The Pianist: Collector's 2-Disc Set (2002)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 4-Aug-2003

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by
BUY IT

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Menu Animation & Audio
Scene Selection Anim & Audio
Web Links
Featurette-A Story of Survival
Gallery-Photo
Gallery-Poster
Theatrical Trailer
Filmographies-Cast & Crew
Trailer-Original Soundtrack
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2002
Running Time 142:47
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (78:40)
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Roman Polanski
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Adrien Brody
Thomas Kretschmann
Frank Finlay
Maureen Lipman
Emilia Fox
Ed Stoppard
Julia Rayner
Jessica Kate Meyer
Case Amaray-Opaque-Dual-Secure Clip
RPI $39.95 Music Wojciech Kilar


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None 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 Titling
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, Concert performance continues during end credits

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

Plot Synopsis

    When Adrien Brody became the youngest ever actor to win the Best Actor Oscar at this year's Academy Awards, many people (myself included) asked - Adrien Who? I couldn't recall a single film he had been in, and despite being only 29 years old at the time, I was surprised to discover he has actually appeared in quite a number of films, including The Thin Red Line (albeit in a significantly reduced role due to editing). If the performance he delivers here in Roman Polanksi's World War II holocaust drama is anything to go by, he will be around for a long, long time to come.

    The story is based on the memoirs of Wladyslaw Szpilman, a renowned Polish classical pianist. He is also a Jew who survived the horrors of the holocaust and lived to tell the tale. Brody stars as Szpilman in what is effectively a one-man show. It is 1939 and the promising pianist is playing live on Polish radio when the Germans invade the city. What follows in the first half of the film are the horrifying images of the atrocities enacted upon the Jewish population of Warsaw. Firstly they are moved from their homes into a large ghetto where some 500,000 of them must live. One humiliating act after another follows with humanity reaching new lows. From the dirty, stinking ghetto, with death all around and all hope crushed, the Jews are transported out to the death camps. Szpilman's family are shipped out, but a friend helps him escape. Now alone, the story becomes a tale of survival as Szpilman joins a work crew in the ghetto, gets involved in a small-scale uprising against the Germans, is hidden with little food in an apartment by the Polish resistance for a number of years and finally must hide in the spectacularly bombed ruins of Warsaw. His chance encounter with a German officer, Hosenfeld (Thomas Kretschmann) brings about some of the most poignant moments in this tale.

    The first half of this film will leave you uneasy. You see things you know happened during World War II, but the grim reality seems just a little too real here. Murder, death, public humiliation and the lows to which the human race can stoop are graphically portrayed. But the story shifts, and once Szpilman is alone, it  becomes more about survival against the odds and a glimmer of hope that all is not lost is tantalising dangled in front of us. There is also no clear delineation between good and evil. Not all the Jews are decent folk, and not all the Germans are evil murdering dogs. This detailed realism adds a whole new level of believability to the story, as does the direction of the controversial Roman Polanski. He is himself a survivor of the holocaust, which claimed many of his family, and the personal touches he has added throughout bring about an amazing sense of intimacy to the story. His recognition with the Best Director Academy Award is fully justified here.

    Adrien Brody is stunning in his leading role. As the talented musician full of promise, he is happy and content with life. But as everything he owns is stripped away, including his home, his piano, his family, and finally his dignity, he is left simply as a survivor. His physical appearance matches this despair and the amount of weight he loses during the story is remarkable.

    In referring to his role, Brody is quoted as saying "It made me have a much greater understanding of loss, of loneliness, and the level of intense tragedy that so many people have experienced in this world. I take a lot less for granted. It's really valuable to gain that, especially at a young age."

    The Pianist is a worthy film for anyone to take a look at. It almost serves as a documentary reminder of how fortunate we all are to be living in (relatively) peaceful times.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

     This is a near perfect transfer in every respect, with virtually nothing adverse to report.

    The original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 has been preserved and this also comes complete with 16x9 enhancement.

    Highly detailed and sharp throughout, there is no trace of any edge enhancement. Shadow detail is not compromised which, considering the dingy and dark interiors of some of the sets, is remarkable. There is virtually no grain to speak of and no low level noise.

    Colours are quite remarkable. At times, central Warsaw is painted as a bright colourful place filled with abundant life and joy. As the film progresses and the drab despair of the ghetto becomes apparent with the increasing atrocities committed against the Jews, the colour is drained away to give the film an almost black and white appearance. As Szpilman becomes more gaunt and pale due to his constant hiding and lack of food, the hue from his skin also disappears. This somewhat mirrors the destruction of the once vivid and vibrant Polish capital.

    There are no MPEG artefacts, no film-to-video artefacts and only the barest number film artefacts that are so minor they are not really worth mentioning.

    While the English for the Hearing Impaired subtitles are not completely accurate to the spoken word, their presentation is among the best I have seen. Different coloured text has been used for the different types of audio being subtitled. On-screen dialogue is presented in the traditional white font, while off-screen dialogue is yellow and moves around the screen to indicate the direction the person is speaking from. Moreover, theme music is presented in a purple font, while various effects such as explosions, groans, detonations, ambulances and the like are presented in a red font. Rounding out the colours is green, which is used whenever a foreign language (predominantly Russian and German) is spoken.

