Three Kings (1999)

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Released 21-Jun-2000

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Dolby Digital Trailer-Rain
Listing-Cast & Crew
Easter Egg-Password on C&C screen
Audio Commentary-David O. Russell (Dir)
Audio Commentary-Charles Roven (Prod) & Ed McDonnell (Prod)
Production Notes
Featurette-Under The Bunker
Featurette-Tour Of The Iraqi Village Set
Featurette-Director David O. Russell's Video Journal
Deleted Scenes-with and without commentary
Interviews-Crew-Director of Photography
Featurette-Intimate Look Inside The Acting Process w/Ice Cube
Gallery-Photo
Theatrical Trailer
DVD-ROM Extras
Rating Rated R
Year Of Production 1999
Running Time 110:05
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (73:03) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By David O. Russell
Studio
Distributor

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring George Clooney
Mark Wahlberg
Ice Cube
Spike Jonze
Nora Dunn
Jamie Kennedy
Mykelti Williamson
Cliff Curtis
Said Taghmaoui
Case Village Roadshow New Style
RPI $34.95 Music Carter Burwell


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    The Gulf War was the first war to be played out to the American public live around the clock via CNN; essentially, it was the first 'television war'. And of course, the media being what it is, and the public being as gullible as they are, it wasn't difficult for military spin doctors to keep people ignorant as to the vested interest the US Government had in keeping peace in the Middle East - oil. The Iraqi public soon found out, though, when the civic uprising against Saddam Hussein suggested by George Bush began turning sour and American aid was not forthcoming.

    When visiting the Warner Bros. studios, low-budget director David O. Russell saw promise in a story concept about a gold heist during the Gulf War. He spent a year and a half creating a script around his vision, and the end result is probably quite different from what the studio heads had expected. Ostensibly an action picture, the film is consistently quirky, interesting and creatively presented, yet underneath the gloss the structure is quite traditional.

    George Clooney plays Archie Gates, a Special Forces officer disgusted with the war and eager to retire. When he hears that three officers (Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube and Spike Jonze) have discovered a map revealing the location of stolen Kuwaiti gold, he dumps the news reporter he's supposed to be escorting and plans a heist to steal it for themselves. What begins as an amoral caper film quickly turns into a deeper, more sombre piece in the second act, when the soldiers realize the war that they thought was over is still very much in progress, except that now Saddam's soldiers are attacking civilians.

    Despite the uniformly strong performances, the standout feature here is Russell's writing. There's a good amount of his trademark black humour and he does a fine job of driving the film's ideas home to the slower members of the audience without beating the rest over the head. However, he admits that he intended to experiment with the look of the film and make it unlike any other war film, and occasionally he oversteps the mark and makes the audience too aware that they're watching a film, rather than being involved in it.

    The Australian theatrical release was cut to avoid an R rating. The scene that caused the censors problems is on the disc and maybe I need help, but it didn't cause me any problems at all. I am very surprised that the OFLC consider that this film requires our strongest rating (and tried to ban Romance). I really wonder whether they've lost touch with the public they're trying to 'protect'.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The first thing you notice when you start playing this disc is the large message that flashes up on your screen.

    This notice is the result of a mass of complaints directed to Roadshow Home Entertainment and Warner from aesthetically-challenged 'film buffs' who didn't realize that the green tint during some sections of The Matrix was INTENTIONAL. Yes folks, the time has come when many viewers don't bother to watch films in cinemas anymore, believing their crummy home system compares with the experience that only a top-notch theatre can provide. Match that attitude with panic and confusion about images that look different to what they're used to (even when artistically justified), and bang! The Matrix fiasco. Anybody who'd seen the film theatrically would know that the disc is a fantastic representation of the directors intentions.

    Likewise, Three Kings is a film which utilizes different visual styles, in this case to symbolize emotional states in the lead characters. As Director David O. Russell states during his commentary, the film rarely uses conventional stock or processing techniques. The early parts of the film (before the soldiers reach the Iraqi village) are processed with a technique known as 'bleach bypass' which stops silver being removed from the negative. This deepens blacks and boosts contrast, similar to how many consumers set their TV sets while watching Blue Heelers. When the soldiers reach the village, a different film stock is used. The stock is called Ektachrome and is used for still photography. It pushes colours up to a unnatural, surreal level and adds another unique look to this section.

    Because of these processes, the image does not look like your standard Hollywood picture, but that was the intention while making the film. Grain is often drawn out of the image, shadow detail is crushed, resolution varies and the opening sequences of the film are virtually monochromatic. The director and DOP also use other techniques like dropped frames and time lapse photography to convey emotions, and the film occasionally suffers from this when style overpowers story. The video transfer reflects these artistic choices perfectly, and as such, this is an excellent job.

    Artefacts were few and far between. I noticed no significant MPEG artefacts during the film, although there are mild compression artefacts visible during the extras. There was no sign of aliasing or telecine wobble, and virtually no film artefacts.

