Series 7: The Contenders (2001)

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

Released 13-Mar-2002

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by
BUY IT

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Black Comedy Main Menu Audio
Audio Commentary
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Notes-Q&A With Writer/Director Daniel Minahan
Deleted Scenes-9
Theatrical Trailer-5
Featurette-John Dowd's Filmography
Featurette-John Dowd's Filmography 2
Rating Rated R
Year Of Production 2001
Running Time 86:49 (Case: 85)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Daniel Minahan
Studio
Distributor

Magna Home Entertainment
Starring Brooke Smith
Marylouise Burke
Glenn Fitzgerald
Michael Kaycheck
Richard Venture
Donna Hanover
Merritt Wever
Case Click
RPI $28.95 Music Girls against Boys


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None 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 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 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

    In a blatant satire of Reality TV, Series 7 is something that those who love to hate this type of programming shouldn't miss. Based around a fictional TV show that you could easily be watching someday, this show - The Contenders - is in its 7th series (hence the title) and this is the marathon edition that brings you all the action and gore. A concerted dig at the low budget, low brow and often low moral TV industry that has sprung up over the past few years, and has tended to occupy an increasing portion of mainstream viewing habits, this takes reality to its extreme. A cross between shows like Survivor and Jerry Springer, this is supposedly a show that pits contestants against one another in a simple kill or be killed scenario where the only way to win is to eliminate, with extreme violence, your opponents. But before we get into this, lets meet our contestants on The Contenders, Series 7, the Marathon.

    Our first contestant is Connie. Connie is a nurse in an E.R. ward and has strong religious beliefs and faith. Although small and weak, Connie just says.."I'm not out to hurt anybody".

    The whole essence of the movie is to emulate TV. It looks like a TV show, it sounds like a TV show and it uses all the standard techniques you see adopted by TV shows; interviews, voice-overs, B-roll shots, graphics and dramatic recreation. If you didn't know better you'd swear it was a TV show. To top it all off, director Daniel Minahan shot almost all of the movie on digital video, both to save on the costs and to emulate the look and feel of TV and he succeeds dramatically.

    Our next contestant is Jeffrey Norman who is suffering from a terminal illness. Jeff has a very high pain threshold. Jeff contends, "I'm not afraid of dying". Odds makers have Jeff down at 5-1.

    I, for one, have never been fond of so-called Reality TV. Basically I don't know what is REAL about it to begin with. I have never been stuck on a desert island, nor locked in a house with a dozen other people with cameras in every room, including the dunny. Call me old fashioned but my voyeuristic nature only goes so far before I become disillusioned with what is being offered. In some ways, this movie is a bit like that. There is a sense of unreality to it. The storyline is so simplistic it is funny. Get a gun, shoot your opponent, win the game, go onto the next game. It isn't rocket science and it isn't hard to play, as evidenced by the types of people that Minahan inhabits the game with.

    Meet Tony Reilly. Tony is said to be self-destructive, a bad husband and father but Tony says, "A strong body is a strong mind". Oddsmakers have him at 3-1.

    The mix is eclectic to say the least; an old woman who works in an E.R, Connie (Marylouise Burke); an old man who is a conspiracy nut, Franklin James (Richard Venture); Jeff Norman the dying artist with testicular cancer (Glen Fitzgerald); Tony, the abusive husband (Michael Kaycheck); Lindsay, the A student with overbearing parents (Merritt Weaver); and finally the returning champion from the last series, Dawn, who is 8 months pregnant (Brooke Smith).

    And now meet our returning champion from our last series. Dawn has 10 confirmed kills to her credit in two series. Although 8 months pregnant Dawn says, "there is nothing I won't do for my baby". Dawn is rated even money on survival.

    For me, this is the sort of movie only a newcomer to moviemaking would dare to make and a movie that has all the elements that so annoy me, yet make this strangely compelling viewing. I often wonder why shows like Survivor or Jerry Springer survive. Are we so puerile that such inanities are amusing? It is often said that at the Roman gladiatorial contests that amusing side shows were offered up to the populace to break up the bloodshed. Has our life become so inundated with war, disaster and devastation that these shows are necessary? Does anyone take them seriously? Or am I simply missing the point? If so, then maybe this isn't a satire but a very clever look into the near future and in a few years time we may well see the next main event being that self-same gladiatorial contest with whatever weapon comes to hand, be it a gun, knives or just a blunt instrument. It's a scary thought.

    "Coming up, the entire Series 7 of The Contenders, back-to-back for your viewing pleasure... we'll be right back after this commercial break.."

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

Transfer Quality

Video

    This is meant to emulate TV. Shot with digital camera it is made to look, sound and in all manners and respects be TV. Therefore, there are designed flaws in the movie that are meant to be there.

    Originally shot in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, this transfer is presented in the same ratio and is 16x9 enhanced.

    The first thing you'll probably notice is the variety of different shots used. Given this, sharpness is exemplary in parts, and lacking in other parts. The quality of the actual presentation, though, can't be faulted and you'll have no problem appreciating the design of the director. Shadow detail is excellent where there is no flaring in the lighting. Lots of high powered lights are used, so again this is variable. Grain would be non-existent if it wasn't for the fact that it was deliberately introduced into the movie to emulate TV footage. Low level noise isn't an issue.

    The colour is excellent with skin tones spot on and no chroma noise in evidence. Occasionally there is some slight tinging (colour bleed) around the cast caused by colour filters being used and an oversaturation effect in play, but you can dismiss this as emulation of camera flare and the typical effects you see when live camera crews are trying to get footage.

