In Country (1989) (NTSC)

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Released 4-Feb-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama None
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1989
Running Time 115:15 (Case: 120)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 1,4 Directed By Norman Jewison
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Emily Lloyd
Bruce Willis
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $29.95 Music James Horner


Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement Yes
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

     In Country is the story of Samantha Hughes (Emily Lloyd), recent high school graduate, and resident of Hopewell, Kentucky -- a one-horse town if ever I saw one. After discovering a series of letters written to her mother from her father, who died during his tour of duty in Vietnam, Sam seeks out more about the man she never knew. This brings her closer to her uncle Emmett (Bruce Willis), a Vietnam veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Having been introduced to the novel In Country by Bobbie Ann Mason back when I studied the Vietnam War, I was curious to see what was done with the film.

     After viewing it twice now, I must confess that the biggest problem with this film was the budget. Certainly, there were a couple of technical hitches, but what got to me the most about the film was that it was obviously done on a shoestring. Granted, it was made in the late 80s when film production was not what it is now, but movies like Die Hard and Robocop were also made then and, by and large, their production values have stood the test of time. In Country looks like a cheap made-for-television movie, which is sad, because the book was very good and had a few things to say.

     To be fair, much of the message of the original text is still intact in the film: the sense of disillusionment; the sense of waste; the sense of lives ruined in a futile pursuit. Although, in all honesty, many books and films did these things better, and the sentiment was brought home with much more force by the work of Oliver Stone in Born On The 4th Of July (where is the DVD remastering of that fine film may I ask?), In Country does have a more consumable story, at least for a younger audience, and a less political and harrowing one. Sam's journey is very personal, and although the film does not really do it justice, you get a sense of what she is going through - the struggle with self-identity for a girl who never knew her father and who nobody ever speaks of and the town where she comes from which wears so many scars from a war its population has tried to forget.

     However, In Country lacks any kind of war realism in its battle scenes. The forests of midwest USA look nothing like Vietnam. Trust me, I've been there. You can't pass a marsh off as the Mekong Delta. It doesn't work, and it looks tacky. Furthermore, In Country never really develops its emotional peak. You've got a character with post-traumatic stress disorder, a young girl haunted by a father she never knew, a small town hiding from its past. These are great ingredients for a stirring drama that just never gets it together. Much of this was because the screenwriters tried to adapt the entirety of the book into a two hour movie, and that was a mistake. They would have done far better by pulling a few themes out and concentrating on those. Indeed, In Country would have been a very hard book to turn into a motion picture, and probably lends itself better to a TV mini-series, the way that Band Of Brothers was put together. As a movie, it feels as if it has been stretched thin. Big moments are overlooked. Peripheral characters are two-dimensional at best. The scene at the war memorial in Washington D.C. was mostly done well, but even it too could have been that much better.

     Essentially, In Country never lives up to its promise. It's worth a look, but my advice is to read the book and badger Universal for a better DVD of Born On The 4th Of July.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     When you put a two hour movie onto a single layered disc, you're in for some trouble.

     Presented in 1.33:1, reformatted from its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and in NTSC, the picture is far from reference quality. Indeed, it barely makes do.

     While there is really only minimal background noise, which is good, one of the inherent problems with NTSC is the resultant aliasing when the number of horizontal lines is reduced. In Country has plenty of examples of this artefact. Literally, it is everywhere, from buildings that Sam jogs past, to the cars the characters drive around in, to the furniture in their houses.

     Worse, there are instances of MPEG macroblocking, particularly on the slats on the veranda in front of Sam's house, which appear to be merging into each other. More than a little distracting.

     There is also a really poor scene at 31:20 showing storm clouds clearing that is obviously stock footage, and bad stock footage at that. It looks so out of place that you have to cringe.

     This is a single sided, single layered disc, so there is no dual layer pause.

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

Audio

     There is only one soundtrack on this disc, the English 2.0 Dolby Digital Surround track. This is nothing to write home about so I won't bore you too much.

     Most of the information arises from the centre speaker. Given that this film is dialogue-driven, that is hardly surprising. Every now and then, the two left-right stereo speakers will perk up with a little surround information, but generally this is a car going across the screen or the music listened to by Sam on her headphones as she runs around town.

     Dialogue is clear and relatively easy to understand, although Sam has a tendency to whine, which becomes very nasal sometimes, and the Kentucky accent can sometimes be so thick you may have difficulty following what's being said. There were a couple of audio sync problems where it seemed that characters were speaking, although they weren't moving their mouths, particularly during the scene in the doctor's office (43:19 - 44:11) where there are some really bad scene cuts and either some shocking post-production ADR or just inserted lines because the scene didn't make any initial sense.

     There was no subwoofer use.

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

Extras

     Nothing. And I mean nothing.

R4 vs R1

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

     This is an identical reproduction of the Region 1 version, complete with NTSC formatting. All I can say is that the R4 version is cheaper.

Summary

     The promise of a great movie never develops here, so In Country remains just a pale shadow of a good book. The DVD is an even paler shadow of a pale shadow.

     The video transfer is adequate, but only just. Having been removed from its original aspect ratio it looks even more like a made-for-TV film. The NTSC formatting does not help.

     The audio transfer is so unremarkable it barely rates a mention.

     There are no extras to speak of.

     If you see this in the $4.99 sale bin at JB Hi-Fi, you might consider picking it up. If you are curious, maybe think about renting it. Otherwise, spend your time reading the book. You'll feel better for it.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Edward McKenzie (I am Jack's raging bio...)
Saturday, March 01, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDPanasonic DVD-RV31A-S, using S-Video output
DisplayBeko 28" (16x9). This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver.
AmplificationMarantz SR7000
SpeakersEnergy - Front, Rear, Centre & Subwoofer

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