrifically menacing as Bats. He’s a big talker who delivers on threats while adding many laughs. Bernthal and Gonzalez fit for what’s required of them. Hamm stands out, given his gift for staring incredulously at people. That trick earned him plenty of praise for playing Don Draper in Mad Men and still works in a less sympathetic role here. Hamm has a face and an overall look that makes his abilities work for a character housing a sinister edge.

Moving onto what helps this film edge out competition, I must emphasize that this is a car chase movie designed to be one of the very bests. While even recent years have still delivered amazing car chases (think Fury Road), Baby Driver has Wright working hard to throw his name in the hat when determining which ones stand highest. This film may be more Seven-Ups as opposed to French Connection in terms of an impactful story, but practically made car chases are great to watch and Wright has the visual eye to do things with shots we just can’t enough of.

Balancing these great action moments with tracks from Queen, Blur, Young MC, T. Rex and a variety of others only helps in imbuing Baby Driver with a ridiculous amount of personality. Thanks to a witty script that lets Wright have plenty of fun with characters in an action-thriller (and slight comedy), there is no shortage of cinematic joy to be found when characters are behind the wheel or sitting at a booth. Baby Driver tosses a lot of cool ideas into a pop culture blender, and a slick car chase movie came out as a result. It rocks.

 

Video:

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1

Clarity/Detail: For a Sony release and given Wright’s own dedication to the quality of his home releases, I’m a bit surprised this is disc does not feature one of the best transfers of the year. As it stands, the film still looks great, with some dizzying visuals feeling properly represented. However, due to budget or just the general color palette, the film never feels quite as crisp as it could. Detail is there, as we see things like Baby’s iPod or the interiors of certain cars register properly, but the overall clarity seems a bit limited overall.

Depth: Depth factors in well enough, as the spacing between characters can be viewed without obstruction in anyway and the film never suffers from flatness.

Black Levels: Black levels are fine, though there are some signs of crush during nighttime scenes and other moments.

Color Reproduction: While the city streets only have so much flare, there is enough to check out in costumes and cars that make the colors really pop in some instances. As an Edgar Wright film, there is enough going on to always have one’s attention and this film is no different. Even with some elements that aren’t as bright, the colors scene do a service to the film.

Flesh Tones: Character details standout well enough.

Noise/Artifacts: Some mild noise, but nothing too distracting.

 

Audio:

Audio Format(s): English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0, French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, Thai Dolby Digital 5.1

Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Cantonese, Korean, Mandarin, Thai

Dynamics: It’s a shame the Blu-ray release only features this lossless track, while the 4K edition gets the Dolby Atmos presentation. However, there is still plenty to enjoy as far as getting the musical quality of this film blasting through your speakers. Between the action elements and the soundtrack choices, there is plenty of clarity in a film so complicated in the audio department.

Low-Frequency Extension: When this film moves into its heavier action scenes, the LFE channel gets a lot to work with and the film is all the better for it. Gunshots really pack oomph towards the film’s ending sequences, which is great for this area.

Surround Sound Presentation: A strong balance is had here, with the front and center channels doing most the work, but the rear channels finding enough to work with when it comes to the music and more. Atmospheric work also helps round out this area.

Dialogue Reproduction: A lot of great dialogue comes through cleanly.

 

Extras:

As an Edgar Wright release, Baby Driver’s special features section does not disappoint. Two commentary tracks, large featurettes covering all aspects of production, deleted scenes and more make for a disc that is fully loaded.

Features Include:

  • Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Edgar Wright – Wright’s mix of humor and knowledge go a long way to make for an entertaining commentary full of stories, facts and more.
  • Audio Commentary with Edgar Wright and Cinematographer Bill Pope – A more technically-focused commentary track that digs into production aspects more heavily. You’ll likely encounter some bits heard in the first track, but Wright is such an energetic filmmaker that he’s easy to listen to in any case.
  • Deleted & Extended Scenes (HD, 20:28)
  • Behind the Scenes (HD) – A six-part behind-the-scenes look at the film.
    • That’s My Baby: Edgar Wright (9:18) – A look at the film’s origins and what Wright wanted to bring to it.
    • Mozart In a Go-Kart: Ansel Drives (5:52) – A look at the actor’s training for the film.
    • I Need a Killer Track: The Music (6:14) – This one is clearly about the music of the film.
    • Meet Your New Crew: Doc’s Gang (10:55) – A look at the film’s supporting cast.
    • Find Something Funky on There: The Choreography (6:08) – A look at how Wright shaped this film into a musical.
    • Devil Behind the Wheel: The Car Chases (6:46) – A look at the making of the film’s car chases.
  • Selected Scene Animatics (HD, 35:42) – Animated pre-viz sequences for several of the film’s action sequences.
  • Rehearsals & Pre-Production (HD, 17:03) – A collection of screen tests and rehearsals based on some key scenes from the film, along with some costume tests.
  • Music Video (HD, 4:15) – Edgar Wright directed a music video for “Blue Song” by Mint Royale, which incorporated some ideas for what he wanted to do in a film one day. Spoilers – that happened this year.
  • Complete Storyboard Gallery (HD)
  • Promos and More (HD, 21:10) – All the marketing materials for Baby Driver.
  • Previews (HD)
  • UltraViolet Copy of the Film

Summary:

Baby Driver is easily one of my favorite films of the year and I was so happy to see it catch on with audiences around the world, so Wright could finally have a big win box office-wise to go along with his strong record among fans and critics. The Blu-ray is surprisingly a bit of a low-key release when it comes to overall presentation quality, but the large collection of extras is more than welcome. If you’re looking for a slick film with plenty of great action and humor to go along with the sense of filmmaking ambition, check out Baby Driver for sure.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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