    Apart from the odd moiré effect (eg: 3:30 on the sunrise and 6:52 on the Venetians), some shimmering that occasionally breaks up into aliasing (eg: 9:39 on the edge of the buildings, gutters and timber boards in shot) there is very little to report in the way of film or video artefacts. Most of the artefacts you may see are induced to give it the verisimilitude of being a real TV show. No film artefacts were seen at all (not surprising since this movie was filmed using digital cameras).

    There were no subtitles on this disc.

    Although listed as an RSDL disc, no layer change was noted. Quite possibly, the movie is on one layer (it is short enough for that), with the extras on the second layer. If anyone notes a layer change, please let me know and I'll update this section of the review accordingly.

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

Audio

    There are two audio tracks on this disc, an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track at 448 kilobits per second and an alternative English Dolby Digital 2.0 track at 192 kilobits per second. I listened almost exclusively to the 5.1 track, although I doubt you'll miss too much if you only have stereo since the vast majority of the sound is firmly located in the front speakers. Indeed, the vast majority of the sound in this movie comes from the centre speaker since the movie is so heavily dialogue-centric. It's only the ad breaks that offer anything really meaty to the sound and then mostly across the front channels with nice stereo separation noted. There was one notable hiccough in the audio at 60:18 where there is a slight crackle in the audio.

    The dialogue is crisp, clean and easy to understand with no audio sync problems noted.

    The music is used so sparingly it's hard to remember it at all in the movie. Mostly it cuts in when going to commercial breaks and the like.

    The surround channels and subwoofer on this disc get very little to do which, I suppose, isn't that big an issue. There is some activity in the surrounds and the subwoofer with these helping out with the limited amount of music but there really wasn't much to work with, since the idea of this soundtrack is to emulate TV with its limited 2 channel sound range.

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

Extras

Main Menu Audio

    A static menu with overlaid music from the movie.

Audio Commentary

    A very entertaining audio commentary from director Daniel Minahan which explains his ideas for the making of the movie including casting the various actors, technical details and his designs for the movie's look and feel. Minahan is quite an articulate speaker with few pauses in his comments and none of the more objectionable umm'ing and ahh'ing that often accompanies people who aren't used to this sort of thing. Definitely worth listening to since his explanations and detail add a lot of flesh to what you see.

Biographies-Cast & Crew

    Details on the careers so far of Brooke Smith, Marylouise Burke, Glenn Fitzgerald, Michael Kaycheck, Richard Venture, Merritt Wever, Donna Hanover, Angelina Philips and Daniel Minahan. Simple text varying from 3-6 screen pages long.

Notes

    Basically a Question and Answer text from director Daniel Minahan on various aspects of the movie. If you feel inclined, it makes for some interesting reading.

Deleted Scenes

    These are really extended versions of scenes as well as deleted scenes from the movie. For some of the scenes, specifically those related to Franklin, it is hard to fathom why they were removed from the movie, since their inclusion would have made a whole lot more sense of Franklin's character, who seemed to be just added in for no reason at all in the final cut of the movie. Some of the scenes were obviously cut since they gave away too much information.

    Most of the scenes are in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with the movie footage in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 but not 16x9 enhanced. Others are in 1.78:1 16x9 enhanced format. The general quality is fairly poor, being unaltered from original footage, except for Check Yourself, Connie's Priest Confesses and Vox Pops which looks to have been edited out after post-production.

Theatrical Trailer

    aka Extreme Promotions. A series of 5 different promotions; 4 movie trailers and one very interesting street/leaflet handout.

Featurette

    John Dowd's filmography (slide show with audio). With a running time of 2:21, it took a while to figure this extra out. It's basically the artist who drew the paintings that are used as Jeff's props in the movie. It sounds like he's on the phone talking over the background paintings.

Featurette

    John Dowd's Filmography 2 - 1:31 - a studio showing of the paintings attributed to Jeff in the movie.

R4 vs R1

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

    From what I can see, the Region 1 and Region 4 releases contain the same material. Given this and the price break on the R4 release, I'd be sticking with the locally made version.

Summary

    If you detest reality TV then this is a chance to view the ultimate satire. On the other hand, if you are into reality TV then you'll probably love this even more. Director Daniel Monahan has crafted the ultimate insult to your intelligence with a subtle blend of humour, sarcasm, voyeurism and ammunition. Definitely a film for today because in 5 years time the whole reality theme will probably have disappeared. Of course if I am wrong, then in 5 years time this will be seen as being as prophetic as the words of Nostradamus.

    The video transfer is excellent given that it is emulating television. No problems on this score.

    The audio is adequate given, again, that it is meant to be the same as television. The lack of surrounds and subwoofer aren't a big problem in the grand scheme of things.

    The extras are excellent overall. Although not excessively long, for the most part they are comprehensive enough to flesh out the package nicely.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Carl Berry (read my bio)
Thursday, August 29, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba SD5300, 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
Jeff K's Australian DVD Info Site - Kevin S
The DVD Bits - Tim M
DVD Net - Martin F (read my bio)

Comments (Add)
Region 3 contains DTS -
Does this movie even NEED a DTS track? - Minotaur
Any movie with a 5.1 soundtrack can have DTS - gRANT (Read my bio, mmm... uncompressed surround audio)
NO audio commentary according to Magna Pacific latest retail packaging -