Grass (1999)

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Released 9-May-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-Shadow Of The Vampire, Tackle Happy, Amores Perros
Trailer-The Girl Next Door, The Hemp Revolution
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1999
Running Time 75:04 (Case: 78)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Ron Mann
Studio
Distributor
Sphinx
Madman Entertainment
Starring Woody Harrelson
Case Soft Brackley-Transp
RPI $34.95 Music Guido Luciani


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.66:1
16x9 Enhancement
Not 16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio Unknown Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes, copious amounts of ganja!
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

"Dope will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no dope"
Freewheelin' Franklin, Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers
.

    Grass is an interesting and sometimes amusing look at marijuana from its introduction into the USA, through the attempts by the US government to stop, control, ban, outlaw and otherwise discredit its smoking, growing and distribution throughout the 20th century, and incorporating a look at some of the many laws introduced to combat the growth of the marijuana 'problem' and the amount of money spent on law enforcement (which is quite literally staggering in its vastness). Woody Harrelson narrates this documentary with a laconic style that aptly suits the material. Regaling the viewer with the various moral attitudes that pervaded American society throughout the century and the attempts over these periods to convert, preach, persuade, cajole, coax, scare, or otherwise convince the people against the practice, this is often a light-hearted dig at the establishment without too many serious overtones. The material has a pro-marijuana bias, but then given the logic the writers offer, it isn't hard to feel yourself nodding in agreement at times. The animation used throughout the movie was done by Paul Mavrides, a co-author and artist on the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers comic strip. The animation was used in many novel ways to break up the subject material or popped up from time to time in various parts of the documentary to illustrate points. Some of the methods used to dissuade the general populace from smoking marijuana included associating it with everything from turning you into a homicidal maniac, a slobbering, mindless cretin or becoming a Satan worshipper. Snippets from various movies (such as Reefer Madness) which purported to be educational material of the time are used to 'guide' the gentle viewer into seeing the depths of depravity one can plumb by becoming a 'pot head'. Most of the material is outright propaganda but presented in a reasonably serious manner, with some quite memorable moments. The running time of this documentary is almost perfect. It is never boring, and doesn't drag on too long. No section is given too much time, and digs at various Presidents are used to highlight the time period nicely. Although some of you might not like the subject matter, regardless of your moral standpoint on drugs, can anyone honestly say that smoking a joint is worth a permanent criminal record?

*BEWARE* - Official Truth... if you smoke it... YOU WILL KILL PEOPLE!!!!

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Much of this documentary consists of old film stock, newsreels and various outtakes from other sources. In addition to this, there are animated graphics inserted to break up the material and denote special events or moments that need highlighting. Considering this fact, a comprehensive review of each frame isn't possible. Much of the archival material existing currently is in appalling condition and since this is a documentary I doubt the makers had much control over the state of the film they had to work with.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect of 1.66:1 and is not 16x9 enhanced. The sharpness, shadow detail, grain and low level noise are all over the place. Animated sections are fine, showing little grain, no noise and exemplary sharpness. Older film stock is often overly bright, with excessive grain and lack of definition, or too dark and offering mass blooming in the blacks. Although problematic, given the fact that it is only onscreen for a few seconds at most, it is tolerable. More recent and colour stock again varies. A great deal of the source material seems to have been TV footage and is therefore blurry at best. All in all there is no possible, single, assessment that would truly be valid. Suffice it to say that some sections are bad, some are okay. 

    The animation colour was suitably saturated and vivid. There is no sign of oversaturation or colour bleed at all. The colour film stock varied in quality substantially. TV footage was often used that was washed out or overly bright.

    There was telecine wobble during opening credits and closing credits. Otherwise, the animation inserts were free of all MPEG and film artefacts that I could see. The other stock used showed just about every conceivable problem; massive flakes off various frames, endless minor artefacts (white and black), lines down the picture, lines across the picture, watermarks, burn marks, and so forth. It is worth noting that the more recent the footage, the less damage that was noted.

    Suprisingly, there were no subtitles on offer. I guess drug problems are strictly an 'English-speaking' people's problem?

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The audio track was offered in a single format, that of English Dolby Digital 2.0 at a respectable rate of 192 kilobits per second, which I listened to. Woody Harrelson's voice is fairly monotone but very understandable. There were various problems with audio syncing with some of the older film sources, but fortunately they weren't as much of a problem as you would have expected. Most problematic were some of the accents which were a little hard to understand - subtitles would have helped. The music was a mix of soundtrack, snips from various music sources of the day, all the way through to Cab Calloway singing Reefer Man (circa 1933). The main title song was used a little excessively for my liking (both on the opening and closing credits as well as the main menu), but it was an interesting tune. Overall, the music can be said to match the narrative and visuals nicely without being overt. Neither the surrounds nor LFE channel are used on this disc.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Main Menu Audio & Animation

    Amusing opening animation to the menu. The menu itself is animated with a recycling theme every 30 odd seconds. The music is from the opening credits of the documentary.

Biographies-Cast & Crew

    Standard fare, covering Woody Harrelson (narration), Ron Mann (director) and Paul Mavrides (animation)

Theatrical Trailer

    Running time of 1:38, 4x3 Full Frame and mildly amusing. Standard fare.

Trailer

    Various other trailers from Madman on offer;

R4 vs R1

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

    There seems to be no difference between the R1 and R4 versions, although I haven't been able to find a site selling the R1 version. It is, however, listed as being available on the Internet Movie Database

Summary

    In some ways, Grass was a bit of an eye-opener. Mildly amusing with some interesting, if debatable, figures about the amounts spent fighting the use of marijuana. Some of the lies and distortions offered up as 'fact' in order to keep us docile were presented in an amusing manner. I personally don't perceive smoking marijuana to be a criminal act since many of my friends find it a pleasurable pastime and I would be hard-pressed to argue with them. The video was fair to mediocre given the amount of old footage used, but it was used well. The audio was adequate without being great. The extras were a bit on the paltry side.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Carl Berry (read my bio)
Tuesday, July 10, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDLoewe Xemix 5006DD, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Xelos (81cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderRotel RSP-976. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationRotel RB 985 MkII
SpeakersJBL TLX16s Front Speakers, Polk Audio LS fx di/bipole Rear Speakers, Polk Audio CS350-LS Centre Speaker, M&KV-75 Subwoofer

Other Reviews
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