Dead Heart (1996)

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Released 7-Apr-2005

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Audio Commentary-Bryan Brown (Actor/Producer) And Nick Parsons (Director)
Script To Screen Comparison-Script, Screen And Storyboard
Filmographies-Cast & Crew
Gallery-Photo-Dead Heart On Screen And On Location
Interviews-Cast & Crew-Bryan Brown And Nick Parsons On 'Sunday'
TV Spots-NT Save Water Campaign
Notes-Dead Heart On Stage
Theatrical Trailer
Short Film-The Portrait Of Wendy's Father
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 1996
Running Time 101:34
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (73:57) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Nick Parsons

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Bryan Brown
Ernie Dingo
Angie Milliken
Gnarnayarrahe Waitairie
Aaron Pedersen
John Jarratt
Anne Tenney
Lewis Fitz-Gerald
Lafe Charlton
David Gulpilil
Billy McPherson
Stanley Mirindo
Berynn Schwerdt
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $19.95 Music Stephen Rae

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (320Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio Unknown 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

    Dead Heart is a gripping, dramatic thriller, set in the Australian outback on an Aboriginal settlement. Starring the iconic visage of Bryan Brown (also the producer of the film), the film follows Ray, a taciturn police officer with a penchant for beer, who must tread the fine (and occasionally treacherous) line between indigenous and white cultures. This fine line is irrevocably destroyed when a sacred site is desecrated by the foolish and adulterous frolicking of young lovers Kate and Tony. (For those who are squeamish about such things, this film is quite explicit and there is frontal nudity of both actors.) The fact that Tony is a young aboriginal man, already at odds with his culture, and Kate is white and the wife of the local school teacher, exacerbates the tension in the small and fragile settlement of Wala Wala.

    Angie Milliken plays Kate, a young mother of two children, living in Wala Wala with her husband, Les (Lewis Fitz-Gerald), the only teacher in the tiny settlement school. Tony, played by Aaron Pedersen, offers Kate the excitement and mystique of Aboriginal culture, a hands on experience (if you will) compared to the often voyeuristic observations by Les, or by Charlie (John Jarratt, seen recently on the big screen in Wolf Creek), an anthropologist studying the indigenous culture in Wala Wala. A strange hub of indigenous Australia, Wala Wala's Aboriginal community is a magnet for a variety of whites with different agendas. Along with Kate, Les, and Charlie, there is also Dave, played by Ernie Dingo, an Aboriginal priest, trying to convert his own people to Christianity, and there is also Sarah (Anne Tenney), the local doctor and Charlie's partner. And of course, there is Ray, the police sergeant who must maintain some semblance of white order in a black community.

    Every actor in this ensemble piece gives an outstanding performance, but special notice should go to Angie Milliken (who was great in What I Have Written...) and Aaron Pedersen, the young lovers who cause so much trouble. I thought Ernie Dingo was only a comedian, but after this film it would be hard to think of him as anything else than a great actor. And Bryan Brown's amazing performance holds the whole film together, creating in Ray a character who is both reprehensible in his narrow view of the world and admirable for his dedication to truth and justice.

    The narrative foundation of Dead Heart is ripe for a didactic sermon on the hot button topic of white and black Australia, so it is a welcome relief that writer and director Nick Parsons never succumbs to such obvious temptations, and from start to finish maintains the film's strong generic thread through its story. Dead Heart is first and foremost a police procedural thriller, and the topicality of its contemporary themes of the relationship between whites and Aboriginal are weaved seamlessly into the story of Ray's investigation into a suspicious murder.

    According to the extras on this DVD, Parsons wrote the original screenplay, which he showed to Brown. Brown was so impressed he insisted he wanted the role of Ray for himself and also offered to produce, to make sure the film went into production. Before that could happen though, Parsons was commissioned to turn his screenplay into a play, which was subsequently performed at least twice. After that, both Parsons and Brown went back and re-wrote the screenplay into its current form and this is what they used to produce the film we have here. I'm not usually one to champion Australian films, however Dead Heart is a striking example of the filmmaking talent that exists in Australia, and the best work of our industry does not always have to be as the technical crew on American films made here. Whether you want to see a film that speaks to contemporary Australian issues or is simply a solid and exciting thriller, then Dead Heart is a fantastic film, with powerful resonances that linger long after the film has finished.

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Transfer Quality


    IMDB does not list technical specifications for Dead Heart, which is presented on this DVD in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced. I didn't notice any unusual cropping or framing problems, so there is a good chance the film's original aspect ratio was 1.85:1. Neither Parsons nor Brown mention anything about the cinematography in their commentary, other than to praise the work of cinematographer James Bartle.

    The bad news is Dead Heart has been given a poor video transfer, which is very disappointing for a film only ten years old. The sharpness is only average, and many scenes are plagued by excessive grain and low level noise, such as a night scene at 5:25 - 10:25. Some shots are okay, and others are very grainy, which is a distraction in what is a pivotal early scene. The print has seen better days, and this grain might be a problem with the source, as there are a number of scratches and blemishes throughout the transfer.

