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Lots of stuff is still broken, but at least reviews can now be looked up and read.
Elephant (2003)

Elephant (2003)

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Released 8-Dec-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio & Animation
Featurette-On The Set Of Elephant: Rolling ThroughTime
Filmographies-Crew-Gus Van Sant (Director)
Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-Bowling For Columbine, The Old Man Who Read Love Stories
Trailer-Owning Mahowny, The Corporation, Osama, The Party's Over
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2003
Running Time 78:05 (Case: 81)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (26:44) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Gus Van Sant

Madman Entertainment
Starring Alex Frost
Eric Deulen
John Robinson
Elias McConnell
Jordan Taylor
Carrie Finklea
Nicole George
Brittany Mountain
Alicia Miles
Kristen Hicks
Bennie Dixon
Nathan Tyson
Timothy Bottoms
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI ? Music Ludwig Van Beethoven

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

An ordinary high school day. Except that it's not.

    Gus Van Sant is an accomplished director, with an interesting and diverse catalogue of work including Good Will Hunting, To Die For and My Own Private Idaho. In this flick, Van Sant takes on the mantle of writer as well as director - and he has written an intriguing piece. I suspect that this film would have a far more chilling significance to an American audience, where the events depicted hit closer to home. Even for Australians however, the message that this film sends is quite clear - and serves as a warning of how a society which provides easy access to guns can slip into the crazy mess depicted here.

    This film is as close to documentary - without actually being a documentary - as mainstream movies come. Using local high school kids and virtually no professional actors (save for Timothy Bottoms), it presents an ordinary day in the life of a high school somewhere in the USA. The "reality" element of the film is carried through to the point that the vast majority of characters are named after the people who play them. Obviously inspired by the events of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, it is clear that this ordinary day will take an horrific turn towards the extraordinary.

    The non-plot unfolds via numerous long tracking shots (frequently featuring the back of people's heads), as the camera follows various characters through their day at school. John gets detention again as his drunken father makes him late for school. Brittany, Jordan and Nicole talk about boys and shopping before self-induced vomiting helps remove any calories lunch may have contributed to their system. Elias wanders the corridors and grounds, taking photographs and developing his works in the school dark room. Eric gets covered in spit balls as he sits quietly at the back of his science class. These scenes are replayed from various points of view, as we experience the ordinary inner workings of high school through the eyes of the different players in this game of life.

    The benign, the banal and the boring. Every day mundane activities drift across the screen in seemingly unconnected vignettes. There is an arty, almost ethereal feel to some of the opening shots, with the viewer feeling like a detached voyeur, peeking into this real school, full of ordinary people. There is a growing sense of dread building however, as we see Eric and his friend Alex ordering guns over the internet. We watch them as they play violent computer games. We see their interest in Nazi historical documentaries on television. We slowly come to see their military plan to launch a violent assault on the school...

    I enjoyed the feeling that the film was largely unscripted - I don't know if this was the case, but the bulk of the dialogue and delivery certainly felt very naturalistic throughout. The young cast did a great job in my book, without being professional actors. Van Sant wisely doesn't offer any real answers for the behaviour of Alex and Eric. He could have chosen to push the barrow of gun control, violent video games, neo-Nazism, repressed homosexuality or mental illness but he avoids such obvious answers. He opens up a range of possible explanations - including all of the aforementioned, but never forces a conclusion. His film simply holds a mirror up to a day in the life of a group of high school students - an extraordinary day to be certain - and presents a controversial topic without hype and without judgement.

    It is this open-endedness that proves intriguing and yet terribly frustrating. It is Elephant's greatest strength, and also its greatest weakness. Are we too used to being spoon-fed a complete story, nicely packaged with Hollywood precision? This film certainly forces you to think about what you are watching, and to draw your own conclusions. It certainly is unsettling and yet remains vaguely unsatisfying. Nevertheless, if you are prepared to watch what is much more of a film than a story, Elephant will deliver a thought-provoking, strikingly shot, absorbing experience. I can certainly recommended this as a rental - possibly even a purchase for collectors of Van Sant's work.

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Transfer Quality


    The overall video transfer of this film is very good.

    The movie is presented in an anamorphic aspect ratio of 1.78:1 which differs from the original 1.37:1 aspect ratio. Surprisingly it seems the image has been cropped to fit our increasingly common widescreen preference, but was originally shot for full screen presentation on HBO in the USA. In this case we see less of the original image, despite the widescreen presentation, losing information from the top and bottom of the screen. Because of the significantly altered aspect ratio, I have deducted one star from the overall video ranking.

    Image sharpness is very satisfying although there are occasional lapses, which simply help to add to the documentary, voyeuristic nature of the film. There is a small amount of grain evident occasionally, but never enough to become a distraction.

