Savages (Blu-ray) (2012)

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Released 14-Mar-2013

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Audio Commentary-with Director Oliver Stone (Theatrical Version)
Audio Commentary-with E Kopeloff, M Borman, D Winslow, S Salerno & T Voth
Featurette-Stone Cold Savages documentary (33:53)
Deleted Scenes-Nine Deleted/Extended Scenes (16:01)
Alternative Version-Uncut and Extended Version (141:10)
Bookmark-Universal My Scenes featurette
System Setup-D-Box compatibility
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2012
Running Time 141:10
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Oliver Stone
Studio
Distributor
Universal Sony Starring Blake Lively
Taylor Kitsch
Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Salma Hayek
Benicio Del Toro
John Travolta
Emile Hirsch
Demián Bichir
Joaquín Cosio
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $39.95 Music Adam Peters


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Unknown English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
French dts 5.1
Spanish dts 5.1
English Descriptive Audio Dolby Digital 2.0
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.40:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 2.40:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
French
Spanish
Smoking Yes, and frequent drug use
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

     Oliver Stone is in his sixties now (born 1946) and has been directing and writing films since the 1970s. He is known for his gritty, non-compromising, often political, dramas. In the 1980s and early 1990s he had a string of hit films such as Platoon, Wall Street, Born on the Fourth of July, The Doors, JFK and Natural Born Killers. He was also famous for writing the screenplays for Midnight Express and Scarface. Oliver Stone films tend to be based on real-life characters and events. His latest film, Savages, however, is different; it's adapted from Don Winslow's highly successful 2010 book of the same name, which Janet Maslin at the New York Times wrote 'was his 13th and most boisterously stylish crime book, his gutsiest and most startling bid for attention. The Winslow effect is to fuse the grave and the playful, the body blow and the joke, the nightmare and the pipe dream. It’s flippant and dead serious simultaneously. “Whatever happened to morality?” somebody asks in “Savages.” Mr. Winslow answer: “Replaced by a newer, faster, easier technology.”' When adapting the book to film Maslin stated that Stone would 'need to walk a tightrope', and by that she meant that a balance would need to be found in the novel's violence and drama.

     Laguna Beach pals Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) develop a premium strain of marijuana plant with seeds Chon smuggled out of Afghanistan during his service as a Navy SEAL. The pair is described as dual opposites in ways, Ben is a Buddhist who seeks to help others, highly educated and intelligent, whilst Chon is a hardened man who shows no fear or remorse as a result of his experiences, and he serves as the enforcer of the drug business that Ben and Chon set up. They live in a fancy beachfront mansion, and both men share a girl O., short for Ophelia (Blake Lively), who loves them both equally. This strange ménage a trois is compared to the relationships shared by the main characters in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (and this is referenced in the film), but the contrast in Ben and Chon's personalities suggests that Francois Truffaut's Jules et Jim was a huge influence on Don Winslow's novel. Just as the boys' business is booming due to the high THC content of the marijuana they produce, Elena (Salma Hayek), the leader of a Tijuana drug group called the Baja Cartel, sends her enforcer, Lado (Benicio del Toro), to force Chon and Ben into joining their business. Corrupt DEA agent Dennis (John Travolta) advises the boys to join the cartel or wind up decapitated (like in the disturbing video shown at the beginning of the film), but Ben hesitates at joining an organisation that kills indiscriminately. Refusing to allow herself to be humiliated after Ben and Chon's initial business meeting with the cartel, Elena has Lado kidnap O. as leverage. Note that in the novel, Dennis advises the boys to run, while in the film they plan to initially run to Indonesia after winding up their business to get out of working with the cartel. Also, the concept of a female cartel boss is based on the real life character of Mireya Moreno Carreon, who headed the Los Zetas Cartel until her capture in 2011.

