The War (1994)

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Released 9-May-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Production Notes
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Theatrical Trailer-1.85:1, not 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0 (2:59)
Web Links
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1994
Running Time 119:55
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (66:25) Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Jon Avnet
Studio
Distributor

Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Starring Elijah Wood
Kevin Costner
Mare Winningham
Lexi Randall
Case Brackley-Trans-No Lip
RPI $36.95 Music Thomas Newman


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish 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
French
Portuguese
Danish
Finnish
Swedish
Norwegian
German
Dutch
Czech
Polish
Turkish
Hungarian
Bulgarian
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    It seems that every time the name Kevin Costner appears in the cast listing for a film, it is certain that the film will not be a box office success. Indeed, if we believed everything critics said, there is no reason to suppose that anyone would really want to have him star in their film. Whilst it is to be admitted that some of his films have not exactly been stupendous box office successes, frankly many have been unnecessarily panned by the critics and consequently hyped up in a totally negative way, which is a pity as it means that some decent enough films simply are avoided by the public when in fact they are worthy of at least a view or two. The War has been pretty well lumped in the Kevin Costner - Avoid category, but it really is not that bad a film. Okay, it is no Bull Durham or Field Of Dreams, or even Dances With Wolves, which would probably be considered the high points of Kevin Costner's career, but it sure does not approach some of the dregs from others that we have unfortunately seen a bit of in Region 4.

    Set in Mississippi in the 1970s, Stephen Simmons (Kevin Costner) is a Vietnam vet having the usual difficulties in returning to normal life after the hell they suffered in 'Nam. He has had his share of mental problems, including visits to mental institutions, and has not been able to hold down a regular job since his return with Purple Heart in hand. He and his family - wife Lois (Mare Winningham), daughter Lidia (Lexi Randall) and son Stu (Elijah Wood) - live in a rundown shack on the railroad tracks in the small town of Juliette. Lois works as a waitress to supplement the virtually non-existent family income, as Stephen goes through a list of jobs which he is unable to hold down for whatever reason - mainly since they are all short-term jobs like potato picking. Stephen is also trying to come to terms with the things he did in 'Nam and the effect they have had upon his beliefs. Most of all he is trying to rebuild his life and realise his dreams of improving the lot of his family. As it is summer, Stu and Lidia are determined to use the time to build a stupendous tree house, with the help of some friends (African-Americans amongst them - remember the setting is Mississippi in 1970, so we are talking redneck country big time). That is their dream, and we see how these two seemingly disparate dreams come together under trying times.

    The underlying theme is the fact that there is nothing worth fighting for. Stephen realises that this is what he learned from the horror of 'Nam, whilst Stu and Lidia come to realise the truth preached by their father as they come to blows with a local bunch of rat bags known as the Lipnicki family. Everything is proven to be pointless when Stephen's dreams are cut short by an accident at his latest job. But then again, there is more than materialism and spirituality can provide a lot of inspiration, which the Simmons family can relate to in the end.

    The story is told in narrative form from Lidia's viewpoint, and it especially focuses upon the relationship between her father and her brother. Certainly the story could have been a little tighter and less telegraphed in some parts, but it should not be condemned as rubbish. Elijah Wood does a fine job in what is arguably the lead male role in the film, and Kevin Costner is quite decent too. Whilst occasionally accused of being a wooden actor, he really is not in the league of true wooden actors like Keanu Reeves and Leonardo De Crapio, but I do wish at times he could achieve a little more emotional depth to a role - this one could have been a lot better in the hands of someone who can really bring emotion to the screen. Mare Winningham is adequate enough in a relatively minor role and Lexi Randall aimed a little too over-the-top at times to entirely convince as the tomboyish Lidia. Jon Avnet did a pretty fair job with what he had to work with and there are few complaints about the directing here.

    Somewhat unfairly treated by the critics in my view, this is not another piece of Kevin Costner rubbish as they suggested. Sure it drags a bit at times and some of the story lacks continuity and/or depth, but overall it is not a bad film and certainly worthy enough of consideration for a rental. I would suspect that only fans of the major cast would be interested in a buy in this price range.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and it is 16x9 enhanced.

