American History X (1998)

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Released 14-Aug-2000

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Menu Audio
Dolby Digital Trailer-Rain
Deleted Scenes-3
Theatrical Trailer-1.85:1 16x9 enhanced, DD 5.1
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 1998
Running Time 113:57 (Case: 119)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (75:42) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Tony Kaye
Studio
Distributor

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Edward Norton
Edward Furlong
Fairuza Balk
Stacy Keach
Elliott Gould
Avery Brooks
Beverly D'Angelo
Case Village Roadshow New Style
RPI $34.95 Music Anne Dudley


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English 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 English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    Sometimes, a single image is enough to make or break a film's advertising, and the theatrical poster for American History X is an example of the latter. I think it was the image of Edward Furlong that also occupies the lower half of the cover artwork that broke the advertising campaign for me, although I didn't know what to make of Edward Norton until I recently viewed Fight Club. Not that the rest of the cast in this film particularly excited me, but seeing Norton in a role where he was the aggressor rather than the passive, whiny half of a disassociative tag team was worth the effort.

    Derek Vinyard (Edward Norton) is a highly-placed member of the neo-Nazi contingent on Venice Beach, a tightly organized group with a similar political view to the Pat Robertsons and Fred Niles of this world. At the film's beginning, he is in the middle of having sex with his girlfriend, Stacey (Fairuza Balk), when a pair of Afro-Americans decide to break into his car. They are spotted by Derek's younger brother, Danny (Edward Furlong), who raises the alarm in spite of what a bad time to get Derek's attention it is.

    Derek responds in a similar manner to how many of us would when confronted with criminals breaking into our property - by beating them off with violence. However, in this case, the violent force he uses has lethal results for the young Afro-Americans, and Derek is sent to prison for three years as a result. Ignoring for a moment the fact that the thieves were armed, and that I find it hard to believe that a man would serve prison time for defending himself and his property (without Danny's testimony, they would barely have a case), the film jumps to a point where Danny is called before his school's principal, Bob Sweeney (Avery Brooks) to explain himself about an essay he wrote. The essay in question, entitled "My Mein Kampf", obviously ruffles a few feathers with the school's administration, but Sweeney tries to reach out to Danny, and does so by asking Danny to write another essay about his elder brother and the influence said brother has had over his life.

    On the same day, Derek is released from prison, and comes home to the celebrations of his crimes by his lover, his brother, and the men he calls his friends. What they discover on his return, however, is that prison has brought him several revelations that have dramatically changed him and his perspective on life and the life he once led. The plot summation to be found on the back cover is, in fact, surprisingly accurate, even if the story is a little simplistic in terms of detail, with the support cast not being particularly fleshed out. Herein lies one of this film's essential problems: comparisons to the Australian-produced Romper Stomper are inevitable in spite of the fact that the two films are stylistically very different beasts, and in terms of entertainment, the comparisons are not necessarily in favour of this film. It's not that American History X is any less well-made, it's just that it does take its time to explain the story at the expense of the entertainment value. Still, a film with such a story as this one certainly cannot keep up the action without taking some time to explain why the men in the film are kicking, punching, and otherwise assaulting one another.

    To reveal anything more about this film's plot would spoil the film for you, so I will leave the description at that because the surprises in this film should remain so. In any case, if you need a film with intelligence to while away two hours with, then American History X is definitely worthy of your consideration. Just bear in mind that it earns its MA rating, although not in the usual way that MA rated films fitting this description earn it. However, if graphic and sexual violence offends you, please consider yourself warned.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    In a nutshell, this transfer is perfect, with very little, if anything, to complain about, even if you are as fussy about the quality of your image as we tend to be here on this site.

    The transfer is presented in the original, accept-no-substitutes theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, complete with the beauty of 16x9 enhancement.

    The film was photographed in two ways, with the present-day footage being shot in colour, and most of the footage relating to Derek's and Danny's pasts being shot in monochrome.

    Overall, the transfer is so sharp and clear that in some respects it would probably be better than the original theatrical exhibition, although some backgrounds are a little diffuse from time to time. The shadow detail varies, with the colour footage ranging from good to slightly better, and the monochrome footage having very average shadow detail. There did not appear to be any low-level noise in either manner of photography, although the monochrome shots did appear to have a little fuzz in them at times.

    The colour saturation is variable between both of the main types of photography, obviously, and some footage of children running together on a beach is also used towards the end of the film that appears to have been shot with a home camcorder. This is the only time in the film when the colours appeared to be oversaturated in any manner, and I expect that this was deliberate. Most of the monochrome footage has a high amount of colour detail in it, with as many distinct shades of grey as needed being used to comprise the overall shot.

    MPEG artefacts were not noticed at any point in the transfer, with the film being allocated a large number of bits in order to allow breathing space. To put it simply, the compression on this disc is completely transparent during the main feature, which is really what it is all about. Film-to-video artefacts were not noticed at any point, either, in spite of an enormous number of opportunities presenting themselves in the shape of microphones, car grilles, venetian blinds, and just about every other textbook example you could think of. Film artefacts were so absent from the main feature that I am willing to say with confidence that they aren't there, although the monochrome footage may have one or two hidden around that I didn't notice.

