River Queen (2005)

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Released 16-Jan-2007

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Web Links
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2005
Running Time 109:21
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (57:24) Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Vincent Ward

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring Samantha Morton
Kiefer Sutherland
Cliff Curtis
Temuera Morrison
Anton Lesser
Rawiri Pene
Stephen Rea
Wi Kuki Kaa
Mark Ruka
Tyson Reweti
Grayson Putu
Nathan Passfield
Laura Coyte Douglas
Case ?
RPI $34.95 Music Karl Jenkins

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/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 Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

Vincent Ward's films (The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey, Map Of The Human Heart, What Dreams May Come) tend to be a bit of a mixed bag, and River Queen is no exception.

Set in the mid-19th century, it tells the tale of frontier girl Sarah O'Brien (Samantha Morton), the daughter of a British army doctor stationed deep within the uncharted depths of New Zealand. Sarah is the subject of a scandal when she has an affair with a native and falls pregnant. The father of her child dies before the birth from disease brought by the British occupiers from Europe, but Sarah raises the child until he is stolen from her by the child's grandfather a powerful Maori chieftain. As the Maori tribes mount their last attempt at rebellion against the British, Sarah sets out with the aid of a Maori collaborator to find her son.

This film reminded me very strongly of a highly underrated film by Ang Lee, Ride With The Devil. That film was also set in the midst of a civil war, where the line between enemy and foe, family and friend, love and hate is similarly divided. However, River Queen is a far more surreal experience, its action scenes more crude and as a result bloodier. It is also a highly emotionally charged film, but, ultimately, an emotionally confused film lacking the tragedy of the final sequence of Last Of The Mohicans or the bittersweet culmination of Ride With The Devil.

But where I found this film faltering the most was in its structure - a problem that no doubt resulted in its emotional impact being lessened. The exposition in the first 30 minutes relies almost completely on voiceover narrative (often referred to as the weak writer's tool), and wraps up almost the same way. In the middle, the plot often tends to meander, veering off in another direction the moment it seems to have a clear narrative thread and theme. While this has the effect of keeping the narrative unpredictable, it also has the effect of breaking the coherency of the narrative and mixing its messages. The end result is a muddled and almost convenient climax that does not seem to do justice to the back story.

Maybe this is just me being overly critical. There are a lot of things to admire about this film. Although I found Morton to be "going through the motions" somewhat with a pouting frown on her face for most of the film (apparently she hated the process of filming in remote New Zealand), Kiefer Sutherland was a real standout as the Irish marine Doyle, and Cliff Curtis did a great job as Wiremu. The cinematography by Alan Bolinger was outstanding, and the sound editing and special effects were flawless.

This will not be everybody's cup of tea. It is too rambling, too surreal, too "not mainstream" for most audiences. Some scenes just don't gel, or feel even remotely plausible. But there are some sequences with a poetic and breathtaking beauty (especially up on a big screen) that just cannot be denied for their ability to awe.

A mixed bag, but worth the time.

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

Transfer Quality


In a word - magical.

Presented in its full original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, 16x9 enhanced, I watched this projected on my 100" matt white screen via my Sony VLP-HS60 projector, scaled at 1080i by my DVD player over HDMI (and therefore rescaled to 720p by the projector).

I've got absolutely no criticisms here. Shadow detail was about as perfect as you're going to see on SD DVD. Image detail, clarity, colour, crispness - also, all about as good as you're going to get in this format.

No film artefacts or film-to-video artefacts to speak of. This is a very smooth transfer.

Subtitles are available in English for the Hearing Impaired only. They stay fairly true to the dialogue.

The dual layer pause occurs at 57:24. It occurs in the middle of a scene but was so subtle I nearly missed it.

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


Audio is available in English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound only.

This audio track is as good as the video, and an excellent accompaniment. While lacking the depth of 5.1 DTS or 5.1 LPCM, the TA-DA9000ES did an excellent job of processing the Dolby Digital into a theatre-like experience.

While perhaps a little light on the rear surrounds to create that real surrounding ambience, there was plenty of power from the front to create a thunderous battlefield when required.

Dialogue is clear, crisp and undistorted.

There is a lot of front-driven surround material, and the rears come to life with the music and some enveloping battle sequences.

The subwoofer got a great workout to give those old muskets a real blasting effect that is then rounded out by the more subtle bass of the front surrounds.

Not quite a demo disc, but very good quality nevertheless.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



All menus are presented in 1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced, static and silent.


A web link is provided to the Fox studio home page.

R4 vs R1

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

This film was not yet available for purchase on DVD in R1 at the time of this review.


River Queen is a grand, very well made, very interesting film that is nevertheless flawed by an imperfect script that does not quite hang together. Still, a magnificent transfer, and well worth a watch.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Edward McKenzie (I am Jack's raging bio...)
Monday, March 12, 2007
Review Equipment
DVDSony DVPNS92, using HDMI output
DisplaySony VPL-HS60 WXGA 3LCD Cineza Projector (10,000:1 contrast ratio) with 100" Longhom Pro-Series Micro-Textured White Matte PVC 1.78:1 16:9 Fixed Mount Screen with Black Velour Trim. 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.
AmplificationSony TA-DA9000ES
SpeakersJensen QX70 Centre Front, Jensen QX45 Left Front & Right Front, Jensen QX20 Left Rear & Right Rear, Jensen QX-90 Dual 10" 250 Watt Subwoofer

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
voiceover narrative. - wolfgirv REPLY POSTED