     Reviews for the 2012 film Savages have been mixed. I believe there are a few reasons for this. Firstly, the three main characters Ben, Chon and O. are laconic and laidback. This is because of their residence at Laguna Beach (a small Californian beachside community known as a paradise getaway, it has a small population of 22,000), their youth and their lifestyle (all are casual drug takers, and Ben and Chon aren't into the marijuana trade strictly for money). As a result, critics have stated that Kitsch, Johnson-Taylor and Lively have put in poor acting performances. Don Winslow has based these characters on residents at Laguna Beach so in my opinion, Ben, Chon and O., as well as Emile Hirsch's character of Spin, are true-to-life. Secondly, Stone has been criticised for overdoing the violence. Be warned, there are some graphic scenes here, but is that not what you get with the drug trade, especially if Mexican drug cartels are involved? Thirdly, Stone has added an extra touch to the ending which differed from the novel. We do get to see the ending of the novel in the film, with a touch of realism tacked on afterwards. This has drawn criticism because the tone of the film is not presented in a consistent manner; is Stone being dramatic or is he trying to inject humour here too? Certainly, John Travolta's character, DEA agent Dennis, is portrayed this way. Similarly, Salma Hayek's has been criticised for not being menacing enough as a drug cartel boss, but is it wrong to present a character that is not clichéd? Certainly Stone does give her a backstory which makes the audience understand her better and Benicio del Toro's chief henchman, Lado, is uncompromisingly menacing, scheming and betraying, but we do see another side of him in the extended version of the film.

     There are two cuts presented here, the Theatrical cut (here called the Cinema cut) which plays for 130 minutes and the Extended cut which adds 11 minutes through the addition of four scenes, adding some backstory to some of the supporting characters played by del Toro, Hayek and Travolta. Emile Hirsch's character of Spin, the money-launderer had a greater role than what is presented in the final cut, and O.'s mother, Paqu, played by Uma Thurman, was completely cut from the film due to timing constraints, so unfortunately we don't get a Pulp Fiction reunion with Travolta here. But, at least, Hirsch and Thurman now know what it feels like when you sign-up to act in a Terrence Malick film (who did the same thing to seasoned actors such as Adrien Brody, Mickey Rourke, Bill Pullman, Christopher Plummer, Sean Penn, Rachel Weisz and Michael Sheen since his cinematic comeback in 1998 with The Thin Red Line).

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Transfer Quality

Video

     According to IMDb, Savages is the first film that Stone has done in Panavision Anamorphic 35mm film in 17 years. Cinematographer Daniel Mindel convinced Stone to shoot with this method, stating that if Stone wanted to shoot digitally or in Super 35, he was the wrong man for the job. Mindel has shot all his films except Domino in Panavision 35 mm, while Stone has shot in Super35 since Nixon in 1995. Savages is stunningly photographed, with Stone using multiple filming techniques to get exquisite visuals.

     This Region-Free Australian release of Savages uses a 1080p/AVC encoded video transfer presented in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1.

     Detail is near-perfect, with impressive close-ups, balanced long shots and detailed backgrounds. There are some stylised black-and white stills included here which do not detract from the film at all, they serve to enhance the images that follow.

     The colour scheme is vivid and broad. The cinematography captures the sun-drenched environment of lower Southern California perfectly, highlighting deep blues, gorgeous greens and bright yellows.

     The anamorphic 35mm film contains no edge enhancement, nor does it require Digital Noise Reduction or other digital defects.

     Subtitles are available in English for the Hard of Hearing, French and Spanish. Unusually, the subtitles play within the frame at the bottom, instead of the usual lower 'black bar' area on a 16x9 widescreen television.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     The soundtrack is as equally impressive as the visuals, with clear dialogue, good separation and good use of sound effects to support natural long-shots and action scenes.

     The main audio track is a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which booms at times. A dubbed DTS 5.1 track is available in French and Spanish. An Audio Descriptive track is offered for the Hard of Hearing which is encoded in Dolby Digital 2.0, as are both audio commentaries on the theatrical version.

     Dialogue is easily decipherable and is synchronised.

     The music soundtrack, overseen by Adam Peters, utilises Peter Tosh's Legalize It, Bob Dylan's Romance In Durango as well as clever covers of Talking Heads' Psycho Killer and The Beatles' Here Comes the Sun, performed by Yuna in the closing credits. The Cartel theme and Romantic theme by Peters play throughout and add positively to the tone of the film. Also, according to IMDb, the funny jingle and ringtone that La Reina uses is the theme song of the famous Mexican TV show, El chavo del ocho.

     The surround channel usage effectively highlights the sounds of helicopters, engines, gunfire, chainsaws, knife-cutting as well as demonstrating the gentle sounds of nature, the beach or the sound of a cool breeze.

