Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

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Released 10-Jul-2013

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category War Featurette-Behind The Scenes-Geared Up (6:46)
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-The Compound (9:02)
Interviews-Cast-Targeting Jessica Chastain (5:06)
Featurette-Making Of-No Small Feat (3:42)
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2012
Running Time 150:32 (Case: 157)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (74:06) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Kathryn Bigelow

Icon Entertainment
Starring Jessica Chastain
Jason Clarke
Joel Edgerton
Jennifer Ehle
Mark Strong
Kyle Chandler
Édgar Ramírez
James Gandolfini
Chris Pratt
Callan Mulvey
Fares Fares
Reda Kateb
John Barrowman
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $29.95 Music Alexandre Desplat

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Unknown English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     Zero Dark Thirty is a military term for thirty minutes past midnight. Zero Dark Thirty is also a riveting and controversial account of the manhunt to locate and eliminate Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Even though the outcome is known by the audience, Zero Dark Thirty ensures that it is compelling from start to finish. The controversy surrounding the film centres on the methods used by the CIA to extract information from captured dissidents. The torture scenes can be very confronting, with waterboarding, sleep deprivation and forcing detainees into tiny, coffin-like boxes shown. Also, people such as Senator John McCain and CIA director Leon Panetta have disputed the efficacy of torture in extracting information in regards to Bin Laden's whereabouts, stating that torture was not a factor at all in hunting down bin Laden's location. Zero Dark Thirty received Academy Award nominations at the 85th Oscar Academy Awards in 2013 for Best Actress (Jessica Chastain) and Best Original Screenplay (Mark Boal), and it took home an Oscar® for Best Sound Editing (famously shared with Skyfall - only the sixth time in the history of the Awards that an Oscar has been shared).

     Zero Dark Thirty begins with a dark, blank screen (no - there is nothing wrong with your television or home theatre set-up!) with the sound of an emergency call during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Two years later we find ourselves in an undisclosed CIA 'black site' in Pakistan. Dan (Australian actor Jason Clarke), a CIA operative, is shown using enhanced interrogation techniques on Ammar al-Baluchi (Reda Kateb), an Al-Qaeda detainee, with links to the 9/11 hijackers and who also happens to be the nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Dan's aim is to learn the identity and plans of the Saudi Group, under Osama bin Laden's leadership. Dan is soon joined by Maya (Jessica Chastain), a young CIA agent arrives from Washington D.C. to witness Ammar being deprived of food and sleep and waterboarded, until he is slowly and methodically broken down to reveal information.

     At the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad Maya meets Joseph Bradley (Kyle Chandler), the CIA station chief. Maya and Bradley's working relationship becomes strained over the course of a few years on account of Maya's belief that bin Laden's operative methods haven't changed since 9/11, while the CIA slowly shifts to preventing more Al-Qaeda attacks on the Homeland. Maya believes that the best way to prevent future attacks is to capture bin Laden.

     Maya theorises that locating bin Laden's primary courier is the source to finding where the Al-Qaeda leader is hiding. She refutes the idea that bin Laden is in a cave in Afghanistan or Pakistan. She becomes convinced that he is near a large and populated area whereby he can maintain his terrorist operations. The film shows Maya and her CIA accomplices interrogating prisoners, bribing informants, losing track of leads through poor intelligence, as well as surviving assassination attempts, bombings and being victims of suicide bombings. The final 40 minutes of the film recreates the U.S. Navy SEAL mission to raid bin Laden's Compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, assassinate him and bring bin Laden's body back to a U.S. base in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, where Maya visually identifies the corpse.

     Zero Dark Thirty is even more remarkable when one considers that less than two years ago, Bigelow was preparing to make a different film, one about the failed hunt for bin Laden. Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal are still hoping to shoot this film, which would have focused on the two weeks that Delta Force members spent looking for bin Laden in the mountains and caves of Tora Bora, Afghanistan in December, 2001. Her film crew were scouting locations on May 1st, 2011 when they heard the news that President Obama had announced that bin Laden had been killed in a night-time raid involving SEALs and stealth helicopters.

     Mark Boal, a former investigative journalist, found that he had to start from scratch. He found that, to his surprise, women were an integral part of the process of finding bin Laden. His story turned to a young agent, recruited straight out of college, who had spent her entire professional career chasing bin Laden. Maya is based on both a real person and the composite character of a number of other women agents.

