Every few years, it seems necessary in the course of critiquing home video releases to clarify and designate the difference between all of those terms that distributors and producers come up with to describe films that arrive in stores in a version other than their theatrical iteration. For example, "unrated" no longer simply means that a film is too bawdy or offensive to garner a proper MPAA rating; rather, in many cases it means that the studio re-inserted footage, and didn't bother to screen it for the ratings board at all. "Director's cuts," meanwhile, sometimes really reflect the original vision of a filmmaker for his movie, and sometimes just qualify as an alternate version that was supervised or approved by the director. And most importantly, none of these changes are an automatic indication that the film will be superior to the one that you saw in theaters, even if there's a little more gore or nudity or (God forbid) character development.
Ironically, the new Blu-ray for Heat carries no such designation – to anyone buying it, this is the same film they saw in theaters and on standard-definition DVD. However, at the top of the list of the disc's special features, the topline attraction is "new content changes supervised by director Michael Mann." Even for someone who's seen more than his share of extended, alternate, unrated and director's cuts, this was particularly intriguing, which is why Heat is the subject of this week's "Making The (Up) Grade."
What's Already Available: Warner Home Video released Heat on DVD twice, first in a bare-bones version in July 1999, and a Two-Disc Special Edition in February 2005. The two-disc version features 11 deleted scenes, three theatrical trailers, five making-of documentaries about different aspects of the production, and a commentary track by Michael Mann. The two-disc DVD was superior in presentation quality to its predecessor as well, boasting improved picture quality and sound.
What's In The New Set: All of the previous special features, as well as "new content changes supervised by director Michael Mann.
What's The Difference In The Movie Itself: I've seen Heat dozens of times, but I honestly can't tell. The running time of this new version is 170 minutes, while the previous version ran 172, which means that the changes are negligible anyway, but going back to watch the movie again, there's nothing that jumps out in terms of the narrative or overall content of the film. The violence all seems the same (no slapdash inserts of an extra exploding head or anything), and so does the drama (all of the Waingro and Breedan stuff appears to be completely intact). In which case, let us know if you notice anything that jumps out as an obvious (or even subtle) change in the film when you watch it!
In terms of the presentation, the video quality is pretty spectacular, offering such deep shadows that there's virtually no difference between the letterboxing and the on-screen images. The audio presentation has always been pretty strong, owing to the film's original sound design, but prepare yourself (and your neighbors) for the moments where characters are shooting guns, because they're extremely loud, clear and intense.
What's The Difference In Everything Else: Nothing at all, down to the exact same font and color scheme on the packaging. Because Mann's original commentary was so sparse and filled with silence, it's impossible to know where the producers might have cut out segments, if only to clarify where edits or alterations were made in the movie itself.
What's The Final Grade: B. Heat is such a great movie that folks are probably going to buy it no matter what, in any format that provides improved presentation, but it must be noted that other than that technical quality and the all-but-invisible changes effected by Michael Mann, this is a standard-fare upgrade from standard to high definition.