Dead Man Walking (MGM) (1995)

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Released 18-Feb-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Audio Commentary-Tim Robbins (Director)
Theatrical Trailer
TV Spots
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 1995
Running Time 117:38
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Tim Robbins
Studio
Distributor

MGM
Starring Susan Sarandon
Sean Penn
Robert Prosky
Raymond J. Barry
R. Lee Ermey
Celia Weston
Lois Smith
Scott Wilson
Roberta Maxwell
Margo Martindale
Barton Heyman
Steve Boles
Nesbitt Blaisdell
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $19.95 Music Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
David Robbins
Bruce Springsteen


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/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 for the Hearing Impaired
French
Spanish
Dutch
Hungarian
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    Every now and again one is fortunate enough to come across a film that speaks so truthfully and passionately that one cannot help but be compelled by its every frame. To me Tim Robbins, now an Academy Award winner actor for his performance in Mystic River, has crafted such a film in Dead Man Walking. It is to me, without question, one of the very best and most powerful of films of all time. How it was not nominated for (let alone the fact it didn't win) Best Picture in 1995 continues to confound me, although considering that during the 90s such unworthy films as Forrest Gump and Shakespeare in Love received such honours, perhaps the Academy's ignorance adds rather than detracts from its quality.

    Whilst liberties, necessarily, were taken with the story, the film is a fine adaptation of the equally compelling non-fiction book written by Sister Helen Prejean, which recounts in heart-rending detail her experiences with inmates on death row. At no point does Tim Robbins or his extraordinary cast resort to cheap melodrama or histrionic support of or opposition to the death penalty, as so many lesser films have; Alan Parker's egregious The Life of David Gale is a recent example. It refuses to take shortcuts or gloss over the horrors of crime and its punishment. Our intense emotional response to the plight of all the characters, not just simplified caricatures of 'victims' and 'monsters' is utterly genuine because at every turn the film refuses to unfairly manipulate us with contrivances of plot or an overbearing film score. The characters, obviously based on real people, are quintessentially human - flawed, hypocritical, weak, strong, complex beyond reckoning and are nobly played by a cast of wonderful actors. Of course there are the two remarkable lead performances - Susan Sarandon's Helen Prejean demonstrates such a keen understanding of her character (it won her a long overdue Academy Award), whilst the leonine Sean Penn delves so deeply into his extraordinary talent, we cannot help but be mesmerized, not by his acting for within moments we lose sight of the performance itself, but by this character he so completely inhabits. However one should not forget however the performances of such wonderful character actors as R. Lee Ermey, Celia Weston and particularly Alan J. Barry, whose portrayals of parents grieving the loss of their children are infinitely moving.

    If you have not already, see this film soon.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Thankfully we have been presented with an excellent 16x9 enhanced transfer at an approximately 1.85:1 aspect ratio.

    Comparing this to my Region 2 title I found the transfer to be exactly the same - in fact the DVD as a whole is almost identical.

    There are fantastic levels of sharpness throughout. Blacks were clean and clear and shadow detail was excellent. Most of the film occurs indoors or during the day so lighting is excellent and the transfer reflects that fact.

    Colours are realistic and life-like, and brilliantly rendered. Lensed by the prodigiously talented Roger Deakins this film is wonderful to behold. The black and white photography, used sparingly and to remarkable effect, is crisp and clear. Colours during the 'home movies' are deliberately washed out and yellowed for that authentic look - but this of course is not a distraction, and merely adds to the realism of the drama.

    MPEG artefacts weren't a significant problem at all - only at 106:49 was I little concerned. The 'home movies' are deliberately grainy and so a few artefacts are noticeable but never distracting. There were a few incidents of aliasing (see 11:55 or 14:03 for examples), but these were minor.

    Film artefacts are fairly minimal. They do occur, particularly in the opening credits (black screen) are they noticeable, but certainly their appearance isn't of concern.

    We are presented with five choices of subtitles - English for the Hearing Impaired, French, Dutch, Hungarian and Spanish. I tested out the English and French tracks and they are well done and certainly don't dumb the dialogue down too much, as some tracks are prone to do.

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

Audio

    We are presented with three audio tracks (four counting the director's commentary): English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 2.0 and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0. The French and Spanish tracks are well handled, and the audio sync is commendable (always a difficult job). There is minimal surround speaker use. The English 5.1 Dolby Digital track is far more immersive, and whilst not aggressive, there is some good separation of sound and greater clarity. The music used in the film is subtle but effective, ranging from haunting Armenian choral works to impressive solo vocal performances by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Bruce Springsteen and Eddie Vedder.

    The subwoofer doesn't get a whole lot to do, but this isn't Independence Day, and in fact an overtly bassy soundtrack would have detracted from the film.

    Most importantly, dialogue is clear and always easy to understand, there are no audio sync problems and pops and drop-outs are negligible.

    In sum, an audio transfer perfectly suited to this film.

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

Extras

Audio Commentary

    There are not a whole lot of extras but there is a small gem amongst them - an audio commentary from writer/director/partner of Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins. There are gaps and silences in the commentary, but when he is talking, it is passionately and articulately. He is opinionated no doubt, and some won't agree with his views, but it is an informative and intelligent track that deserves a listen. Some may find he strays away from the technical aspect of filmmaking too much but I think there is a good mix of material covered.

Trailer

    The trailer is presented at 1.33:1 and is not 16x9 enhanced, running for 2:28. Apart from the aspect ratio butchery I thought that this trailer was one of the worst I'd seen - the music was wrong, the emphasis on the story was wrong - far more thriller than philosophical drama. Disappointing.

TV Spot

    The far shorter (0:32) TV spot (slightly less than 1.33:1 and not 16x9 enhanced), is far better in conveying a sense of the film's character and uses quotes from influential film critics to good effect.

R4 vs R1

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

     There have been so many releases and re-releases of this title around the world - by Polygram and then MGM - that it is hard to keep up. However, based on the information available I would suggest that our Region 4 disc is a winner for the standard PAL/NTSC and price differences, unless you want an additional Fullscreen transfer, in which case opt for the Region 1.

Summary

    Simply put, this film is a masterpiece. Do not hesitate to see it.

    The video transfer is excellent.

    The audio transfer is clear and perfectly suits the tone of the film. The soundtrack is brilliant in its subtle power.

    The extras a small in number but an audio commentary makes all the difference.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Scott Murray (Dont read my bio - it's terrible.)
Saturday, May 01, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDYamaha DVR-S100, using Component output
DisplaySony 76cm Widescreen Trinitron TV. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD Player, Dolby Digital and DTS. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationYamaha DVR-S100 (built in)
SpeakersYamaha NX-S100S 5 speakers, Yamaha SW-S100 160W subwoofer

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