     The subwoofer has moments of resounding bass, but is also used to support a range of dynamic sounds such as explosions, car-screeching and musical themes and soundtrack songs.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Audio commentary with Director Oliver Stone (Theatrical Version only)

     Oliver Stone provides a scene-specific commentary which is presented in an understated style but is extremely informative, discussing the adaptation from the novel, production techniques and the product placement of the Ferrari Tesla. There are silent moments, but when Stone adds comments to scenes they are often interesting.

Audio commentary with Producers Eric Kopeloff and Moritz Borman, Co-Screenwriter/Novelist Don Winslow, Executive Producer/Co-Screenwriter Shane Salerno and Production Designer Tomas Voth

     This scene-specific commentary on the theatrical version is mainly chaired by producer Eric Kopeloff, with contributions from the others. Don Winslow states that the graphic opening torture scenes are based on real material that was sent to him when he was writing the novel. There are discussions about film locations and the film production, as well as an in-depth discussion on how Oliver Stone wanted to alter the ending during the film's pre-production phase.

Stone Cold Savages Documentary (33:53)

     Split into five parts this behind-the-scenes making-of featurette plays like an Electronic Press Kit at times. "Origins" discusses the source novel, why Stone wanted to turn it into a film, and how the script evolved. "The Savages" focuses on the casting in the film and how Stone chose who played the parts (sometimes this was out of his hands, as Jennifer Lawrence had scheduling conflicts). "Real Savagery" looks at Stone's diligent work ethic, including bringing in consultants for growing marijuana and using a former DEA agent to portray Cartel methods. "A Savage Set" shows us the set of the big gunfight, filmed in oppressive, hot weather and the gruesome set of the Cartel's torture warehouse where one of the characters gets whipped and then burned to death. The stuntman who is set on fire describes the method used for the scene. The last part, "Savage Cuts" is a roundtable discussion with the film editors discussing how Stone is open to contributions from people on his cast and crew and how the film was edited to its theatrical running time.

Nine Deleted/Extended Scenes (16:01)

     Nine scenes are included here, mostly consisting of extended scenes which add further information to scenes from the film. Uma Thurman's scenes are not here, however. For me, these scenes demonstrate the excellent cutting techniques used during the editing phase in post-production as most of these scenes are recognisable from the film and play seamlessly without the cuts included. The scenes can be viewed individually or via a “Play All” option.

Alternative Version - Uncut and Extended Version (141:10)

     The Extended version includes four extra scenes which show the human side of Lado, Elena and Dennis. Two scenes show Lado's dysfunctional relationships with his kids and wife, one scene shows Elena connecting with O. despite her being captive in her guest house and there's a touching scene where Dennis confesses how difficult it is to be a DEA agent to his wife, who is dying from cancer.

Bookmark - Universal My Scenes featurette

     Use this feature to bookmark your favourite scenes.

System Setup - D-Box Compatibility

     D-Box functionality is available on this disc for those viewers that have the capability in their home theatres.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The United States and United Kingdom Blu-rays are identical to the Australian release. They have the same specifications, extras and are all Region-Free.

Summary

     Savages is the product of an experienced filmmaker in Oliver Stone, supported by an experienced crew and well-known actors. The visuals, sound and film editing are top-notch here; it's a shame about the plot, which many critics and fans have disparaged. I enjoyed the way that Stone has put the film together, including the finer details such as the references to the classic Universal monster films of the 1930s (look at the posters in Spin's office and the marquee sign on the movie theatre in the background when the Cartel meet up with Ben in the open park at Laguna Beach) and his inventive cameo (in the Extended cut we see an animated Stone in O.'s fake e-mail to her mother, sent to assure her of her safety when being held by the Cartel). So, although I appreciate the finer points of this film, I can understand how it can be perceived as a dud, specifically in relation to the bland characterisation of the three lead characters, the narration provided by Blake Lively's character O. and the controversy with the altered ending. Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton on their At The Movies TV show both gave this 4 out of 5 stars in October 2012, however, fan ratings haven't been as kind. You can reference this here and read the interesting and opposing points of view from various fans who have left comments. In the same way, Savages will leave you appreciating the fine filmmaking from Oliver Stone or hating the plot, there's no in-between.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© John Stivaktas (I like my bio)
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S550 (Firmware updated Version 020), using HDMI output
DisplaySamsung LA46A650 46 Inch LCD TV Series 6 FullHD 1080P 100Hz. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderSony STR-K1000P. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationSony HTDDW1000
SpeakersSony 6.2 Surround (Left, Front, Right, Surround Left, Surround Back, Surround Right, 2 subwoofers)

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