Attack the Block (Blu-ray)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment || R || Oct 25, 2011

Reviewed by Mitchell Hattaway


How Does The Blu-ray Disc Stack Up?


9  (out of 10)


7  (out of 10)


8  (out of 10)


7  (out of 10)


8  (out of 10)




Alien invaders descend on a London housing complex. A nurse (Jodie Whittaker), the five juvenile delinquents who recently mugged her (John Boyega, Alex Esmail, Franz Drameh, Leeon Jones, and Simon Howard), a couple of young miscreants (Sammy Williams and Michael Ajao), a pot dealer (Nick Frost), and one of the dealerís best customers (Luke Treadaway) team up to stop them.




Imagine if the kids from The Goonies took a wrong turn while wandering through those caves and ended up in John Carpenterís The Thing. Thatís by no means a perfect description of Joe Cornishís Attack the Block, but it will give you some idea of the movieís vibe. Call it an homage, call it a genre mash-up, call it whatever you like--this is one of those flicks that is informed by what its filmmaker absorbed in his/her formative years, a sort of distillation of all those things absorbed during marathon cable or VCR viewings.


Itís not, however, a pastiche, nor is it some piece of reference-a-minute junk designed to appeal to geeks who constantly drop lines from Star Wars into everyday conversation (yes, Iím still pissed about having to sit through Fanboys). This is the cinematic equivalent of a Led Zeppelin album--you can pick out the influences, but theyíve been combined into something that feels new and fresh.


"Attack the Block - Photo © Screen Gems

[note: this is not a Blu-ray screenshot]


This is Cornishís feature writing-directing debut (he had a hand in penning the script for the upcoming Tintin, and heís said to be collaborating on the script for the proposed Ant-Man movie, in both cases working with Edgar Wright, who served as one of this movieís executive producers), but heís spent many years working in British television and has created a couple of behind-the-scenes docs for Wright. Much of his television work has come in the form of sketch comedy, but thereís no short-form feel to his work here, which is something you often get when someone makes the transition from that world to features.


Cornishís script is a complete narrative, one with a clear through-line. Itís set up in much the same way as the movies that inform it, and it features a classic callback structure, with bits and setpieces hinted at early on and then followed through later (when one of the kids talks about jumping from level to level on a parking ramp, you can rest assured heíll do it at some point). If you grew up watching the same movies Cornish obviously did (which I obviously did), thatís the sort of thing that only adds to the fun.


And fun the movie is. Itís fun as hell. Itís likely the most flat-out fun movie weíll get this year. Yeah, in its basic form the plot is nothing special, not really supplying anything we havenít already seen in the alien invasion genre. Itís what Cornish mixes in that makes the movie work. The characters all begin as stereotypes/archetypes, but Cornish embellishes them enough along the way to raise them above that level. Heís especially deft when it comes to handling the younger characters.


Thereís a believable hierarchy to the gang, with a natural leader and hangers-on who are phony-tough. The language the kids use is extremely authentic, the argot of teenagers trying to sound adult but unable to avoid referencing video games and movies, and full of the sort of self-conscious profanity employed by people whoíve yet to figure out how to do it without effort. Even the two younger kids who shadow the gang ring true (and get the single best line of dialogue in the movie, which Iíll be quoting whenever opportunity presents itself).


But all of that is the sort of thing you can ignore and still enjoy the hell out of the movie (I just like pointing it out because it makes me feel smart). The movieís extremely inventive, both in terms of how it does what it does and how it works around the constraints of its meager budget. Not having much to spend on visual effects, Cornish wisely keeps the aliens in the shadows, and he comes up with a very specific reason for having the action contained primarily to one block (largely a couples floors of one building on that block). And he set the movie on the night the English take to the streets and shoot off fireworks in memory of Guy Fawkes, so the pops and flashes foreshadow whatís to come and also provide an explanation for why the cops are otherwise occupied.


"Attack the Block - Photo © Screen Gems

[note: this is not a Blu-ray screenshot]


The narrative is relentlessly propulsive, moving at a fierce clip from beginning to end. This isnít the sort of movie that lazily stops in order to introduce everyone, instead fleshing out the characters as the narrative moves along. But that, I suppose, is also the sort of stuff you can ignore, because itís just plain fun to watch a bunch of kids whose world revolves around playing FIFA and trying to dodge curfew being forced to stave off an alien invasion while armed with little more than fireworks and Super Soakers. And it certainly doesnít hurt that Cornish milks the situation for every laugh itís worth (Iíd love to quote Frostís explanation for the physical appearance of one of the aliens, but itís a little dirty), giving you a joke to counterbalance every bit of gore (watch out for that decapitation) and suspense (thereís a terrific sequence in a smoky hallway that effortlessly zips from terror to horror to comedy).


The movie is just a bit too plot-heavy for its own good. Thereís one subplot/character I think the story could have done without; in the end it seems entirely unnecessary and momentarily clutters what is otherwise a wisely stripped-down narrative. And some of the social commentary Cornish mixes in goes a bit heavy-handed at the end, particularly when characters start pointing out things weíve already picked up on and donít need explained. But I wasnít really bothered by any of this while watching the movie and find myself even less bothered by it as I think back. I was--and still am--too bloody entertained to care.




The 2.40:1/1080p transfer--encoded with AVC onto a 50GB disc--is pretty solid, but thereís never any question that this is a low-budget flick. Thereís rarely a color that doesnít look a bit on the wan side, and thereís a slight softness to the image that seems inherent in the source but nevertheless compromises clarity and detail to a noticeable degree. Except for a couple passages in brightly lit hallways, the movie is quite dark, and while they generally hold steady, blacks occasionally crush or slide to more of a slate shade.




Lossless audio comes in the form of English and French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks. The sound design isnít as hampered by the budget as the video, but itís still not quite the completely raucous experience it strives to be. It is fairly raucous, though, with a nice sense of atmosphere and place, and some pleasingly showy effects (there are at least two instances where fireworks zoom toward you and then split between the surrounds as they pass). Bass action can get quite heavy, fueled by the mayhem and the hip-hop music that drives the soundtrack. Although the accents can get thick, dialogue remains clear and intelligible throughout.


No other audio options are included; English, English SDH, and French subtitles are available.




The extras kick off with three (yes, three) audio commentaries. Whatís dubbed the Junior Commentary features Cornish and cast members John Boyega, Alex Esmail, Franz Drameh, Simon Howard, and Leeon Jones. The Senior Commentary features Cornish and cast members Jodie Whittaker, Luke Treadaway, and Nick Frost. Lastly, the Executive Producer Commentary features Cornish and executive producer Edgar Wright. Thereís a different focus to each, and each is informative and entertaining. 


All of the following are presented in high-definition:


Behind the Block (61 minutes) is an in-depth making-of piece, covering virtually ever aspect of the movieís production.


Creature Feature (20 minutes) covers the creation of the movieís alien invaders.


Meet the Gang (4 minutes) is a collection of short clips highlighting the younger members of the cast.


Unfilmed Action (5 minutes) uses storyboards to provide a glimpse at a couple of action sequences that were planned but had to be scrapped in order to bring the movie in on budget.


Thatís a Rap (2 minutes) is footage of the cast improvising a rap song.


Two theatrical trailers bring up the rear.




If this cinematic year offers up a movie that supplies more sheer fun than Attack the Block, Iíll eat my hat, your hat, and any other hat you can find.





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Review posted on Oct 24, 2011 | Share this article | Top of Page

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