The Killing Fields: Special Edition (1984)

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Released 10-Mar-2010

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Audio Commentary-Audio Commentary with director Roland Joffé
Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-Four Umbrella trailers
Featurette-Making Of-BBC Documentary - The Making of The Killing Fields - 60 Mins
Interviews-Crew-Exclusive Interview with Producer David Puttnam
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1984
Running Time 136:13
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (86:14)
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Roland Joffé

Umbrella Entertainment
Starring Sam Waterston
Haing S. Ngor
John Malkovich
Julian Sands
Craig T. Nelson
Spalding Gray
Bill Paterson
Athol Fugard
Case Amaray-Transparent-S/C-Dual
RPI $29.95 Music Mike Oldfield

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Unknown English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/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 None 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 Killing Fields is a film about a true story of friendship and loyalty and the atrocities of war. This was director Roland Joffé's first feature film. It was produced by David Puttnam and was shot on location in Thailand and Canada. Cambodian doctor, non-actor Haing S. Ngor, in his film debut, actually survived the Cambodian genocide. He was tortured and experienced the starvation and death of his real-life family during the reign of the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979.

     The film's screenplay was adapted from Pulitzer Prize winning NY Times reporter Sydney Schanberg's account, The Death and Life of Dith Pran, from The NY Times Magazine. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Sam Waterston), Best Director (Roland Joffé), and Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (Bruce Robinson) and won three Oscars: Best Supporting Actor (Haing S. Ngor), Best Cinematography (Chris Menges), and Best Film Editing (Jim Clark). This was the first screenplay written for film adaptation by Bruce Robinson who would go on to gain fame for his cult films, Withnail and I (1987) and How to Get Ahead in Advertising (1989).

     New York Times reporter Sydney Schanberg (played convincingly well by Sam Waterston, according to director Roland Joffé) is in Cambodia covering the civil war between the Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian Government and the covert operations role of the U.S. army in Cambodia, along with American cameraman Al Rockoff (John Malkovich) and English reporter Jon Swain (Julian Sands). As the fighting gets more intense and nears their location in Phnom Penh, Schanberg persuades his Cambodian assistant, friend and interpreter, Dith Pran (Dr. Haing S. Ngor) not to flee but to remain behind to help him get the story of the communist Khmer Rouge takeover and withdrawal of U.S. military forces. Schanberg does not anticipate the forced evacuation of all foreigners from Cambodia in 1975, and the subsequent re-location of all Cambodian citizens. Thus he inadvertently betrays his friend Pran, who is moved out into the Cambodian countryside to farm as a forced labourer.

     The film features haunting scenes of suffering endured during the Cambodian bloodbath (known as "Year Zero") that killed 1.4 to 2.2 million Cambodians (out of a population of 7 million). Dith Pran was accused of aiding foreigners. This usually meant 're-education' or near certain death from torture and/or starvation. His struggle to stay alive in the rural, barbaric 're-education' labour camp, his escape attempts, and his journey through the skeletal remains of the brutal massacres in the Valley of Death, the 'killing fields', show his unassuming, yet faithful and courageous character.

     At the end of the film we see Schanberg about to accept the Pulitzer Prize for his article on the Cambodian War in the New York Times. We then see Al Rockoff accusing him of abandoning Pran to a fate of certain death. The guilt that Schanberg displays is gut-wrenching, leaving the audience with a memorable ending to the film.

     As director Roland Joffé states many times in his commentary, this is not the story of war; rather it is a tale of the love and commitment of two individuals to each other who share a common and unique burden of suffering.

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Transfer Quality


     Overall, I was a little disappointed by the video transfer. It is slightly soft and contains film artefacts.

     The aspect ratio is 1:85:1, 16x9 enhanced.

     The main presentation takes up 6.03 gb of a 6.69 gb disc with an average bitrate of 6.5 m/b per sec. Although this film won the Academy Award for cinematography, it is only the long shots in the film which show the natural landscapes of South-East Asia (remember the film was shot on location in Thailand, near the Cambodian border) which do the cinematography justice as the film lacks sharpness overall. This can be seen in the background of many scenes with medium and rarer close-up shots. Low level noise can be seen from time to time in the background of scenes and, as a result, macro-blocking effects can be seen occasionally.

     The colour palette of the film is slightly muted. Perhaps this had to do with the film stock that was used on location in Thailand.

     Disappointingly, there are quite a few instances of film artefacts present, mainly negative (white) artefacts.

     There are no subtitles included with this DVD presentation. This makes the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix very frustrating to follow, as dialogue is not rendered well from the centre speaker for that soundtrack.

     The RSDL change occurs at 86:14, in the middle of a scene, and it is noticeable unfortunately.