    This is really a bit all over the place as far as the transfer is concerned, and given the seeming similarity of the package with the Region 1 release, thoughts keep turning to the fact that this may well be a electronic NTSC to PAL conversion. It is not the most natural looking transfer at all, ranging from solidly decent looking to distinctly over-exposed looking. It is generally quite decently sharp, and there is little in the way of a diffuse image here. Detail however is an issue, as the overexposed look at times robs this of a lot of detail. A good example of the sorts of problems this creates can be found around the 58:30 to 59:30 mark, in the large tree. The shadow detail is pretty ordinary to start with but this then runs over into an overexposed look that destroys the background detail in the image completely. Shadow detail is as suggested also all over the place but is generally only average. This is not an especially clear transfer and there seems to be a degree of grain inherent in significant parts of the transfer. Whilst it is generally of a quite minor nature, it just compounds a less than stellar transfer overall. There did not appear to be any low level noise issues at all.

    The colours are also a bit all over the place, ranging from beautifully saturated and vibrant to distinctly undersaturated and washed-out. The result is a transfer that varies from quite natural and easy on the eye to something that is rather garishly unnatural-looking. Certainly there is nothing here that is remotely oversaturated but there is plenty of evidence of undersaturation. Colour bleed is not an issue in the transfer.

    There did not appear to be any significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer. There are some obvious problems with film-to-video artefacts in the transfer. This is mainly in the form of aliasing (in window shutters at 39:49 and in power lines at 53:09 as good examples), but also some evidence of cross colouration (such as at 84:52). There are no really noticeable film artefacts in the transfer.

    This is an RSDL formatted DVD with the layer change coming at 66:25, just before a scene change. It is a fairly quick change and it is only the minor issue with the slightly poor placing that brings any degree of disruption to the flow of the film.

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

Audio

    There are five soundtracks on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and four Dolby Digital 2.0 surround encoded soundtracks in German, Italian, French and Spanish. I listened to the English soundtrack, and did not sample any of the other soundtracks.

    Okay, we are talking serious Southern accents here, and not especially well-acted ones either at times. Whilst there is nothing wrong with the dialogue level and it comes through at a decent volume in the overall mix, there are passages here where I am darned if I knew what the heck they were saying, especially the Lipnicki kids at times. Suffice it to say that this is not easily understood stuff at all on occasions, and I am grateful that we have the English subtitles to fall back onto. There did not appear to be any significant audio sync issues in the transfer, although just once or twice I got the impression that the ADR dialogue was not especially well-matched to the visuals.

    The original music comes from Thomas Newman and a fairly unspectacular effort it is. There really is nothing here that stands out in terms of the orchestral music score, but there is some decently popular music evocative of the age. Any film that has a Creedence Clearwater Revival song in it has got to have some merit!

    The word that most comes to mind about the soundtrack is solid. It is not a spectacular demonstration of 5.1 sound, but it is by no means a poor example either. Some of the directional effects such as in the water tower are subtle but well-handled, although overall I would have desired a bit more ambience here and there: the crowded auction scene for instance simply does not have the right feel because of the lack of serious ambient noise in the rear channels in my view. However, even though this is only a 384 Kb/s soundtrack, it is quite an open sounding effort with nothing in the way of congestion. The bass channel gets some decent and well-balanced work here overall, without really going overboard. If anything, you could say the bass at times was a little more restrained than circumstances dictated.



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

Extras

    Well, you are not likely to be buying this one on the strength of the extras package, that is for sure.

Menu

    Themed after the cover, and if I do recall correctly, the theatrical poster, there is nothing really terrific here. Functional enough, with easy navigation highlights and not much else at all.

Biographies - Cast and Crew

    The obligatory and quite acceptably detailed efforts we have come to expect from this source, although sadly out of date. This was an early 1999 release in Region 1 and I am guessing that they have used the exact same menu and extras package from that release, since the filmographies are not up to date and peter out around 1999.

Theatrical Trailer (2:59)

    A somewhat longer than usual trailer for the 1990s and not all the more memorable because of it. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Nothing especially wrong with the technical quality.

Web Links

    The obligatory links we tend to find on Universal releases and not really worthwhile worrying about.

R4 vs R1

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

    As far as we can ascertain the only difference between the Region 1 and Region 4 releases are the usual soundtrack and subtitle option variations on the Region 1 release. Nothing to significantly favour one over the other apart from the usual NTSC/PAL arguments.

Summary

    The War is not a bad film at all, and in some ways is far better than the critics would have you believe. It is no masterpiece obviously, but worthy enough of a view. Whilst the audio transfer is not too bad at all, there is certainly some issue with the video transfer, whether the result of problems in the mastering or artistic choices. The extras are hardly anything to write home about and I cannot help but feel that this is the sort of DVD that should be in a medium price range rather than a premium price range.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Friday, July 13, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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