    This disc is an RSDL disc, but I can't locate the layer change. I guess that means it's well placed. (Ed. The layer change is at 73:03, during Chapter 21.)

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

Audio

    The disc contains three audio tracks; an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and two commentary tracks.

    This is a slightly troubling soundtrack, but it appears that the problem is inherent to the film and not the R4 transfer. What problem, you ask? Well, the film was shot in 78 days in difficult conditions and under pressure from the studio, and it appears that there wasn't time to capture some dialogue properly. There's a lot of edgy, distorted dialogue on this disc, mainly from George Clooney. It was so prevalent, I had to check my system with other discs to be sure I hadn't somehow blown my tweeters. The same problem seems to exist on the US disc, so I have to assume it's a problem with the master.

    I didn't notice any problems with audio sync, but I never do, as I don't have an early-generation Pioneer (smirk!). There were no problems with clicks, pop or dropouts, unlike earlier Village mastering efforts on the Hollywood Plus card.

    The musical score is terrific. The IMDB lists two sources for the score; the excellent Carter Burwell, and Thomas Newton (part of the score from Flesh and Bone was used here). I can't be sure which was which, as I've never seen Flesh and Bone, but the tribal/jazz percussion during the action sequences were exciting and very fitting. The score never descended into pseudo Middle Eastern twaddle, which a lesser composer could have done.

    The surrounds were well used, with plenty of opportunities seized to have bullets whizz across the soundstage.

    The subwoofer channel is present and correct, making every explosion nice and meaty. It's not as energetic as an A-grade Hollywood doofus film, but should be satisfying at reference level.

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

Extras

    GOOD LORD! Extras aplenty here, and they're all goooood.

Animated Menus

    Yay! Exciting, thrilling, wahey!

Cast & Crew Listing

    Bland as buggery, really. Unless you find... no, that would be telling.

Production Notes

    Basic, but some useful information can be found here.

Theatrical Trailer

    In good quality, but only in stereo. Russell was dissatisfied with the marketing angle for the film, complaining during the commentary, 'Stealing gold? Come on, I've seen a hundred films where people steal gold!'.

Featurette - Under the Bunker

    This is really pretty good! Usually these kinds of studio-produced docos are bland and uninformative, but there's a lot of interview footage that goes beyond the usual, 'well, this film was really exciting because..' dross.

Featurette - Tour of the Iraqi Village Set

    In which the production designer shows us how a major location was designed in Mexico, and the concessions made to accommodate the unusual film stock. Also, we're shown the level of detail and authenticity to real Iraqi architecture and culture.

Deleted Scenes (with commentary or production audio)

    These are more accurately extensions to existing scenes. Russell explains his reasons for trimming each scene in the accompanying commentary. An exception is an unused scene with inflatable vehicles, which I would have liked to have seen used, but I understand the reasoning behind leaving it out.

Audio Commentaries (Commentary 1-David O. Russell-Director, Commentary 2-Charles Roven & Ed McDonnell-Producers)

    Good stuff! All three participants are apparently eager to divulge as much as possible about the background to the film, and the results are very strong. Russell also explains a lot of the technical processes with the varying looks and the difficulties of shooting on a desert set.

Interview with Director Of Photography Newton Thomas Sigel

    More discussion of the unique visual styles of the film.

David O. Russell's Video Diary

    Russell carried a video camera through most of the casting process and during discussions with the studio. It's interesting to see the machinations that directors have to go through to get things done their way!

Featurette - An Intimate Look Inside the Acting Process with Ice Cube

    It seems Spike Jonze was acting as an unofficial on-set stills photographer, as he contributed this and the special photography to the package. Entertaining enough, but nothing fantastic.

Special Photography

    Un-annotated stills.

Easter Eggs

    I found two. There may be more.

DVD-ROM Features

    Essentially this is a copy of the Three Kings web site, so you get all the online streaming video at DVD speed. There's also a lot of CNN information for those who don't know many facts about the conflict, as well as extra interviews 'and more'.

R4 vs R1

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

    I don't think there's much, if anything, missing from our version, so I'd have to say the R4 is the winner. Hurray!

Summary

    While falling short of being a masterpiece, this is a very worthy purchase.

    The video quality is very good, being an accurate representation of a non-traditional source.

    The audio quality is good, with dialogue distortion letting down an otherwise strong soundtrack.

    The extras are fantastic, making this one of the best R4 special editions so far.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Paul Dossett (read my bio here or check out my music at MP3.com.)
Monday, June 19, 2000
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer 103S DVD-ROM with Hollywood Plus decoder card, using S-Video output
DisplayMitsubishi DiVA (78cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver.
AmplificationYamaha DSP-A1
SpeakersFront L/R: Richter Excalibur SE, Centre: Richter Unicorn Mk 2, Surrounds: Richter Hydras

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