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


     As mentioned in my comments on the subtitles above, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is not mixed well for home theatre. The original soundtrack was a Dolby Surround-encoded 2.0 track, with most of the sound balanced at the front. Thus, in my opinion, the Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is a better audio mix for viewers to enjoy the film.

     The main audio track is a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack encoded at 448 kbps. Both the other track and the director's commentary track are Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks encoded at 192 kbps.

     Dialogue is a lot clearer in the Dolby Digital 2.0 track, as it is poorly mixed for the centre speaker in the Dolby Digital 5.1 track.

     The music soundtrack was created by none other than Mike Oldfield (remember Tubular Bells?). I have read reviews of the film criticising it for sounding outdated and influenced by 'eighties' music, especially because of Oldfield's use of the synthesizer. However, in my opinion, Oldfield's soundtrack does not 'over-do' it at all; it is used sparingly and does not sound as dated as the soundtrack of David Puttnam's production of Chariots of Fire in 1981. The only criticism I have of the soundtrack is the use of the songs Band on the Run by Wings and Imagine by John Lennon which sound out of place in relation to the events of the film. (Time Magazine called the use of Imagine in the film a 'cultural low-point'.)

     Surround Channel Usage is mainly across the front channels. The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track contains the best audio mix of the film.

     The subwoofer is used sparingly for explosions, gun-fire and bombing during battle scenes.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Audio Commentary by director Roland Joffé

     This is the same commentary that features on the Region 1 U.S. release. The commentary is engaging overall, with Joffé discussing the screenplay and the behind-the-scenes events rather than providing scene-specific comments (for example, he discusses at length the story-boarding, camera shots and cuts made in the film). Not only does Joffé discuss the actors in the film, he also provides anecdotes of Schanberg's and Pran's real-life experiences.

Theatrical Trailer - 2:21

     The original theatrical trailer is 16x9 enhanced. It is included on disc one.

Umbrella Trailers

    Four Umbrella trailers are included for Joffé's other great film, The Mission, plus Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, To End All Wars and Slaughterhouse Five.

Featurette - BBC Documentary - The Making of The Killing Fields - 54:06

     This is the first extra on disc two. The documentary, made in 1983, comes from a BBC program called Omnibus which looked at the making of the film and the real-life characters behind the story of The Killing Fields. This is a quality extra, giving viewers substantial background to the events of the film. It is presented in a television ratio, 1:33:1 full-frame, not 16x9 enhanced.

Interviews - Exclusive Interview with Producer David Puttnam - 48:17

     Lord Puttnam (as he is known now and as he is referred to in the interview) discusses the making of the film, including the difficulty of casting unknown actors such as Sam Waterston and Haing S. Ngor, the 18 months he took to find a director, the contribution of Mike Roberts, the cinematographer, and Jim Clark, the editor, the origins of the story, the need to develop the story by including the Rockoff/Schanberg Pulitzer Prize scene (which did not occur in real life), changes to the original screenplay, the shooting location, the plight of Cambodian refugees at the time of making the film, the politics of the Khmer Rouge, the score by Mike Oldfield, even making comment on Errol Morris’ Fog of War, the interview with American politician and Secretary of Defence in the 1960s, Robert McNamara. This is another quality extra, supporting the context of the film. The interview was conducted by Anwar Brett and is presented in a 1:85:1 aspect ratio, 16x9 enhanced. This interview was filmed in 2005.

R4 vs R1

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

     The Killing Fields has been released in a number of versions on DVD.

     The Region 1 United States release includes the commentary by director Roland Joffé and a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround encoded soundtrack.

     The Region 2 French Special Edition 2-disc release includes three unique extras; Testimony: From Sihanouk to Khmer Rouge by Bernard Hamel (72:12), testimonies from the refugees (22:20) and an interview with the president of the "victims of Khmer Rouge" committee (18:36); and soundtracks in English and French in DTS 5.1.

     The Region 2 German release has no extras and is cropped to 1:33:1 full-frame. The Region 2 Japanese release has the same specifications as the German version.

     The Region 2 Dutch release includes the Omnibus documentary with Dutch subtitles and an English DTS 5.1 soundtrack.

     The Region 2 United Kingdom 2-disc release is identical to the Region 4 release, with the same extras and soundtracks.

     Therefore, in my opinion, the best release available of The Killing Fields for Region 4 collectors is the current 2-disc Umbrella version.


     The Umbrella Entertainment 2-disc release of The Killing Fields has some quality extras and should be recommended for purchase on this fact alone. It is a shame about the soft video transfer and the poorly mixed Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. However, this release is still the best available version of The Killing Fields available on DVD.

Ratings (out of 5)


© John Stivaktas (I like my bio)
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S550 (Firmware updated Version 020), 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
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