Updated: Jul 9, 2022
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
(1) Jake Gyllenhaal plays Danny Sharp and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II his adoptive brother Will Sharp, as the two find themselves trapped in a $32 million bank heist gone bad. (2) They hijack an ambulance with EMT Cam Thompson played by Eiza González.
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4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2022; R for intense violence, bloody images, and language throughout; Streaming Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple TV (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: The short featurette “Finding Ambulance”
MOVIEGOERS and cinephiles either love or hate Michael Bay’s hyperkinetic movies. Personally, I’m not much of a fan, with only his first “Transformers” (2007) and the emotional “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” (2016) finding a spot in my 4K Ultra HD collection.
But over the years, Bay’s 16 movies including “Bad Boys” (1995), “The Rock” 1996), “Armageddon (1998), and the “Transformer” franchise have pushed the producer/director to the 5th highest-grossing filmmaker of all time, with a worldwide box office topping $6.5 billion.
His latest action-thriller “Ambulance,” with a modest $40 million production budget, hit theaters in April and streamed in May, receiving high marks with audiences (88 percent) and respectable numbers (68 percent) with critics on Rotten Tomatoes. Bay and company, including lead cast members Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya-Abdul-Mateen II, and Mexican-born Eiza González, worked during the height of COVID-19 to capture the mayhem on the streets of Los Angeles, when a $32 million bank heist goes bad. Bay wanted to be sure the majority of the action was shot with practical effects filmed with 6K and 8K digital cameras, and then mastered in true 4K.
(1&2) Will Sharp is on the phone again pleading with the U.S. Veterans Affairs for an experimental surgery for his wife Amy (Moses Ingram). (3) EMT Cam Thompson attends to nine-year-old Lindsey who was injured during an auto accident. (4-6) Adoptive brothers Will and Danny reunite, and Will is desperate and needed $231,000 for Amy’s surgery. Danny offers Will the opportunity to join his team for the bank heist.
Bay’s film is based on a small Danish film “Ambulancen” (2005) about two brothers who commit a robbery and then steal an ambulance. “It was an unlikely discovery, and I think you can count the number of people who saw the original on one hand,” producer Bradley J. Fischer says during one of the six featurettes. “We pitched it as ‘Heat’ meets ‘Speed.’” Bay read the script in one seating and once onboard, “He took it all apart and made it into his movie,” screenwriter Chris Fedak says. He purposely placed the story in L.A. – knowing it was Bay’s hometown – and “It’s always got helicopters flying, car chases and accidents.”
Gyllenhaal plays Danny Sharp and Abdul-Mateen II his adoptive brother Will Sharp, a former U.S. Marine from Afghanistan who desperately needs cash to help pay for experimental surgery for his wife. It just happens that Danny and his crew of professional thieves are planning to knock off a bank in downtown L.A. Within the chaos the two brothers hijack an ambulance with EMT Cam Thompson played by González, and her critically injured patient, rookie LAPD Officer Zach Parker (Jackson White), shot by Will moments earlier inside a parking garage next to the bank. “I knew it would be complex and complicated to justify a lot of Will’s actions,” says Abdul-Mateen II.
“Michael [Bay] is the reason I wanted to make this film,” Gyllenhaal says. The actor was quite comfortable doing his own stunts – including hanging out the front side window of the ambulance going over 80 mph on a concrete riverbed, with water spraying and two helicopters chasing only feet above. Fischer considers himself one of Bay’s biggest fans, knowing the director hires his own production team of veterans that literally follow him wherever he goes. While scouting locations for several chase sequences, Bay forced his production designer Karen Krick to chase him in another car at high speeds so he could get a feel of what the camera could catch. “It was so terrifying and I just knew this movie was going to be exhilarating,” she says.
(1) Danny and his team arrive at the parking garage next door to the bank. (2) Their plan is interrupted when LAPD Officer Zach Parker (Jackson White) shows up wanting to see bank teller Kim Daniels (Kayli Tran). (3-5) Officer Parker realizes something isn’t right and eventually, Danny takes Parker hostage, and guns are drawn, and before you know it SWAT and the LAPD have surrounded the bank, as Parker’s partner Officer Mark Ranshaw (Cedric Sanders) taking cover.
The Falck company based in Denmark provided 12 ambulances for the production, including one without walls so the camera could maneuver 360 degrees within the confined space, another on hydraulics, and several souped-up with 580 horsepower. One was rigged with mortars filled with gas, gunpowder, lithium explosions, and glass breakers. For three-quarters of the movie, Gyllenhaal and González were stuck inside the tiny space, “Constantly whacking our elbows and knees on the edges and corners, Gyllenhaal says. Many moments were actually filmed with a stunt driver hitting 50 to 60 mph per, with the two actors and a camera operator bouncing around in the back. “You don’t have to do a lot of work, because there’s already tension, fear, and intensity,” Gyllenhaal says. The actor also grew up near downtown L.A. playing cops and robbers. “When you close off the streets and drive 80 mph it’s definitely a kid's dream,” he says.
Most of the key action was captured with first-person-view (FPV) drones that travel up to 100 mph, supervised by executive producer Michael Kase, who’s done nine Bay films, and drone coordinator Davis Dilillo. The results are spectacular intensifying Bay’s action as the ‘City of Angles’ becomes a key character – just like in Jan de Bont’s “Speed” or Michael Mann’s “Heat” or “Collateral.”
(1) Danny and Will try to escape but find all of the exits are blocked by the LAPD. (2) Officer Ranshaw attends to his injured partner, who was shot by Will during a fight with Danny Sharp. (3&4) EMT Thompson attempts to save Officer Parker, while Danny and Will hijack her ambulance and bypass the LAPD checkpoints.
It’s a Bay movie, so the visuals ROCK! As mentioned above, he made sure everything was captured at the highest resolution (6K & 8K) digital (2.39:1 aspect ratio) and mastered in true 4K. The results show exceptional clarity – especially in the numerous cityscapes and tight facial shots. Plus, since it was shot digitally, there’s no inherent film grain or post-production filtering.
Bay decided to promote from within, and selected first-timer cinematographer Roberto De Angelis, who had been a camera operator for James Cameron’s “Avatar” (2009), Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver” (2017), and Bay’s “13 Hours.” De Angelis told A. Frame, a website for the Academy, “Other directors asked me to do it. The reason I did it with Michael is because Michael is such a visual director and I knew we were going in that direction. It’s easy to shoot for Michael.” The demands were intense for many days with the crew working up more than a hundred set-ups per day with multi-cameras.
HDR toning, using the more advanced Dolby Vision, is slightly dark while exploding with Bay’s trademark high contrast levels from super bright highlights to deep, deep dark shadows. Color is very saturated, dialed to intense levels, showing that ever-present late afternoon glow.
The eight-channel Dolby Atmos soundtrack is bound to be nominated for an Academy Award. It boasts reference-level bass and immersion from start to finish. From helicopters whirling overhead to gun blasts reverberating off downtown buildings, we are completely in Bay’s environment. The heart-pounding electronic beats from Lorne Balfe’s (“Black Widow,” “Mission: Impossible – Fallout”) score keep the pace up, while including a number of classic pop tunes: “Sailing” from Christopher Cross, and “California Dreamin’” from The Mamas & the Papas
With Mann’s thriller “Heat” coming out on 4K next month, it will be a good test to see how Bay’s “Ambulance” stacks up to the true-crime classic.
— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer