Bangkok Hilton (1989)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 17-Aug-2005

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1989
Running Time 256:51 (Case: 270)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Ken Cameron
Kennedy Miller
Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Nicole Kidman
Denholm Elliott
Hugo Weaving
Joy Smithers
Norman Kaye
Jerome Ehlers
Pauline Chan
Noah Taylor
Richard Carter
Gerda Nicolson
Judy Morris
Case Amaray-Transparent-S/C-Dual
RPI $34.95 Music Graeme Revell

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 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English 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

    The 1980s was the era of the TV mini-series. Whilst today we have to endure the mindless voyeurism of "reality TV", back then drama was king and epic stories were played out over three or four days of movie-length viewing. As is usual when a genre is the flavour of the minute, there was a mixed bag of high quality and also-rans, but the leader in Australian made mini-series was Kennedy Miller Productions. This company was responsible for some landmark productions in Australian film. Mad Max, The Year My Voice Broke, Babe and Dead Calm were all from Kennedy Miller, as well as defining mini-series such as Bodyline, The Dismissal, The Cowra Breakout and Bangkok Hilton.

    Kennedy Miller seemed to have the knack of being able to make films with a very Australian flavour without the cultural cringe or overstated "Australian-ness" that seems to dog so many Australian films. High production standards and brilliant ensemble casts characterised a Kennedy Miller mini-series and Bangkok Hilton was one of its most successful. This was Nicole Kidman's last local role before she was catapulted onto the world stage following her role in Days Of Thunder.

    Bangkok Hilton tells the story of  Kat Stanton (Nicole Kidman), who travels to England to find the father she never knew (Denholm Elliott). In London she only manages to find a slender lead that he may be in Bangkok, but while trying to reorganise her flight home she happens to meet a charming and kind photographer, Arkie. Kat spends an idyllic week with him in London and India before he accompanies her back to Australia. She persuades Arkie to stop off in Bangkok en route so she can to continue the search for her father, but she is again unable to locate him.

    It is while leaving Thailand that her world is rent apart. Thai Customs discovers over 2kg of heroin hidden in a camera bag that was a gift from Arkie and Kat finds herself detained by Customs. Arkie has vanished, leaving her to explain the presence of the heroin to a disbelieving Thai police force.

    While she awaits trial charged with trafficking drugs, she has to endure the sordid conditions of a notorious Bangkok prison the Western inmates have dubbed "The Bangkok Hilton". With no way of proving her innocence, she faces a certain death penalty unless her lawyer (Hugo Weaving) and the man she doesn't know is her father can build a solid defence for her.

   This is first rate drama that keeps you interested throughout the three 90 minute episodes. The entire cast provide strong performances but it is Nicole Kidman and veteran British actor Delholm Elliott that shine. Elliott plays the alcoholic father determined to hold himself together and save his daughter to perfection.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


    The three episodes are spread over two discs (two on disc one and one on disc two) and presented in a 1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced format, which is not the true aspect ratio. Made for television in the late 1980s this was originally filmed at 1.33:1 and has been soft-matted to the widescreen format. The cropping is very obvious in some scenes giving quite an odd look to some shots which were clearly framed with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio in mind. This was annoying to the extreme in some cases.

    For years sites like this one have been preaching against pan and scan; educating viewers that the black bars at the top of your screen do not mean less picture and pleading with studios not to crop the edges off their movies. Now, it seems, the pendulum has swung and studios are sacrificing at the altar of widescreen. Either the proliferation of widescreen TVs has caused uninformed viewers to complain about the black bars at the sides, or else the studios have picked up the widescreen mantra like religious zealots; whichever it is, older movies and TV series seem to be cropped more and more into widescreen format. Can't the studios understand that what we want is original aspect ratios, not cropped "corrections" to accommodate the latest marketing attempt?

    Aside from the cropping, the picture is fair for a TV series over 15 years old, but is far from ideal.

    The image has an overall grainy look to it caused, in part, by some minor MPEG blocking. A mediocre bit-rate of around 7mbps would not help here, but the problem is probably exacerbated by general grain that would have been standard in that era.

    Sharpness is a major issue. The image rarely looks very sharp, again not surprising given the age of the film, but in some shots it goes beyond soft to out-of-focus and is actually hard on the eyes.

    There are no obvious film artefacts to be seen, and colour is generally good.

    In short, this is not the best transfer it could have been and it has made a good drama a bit of a disappointment to watch.

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


    Audio is as equally disappointing as the video. In an effort to update, the audio has been remixed to Dolby Digital 5.1, and it is not a good job.

    Most of the surround activity has been given to the score with the dialogue holding centre speaker most of the time. The musical remix to multi-channel has been heavy-handed and there are numerous occasions where the score almost drowns out the dialogue. As Murphy's Law always applies, these moments are usually when key information is being conveyed by the conversation, and you have to strain to follow the plot.

    The sub-woofer is hardly used, although the music does sometimes wake it up just a little.

    There is no hiss, no clicks, nor other audio nasties to be heard. Just the second rate mix.

    The original audio would have been mono or, at best, stereo in 1989, and these discs would have been better if it had been left that way; with at most just an audio clean-up. As with video, please studios, can we have the original film not an updated interpretation?

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


   There are no extras on these discs, just a static menu with background music.

R4 vs R1

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

    As far as I can determine, there is only one version of Bangkok Hilton on DVD, so your choices are limited to which slick appeals the most.


    Bangkok Hilton is a fine television drama that has been let down by a less than impressive transfer. The incorrect aspect ratio and heavy-handed 5.1 remix detract from what should be an enjoyable 4½ hours in front of the television. Once again we have a disc where the time and effort has been put into the packaging so they could promote a widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1 disc set at the expense of fundamental quality in the transfer.

    I have given it an overall three stars on the strength of its plot, cast performances and original production values only, not on the transfer quality.

    As a drama, an excellent mini-series. As a DVD, most disappointing.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Glen Randall (If you're really bored, you can read my bio)
Tuesday, September 06, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba SD-1200Y, using S-Video output
DisplayGrundig M84-210 80cm. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationYamaha RX-V596
SpeakersRichter Wizard fronts, Richter Lynx centre, Richter Hydra rears, Velodyne CT-100 sub-woofer

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Travesty - Neil
Region 2 Version Available - Anonymous
Region 2? - Neil
Dutch version - zetmoon
Reformatting - ChickenEater
Could be worse... (believe it or not) - Neil
Region 2 - Sam
Re: Could be worse.... - wolfgirv
Region Zero version is available - Anonymous