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Details At A Glance

Category Drama Theatrical Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - 1.33:1 non-16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo
Rating Other Trailer(s) No
Year Released 1999 Commentary Tracks Yes, 1 - John Sayles (Director)
Running Time 121:35 minutes Other Extras Isolated Soundtrack
Biographies - Cast & Crew
RSDL/Flipper RSDL (72:48)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 2,4 Director John Sayles
Screen Gems
Columbia TriStar
  Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio
David Strathairn
Vanessa Martinez
Kris Kristofferson
RRP $39.95 Music Mason Daring

Pan & Scan/Full Frame No MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Dolby Digital 5.1
16x9 Enhancement Yes Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 5.1, 448Kb/s)
German (Dolby Digital 5.1, 448Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary (Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, 256Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking Yes
Subtitles English
German Audio Commentary
Dutch Audio Commentary
Annoying Product Placement Yes. Annoying - No.
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

   Sometimes, you just want to sit back and watch a good, simple movie. Forget about the flash effects and around-the-room sound effects of typical Hollywood blockbusters. A solid, decent drama is quite often a relaxing way to spend a couple of hours. Limbo is just such a movie. The pace is nice and slow, the acting is superb, and the story is one which rises above the norm in terms of character development and engagement.

    Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (an absurdly difficult name if there ever was one, and I will call her Mary from hereon) is a singer on the road. Her daughter, the very cute Vanessa Martinez goes from school-to-school, wherever her mother's gigs take her. Not much of a life for the pair of them, and indeed Noelle (her character) is slightly on the suicidal edge at times from the lack of motherly attention. Along comes Joe, played by one of my favourite actors David Strathairn, a man who is not who he used to be, and is also lost. He falls for her, she falls for him, and poor Noelle, who has a crush on Joe, is caught in the middle. Out of nowhere, Joe's very shady brother shows up and asks a favour of Joe - would he help him with a 'client', and take a boat out to meet this 'client'. Joe agrees, and takes his new family with him. However, all is not what it seems, and without spoiling the movie for those who have not seen it, Joe, Mary and Noelle end up fighting for survival on an island in the middle of nowhere.

    This is a very interesting story, and I am sure it will get even better with repeat viewings. What I found very interesting was that Mary sang all the songs which her character sang. Not only that, she sang them live whilst the movie was shot. This just adds even more to the authenticity of this movie. I highly recommend this movie as one which will be treasured in your library for years to come, and a standby for those times when plot, acting and movie-making excellence are just what the doctor ordered.

    By the way, this movie marks the resurrection of Screen Gems! They couldn't have picked a better movie for it!

Transfer Quality


    This is a standout transfer, even for the lofty heights of Columbia TriStar. An absolute STUNNER, and most definitely reference quality.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and it is 16x9 enhanced and glorious.

    Where do I begin? This is not video, this is film-like, and the choice of photography for this movie is one which particularly agrees with me, being very short focus. Images in the foreground are crisp and highly detailed, whilst background imagery is soft. This, for me, has always given a more three-dimensional appearance, and at times I was mesmerized by the picture quality. Absolutely crystal clear, with only the occasional soft scene. Shadow detail is spot on, and low-level noise consists of nothing more than a hint of film grain.

    The colour palette is superbly rendered, with flesh tones being extremely realistic. Colour registration is perfect, and there is no chroma noise whatsoever. Much of this movie shows off the beautiful scenery of Alaska, and this DVD does it justice. The wilderness scenes are breathtaking, and you could just walk into many scenes. Believe me, this is one of the best looking DVDs I have seen, period.

    You can forget about MPEG compression faults, because there aren't any. Neither are there any film-to-video artefacts. To be picky, there were a couple of film artefacts, but this is film after all, and until production is completely in the digital domain, we will have them. There was one scene which had aliasing, and that was the grille of a car. Given the high resolution of this disc, I am surprised that this was the single incidence.

    This disc is RSDL formatted, with the layer change occurring between chapters 17 and 18 at 72:48 minutes. Well chosen, it is one of those which you have to confirm by repeatedly playing over it, which is always a good sign!


    We have just the two soundtracks here, English and German in Dolby Digital 5.1. The soundtrack is simple, but very nice, being warm and clear.

    Dialogue was at all times very clear and easy to understand. It was fascinating to find out from the commentary which scenes were looped, such as the initial scenes in the fishery, because you simply couldn't tell. I would have sworn blind that there was no looping, and I would have been wrong. This is an example of reference ADR production.

    There were no lip-sync problems.

    There is not much in the way of a score for this movie. It is a dialogue driven story, and any music that is present is simple and incidental only. However, what little there is is well recorded, clear and with excellent channel separation. The live songs by Mary truly sounded live, and you could close your eyes and imagine yourself in the club with the band.

    Surround usage was subtle, yet highly effective. You are placed in whatever setting the film takes you. There is no gee-whizzery, just an enveloping mix which will please all you purists.

    The sub got very, very little action, but then again it's not the kind of movie which warrants much action from it, so it wasn't too upset.


    Well now, this is meant to be a Collectors Edition. We haven't really got that much here to warrant that title. I have many DVDs in my collection which have at least this much and are not labelled "Collector's Edition."


    This is static, but very tastefully done. I like stylish, non-garish menus like this, but I would have loved some music behind it.

Theatrical Trailer (2:28)

    Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, non 16x9 enhanced and in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. This is of good quality, and encapsulates the movie effectively.

Audio Commentary - John Sayles (Director)

   This is a great commentary, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. John Sayles has a technical bent, and if you (like me) have one also, you will truly appreciate it. He talks at length about production techniques throughout, and sheds light onto the movie making process. I learnt much from this commentary, and it reinforces my opinion that a commentary track is the extra amongst extras. I love 'em.

Isolated Soundtrack

R4 vs R1

    Both versions are identical in content, so given that we have a lovely PAL transfer - R4 is the clear winner!


    A gem (pun intended) of a movie. This is one which belongs in your collection for those times when a solid drama is just the ticket. A truly great movie.

    The video quality is absolutely brilliant, and is easily reference quality.

    The audio is the equal of the video, though it is simply not the most dynamic soundtrack you will hear. It is, however, very natural sounding and a pleasure to listen to.

    The excellent commentary is enough for me, however many might question the "Collector's Edition" status of this one.

Ratings (out of 5)

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© Paul Cordingley (my profile)
2nd March, 2000.
Review Equipment
DVD Panasonic A350A S-Video output
Display Pioneer SD-T43W1 125cm Widescreen 16x9
Audio Decoder Internal Dolby Digital 5.1 (DVD Player)
Amplification Sony STRDE-525 5x100 watts Dolby Pro-Logic / 5.1 Ready Receiver; 4 x Optimus 10-band Graphic EQ
Speakers Centre: Sony SS-CN35 100 watt; Main & Surrounds: Pioneer CS-R390-K 150-watt floorstanders; Subwoofer: Optimus 100-watt passive