School Ties (1992)

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Released 7-May-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama None
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1992
Running Time 102:46
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (51:16) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Programme
Region Coding 4 Directed By Robert Mandel
Studio
Distributor

Paramount Home Entertainment
Starring Brendan Fraser
Chris O'Donnell
Matt Damon
Ben Affleck
Randall Batinkoff
Andrew Lowery
Cole Hauser
Anthony Rapp
Amy Locane
Peter Donat
Zeljko Ivanek
Kevin Tighe
Michael Higgins
Case ?
RPI $24.95 Music Maurice Jarre


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
French
German
Dutch
Turkish
Italian
Spanish
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    School Ties is a movie which I first watched around ten years ago. At the time, I thought it was quite a striking piece as it tackled an issue (anti-Semitism) which I had not seen covered in a post-war (WWII) setting. Unlike "Holocaust movies", such as Schindler's List, this movie deals with the more insidious racism of the American middle classes, rather than the blatant hate-mongering of the Nazis. On watching School Ties again on DVD, I realised that it is not as powerful as it might have been, given the unusual subject matter, but is still of some interest because of the young ensemble cast, most of whom would go on to greater things in the years to come.

    The story, written by Dick Wolf (more famous recently for writing the television series Law and Order), deals with a year in the life of David Greene (Brendan Fraser), who wins a football scholarship for his final year of school, to attend the prestigious Saint Matthew's Academy in Massachusetts. Leaving behind the biker-gangs and grime of his working-class Jewish life in Pennsylvania, he heads off on a journey which will provide him with an education in more ways than one. As soon as he arrives at the school, his coach euphemistically asks David if he has " ...any diet problems? Is there anything that you can't eat?" - in other words, is he Jewish? It is subtly made obvious to David, that if he wants to fit in, then he should keep his religious beliefs - and identity - to himself. It becomes plain why this advice should be heeded when he is housed with Chris Reece (Chris O'Donnell) and is befriended the "big men on campus" - a cadre of young, handsome, "old money" brats including Rip Van Kelt (Randall Batinkoff), Charlie Dillon (Matt Damon), the curiously named Chesty Smith (Ben Affleck), Jack Connors (Cole Hauser) and the troubled McGivern (Andrew Lowery). Talk is always of which Ivy League University they will attend - largely chosen for them, based on the school attended by previous generations of their wealthy families - the eponymous old "school ties".

   When one of the boys describes how he "Jewed down" the price on his new hi-fi purchase, the anti-Semitic beliefs of these apparently fine, upstanding American gentlemen begin to bubble to the surface. The rest of the movie revolves around David's frequent need to deny his Judaism as he tries to fit into the snooty world of St. Matthew's hallowed halls. David's success both on the football field and with the blonde debutante Sally Wheeler (Amy Locane) leads to a growing resentment from Dillon, and when he stumbles across David's true religious background, he maliciously uses the information to turn friends, faculty and Sally against Greene. When the spectre of cheating in exams threatens to rock the honour code of the school, David has the opportunity to demonstrate who is the true gentleman, and who really understands what constitutes honour.

    The period feel of the film is well maintained throughout, with some quaint football scenes complete with cringe-worthy male cheer-squads, duffle-coats and 1950s music. The young actors seem to have been well cast and are suited to their parts. Brendan Fraser, in particular, gives one of his better performances.

    School Ties addresses a controversial and still relevant topic, but it is not explored as dramatically as it might have been. Humour is used occasionally, but not enough to demonstrate any deep bonds between any of the characters, while the dramatic scenes are generally underplayed leaving the relationships between the "friends" feeling a little superficial. The movie is quite enjoyable, but it does not have the gut-wrenching impact of more contemporary films exploring racism, such as Romper Stomper or American History X, and for me was ultimately much less challenging.

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Transfer Quality

Video

   The overall video transfer of this disc is average, even taking into account the age of the movie (1992). The video is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and it is 16x9 enhanced. This is close to the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1.

   The film is quite soft, with fairly noticeable grain throughout. Occasionally, some outdoor shots are remarkably sharp, particularly in the foreground, for instance the close-up of Matt Damon's face at 61:07, and this adds to the feeling that the rest of the film is too soft. Blacks look solid with no low-level noise detected.

   Colours vary, with very drab greys in the Pennsylvania scenes giving way to brighter greens and autumnal golds during the opening school scenes. Indoors, there is a preponderance of browns, greys and greens due to the tweedy clothing favoured by "the chaps" and the wood-lined school rooms. Overall the colour saturation is fine, if slightly warm.

   The transfer suffers from MPEG artefacts, with some macro-blocking of backgrounds and compression artefacts present throughout, which contribute to the grainy appearance of the transfer.

   Film-to-video artefacts are quite frequent with an annoying amount of aliasing present. Significant examples can be seen on the bus radiator at 06:59, the power lines and weatherboard house at 08:54, and the podium at 17:32. Telecine wobble is noticeable on the opening and closing credits but is not an issue during the movie. Edge enhancement was not a problem - perhaps due to the generally soft nature of the transfer.

   Film artefacts (both positive and negative) are common with specks flicking across the screen almost continuously, which I found to be mildly distracting.

    There are seven subtitle tracks present on the disc, and I watched the English version. These subtitles do not follow the dialogue fully, often missing complete phrases, and I would guess that they only reflect around 70% of the spoken dialogue. They are written in English, rather than "American", with words like "honour" spelled correctly.

    This is an RDSL disc with the layer change at 51:16, which causes a noticeable pause, but is quite well placed at the end of a scene.

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

Audio

    The overall audio quality of this disc is average, albeit with no major audio defects noted.

    The main soundtrack is a functional Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack in English recorded at 448 kbps. Additionally, French, German, Italian and Spanish dubbed Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks are available, recorded at 192 kbps. Listening to the main English soundtrack, the dialogue was always clear and audio synch was not a problem.

    The unremarkable musical score is credited to Maurice Jarre. The contemporary pop songs played on the hi-fi or at the inter-school dance contribute much to the period feel of the movie.

    The front speakers were used for some good panning effects on occasion and the surround channels were subtly used throughout the movie to carry background noise and the musical score. As the film is largely dialogue-driven, the mainly frontal soundstage is not unexpected.

    Despite being cited as a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, subwoofer usage was not noticed at any point.

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

Extras

Menu

    The menu is a simple static photograph featuring headshots of Fraser, O'Donnell, Damon and Affleck. It allows the selection of audio languages, subtitles or one of seventeen chapter stops.

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 DVD of this movie is almost identical to the Region 4 release, and is also a bare-bones effort. Minor differences exist in the available audio soundtracks tracks, namely English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Digital 2.0 and French Dolby Digital 2.0. There would seem to be little reason to choose one version over the other.

Summary

    School Ties is worth watching for the early performances of its young ensemble cast. Brendan Fraser gives a good performance, while Matt Damon shows the signs of bigger things to come. It deals with an interesting and worthwhile subject, but treads too softly to make much lasting impact.

    The video quality is average.

    The audio quality is average.

    The extras are non-existent.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Daniel O'Donoghue (You think my bio is funny? Funny how?)
Thursday, April 24, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-344 Multi-Region, using Component output
DisplayPanasonic TX-47P500H 47" Widescreen RPTV. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationONKYO TX-DS484
SpeakersJensenSPX-9 fronts, Jensen SPX-13 Centre, Jensen SPX-5 surrounds, Jensen SPX-17 subwoofer

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