Heat (1995) Special Edition
2.35:1 (16x9 Enhanced)
Dolby Digital 5.1, 2.0
Warner Home Video, $26.95

Heat is an epic about professionalism: the professionalism of expert criminals and the professionalism of the police assigned to take them down. The theme of working with skill and discipline informs not only the film’s content, but also its execution, which involved numerous Hollywood pros — including director Michael Mann and cinematographer Dante Spinotti, ASC, AIC — doing some of the best work of their careers. It is therefore appropriate that a similar professionalism is on display in this recently released two-disc special edition DVD of Heat, which features a flawless transfer and a wealth of supplements that offer an incisive look at the filmmaking process.

With its sympathy toward hero and villain alike, Heat recalls classic Budd Boetticher-Randolph Scott Westerns such as Ride Lonesome and The Tall T, and in an interview for one of the DVD’s supplemental features, executive producer Pieter Jan Brugge acknowledges Heat’s debt to the Western genre. Whereas Boetticher’s low-budget Westerns were almost all standard feature length, however, Heat clocks in at almost three hours. The result of 20 years of research by Mann (who used some of the same material for the telefilm L.A. Takedown), Heat explores the intertwined lives of cops and criminals with impressive detail.

The perfectionism exhibited by a superb ensemble cast, led by Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, is matched by the precision in Spinotti’s visuals. The cinematographer uses the anamorphic- frame like a master painter, composing his shots for both narrative impact and aesthetic beauty. One of his most impressive achievements is his ability to convey the spirit of film noir without imitating other pictures in that tradition; his clean, sleek lighting takes the characters out of the shadows, except for some key emotional moments. The movie’s imagery is lush, gorgeous and filled with expressive details that define the characters and their Los Angeles milieu.

Warner Home Video’s new transfer of Heat displays the subtlety of Spinotti’s lighting to greater effect than did previous DVD and laserdisc releases of the film. The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is equally impressive, particularly given that the film’s sound design has an astonishingly broad tonal range. Quiet moments of marital discord coexist with loud, violent action sequences, and the aural clarity in all of these scenes is remarkable; the sound mix is dense and complex, yet one never has to strain to hear important dialogue or effects.

Mann’s articulate commentary track runs the full 170-minute length of the film and provides many insights into his approach to the project. On disc two, five documentary featurettes focus mainly on the film’s characters and content, but the third featurette, “Into the Fire”, offers an interview with Spinotti, who discusses his craft and his approach to Heat. Fortunately, there isn’t much repetition or redundancy in the supplemental materials; the actors and crew dissect the film from multiple perspectives, allowing fans an inside look at many facets of the production, including prep, sound mixing and editing. There are also 11 deleted scenes that, though brief, add dimension to the characterizations and plot.

One of the most fascinating featurettes is “True Crime”, a documentary in which Chicago cop Chuck Adamson, the inspiration for Pacino’s character, tells the true stories that informed Mann’s screenplay. The correlation between truth and fiction is artfully conveyed in the editing of this piece, which juxtaposes Adamson’s comments with scenes from Heat to show how research was converted into drama. Even more illuminating from a filmmaking standpoint is a featurette that examines the now-famous coffeeshop scene shared by De Niro and Pacino; Spinotti and Mann describe the challenges involved in capturing the magic of the performances without shortchanging the visuals.

— Jim Hemphill

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© 2005 American Cinematographer.