MERCURY RISING - HD DVD review

This isn't a movie you'll sit down and enjoy countless times, but it's worth at least one good look.

DeanWink

I could swear that Miko Hughes was Haley Joel Osment. I don't know why, but the young actor has many similarities to the more familiar former child actor. Since 2002's "Clockstoppers," the young actor has disappeared, but I was very impressed with his performance as the autistic boy in this film. "The Sixth Sense" came out a year later and made a star out its child actor, but Miko Hughes really deserves some credit for the job he did in this film. Bruce Willis is Bruce Willis. He has the ‘tough guy with a heart' persona down pat. It wouldn't be too hard to confuse the two films, as he has an overly similar role between the two movies. "Mercury Rising" is the action thriller, where "The Sixth Sense" is an action chiller. This movie has been mostly forgotten, as has its young star, but it is a film worth taking a look at.

Bruce Willis is Art Jeffries. He is an undercover FBI agent who punches out a superior offer and lands himself on the agency naughty list when a bank heist goes wrong and two teenagers are shot dead by the FBI against Jeffries commands. His punishment is that he is put on wire detail and removed from being an active undercover agent. One day, Jeffries is ordered to check out a missing child case with the Chicago police department. This mundane task is just another insult to the former undercover cop, and he is ridiculed by those that remember him as being a very good undercover agent. The simple task of helping find a missing child turns to be a little complicated when it turns out that Simon Lynch (Miko Hughes) has two dead parents on the downstairs floor and Jeffries instantly suspects foul play. Simon is also autistic.

Jeffries is correct in his assumptions and Simon's family was murdered. However, it was not his parents who were the target, but the boy himself. As an autistic child, Simon is incredibly adept at solving puzzles and manages to crack a code that belongs to the NSA. Not wanting a billion dollar code solvable by a child, Lieutenant Colonel Nick Kudrow (Alec Baldwin) ordered the assassination from inside the NSA. When Jeffries places the child under protective care at a Chicago hospital, the boy is moved to the pediatric ward under the supposed orders of his parents. Jeffries knows the truth about the boy's parents and instantly realizes that somebody of greater power has ordered the hit on the boy. It soon becomes a race to safety and to uncovering answers for Jefferies as he is followed by the hitman ordered by Kudrow to kill the boy.

The programmers of the code are against these orders. Both Dean Crandell (Robert Stanton) and his partner Leo Pedranski (Bodhi Elfma) attempt to communicate with Jeffries to save the boy, but they find themselves at the other end of the government hitman's pistol. With the NSA placing Jeffries in the eye of the FBI and local enforcement, Art can only count on his former partner and good friend Thomas Jordan (Chi McBride) for help. Jordon lends Jeffries his car and some advice. This lets him find some separation from the killer and Jeffries eventually finds an ally in a young saleswoman, Stacey Siebring (Kim Dickens). Jeffries does not know who to trust, but Stacey is a caring young woman who shows an interest for both Art and Simon.

The government hit squad is not the only problems Jeffries has. Simon is autistic and has been taught to only talk to friends and to not communicate with strangers. Of course, Art Jeffries is a stranger to Simon and the FBI agent has great difficulty in communicating with Simon and keeping him out of danger. The boy wanders off and often times finds himself in great peril. He repeats obnoxious behavior and Jeffries is unable to touch him or extol any sense of leadership towards the boy. He has to battle both the bad guys and the little boy's distrust of strangers to keep Simon alive.

Like I've previously stated, "Mercury Rising" is an almost forgotten film. When the picture was produced, Bruce Willis was not the box office draw he had previously been. A movie about him protecting an autistic boy wasn't exactly what the public wanted. Bruce Willis has made a lot of films about protecting people and this one came across as disinteresting to many. Throw in the fact that the far more successful "The Sixth Sense" was released a year later and also featured a talented child actor and you have a film that wasn't nearly as successful and not nearly as memorable.

While not a great film, "Mercury Rising" is a movie that is enjoyable enough to sit down and watch. Miko Hughes is incredible as a young autistic boy. It can't be easy to work with a child actor and this had to be demanding for everybody involved. Young Miko had to channel and autistic boy in his performance. That could not have been easy. Director Harold Becker had to direct the child and help the veteran actors around him. That had to be difficult. I cannot imagine it was overly easy for Bruce Willis either. However, the muscular action star showed heart in his role and laid the groundwork for "The Sixth Sense."