    Other problems, such as posterization and edge enhancement, are also noticeable, along with telecine wobble. The edge enhancement is particularly noticeable on Ray when he is tracking in the desert, such as at 85:40 - 85:45. Colour is deliberately muted to match the sunburnt aesthetic of the Australian outback. When there is a requirement for deep colours though the transfer does an okay job.

    The subtitles are mostly accurate, and are often a necessity as many characters speak very quickly and switch back and forth between English and the native languages, which are also served by burnt in subtitles.

    This is an RSDL disc and the layer change occurs at 73:57. It is well placed with only slight pause, noticeable because of some soft music.

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


    There are only two audio tracks: the default English track, which is Dolby Digital 5.1 (448 kb/s), and the commentary track which is Dolby Digital 2.0 (320 kb/s).

    Dialogue quality is mostly very good, but there are a number of scenes with characters, often with thick accents, talking over each other. The plot in the first half of the film moves very quickly and some of the dialogue is easily missed just getting your bearings. In these scenes, the subtitles are your friend. I didn't notice any problems with the audio sync.

    The music is credited to Stephen Rae who does a good job of capturing the mood of the story as well as the Aboriginal themes. It is mostly a sedate score, and its presence can be very powerful when it is called upon to help dramatise a scene.

    There is not a lot of surround presence, which is to be expected of a dialogue heavy film. Most of the activity is located in the front three speakers, and occasionally effects and mostly music find their way to the rears. Likewise, the subwoofer is only occasionally employed for low frequency effects and music support.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use




    The menu is a short loop of a scene from the start of the film, 16x9 enhanced, and suffers from some obvious telecine wobble. Most of the menus are well laid out, but they are very slow.

Audio Commentary - Bryan Brown (Actor/Producer) And Nick Parsons (Director)

    A good scene specific commentary by Brown and Parsons, they both offer a lot of insight into the film, its origins, and its production. There are only occasional lapses into silence, and Brown has the occasional lapse in his memory, but otherwise this is a commentary well worth your time.

Script To Screen Comparison-Script, Screen And Storyboard

    Just as the name says. Effective enough, but these comparisons never interest me.

Filmographies - Cast & Crew

Photo Gallery - Dead Heart On Screen And On Location

    There are only 7 photos in this gallery.

Interviews - Cast & Crew-Bryan Brown And Nick Parsons On 'Sunday'

    Bryan Brown (8:25): Brown talks about how he got involved in the production and about his dedication to being in it and producing it. The video is 16x9, but the audio sync is way off.

    Nick Parsons (21:22): Parsons talks about where he got the original story from, the development of the first screenplay into a theatrical play before being re-written again for the screen, as well as the themes, production, and reception of the film. Again, the video is 16x9 and the audio sync is off.

TV Spots-NT Save Water Campaign

    In return for the use of camels in a small scene in Dead Heart, Bryan Brown promised to appear in a television ad promoting the conservation of water in the Northern Territory.

Dead Heart On Stage

    Dead Heart appeared on stage at least twice, staged by the NIDA Theatre and by the Belvoir St and Perth's Black Swan Theatre Company, and this extra gives some information about both.

    NIDA Production: Cast list and gallery of 10 photos.

    Belvoir St Production: Cast list, promotional poster, and short video of a scene from the play (1:15), and gallery of 11 photos.

Theatrical Trailer (1:59)

    Average video quality, in the 1.33:1 ratio, this trailer gives a good impression of the film as a mystery and a thriller without giving too much away.

Short Film - The Portrait Of Wendy's Father (19:30)

    This is Nick Parsons' short film, made at the Australian Film Television and Radio School. It's shot in black and white, in a 1.33:1 ratio, with Dolby Digital 2.0 (320Kb/s) audio. I didn't like this short film at all, but it is still a good inclusion in the Extras.


    There is a 44 page PDF document on this disc called Dead Heart Study Guide, which indicates it is obviously intended for use in school classrooms. It is mostly a very detailed journal by Nick Parsons on his journey to the Northern Territory to research his story. There are also a lot of notes on the film, which include short clips of the film to act as examples. In the last few pages there are number of reviews by film critics, and not surprisingly they all praise the film.

R4 vs R1

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

    Dead Heart does not seem to have been released anywhere else in the world, which seems to be a real shame.


    Dead Heart is an outstanding film, cleverly mixing the topicality of Aboriginal issues into a solid police thriller.

    The video quality is very disappointing, and is plagued by excessive grain, noise, posterization, and edge enhancement.

    The audio quality is not too bad, but is a mostly uneventful soundtrack.

    The Dead Heart disc has been given an enviable collection of Extras, such as an insightful commentary, two interviews, a short film, and a PDF study guide.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Michael Cohen (read my bio)
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Review Equipment
DVDPhilips 860, using RGB output
DisplaySony 76cm FD Trinitron WEGA KV-HX32 M31. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL).

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