Milk (Blu-ray) (2008)

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

Released 17-Jun-2009

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Biography Featurette-Remember Harvey
Featurette-Hollywood Comes to San Francisco
Featurette-Marching for Equality
Web Links-BD-Live: My Scenes, Download Centre
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2008
Running Time 128:18
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Gus Van Sant

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Sean Penn
Emile Hirsch
Josh Brolin
Diego Luna
James Franco
Alison Pill
Victor Garber
Denis O'Hare
Joseph Cross
Stephen Spinella
Lucas Grabeel
Brandon Boyce
Howard Rosenman
Case Amaray Variant
RPI $44.95 Music Danny Elfman

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Unknown English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 (4608Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes, the film is set in the 1970s
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    "My name is Harvey Milk, and I'm here to recruit you."

    Harvey Milk was the first openly gay man elected to public office in the United States. He was instrumental in defeating Proposition 6 in a Californian statewide referendum in 1978, a bill seeking to ban gay teachers from employment in schools (although the former governor of California at the time, Ronald Reagan also influenced the result by opposing the initiative during his presidential campaign). Proposition 6 (or the Briggs Initiative, named after the politician who sponsored the ballot) features predominately in the film's third act, intertwined with Gus Van Sant's exploration of Harvey Milk as the centre of a large, atypical family which grew out of his camera store when he first opened it on Castro Street in 1973.

    Sean Penn plays Harvey Milk, a 40-something year-old New Yorker who decides at the beginning of the film to leave his closeted life behind with his partner Scott (James Franco) to settle in San Francisco. Gus Van Sant opens the film by using archival footage of police raids on gay bars in the 1960s and Dianne Feinstein's announcement to the press that Mayor George Moscone (Victor Garber) and Supervisor Harvey Milk have been assassinated. Thus, Van Sant adapts Dustin Lance Black's original screenplay visually by presenting the two bookends of the story behind the film at the beginning, and by using archival footage the intention by the director is that this biopic would be as truthful to the spirit of the times as possible. In fact a number of Milk's associates show up in the film, such as Frank M. Robinson (Milk's speechwriter), Tom Ammiano (a contemporary of Milk's who headed the opposition to Proposition 6 as a school teacher, later on he became a politician) and Carol Ruth Silver (a fellow supervisor). Anita Bryant, who ran the syndicate in favour of the initiative with John Briggs is never portrayed by an actress in the film, instead archival footage is used for her scenes.

    Milk also utilises a strong supporting cast. Emile Hirsch plays Cleve Jones, one of Harvey Milk's most important campaigners and supporters, while Josh Brolin plays the ill-fated supervisor Dan White. The look of the film is grainy, with some scenes shot in documentary-style 16mm filmstock to augment real-life film used from the 1970s. The soundtrack by Danny Elfman is subtle, with themes used to support characterisation in this mainly dialogue-driven film.

    Milk was nominated for eight Oscars, winning two for Best Original Screenplay for Dustin Lance Black and Best Actor for Sean Penn. Although Milk is a well-made film, I'm surprised it was nominated for Best Picture when Wall-E and The Dark Knight were not. Maybe this is why the Academy of Motion Picture, Arts and Sciences will have ten nominations for Best Picture from next year instead of the usual five. Also, Sean Penn winning for Best Actor makes him the ninth actor to win more than once. After viewing Micky Rourke's performance in The Wrestler, I now understand why he acknowledged Rourke during his acceptance speech. Milk was in development for almost twenty years prior to being made, it can't be a coincidence that it was made at the same time that the Proposition 8 ballot was voted on in favour of overturning gay marriage during 2008 in California. Also, Bryan Singer was in pre-production on this script before the 2007 writer's strike, what sort of film would he made? Alas, I must say I don't mind the usual Gus Van Sant motifs in evidence here, which he uses in all his films, in this case the study of an atypical family, (Milk's entourage that regularly meet up in his shop throughout the film) use of 8mm home-video footage or 16mm archival footage, and a plot emphasising the death of a main or supporting character in the tradition of a Greek or Shakespearean tragedy. (Yes, would you believe that Van Sant originally wanted to kill off Ben Affleck's character in a construction accident in Good Will Hunting? Damon and Affleck talked him out of it thankfully!)

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

Transfer Quality


    Because Gus Van Sant wanted to present this biopic seamlessly branched with archival footage of the events of Harvey Milk's life from the 1970's, Milk's overall look is grainy, with some parts shots in 16mm.

    The aspect ratio of Milk is 1:85:1. the transfer utilises a VC-1 codec and is 16x9 enhanced for windscreen televisions.

    Milk is not as sharp and as bright as contemporary features on Blu-ray such as Frost/Nixon, which is also set in the 1970's. For creative reasons, the transfer is grainy at times.

    Colour is washed-out and slightly dull, this may because of Harris Savvides' use of natural light in his cinematography. Again, this may be due to a deliberate creative decision to give the film a '1970s' look. Van Sant has stated that he leaves these choices up to his cinematographer, however there are instances in the film when a shallow depth of field is employed (this means that the foreground image is extremely sharp in contrast to a blurred background), or slow-motion is utilised, both common Van Sant visual signatures.

    There are no MPEG artefacts present in the film at all.

    Subtitles are in English for the hearing impaired, Spanish and French.

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


    Danny Elfman's score mainly is used to support the theme of the main characters. Milk is a dialogue-driven film.

    There is one audio track, a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track

    Dialogue is clear and concise. Audio is synchronised throughout.

    Sound effects are mainly employed during the crowd scenes.

    Similarly, surround channel usage concentrates on the front channels.

    The Subwoofer is not utilised often at all.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Featurette-Remember Harvey (13:31)

This is a short documentary featuring Harvey Milk's real-life contemporaries discussing Milk's influence upon their lives.

Featurette-Hollywood comes to San Francisco (14:32)

This is a short behind-the-scenes look into the making of the film. The cast and crew offer their thoughts on the screenplay and filmmaking process. Interestingly, there is no interview with Gus Van Sant or Sean Penn for this extra.

Featurette-Marching For Equality (7:58)

This is another short extra showing how the crew organised a recreation of the 30000 strong march that took place in San Francisco after Moscone and Milk were killed.

Web Links

For those viewers who have Profile 2.0 players, you can apparently connect to the Universal online portal.

All three extras are in 1080i high-definition 1:85:1 widescreen.

R4 vs R1

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

    Milk was released on Blu-ray in the United States on March 10th, 2009 and in the United Kingdom on June 8th with the same exact features as the Australian Blu-ray release.


    Milk is a well-made film, with a great cast supporting its screenplay. Ultimately it is about the example of one man's struggle to assert his identity and rights to that identity. I was especially impressed with Sean Penn's depiction of Milk as been gracious and humble in his dealings with Dan White, always seeking to understand him and treat him as he wanted White to treat him, even though Brolin's depiction of White can be best categorised as stubborn at times in his views. (Then again, Milk is stubborn at times too, it's just that White is more aggressive and frustrated emotionally in the film than Milk is.)

    Milk on Blu-ray is not a huge improvement over the DVD release of the film. Heck, Universal even left off the deleted scenes from the Blu-ray release that are found on the DVD release! The extras are not comprehensive, but the film is well-acted and the screenplay by Dustin Lance Black was deserving of its Oscar. Milk represents a good return to mainstream filmmaking for Gus Van Sant, who has embellished the screenplay with his signature themes which I have grown to admire from his very first feature film in 1985, Mala Noche and continues to develop throughout his directorial career 24 years later.

Ratings (out of 5)


© John Stivaktas (I like my bio)
Monday, July 13, 2009
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S550 (Firmware updated Version 019), using HDMI output
DisplaySamsung LA46A650 46 Inch LCD TV Series 6 FullHD 1080P 100Hz. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderSony STR-K1000P. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationSony HTDDW1000
SpeakersSony 6.2 Surround (Left, Front, Right, Surround Left, Surround Back, Surround Right, 2 subwoofers)

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add) NONE