    This is a two disc set. Disc One features the film and is dual layered and RSDL formatted. The layer change is barely perceptible, occurring at 78:40 on a silent fade to black. Blink and you will miss it.

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

Audio

    There is only one audio soundtrack on this disc, being an English Dolby Digital 5.1 effort encoded at a bitrate of 448 Kb/s. The Region 1 version does offer a dts soundtrack in addition to the Dolby Digital offering, but I would be surprised if it bettered this effort. This is a first rate soundtrack, with plenty of punch from the low end when needed, heaps of dynamic range, and beautiful use of the front soundstage for directional effects.

    The heavily accented dialogue can be occasionally troublesome to fully comprehend. The subtitles soon solved those problems. There are also no audio sync discrepancies to report.

    The piano dominates the themes of the film naturally enough, and the classical score is by composer Wojciech Kilar. It is haunting, disturbing ,and beautiful at the same time. There are also a number of other classical pieces played throughout, with the piano (naturally enough) dominating these. Pieces by Chopin and Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata are highlights.

    There is only a tiny amount of surround channel use. The subwoofer receives a bit of a work-out during several of the larger explosions, but really this is not the sort of war film that needs bangs and crashes to affect the senses. Subtlety and an understated presence is the order of the day, and this soundtrack delivers it in spades.

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

Extras

Menu Animation & Audio

Scene Selection Animation & Audio

Web Links

    Links to the StudioCanal and Official film websites.

Featurette - A Story of Survival

    A 39:43 minute making-of featurette that is certainly not your average promotional piece. This features interviews with Adrien Brody, screenwriter Ron Harwood, Producer Robert Benmussa, and of course director Roman Polanski. The latter appears for a significant part of the running time, relating the personal nature of the story, how many scenes accurately reflect moments he actually lived through himself, and the lengths he went to achieve that accuracy. The most stunning and disturbing aspect in all of this is the use of rare archival footage of the Warsaw ghetto and of the atrocities perpetrated upon the Jewish people. The corresponding scenes in the film prove to be almost exact duplicates of these awful real-life images and will leave you quite shaken. All-up this is a far superior behind-the-scenes featurette to the tripe we usually see and everyone will get something worthwhile out of this.

    I suggest not watching this before the actual film as it contains a number of key plot spoilers. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, is not 16x9 enhanced, features Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio, and does not feature any subtitles.

Gallery-Photo

    A dozen black and white and colour 16x9 enhanced photos showing stages of the production.

Gallery-Poster

    Three 16x9 enhanced promotional posters.

Theatrical Trailer

    A 1:30 trailer of international origins given the French translation of the title. Doesn't give away much, which is always a good thing.

Filmographies-Cast & Crew

    Detailed filmographies for Roman Polanski, Adrien Brody, and Thomas Kretschmann.

Trailer - CD

    A brief audio-only snippet from the classical soundtrack album featuring the real Wladyslaw Szpilman and score composer Wojciech Kilar.

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 US disc is quite different to the Region 4 in technical terms. Most notably it is presented on the rarely seen DVD-14 (dual sided, one side dual layered, the other side single layered) disc, whereas the Region 4 disc will most probably be released as two separate discs (one DVD-9 the other DVD-5).

    The Region 4 disc misses out on:

    The Region 1 disc misses out on:

    A tough call really. The inclusion of the dts soundtrack swings things in favour of the Region 1 version, but I'm not a great fan of dual sided discs, preferring the double disc set complete with artwork on both discs. I really don't think the dts soundtrack would add all that much to this package, which already features a stunning Dolby Digital soundtrack. I'll call it a draw - others may disagree.

Update 3 October 2003 - There is a 3 disc collector's edition available from Canada Region 1. It contains a dts soundtrack, the same extras, and a copy of the film's soundtrack on the third disc. This may seem like a winner, but I have seen reviews that indicate the transfer is not all that special, so I am still inclined to lean towards the Region 4 or the Region 1 if you must have a dts option.

Summary

    The Pianist is the uplifting, yet disturbingly horrifying, story of one man's survival against the odds. Roman Polanski has infused this film with glimpses of his own experiences during World War II and these add such a level of realism to the story that it becomes frightening to realise what human beings are capable of doing to each other. The performance of Adrien Brody is stunning and he fully deserved his Best Actor Academy Award.

    The video is of near-reference quality.

    The audio lacks the dts soundtrack found on the Region 1 version of this DVD, but the Dolby Digital 5.1 track we get is still a ripper.

    The extras are quite light and certainly don't fill the second disc, but the making-of featurette is amongst the best I have seen.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Darren Walters (It's . . . just the vibe . . . of my bio)
Monday, July 21, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDLoewe Xemix 5106DO, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Calida (84cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationHarmon/Kardon AVR7000.
SpeakersFront - B&W 602S2, Centre - B&W CC6S2, Rear - B&W 601S2, Sub - Energy E:xl S10

Other Reviews
MovieHole - ScottB
AllZone4DVD - Magalie S
DVD Net - Anthony H (read my bio)
The DVD Bits - Allan H
Web Wombat - James A
Jeff K's Australian DVD Info Site - Andrea G

Comments (Add)
Polanski / Brody - wolfgirv REPLY POSTED
RE: Polanski / Brody - Craggles (Behold the mighty bio!!)
Re: Re: Brody.. geeeze you're right - wolfgirv
Canadian Version -
RE: Canadian Version -