Blu-ray Review: Dick Tracy

Home video can be a fickle mistress when it comes to a movie’s ability to maintain its legacy. There are films that failed royally at the box office that became legendary thanks to DVD and VHS. Office Space and Austin Powers became pop culture phenoms on the small screen. Dick Tracy did well at the box office, but it’s stature waned over the years in the world of standard definition. What made it a dazzling sight to behold on the big screen was washed out on VHS. You’d press play and wonder what was the big deal. But with the release of Dick Tracy on Blu-ray, the movie finally has a chance to be properly appreciated after 22 years off the big screen.

Warren Beatty was licking his wounds from the disaster that was Ishtar. After the success of Batman, studios were eager to adapt comic-book icons for the big screen. Warren Beatty playing the lawman Dick Tracy seemed like a safe choice for the Oscar winning director (Reds). But he didn’t just put on the yellow hat and overcoat to crank out a lifeless movie based on a character from the newspaper funnies. He made an arthouse action flick. The color scheme reflects the hues found in the Sunday Newspaper with bright greens, yellows, blues, reds, purples and orange popping. The sets get lit with the colored gels to give the atmosphere. This effect just never felt right on the VHS tape. The Blu-ray brings out the not merely the colors, but the details of the rooms, landscapes and wardrobe. The malformed gangsters are a sight to behold as they reflect Chester Gould’s original creations. Warren lined up big names to get their faces stretched into the makeup chairs. The songs made the production a musical complete with dance numbers to match the tommygun action. Rightfully the movie won the Oscars for Best Art Direction – Set Decoration (Richard Sylbert & Rick Simpson), Best Makeup (John Caglione Jr. & Doug Drexler) and Best Original Song (Stephen Sondheim’s “Sooner of Later (I Always Get My Man)”.

The camerawork, production and makeup aren’t the only thing going for the film. The story works as a classic case of lawman wanting to stay good with so much underworld temptation rising around him. Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino) wants to redefine the mobster activity in the city. His main gun Flattop (Boardwalk Empire‘s William Forsythe) is ready to pull the trigger on various deals. First Big Boy does a hostile takeover of territory controlled by Lips Manlis (Paul Sorvino). Part of that deal includes a nightclub with the main act being Breatless Mahoney (Madonna) with 88 Keys (Mandy Patinkin) on the piano. There’s a bit of comedy since Big Boy wants to be the new Bob Fosse as he directs his star how to perform. Dick Tracy (Warren Beatty) can’t allow Big Boy to take control. He’s as clean of a cop as Eliot Ness on The Untouchables. When Big Boy can bribe him and Breathless fails at seducing him, a killer without a face offers to rub Tracy out. Tracy’s best bet into getting inside Big Boy’s empire is to squeeze it out of Mumbles (Dustin Hoffman). He can’t allow himself to blow this case.

What’s really sets Dick Tracy apart from nearly every other comic book movie is a lack of an origin section. How did Dick Tracy become the top honest cop in his city? You’re not going to learn it from the film. Such backstory would just steal time from the various musical numbers at the nightclub. Madonna sings the songs of Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim. The one weak link of the production is Danny Elfman’s score which sounds like leftovers from his work on Batman.

Dick Tracy seems so much better rewatching it now if only because there have been so many lame comic character movies that were thinner than pulp. Daredevil, Dennis the Menace and Green Lantern make you realize Warren Beatty didn’t phone in the production. There’s much more going on in the colorful city. Watching Dick Tracy Blu-ray on a massive HDTV revives an excitement about the film that hasn’t been there since it left the theaters in 1991.

The video is 1.78:1 anamorphic. The 1080p picture finally matches the 35mm color glory of the film. The audio is 5.1 DTS-HD Master. There’s also dubs in French and Spanish. Madonna sounds better in French. The subtitles are in English, Spanish and French.

Digital Copy of Feature Film is included so you can watch this later on you tablet.

Dick Tracy is reborn on Blu-ray. The color and details can finally be absorbed at home. You can easily get lit on the super saturated sets. This is a fine tale of cops and mobsters. Madonna is still an exciting actress when she enters the frame. It’s a real shame that they didn’t dig into the vault for any vintage specials about the film. This was a major event movie when it was released. Ultimately what’s important is the higher resolution has finally made Dick Tracy one of the best comic book adaptation movies.

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment and Touchstone Pictures present Dick Tracy. Directed by: Warren Beatty. Screenplay by: Jim Cash & Jack Epps Jr. Starring: Warren Beatty, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman and Madonna. Running Time: 106 minutes. Released: December 11, 2012. Available at

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