    Black levels are deep enough and generally solid throughout. Shadow detail is fine. Colours are solidly rendered and can sometimes be very vivid - John's yellow T-shirt and the red sports outfits really stand out for example. The interiors palette can be a little muted, but this is the nature of the school setting rather than any issue with the transfer process. Skin tones look natural enough.

    The transfer has no issues with MPEG compression artefacts. Aliasing was totally absent on my set-up, but there is some noticeable (although not distracting) edge enhancement present from time to time.

    The transfer does have some noticeable film artefacts present - both positive and negative specks can be seen, but they are not significant enough to become distracting.

    The English subtitles are well timed, easy to read in a bold yellow font, and drop only the odd word for the sake of brevity.

    This is a single sided, dual layer (RSDL) formatted disc, with the layer change unnoticed at 26:44.

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


    The audio transfer is technically rather good.

    There are two English audio tracks available for the film. I listened in full to the Dolby Digital 5.1 version (encoded at a healthy 448 kbps) and sampled the lesser Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track (encoded at 224 kbps). Both tracks are perfectly satisfactory, being free from any significant problems with hiss, clicks or dropouts. The dialogue is always crisp and clear and audio sync was just fine throughout.

    The main music within the film is largely composed of classical pieces. The most striking musical passage is the lovely Beethoven piano composition Fur Elise, which ably demonstrates the stark contrast between Eric's intellectual and artistic abilities and his violent plan that will change the lives of those around him. Strangely, the silence in this film contributes almost as much ambience as the music - the lack of a full-blown musical score once again adds to the realism of the piece and prevents it from feeling like a Hollywood movie.

    The dialogue is soundly anchored in the centre channel in the surround mix and feels very natural throughout. The front speakers carry most of the sound activity and provide some rather nice front soundstage separation and the occasional cross-soundstage pan.

    Most of this movie is dialogue-driven and it therefore needs little more than a frontal soundstage. Nevertheless, there is some quite clever and subtle use of the surround speakers on offer. The audio track contains periods of near silence, ominous rumblings from impending rainstorms and the hubbub of busy school corridors. The surround speakers are sparingly, but wisely, used to envelop you with ambience when it seems appropriate, and politely retreat into the distance when they are no longer needed. This is a very natural sounding audio stage and it is subtly impressive overall.

    There is a minimal degree of subwoofer activity in the movie. Depending on your bass management set up, you may hear the occasional rumble but there is really nothing of any significance in the LFE department. One aspect which again helps lend a feeling of realism to the film is that the gunshots sound pretty tinny - which I suspect is much more realistic than the over-hyped, mega-bass explosions of a typical Hollywood action flick.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    The extras are rather limited.


    The animated main menu is a blurry look along a school corridor, accompanied by ambient noises and a loop of Beethoven's Fur Elise. It allows the options of playing the feature, selecting chapter stops by character or by their route though the school environment, audio format and subtitle selection, plus access to the following extra features:

On the set of Elephant: Rolling Through Time

    This is a behind the scenes piece which runs for 12:06. It is presented letterboxed with a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack encoded at 224 kbps and is rather more arty than your typical EPK piece, but adds little to the package overall.

Gus Van Sant Filmography

    A silent text-based page detailing the director's films to date.

Theatrical Trailer

    Running for 1:54 and presented anamorphically enhanced at 1.85:1 with a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack encoded at 224 kbps.

Madman Propaganda

    Trailers for other Madman releases as follows:

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 release of this film appears to be substantially the same as our own, but does provide a couple of alternatives in the way of audio and video formats.

    The Region 1 release incorporates the following additional features:

    The Region 1 release takes the prize for providing the OAR video format and the additional dts audio track.


    Elephant is an intriguing, slightly frustrating and rather unsettling work by Gus Van Sant. It presents a Columbine-inspired look at that modern day phenomenon, the high school massacre. Presented in a meandering, but stylish, pseudo-verite style this film challenges you to draw your own conclusions, and carefully avoids spoon-feeding its audience. Well worth a rental for those who are prepared to forgo the traditional Hollywood pre-packaged fodder.

    The 1.78:1 video transfer is of a generally high standard, but is substantially altered from the 1.37:1 OAR.

    The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio transfer is satisfying without being overly dramatic.

    Extra features are limited.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Daniel O'Donoghue (You think my bio is funny? Funny how?)
Thursday, September 02, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDMomitsu V880 upconverting DVI player, using DVI output
DisplaySanyo PLV-Z2 WXGA projector. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 720p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR600 with DD-EX and DTS-ES
SpeakersJensenSPX-9 fronts, Jensen SPX-13 Centre, Jensen SPX-5 surrounds, Jensen SPX-17 subwoofer

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