Spartan (2004)

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Released 19-Oct-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Main Menu Audio & Animation
Audio Commentary-Val Kilmer
Trailer-The Statement, The Missing, Shattered Glass
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2004
Running Time 102:08
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By David Mamet

Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Starring Tia Texada
Derek Luke
Val Kilmer
Jeremie Campbell
Bob Jennings
Lionel Mark Smith
Johnny Messner
Chris LaCentra
Renato Magno
Mark FitzGerald
Tony Mamet
Clark Gregg
Ron Butler
Case ?
RPI $39.95 Music Mark Isham

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement Yes, Johnson & Johnson at 44:15.
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

   Director David Mamet’s excellent film Spartan is, like its titular character, lean, fast and tight-lipped. It eschews all subplots and extraneous diversions; it moves from point to point in fast forward like an investigation in Law & Order; and it steadfastly refuses to explain. Deepening intrigue is punctuated by sudden violence. The results are breathless tension, a strong sense of reality, and one of the most compelling thrillers I have seen.

   The less said about the plot, the better; suffice it to say that someone very important has disappeared from her college dorm, and the go-to men of the American government are about to move heaven and earth to find her. Assisting them is the probably-pseudonymous Scott (Val Kilmer), a highly capable and experienced operative whose actual position is shadowy at best. As the clock ticks, and the likelihood grows that the missing girl will be killed, Scott’s warrior nature – his determination to carry out his mission without concern for whys or wherefores, or even his own life – leads him into actions he could scarcely have imagined.

   Full of Mamet’s trademark dialogue, coloured by his cynical worldview, and peopled with many past collaborators, Spartan is nonetheless very different in tone and style to previous works like State and Main or The Spanish Prisoner. There are continuities between Mamet films, but he doesn’t make the same picture over and over again; he chooses a particular genre and explores it faithfully, whether it be the backstage comedy or the paranoid thriller. Spartan has an obsessive single-mindedness to it, a spareness of sound and look that suits the subject matter perfectly. Star Val Kilmer turns in a committed and convincing performance, totally inhabiting the physical and mental persona of his mysterious man of action. He is surrounded by an able supporting cast, including a very vulnerable Kristin Bell as the girl, and a thoroughly Rumsfeldian Ed O’Neill as government security chief Birch.

   Beyond making a thriller, Mamet has two additional purposes here. The first is to examine the mindset of a man who is able to subordinate all goals, values and questions of morality to the larger call of duty. Spartan suggests that this discipline in fact grants a kind of freedom, a release from the constraints of judgment; yet it also leaves the warrior vulnerable to the manipulations of those to whom his duty is owed. This theme is well developed and thought-provoking. Mamet’s second goal is to portray the inner workings of the American executive branch. Prior political views will decide whether you find his take provocative or passé. I think it makes for a good movie, and a bad description of reality. But what do I know? Spartan is worth seeing, either way.

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Transfer Quality


   This is a good – but limited – transfer of a well-shot but understated film.

   The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and is 16x9 enhanced. The original theatrical ratio, however, was 2.35:1. Why the difference? I dunno.

   The image is sharp and clear at all times. Spartan interweaves shadow and light to excellent effect; the transfer conveys plenty of shadow detail, and doesn’t mar it with low level noise.

   The colours are naturalistic, neither washed out nor punched up; when occasional pure tones shine through, though, like the purple light at 19:45 or the yellow at 50:40, they are clear and attractive. There are no colour artefacts.

   Remarkably enough, the transfer manages to avoid aliasing on the blinds at 11:00. There is some, however, on the hangar at 49:29. There’s also some shimmer on the roof at 75:55. Otherwise, there are no film to video artefacts. Oddly, for so recent a film, the transferred print was not pristine, and there is a smattering of small film artefacts.

   There are no subtitles at all on this disc. This is exceptionally annoying for those of us – like me! – who would like to share Spartan with a hearing-impaired loved one. Boo!

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


   This is an adequate, but incomprehensibly unambitious, transfer of a well-judged, minimalistic soundtrack. Why is there no Dolby Digital 5.1 track? I don’t understand.

   There are two audio tracks: a default English Dolby Digital 2.0 track at 192 Kbps, and a commentary by Val Kilmer, also in Dolby Digital 2.0 at 192Kbps.

   Dialogue was clear on both tracks, and unmarred by hiss, clicks or dropouts. There were no synchronisation problems.

   The tense, percussive score is by the talented Mark Isham (Cool World), and is perfectly suited to the film that it accompanies; it adds pace and emotion, but always with subtlety and reserve. It sounds perfectly fine – though hardly enveloping.

   The reason for the lack of envelopment is, of course, that this is a Dolby Digital 2.0 track. So no surround usage!

   Nor is there a dedicated channel for the subwoofer. So not much joy there either, bar any bass your system might redirect.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    There’s only one significant extra here, but it’s a good ‘un.


    Subtle and attractive, the animated menus are well laid out and accompanied by a good piece of music from the film. Plus, they’re not spoilers!

Audio commentary – Val Kilmer

   Despite a few quirks, this is an excellent and highly entertaining track. Kilmer has a reputation as a difficult actor to work with, and one possible reason for this comes through here: his sense of humour can easily be taken the wrong way. For instance, he alternately derides David Mamet as a hack who was unable to manage scenes without his nine-year-old daughter around to tell him what to do, and praises him to the rafters for the quality of his writing and direction. Kilmer is occasionally silent, particularly during his own dialogue, and actually starts his commentary by saying “I’m Val Kilmer… and that’s all I have to say.” And then nothing! For a while, anyway. I really started to think he meant it. But when he continues, Kilmer reveals himself to be a thoughtful man, if slightly disjointed in his remarks. He’s perceptive, clearly very interested in the subject matter, sometimes hilarious, and full of information about the production and his experience on it. You sometimes have to work hard to separate the jokes from the facts, but it’s fun trying!

Trailers – The Statement (2:01), The Missing (2:24), Shattered Glass (2:24)

   While all 16x9 enhanced, these trailers are of mediocre visual quality. The Missing, in particular, suffers from a terrible image. But who watches these things, anyway?

R4 vs R1

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

   The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;

       The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;    No troubles here in separating almost identical releases by minor bonus features – the Region 4 disc is clearly outclassed on the fundamental features of any disc: video and audio. Region 1 is the winner, by a mile.


   Spartan is a simply excellent thriller, on a lamentably compromised DVD.

   The video quality is good – except that we’re missing part of the image!

   The audio quality is fine – except that we’re missing the main soundtrack!

   The extras are good. Well, the commentary is.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Tennant Reed
Monday, November 01, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDSony DVP-NS730P, using Component output
DisplayPanasonic PT-AE500E projecting onto 100" screen. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR601 with DD-EX and DTS-ES
SpeakersJensen SPX-7 fronts, Jensen SPX-13 centre and rear centre, Jensen SPX-4 surrounds, Jensen SPX-17 subwoofer

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Sound issues -
I Agree!!! -
Good show - Pintos Pintos