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Details At A Glance

Category Drama Theatrical Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - 1.66:1 non-16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0
Rating Other Trailer(s) None
Year Released 1995 Commentary Tracks None
Running Time 170:56  Other Extras Production Notes
Cast And Crew Biographies
RSDL/Flipper RSDL (87:29)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Movie
Region 2,4 Director Martin Scorsese

Columbia TriStar
Starring Robert De Niro 
Sharon Stone 
Joe Pesci
Alan Rickles
James Woods
RRP $34.95 Music Various
Pan & Scan/Full Frame No MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Dolby Digital 5.1
16x9 Enhancement
Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 5.1, 384Kb/s)
German (Dolby Digital 5.1, 384Kb/s)
Italian (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192Kb/s)
Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192Kb/s) 
Polish (Dolby Digital 1.0, 96Kb/s) 
Czech (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking Yes
Subtitles English 
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    Casino is the story of a time when the Mafia had complete control of Las Vegas by proxy of the Teamsters Union, and how the egos and mistakes of the men most directly in charge of the operation lost it for them. Ordinarily, this wouldn't seem like a particularly exciting concept, but the Goodfellas-style narration keeps the film from plummeting into boredom. Central to the action are Sam "Ace" Rothstein (Robert De Niro), his duplicitous wife Ginger (Sharon Stone), and his best friend Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci), who just happens to be one of the mob's most feared enforcers. Now, I am personally at a loss to explain why Robert De Niro is repeatedly cast as a Jew or an Irishman. The man couldn't look any less Irish (or Jewish) to me if he grew a Swastika birthmark in the middle of his face. Then there's Joe Pesci as a mob hitman. Granted, he's the most weasly man in Hollywood, but he has also become synonymous with Leo Getz. Anyway, as a decent human being, I have to warn you that the film really drags at many points as every important plot point is firmly etched into the viewer's brain. Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with that, but it can get on the nerves at times when you're waiting for the film's pace to get more into the Goodfellas territory. Throughout this picture, director Martin Scorsese exhibits a major tendency to forget that his job is to make an enjoyable story using sound and pictures, not to make a documentary.

    Anyway, for those who aren't scared of a film that isn't a thrill-per-minute affair, here's a brief shakedown of the plot. The film begins in the year 1980, when casino manager Sam Rothstein (Robert De Niro) gets into his car and is blown up. Or is he? From there, we go into those credits which Jane Austen's Mafia! sent up so well (let's face it, this credit sequence was just begging for it). We then rewind back to the year 1970, and voiceovers by Sam describing how great a bookmaker and gambler he is, and how that led to him being given paradise on Earth - the leadership of the Tangier's hotel. He then proceeds to describe the great truth about Las Vegas operations, and Martin Scorsese gives us a view of the dirty politics in Las Vegas and how easily they allowed the Mafia to control the city in an under-the-table sort of manner. Once he is done explaining the dirty workings of the system, we are treated to a bizarre and memorable demonstration of how casinos dealt with cheats in those days - with cattle prods and hammers. Unfortunately, once the pace is picked up by this memorable exchange, the film goes back to a dull plod for a while. This is common throughout the whole film - the film will move along at the pace of a particularly relaxed sloth, and then an exciting moment will come out and lift the pace for about ten minutes. It's hard to get used to, and even harder to put up with on the first viewing.

    In spite of its shortcomings, the film is rewarding if one waits patiently for the dividends. It doesn't quite justify its R rating, but I still wouldn't really recommend allowing your kids to see it unless they're at least old enough to get into MA films without your supervision. Some of the dissections of Las Vegas politics which Scorsese presents are quite amusing to look at and hear, especially with the unique view Scorsese has injected into these films ever since his work on Goodfellas - the Mafia is not a bunch of cowboys flaunting society at any and all opportunity, but a business. Just as Francis Ford Coppola enhanced the Godfather series by taking the rather unusual in Hollywood tack of making it a story about a family, Scorsese's thoroughly scientific view of organized crime has lifted Casino far above most other films in the same category simply with its believability.

Transfer Quality


    The video transfer of this film is a superlative job, but with a major qualifier. When the actors are too brightly lit on the casino sets, it shows up quite well in this DVD. Like the Las Vegas of days gone by, the lighting is appropriately vomitous and overdone. I really feel that the overlighting should have been toned down a little for this release, as the superior resolution makes the resultant losses of definition which you'd barely notice on a VCR stick out like a lump of camel dung on the casino sets with this DVD. During the aforementioned sequence in which two casino cheats are caught out, Robert De Niro often has enough light shining off him to blind the viewer. Many other sequences follow in which the lighting seems to have been adjusted to a high level to compensate for VHS limitations, with not a thought for the fact that a new format might take over. The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and it is not 16x9 enhanced. The only reason that the transfer looks so good and faithful to the original theatrical presentation is that it was created via a downconversion from a high-definition master of some kind. Thankfully, unlike The Thing (a review I sorely wish I could re-do using my new equipment), the most likely source for this transfer is a 1920x1080 HDTV master, as opposed to the cruddy limitations of a recycled laserdisc transfer. Nonetheless, 16x9 enhancement would have been much preferred with this disc, as there are still some noticeable problems as a result of the high-contrast lighting used in the photography.