The story of "Mercury Rising" is fairly predictable. It doesn't try to be complex and while the film talks of codes and tries to wrangle with some political themes, it is a fairly simple film. The action sequences are not terribly exciting and almost mundane. The tension that builds is nothing excitable. The chemistry between Willis and Dickens isn't magical. There is nothing in "Mercury Rising" that necessarily jumps out and surprises anybody, but the sum of all the elements equates to a little film with a captivating enough story and the awesome performance by Miko Hughes that makes for a worthwhile one hundred and twelve minutes. This isn't a movie you'll sit down and enjoy countless times, but it's worth at least one good look.

Video:
Universal has released a large number of films onto HD-DVD in recent times. The catalog titles are certainly flowing and "Mercury Rising" is just one film of a recent batch. When it comes to where the film lands in the grand scheme of things, "Mercury Rising" is right down the center of the road in terms of visual splendor. The 2.35:1 widescreen film is encoded in VC-1 and is detailed enough to be a definite step up from the former Collector's Edition DVD. It is not a title that is going to be used as reference material, but it is better than a couple of the catalog titles that have been underwhelming. Detail ranges between passable and solid. There isn't much that really jumps out from the screen and some scenes are cast with a soft haze that reduces detail. Colors are good and very natural. The print is easily discernable as something from the late Nineties, but it has held up well. Black levels could have been a little stronger, but are again, passable. Overall, "Mercury Rising" is just plain average in visual terms. It is not good and it is not bad.

Sound:
"Mercury Rising" has a fairly limited selection of soundtracks. English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 multi-channel surround audio and French Dolby Digital Plus 2.0 stereo surround audio are the only offerings contained on the disc. Being a not-that-action-packed action film, "Mercury Rising" has a few noteworthy scenes where the soundtrack comes alive a bit, but the film never succeeds in surpassing the original DVD release by any leaps and bounds. The opening bank heist shootout and the film's climax are easily the best scenes contained on the disc. The ambulance crash and the sounds of the trains aren't bad either. They aren't as three dimensional sounding as many other HD-DVD titles, but I did notice a hint more clarity from the HD-DVD title than the older DVD release. I no longer have my LaserDisc and would have been curious to see how this compared to that. The low frequency effects channel bumps a few times and the score by John Barry finds its lower frequencies emphasized. Much of the film solely populates the front channels. My only great complaint with this film was the level of volume with the dialog. I had to turn my receiver up nearly ten decibels more than normal to hear every spoken word.

Extras:
"Mercury Rising" was first released onto digital disc during the early days of DVD. The title was part of Universal's older "Collector's Edition" series and featured a nice set of supplements back in the day. These supplements haven't held up the best in the past decade, but they have been directly ported to the new HD-DVD release for your enjoyment. First on the menus is the Watch the Mercury Rising (39:17) featurette. This making of feature is fairly lengthy and features the producer Brian Grazer, the director and a number of other familiar faces, including Bruce Willis through talking heads interviews. The young Miko Hughes showed his intelligence in his limited moments and although the audio and video showed their age, this is still a nice featurette.

A few Deleted Scenes (8:59) are included on the disc with a short disclaimer at the beginning. Some of these scenes fleshed out Art Jeffries and his FBI relationships and others added to the going ons in the film. These are terribly rough in quality and actually pretty good as far as deleted scenes go. The Theatrical Trailer is next and a Feature Commentary with Director Harold Becker completes the offerings. The commentary is informative, but dry. Becker is full of details, but requires coffee.

Closing Comments:
Maybe I'm alone in my enjoyment of "Mercury Rising." I purchased the title on LaserDisc through the now defunct Columbia House club and then shortly thereafter on DVD. Although overshadowed by the more familiar "The Sixth Sense," I've always felt that child actor Miko Hughes is brilliant in this film. Bruce Willis is his usual macho and caring self, but he is exactly what the script called for. The film isn't complex, although the premise makes it seem a little more complicated than it actually is. The new HD-DVD release features an average looking transfer that does get a little soft at times, but is generally detailed enough to easily replace the DVD from my collection. While I wasn't blown away by the quality of this disc, I felt it was the definition of ‘average' for catalog titles. Not bad. Not great. Just average. The value added content is carried over from the old disc and helps make the decision to replace the DVD a little easier.

Ratings

Video
7
Audio
7
Extras
5
Film Value
7