    This disc is presented in the RSDL format, with the layer change occurring at 75:42, at the end of Chapter 21, after Derek's one-sided conversation with Lamont (Guy Torry). Although the pause is rather jarring and interruptive to the flow of the film because of its abruptness and its length, it is nonetheless extremely well-placed.

Audio

    Matching the excellent, trouble-free video transfer is a brilliant audio transfer that gives the film an amazing presence.

    The audio transfer is presented in a choice of two soundtracks, both of which are mixes of the original English dialogue: a Dolby Digital 5.1 version, which happens to be the default selection, encoded at 448 kilobits a second, and a Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded version, encoded at 192 kilobits a second. I stuck with the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, and lamented the absence of a commentary.

    The dialogue is clear and easy to understand from start to finish, within the limits of the manner in which some exchanges are screamed, and it is clear from the word go that the makers of both the film and the DVD understood how important the dialogue is to this film. Similarly, there were no issues with audio sync, and every spoken word seemed to be perfectly delivered. No distortion or noise found its way into this soundtrack, which is something of a relief after one of the other titles I reviewed today.

    The score music in this film was provided by Anne Dudley, a name I am not at all familiar with, although this is certainly a competent effort given what she had to work with. Don't expect to hear a strident, powerful score, because this film focuses more on the dramatic side of the story rather than the violent action that it entails. Instead, you can expect a slow, moving, reflective score that enhances the film's driving message without being particularly remarkable on its own. In addition to this score, some music of the much-loved skinhead genre known as Oi is presented in all its ugly glory so one can get a glimpse of how inherently stupid this genre really is. It is amusing to see that the skinheads in this film take it quite seriously and sing along with it, while I found myself laughing quite a lot at the poor grammar in the lyrics and the rather silly rhythms.

    The surround presence in this film was immersive, but in a subtle rather than aggressive manner, with all sorts of ambient sounds coming from the rear channels to envelop the listener. Don't expect an action-movie style of surround channel usage from this film, and you shouldn't be disappointed. The rears supported the music and the sounds of such things as spectators to an excellent degree, with the centre channel giving a more spatial feel to the voice-overs at times. Technically, this is a rather frontal mix, but this is not such a bad thing as eighty percent of the film is comprised of dialogue that needs as much clarity as possible because of the film's dependence on it.

    The subwoofer was not used often, only being called into action to support gunshots, music, and other such bass-heavy sounds that do not occur with much frequency in the film. In spite of the irregular usage, the subwoofer faithfully supported every sound that it was assigned, and did so without making itself conspicuous.

Extras

    Quality, not quantity, is a philosophy I wish that all DVD makers would adhere to when choosing which extras to place on their DVDs, and Roadshow Home Entertainment seem to have done so in this case.

Menu

    The menu is static, and vaguely themed around the film, using a modified publicity still as its background. It is accompanied by Dolby Digital 2.0 audio in the shape of one of the more dramatic themes from the score music. Navigation is more user-friendly than with previous Roadshow Home Entertainment menus, but the scene selection menu could have been a little better, given that the static graphic displayed when the cursor changes from scene to scene takes its sweet time to change.

Theatrical Trailer

    Clocking in at two minutes and fourteen seconds, this theatrical trailer is in excellent shape, reflecting its relative youth. It is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and it is 16x9 enhanced. It is also remarkable for being presented with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. Definitely a worthy inclusion.

Deleted Scenes (Three, 6:35 in total)

    Under this submenu, three deleted scenes are presented for the viewer's perusal. In order, these are titled Boardwalk (a scene in which two skinheads assault an African bag lady), Ben's Burgers (a scene in which two members of Derek's gang go out for hamburgers and confront an African man with a white girlfriend), and How Do I Look?, a small piece of footage cut from the scene with Derek and Danny in the diner before the end of the film. These scenes do not add anything to the film overall, and it is a good thing they were excised. All of them are presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1, with 16x9 enhancement and Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Unlike most extras of this type, these are in excellent condition and well worth the effort to look at.

Cast & Crew Biographies

    Biographies are provided under their own submenu for Edward Norton, Edward Furlong, Beverly D'Angelo, Avery Brooks, Stacy Keach, Fairuza Balk, Elliott Gould, Guy Torry, director Tony Kaye, screenwriter David McKenna, and producer John Morrisey. Although these are very comprehensive, they are not overly fascinating and are hard to read because of the small print. However, the content more than makes up for this.

R4 vs R1

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

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;     No contest here folks, although I am still not at all fond of the button case in spite of its much higher durability.

Summary

    American History X is a rather confronting film that you will either love because of its unrelenting handling of the subject matter, or hate because the ending is a real downer.

    The video quality is awesome, and truly reference material.

    The audio quality is also awesome, and a reference example of what can be done with subtle material.

    The extras might be limited, but there isn't a single one I wouldn't leave out if I were making the disc myself.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Dean McIntosh (Don't talk about my bio. We don't wanna know.)
Thursday, July 13, 2000
Review Equipment
DVDGrundig GDV-100D/Toshiba 2109, using S-Video output
DisplaySamsong CS-823AMF (80cm)/Panasonic TC-29R20 (68 cm). Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony STR DE-835
SpeakersPanasonic S-J1500D Front Speakers, Philips PH931SSS Rear Speakers, Philips FB206WC Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Subwoofer

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