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STUDIO: Warner Home Video
MSRP: $26.99 RATED: PG
RUNNING TIME: 113 Minutes
• Commentary by director Peter Yates
• Documentaries on the editing process and Steve McQueen
• Vintage featurette on Steve McQueen’s performance in Bullitt
The chase scene – even if you’ve never seen Bullitt before, it’s a pretty safe bet that you’ve heard about the chase scene. Ten minutes of cars driving at breakneck speeds through the streets of San Francisco. You don’t even need to be a car person to admire the beauty of it. No matter how many elaborate freeway scenes full of special effects are created by modern Hollywood, few of them can even come close to the intensity depicted in Bullitt.
All anyone seems to remember about Bullitt is that scene and the last shot of the film. Sure, those scenes are great and have become iconic, but what about the remaining 103 minutes of film that have become passed over and forgotten? Overlooking the rest of the film is a shame, because Bullitt isn’t just a film designed to be put on “Top 10 Action Scene” lists. It has a lot more to offer. With the release of the Steve McQueen Collection on DVD, it’s time to look at Bullitt as a whole and not just 10 minutes of action and a bodily function.
YOU are the driver. What would YOU do, if this happened to YOU?
Frank Bullitt is a cop. He’s also a regular human being. He isn’t bullet proof. He’s not an unstoppable killing machine whose only thoughts are about getting the job done. He has to rest. He has to shop for groceries, stocking up on TV dinners for the lonely nights at home. His job is a just a job. He doesn’t let himself wallow in angst and despair after seeing dead bodies all day, he puts it behind him and allows himself to live a normal life.
That’s not to say he doesn’t take his job seriously, he just does things at his own pace. Bullitt is currently assigned to the job of protecting a witness. Things don’t go down the right way and the witness ends up in intensive care. Bullitt decides to follow this case out to the end and begins investigating the murder to try and track down the assassins.
Bullitt was protecting the witness by the request of politician Walter Chalmers (Well-acted by Robert Vaughn, who would go on to greater fame in local commercials for lawyers). Chalmers plans to use the witness’ testimony to make himself look tough on crime and bolster his chances of election. Chalmers offers Bullitt success and promotions if he succeeds, and threatens to destroy his career if he fails. Bullitt could care less.
The plot of Bullitt is quite linear throughout most of the picture, and even when the story takes a few twists they are easy to follow. There’s no concerted effort made to confuse the viewer or pull the rug out from under them. It’s a standard cop story playing out to its only logical conclusion without any real sense of urgency. There’s no doubt that the film’s pace is a slow burn. It’s in these slow portions that the film relies on McQueen’s natural charisma to carry it. While McQueen’s acting is good, it’s his reactions to other characters where he really shines. It’s the small things that matter, like McQueen mistakenly believing his partner has prepared juice for him and reaching for the glass before realizing his error. These natural reactions are what differentiate Frank Bullitt from the cookie cutter action heroes of the day and make him a real person.
"I told you once not to jump on the bed, this time I’m playing for keeps."
As for the action scenes, they still hold up today. The car chase sequence is something that should be considered required viewing for all movie fans. Not only is the driving well done, it’s more impressive than many modern action scenes because it’s all real. If Bullitt were remade today, it would probably involve Paul Walker in a computer generated car jumping over a bridge. It’s quite shocking that a Bullitt moving theater ride hasn’t been constructed at a Six Flags yet.
Gunplay is kept to a minimum, but the pursuit scenes between the armed characters are suspenseful when they occur. As a side note, this film was released before the advent of the PG-13 rating, and as a result contains a few grizzly deaths that probably wouldn’t be allowed in a modern PG movie.
Bullitt could have ended up as a poor film with an exceptional action sequence, but the understated acting of McQueen and the deviations from the cop drama genre help to make it a memorable film with or without the car chase.
8.5 out of 10
"I’m not really a cab driver, I’m just trying to hide from that creep Haley Joel Osment."
This new transfer is a definite improvement over the old bare bones release of Bullitt. The colors are much more vibrant instead of the washed out look on the old disc. The action scenes in broad daylight are now even better looking and it’s much easier to tell what’s going on at night, especially when characters are hiding in dark shadows.
As can be expected, the transfer does contain some grain in portions of it. It’s never bad enough that you would notice it unless you were actively searching for it. Warner obviously spent some time on this transfer and it’s worth the long wait.
8.0 out of 10
Is it worse to die wearing dirty underpants or none at all?
Bullitt is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround. It’s a good sound mix for the most part, and the screeching sounds of tires come across as loud as you’d expect. A majority of the film is just dialogue though, so the strength of the mix is only exhibited on a few occasions.
7.0 out of 10
The Copymaster 5000 pumps out an uncanny one copy per minute
The principle extra on disc one is the feature commentary with director Peter Yates. The two subjects that Yates discusses at length are San Francisco and McQueen. Yates recounts his experiences filming throughout San Francisco in a time when many films were not shot there. If you’re interested in how shots are set up and location scouting, perhaps you will find it interesting. Yates also comments on the subtleties of McQueen’s acting and the contributions made by him in making the character of Bullitt seem more human. Yates has a charming voice and seems to have fun talking about his film even though he often goes silent for portions of the movie. Disc one also contains the trailer for the film, which is mediocre as far as trailers go.
Disc two contains the real meat of the special features. First up is “The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing.” It’s rare to see a feature on editing included on a DVD, but it’s expected in this case as Bullitt won an Oscar in this category. This is not a feature that deals with the editing in Bullitt specifically. This is an all encompassing feature that starts from a basic explanation of what editing involves and goes on to show how important it is to all films. This is not a feature created for the Bullitt DVD; it’s a feature that aired on the Starz Encore network slapped onto this release because of its Oscar win. I can’t fault Warner for that though, as this is a great feature regardless.
Steve McQueen and Officer Safety know to always buckle up and lock your doors before a high speed chase.
The next feature is “Steve McQueen: The Essence of Cool.” This is a feature that was originally created for Turner Classic Movies and is, as you would expect, a retrospective on McQueen’s career and the qualities that made him such an enigmatic star. It’s not just a feature of constant praise, it goes into the star’s personal demons and tribulations.
The last feature is “Bullitt: Steve McQueen’s Commitment to Reality.” This feature was produced at the time of Bullitt’s release and as with all retro featurettes, is interesting for nostalgia’s sake. All three of the features are great extras, but it’s a real shame that Warner didn’t take the initiative to create some new features specifically for this release. It didn’t take much effort to slap some already made documentaries on a disc and call this a special edition.
7.0 out of 10
"All I’m saying is that if you’ve been injured in a crash, you deserve compensation!"
The cover is a slight variation on the original poster art. There’s no denying the star attractions of the film – the coolness of Steve McQueen and the infamous car chase. That’s why McQueen looms large on the art while cars race away from his kneecaps. The entire cover is an iconic image and the colorized version is a lot more appealing than the black and white original release. Simple and understated, the way more cover art should be.
7.0 out of 10