     Zero Dark Thirty is an outstanding film, which currently stands, at the time of writing this review, as the highest critically rated film of 2012 (with a Metacritic score of 95 out of 100). This film is for those of you who want to get the back story to finding the Compound location of Osama bin Laden in 2011. Just remember, the film doesn't hold back on showing torture, but I didn't find it too disturbing or distracting from maintaining my interest.

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Transfer Quality


     Zero Dark Thirty was mainly filmed in Jordan, with some scenes shot in India. The green night vision images in the Compound raid scenes are authentic and not a special effect.

     The aspect ratio is 1:85:1, 16x9 enhanced for widescreen televisions.

     The video transfer is slightly soft, yet still impressive for DVD. The average bitrate is 6.27 m/b per sec, which is good.

     There is some strong colour evident with an overall warm tone to the image transfer, as most scenes are set in an arid climate. Blacks, as seen in the night-time raid scenes, are handled particularly well, without obvious low level noise.

     Despite the use of handheld cameras, there are no film artefacts or film-to video transfer issues. Australian cinematographer, Greig Fraser, deserves special mention for his shooting of the Compound raid scene using infrared lighting, which requires filming in near-darkness. This was done to heighten the sense of realism, to present a 'guerrilla' feel to the action, in the words of the cinematographer.

     Subtitles are available in English.

     The RSDL change occurs at 74:06 and is not noticeable as it occurs during a scene transition.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     As mentioned, Zero Dark Thirty won the Academy Award for Sound Editing. The audio transfer provides a good balance between loud action scenes and maintaining clarity and consistent volume.

     The main audio track is an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track encoded at 448 kbps.

     Dialogue is clear and synchronised.

     The film score by Alexandre Desplat doesn't bring attention to itself.

     Surround channel usage is not overly flashy, rather it is more realistic with sudden peaks in action, such as quick braking and accelerating in cars or bombs going off, using all the speakers for maximum impact.

     The subwoofer is used for bursts of gunfire and explosion sounds mainly, it is not over-utilised.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Geared Up (6:46)

     Screenwriter Mark Boal, director Kathryn Bigelow and actor Chris Pratt discuss the Navy SEALS training the actors received for the final act of the film.

The Compound (9:02)

     Kathryn Bigelow details the recreation of the bin Laden Compound on set in Jordan. She emphasises the importance of accurately recreating the events, showing how the Compound was meticulously planned and designed.

Targeting Jessica Chastain (5:06)

     Jessica Chastain discusses, in detail, her method behind playing Maya. Mark Boal, Jason Clarke, Mark Strong and Chris Pratt acknowledge Chastain's dedication and professionalism to the role.

No Small Feat (3:42)

     Kathryn Bigelow, Kyle Chandler, Mark Strong, Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton and Jason Clarke discuss the background, the story, Bigelow's direction and the ensemble cast. I only wish this behind-the-scenes extra was longer as it was too brief in my opinion.

R4 vs R1

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

     The Region 1 United States DVD version of Zero Dark Thirty contains three soundtracks, an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track encoded at 448 kbps, an English Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround track encoded at 192 kbps and an English Descriptive Audio 2.0 stereo track encoded at 192 kbps. There are also three subtitles available, English, English SDH (Subtitles for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired) and Spanish.

     Interestingly, the average bitrate transfer of the Region 1 United States DVD is lower than the Region 4 Australian DVD at 4.97 m/b per sec on a 6.27 gb disc as opposed to a 7.85 gb disc on the Region 4 release. The extras on both these releases are identical.

     The Region 2 United Kingdom DVD contains Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in English, Spanish and German and subtitling options in English, Germany, Spanish, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish, but has no extras included.


     Zero Dark Thirty is even a better film than director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal's previous effort, 2009 best film Oscar winner, The Hurt Locker. The film has been compared Alan J. Pakula's 1976 political thriller, All the President's Men. Both films follow a process to an end and show how that end impacts the mood of a nation.

     Unfortunately, Sony in the United States, Universal in the United Kingdom and Icon in Australia include limited extras that only hint at the making of this very fine film and its related important historicity. At the very least I would have wanted an audio commentary or possible the one hour interview with Bigelow and Boal on the Charlie Rose Show in December, 2012.

     Icon have produced a faithful DVD presentation, nevertheless, and this deserves your time and attention as Zero Dark Thirty is an exalted example of filmmaking.

Ratings (out of 5)


© John Stivaktas (I like my bio)
Thursday, July 04, 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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