    Film artefacts are minimal, with the only noticeable film artefacts being the aforementioned overlighting problems. These problems, however can pretty much be blamed squarely on the director or the cinematographer, although these are magnified by the lack of enhancement. Most of the brightly-lit sequences, especially the aforementioned scene with the professional cheats, are so brightly lit that small, and thankfully mostly unimportant, amounts of detail are lost. Conversely, shadow detail ranges from crystal clear to slightly smudged. Details in dark scenes are well-rendered enough to ensure that they are easily understood. Again, this appears to be because the lighting controls were adjusted in such a way as to make everything seem twenty percent brighter than how it came out on the negative. Moiré effects were abundant in the surprisingly rare scenes involving monitors and televisions, but that lends a certain authenticity, given that this film's events are supposed to be occurring in the days when televisions often showed moiré effects without the assistance of a video camera.

    The disc is an RSDL disc, with the layer change placed at 87:29, which is when Rothstein's comment about his position in the Tangier's Hotel management is shown in a headline. This scene and layer change comes between the interview in which the ill-timed commentary is made by Rothstein and the moment a bitter County Commissioner formulates a plan to hang him with it. While the layer change is rather noticeable, especially if you have seen the film before, it is not disruptive to the film. It certainly beats the hell out of having to get up and turn the disc over. (I have a confession to make: I realized recently that I definitely am a complete DVD addict. When asked what the best Martin Scorsese film was, I really did answer by stating Casino was because of its RSDL formatting.)


    The audio is a wonderful job, with each sound coming out like a sickening punch in the gut. The dialogue is presented in six different flavours - English, German, Italian, Spanish, Polish, and Czech. The English and German tracks are presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, which really does this film justice. The Italian, Spanish, and Czech dubs of the dialogue are presented in Dolby Digital 2.0, which sounds kind of flat and tinny. Then there's the Polish dub, which is presented in mono. All in all, we have more choices than we'll ever need. This leads me to the conclusion that Columbia TriStar are streets ahead of the competition in knowing how to satisfy the customer - six languages, six sets of subtitles, plus bonus material, and they still didn't resort to making it a flipper. It would not surprise me in the future to see directors like Martin Scorsese signing deals with studios according to caveats on the way they can format his releases on our beloved discs. Let's hope flippers are soon banned because their existence is less justified every time a disc like this comes out.

    Getting back to the audio for a while (you can tell I am really not fond of flippers, can't you?), the music is also a great job. Consisting of (mostly) vibrant and powerful tunes from the sixties and seventies, it is an interesting journey back into the time when even pop music required some musical skill to play. The inclusion of such weirdo-disco hits as Devo's Whip It make for a very esoteric sort of soundtrack as mob-based dramas go. All in all, this disc is a great piece of work in the audio department. Joe Pesci's description of the casino operation's frontman ("He was the perfect frontman, I mean... what else could he be? He didn't know too much, he didn't wanna know too much..."), as played by Kevin Pollak is almost worth a third of the asking price by itself.

    The surround channels were mostly used to support the music and sound effects, most notably the sounds of rolling dice. Overall, the soundtrack is mainly focused on the front channels, although no channel is left idle for too long. The subwoofer was given plenty to do by the incessant sounds of gunshots, music, and other explosive sounds. While this film doesn't exploit the 5.1 channels to their full effect, you certain have to give it credit for justifying the encoding. In most of the overdubbed languages, the original dialogue is still vaguely audible, which is either annoying or pleasant depending on how you look at it.


    The extras range from pleasant to blah.


    The menu is presented in a graphical style themed around the movie. While the menu itself looks pleasant, the use of icons, especially the way in which they are used, makes it somewhat confusing at times.

Theatrical Trailer

    The theatrical trailer is not 16x9 enhanced, and appears to be an artefact-riddled carry-over from rental VCRs. In spite of that, it is a great summation of the film in 141 seconds. It is presented in widescreen, at an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 (I think), in Dolby Stereo.

Production Notes

   A detailed description of the making of the film. It would have been nice if they'd presented this in a video form instead of the usual text, but that might have exceeded the storage limit, given the massive length of the film itself. So I'll let that pass. As it stands, this extra warrants the once-over read.

Biographies - Cast and Filmmakers

   Biographies of all the important players in the film. Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, Joe Pesci, Don Rickles, Alan King, Kevin Pollak, and James Woods round out the cast, with the usual spot reserved for director Martin Scorsese. Again, this extra justifies one read, or maybe several if you're really bored.

R4 vs R1

   The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;    Although it is very difficult to notice the difference in resolution, the Region 1 version is clearly the better choice because of the presence of this most vital feature to DVDs.


    Casino is an interesting, but slow, film presented on a very well-made DVD.

    The video quality is wonderful, and this is an excellent film to show off your DVD player with.

    The audio quality is mostly wonderful. A few slips here and there, but these are the result of the filmmaking itself.

    The extras aren't exactly threadbare, but they're nothing to rave about, either.

Ratings (out of 5)

© Dean McIntosh
January 8, 2000
Review Equipment
DVD Grundig GDV 100 D and Toshiba SD-2109
Display Samsung CS-823AMF, 4:3 mode, using composite input and S-video input
Audio Decoder Built In
Amplification Sony STR-DE835
Speakers Panasonic S-J1500D Front Speakers, Sharp CP-303A Back Speakers, Philips FB206WC Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Subwoofer