The Salton Sea (2002)

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Released 19-Mar-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Listing-Cast & Crew
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated R
Year Of Production 2002
Running Time 99:16 (Case: 103)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (0:00) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By D.J. Caruso

Warner Home Video
Starring Val Kilmer
Vincent D'Onofrio
Peter Saargard
Anthony La Paglia
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $31.95 Music Thomas Newman

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/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
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    Who is Danny Parker (Val Kilmer)? Why is he playing a trumpet in a burning building? Why is his real name Tom Van Allen? These are the questions that are asked at the beginning of The Salton Sea, a movie that is styled in the tradition of film noir and oscillates backwards and forwards between the two separate lives of one man. From this opening scene we are drawn into a world where Parker is a crystal meth user and dealer. A world where he works for the cops as an informant, albeit a rather reluctant one, and who has some deep underlying motivation behind everything he does.

   The Salton Sea's strength lies in an excellently conceived plot by the writer of Murder by Numbers scriptwriter Tony Gayton, who twists and turns things inside and out in order to extract as much as he can from the material. He makes sure that we never quite work out what is going on until it is time to reveal it. Additionally, director D. J. Caruso handles a very fine ensemble cast with aplomb, allowing them room to present their own interpretations of the characters. Supporting Kilmer are a varied cast who play the lowlifes that now inhabit Danny Parker's life, including Anthony La Paglia as Garcetti, a crooked cop using Danny to bust up dope addicts and scoring from them, and his partner Morgan (Doug Hutchinson). Vincent D'Onofrio is Pooh Bear, who is the Crystal Meth king and has taken so much of the drug he has lost his nose. Other bit players include Deborah Kara Unger, his abused next door neighbour, and Quincy (Luis Guzman), her boyfriend. She offers a friendship that never quite matures and he offers nothing but misery.

    From the outset we gain a glimpse into the history of Crystal Meth, its origins, manufacture and quite graphically, its uses (shades of Requiem for a Dream, but Requiem was much more graphic). Parker is now in the middle of a goth/punk lifestyle where he not only takes the drug, he also deals it to others. He is a man who lives on the edge though, as the two bent cops use him to snitch on other drug dealers and bust them. Along for the ride are Danny's friend, Jimmy (Peter Sarsgaard), who will do anything for Danny, although he has no real idea who he is and a bunch of other crystal meth misfits who can't even plan a robbery in their own minds (which turns into quite a funny scene). Danny, though, seems to be struggling with his own place in things. So long has he been immersed and with the cops hassling him, he decides to stake it all on a one shot deal with Pooh Bear. The problem is, Pooh Bear is probably the most dangerous dealer in the city. Beneath all of this though, nobody knows that Danny has his own agenda, an agenda in which Tom Van Allen is a part and which will ultimately pull all the pieces of the puzzle into order.

    When I first saw the cover for this movie at the video store I thought it was some sort of punk rock movie. When I first sat down to review the movie I had visions of a typical piece of Hollywood fare, but this is far from it. Firstly, the cast of this movie is extremely well chosen. The style and pace of the movie isn't typical Hollywood either, because a very dark and seedy part of life is portrayed. There are no bright lights here. There are lots of dark places. Characters and even the walls sweat and peel with decay. Kilmer provides a voice-over monologue to prime you for what is ahead, the trumpet plays its funereal dirge and the building burns slowly, a metaphor for his life as Danny Parker. This is a very good movie which I thoroughly enjoyed once I got past the packaging. If you enjoy something different, then this is one that needs to be in your collection.

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Transfer Quality


    An excellent transfer to DVD is the order of the day here with only minor problems to spoil your viewing pleasure.

    The aspect ratio of the transfer is 1.78:1 and it is 16x9 enhanced, which is very close to its theatrical release of 1.85:1

    Grain is very minimal throughout, with no major problems attributable to it. No low level noise was noted with solid blacks at all times. Shadow detail is excellent with solid backgrounds providing plenty of depth to the picture. Fine detail is plentiful for a very pleasing presentation.

    There are no problems with the colour on this disc with an excellent palette in use. The saturation levels are excellent with skin tones spot on and no colour bleed or chroma noise noted.

    Some slight aliasing on a phone cord at 13:44 and some pixelization at 1:01 along a trumpet are the worst of the glitches noted. No film artefacts were noted and if any exist they were so small as to be insignificant. No MPEG break-up was detected and any other artefacts were pleasantly absent.

    We have standard fare for the subtitles, being white with a black border. They are small and well placed, offering little interference with the visuals and are very precise to the spoken word.

    The layer change occurs at 55:26 mid scene but is so well placed as to be almost unnoticeable.

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


    An English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack at 384 kilobits adorns this DVD. From the outset, there is a lot to relish with this soundtrack. There is an excellent soundfield generated from the front speakers with lots of separation. Ably supported by some good rear work, the immersive quality is high without being overpowering and sustained energy from the music augmented the sometimes slow-moving pace of the movie.

    There are no problems with the dialogue, although Vincent D'Onofrio's 'noseless' speech was a little hard to discern when he first appeared, but you quickly get used to it. There were no discernable syncing issues throughout.

    The music is by Thomas Newman and is a real highlight of the movie. Trumpet and blues mixed in with cranking techno sounds throughout give this a really diverse flavour. At no time does the music dominate or become overpowering - Newman has a deft touch that is appreciated.

    The surround channels are well utilised to add a very full envelope, especially to the music used in the movie. There is little in the way of isolated channel work with the rears taking on mono characteristics but they are used quite a bit and add significantly to the overall quality of the soundtrack.

    The subwoofer is used in a slightly muted way. It never really draws full attention to itself but there is a solid undercurrent when needed to add that extra dimension to the soundtrack.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Main Menu Audio

    Taken from the movie soundtrack, this loops around every 30 seconds.


    At 9:53, this is a series of interviews with the actors and the director entitled Embracing the Chaos. A Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is utilised and this is background information on the movie as well as the actors and the director discussing the methods he used to make the movie. Short, sweet and reasonably interesting.

Listing-Cast & Crew

    A 1 page listing of the credits.


    An 8:14 running time short, shot in 1.33:1 format and not 16x9 enhanced. Titled Meth & Method, this outlines the design of The Salton Sea including interviews with Tom Southwell (production designer). This also includes details on various scenes like the Meth Lab, buying guns, Pooh Bear's Ranch, the bar and other sets.

Theatrical Trailer

    With a running time of 2:03, this is shown in 1.85:1 format and is 16x9 enhanced.

R4 vs R1

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

    Both the Region 1 and Region 4 releases appear to be precisely the same except the R1 gets a French Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and we get an Italian 5.1 track.


    A depressing world inhabited by depressing people whose only outlet seems to be drugs; either taking them or busting those that use them. Even the walls scream out for a coat of paint in this dark, dank and seedy movie about the underbelly of life. The Salton Sea won't appeal to everyone, but if you like your movies without all the glitz and glamour, then you could do worse. Strong casting, an excellent plot with plenty of twists, well acted with strong direction and you have something to savour. Personally recommended!

Ratings (out of 5)


© Carl Berry (read my bio)
Sunday, October 19, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDSony NS-305, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Xelos (81cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderRotel RSP-976. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationRotel RB 985 MkII
SpeakersJBL TLX16s Front Speakers, Polk Audio LS fx di/bipole Rear Speakers, Polk Audio CS350-LS Centre Speaker, M&KV-75 Subwoofer

Other Reviews
DVD Net - Vincent C
Jeff K's Australian DVD Info Site - Andrea G

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