Wednesday, March 19, 2014

DVD Review: SPARKS (2014) [Image Entertainment]

Sparks (2014)
98 min 

Buy the DVD

The Movie

Superhero movies are all the rage these days. With the current Marvel films blowing up the box office, it's nearly impossible to escape the phenomenon. One of the side effects of this sudden popularity of comic book-based films is that independent producers are able to attain funding to bring some lesser known graphic novels to life. SPARKS is a perfect example of this, and proof as to why it is a welcome thing.

The official synopsis of the film is as follows:
The city faces a deadly killer. He goes by many names, has many faces... all of them deadly. Is he Kevin Sherwood? Is He Ring Master Jesus. Is he The Matanza Killer? Ian Sparks will learn. Fighting crime became a mission for Sparks when he lost his parents in a fireball car crash. Burning with desire for revenge, he finds himself in the belly of the beast, where havoc is wreaked for profit and life is cheap. Joining a handful of super heroes operating in the shadows, what they have in common is greater than Sparks can imagine; but the cost of finding the killer and uncovering the truth may be more than he can afford.
I'm not familiar with SPARKS' source material, but Co-Directors Christopher Folino (who also wrote the original graphic novel) and Todd Burrows have brought it to life in a unique and interesting way. The film really captures the spirit of film noir and mixes it with the origin of a superhero, and it's 1940s setting helps to set it apart from a lot of the other stories we generally see. Flashbacks, voice-over narratives, tough guys and tough dames... SPARKS is just as much a hardboiled detective movie as it is a superhero story, and the visuals are pretty fantastic; especially considering that the film was working on a budget that I'm sure was less than the catering cost for a large studio film.

Visually, SPARKS is a winner as well. The set and character designs, coupled with a healthy dose of (well-done) CGI make the world of the film seem like something that popped right out of a comic book. Some may dismiss some of the costumes or highly stylized visuals as gaudy, but for me, they really helped lend to the atmosphere and set the tone of the film while allowing it to work as a period piece. As much as I hate making comparisons, if you took the costume designs of KICK-ASS and put them in a more colorful version of SIN CITY, this is close to what you'd get.

Performance-wise, the actors in the film seem to be having a lot of fun. While some might say that a few of the turns in the film are a bit over the top, I think that's exactly what the film was going for. It was nice to see veteran character actors like Clancy Brown, Clint Howard, Jake Busey, and William Katt on screen; even if they were hamming it up a bit. I was also happy to see the lovely Ashley Bell in a supporting turn here. I've been a fan of hers since THE LAST EXORCISM, and this film was a far better use of her talents than last year's follow-up to that film was.

While not perfect, SPARKS succeeds far more often than it misses its mark. It's main mystery might get lost a little bit at times, but overall, it's engaging, fun, and beautiful to look at. I see a lot of independent films each year that try to reach beyond their grasp, and many of them fail. This particular film, while attempting something that seems crazy for a lower-budget picture, is far better then a good many of those films, and it's never truly boring. If you're looking for an interesting little movie with a unique approach to its subject matter, then SPARKS is worth your time; especially if you are a film noir fan.

Movie Score



Image Entertainment brings SPARKS to DVD in a nice package. Though there aren't a ton of extras, the disc is not barebones, and we are able to get a bit of a look into the film's production. The original run of the film comes in a nice slipcover.

Video Quality (4/5)

SPARKS is presented in a 1:85 aspect ratio with an MPEG-2 encoded transfer that has an average bitrate of around 6.5Mbps. For a DVD, the film looks quite good; especially when upscaled to 1080p on a Blu-ray player. The movie relies heavily on its visual design, so it's important that the disc gets the video quality right, and Image Entertainment has delivered.

Audio Quality (4/5)

The 5.1 Dolby Digital track included here is quite nice. The score really comes alive in the surrounds, and the lows are consistent, while dialog is clear and centered. Though the movie is not a huge spectacle, it does have its moments of action, and they sound very good here.

Extra Features (3/5)

There are a couple small extras on the disc, along with an audio commentary.

  • Feature Commentary with Co-Directors Christopher Folino and Todd Burrows and Actor/Producer William Katt: This commentary is easily the best feature on the disc. The filmmakers have a lively discussion that is fun, informative, and never really misses a beat. It sounds like they had a lot of fun making the movie, and I think it shows in the end result.
  • The Making of SPARKS (4 min): A short Behind-the-Scenes featurette. It's decent, but overall, it would have been nice to get something a little more in-depth. However, the commentary covers a lot of what this feature is missing.
  • Outtakes (1 min): Some short deleted moments from the film.

Final Thoughts

Overall, Image Entertainment does a good job presenting SPARKS on DVD. It would have been nicer to have a Blu-ray release, but despite its technical limitations, it looks and sounds quite good. Though there aren't a lot of extras on the disc, there is a fun audio commentary that gives fans of the film a nice look at what went into making the movie.


DVD Score


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