Witness (1985)

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Released 8-Jul-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Theatrical Trailer
Interviews-Crew-Interview With Peter Weir
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1985
Running Time 107:48
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (61:36) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Programme
Region Coding 4 Directed By Peter Weir

Paramount Home Entertainment
Starring Harrison Ford
Kelly McGillis
Alexander Godunov
Jan Rubes
Lukas Haas
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $39.95 Music Maurice Jarre

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Czech Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Polish Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement Yes
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    One thing about Peter Weir is that nobody can accuse this director of not trying to make some interesting films, with ones like Picnic At Hanging Rock and Dead Poets Society being two examples that spring immediately to mind.

    Witness deals with an eight-year-old boy in an Amish community, his witnessing of a murder, and the efforts of the policeman who is assigned to protect him until he can testify. Most directors would be quite wary of depicting life among the Amish, unless they were doing so for comedic purposes, but Peter Weir seems to do a fine job of recreating the environment in a dramatic sense. Some small errors are made in the fine details, such as putting mirrors inside the Amish houses, and having a policeman tell a boy that the gun he has is safe to handle now that he took the bullets out.

    Samuel (Lukas Haas) is the eight-year-old living in an Amish community with his mother, Rachel (Kelly McGillis), not to mention numerous relatives such as Eli (Jan Rubes). You'll be hard-pressed to recognise any of these three actors in costume, but they have all since made very different films in very different roles (Mars Attacks!, Top Gun, and Deceived, respectively). Rachel takes Samuel with her to travel to "the big city", as Daniel Hochleitner (Alexander Godunov) puts it, on the way to see relatives in Baltimore, but fate has other ideas. When Samuel wanders into a restroom, he witnesses the murder of a policeman named Zenovich (Timothy Carhart) by McFee (Danny Glover) and Fergie (Angus MacInnes). As Rachel's plans are put on hold, a policeman named John Book (Harrison Ford) enters the picture with the mission of finding out exactly what the boy saw, and protecting him until he can testify to it.

    Taking Rachel and Samuel with him, he goes undercover in the Amish community, but things take a strange turn when he finds himself trying to fit in more and more with the Amish, while Rachel is trying to understand John's way of life. Things are getting ugly on either side, with the Amish community talking about having Rachel "shunned" (so nice to see so much understanding from a religious community for a confused woman who is just trying to keep her child safe), and the bad guys getting more forceful in their attempts to find John.

    To be honest, I had a hard time evaluating the story in this film, with one side of me enjoying the action scenes, but another side wishing that the long pieces of dialogue had been cut down just a bit. Indeed, Peter Weir states in the interview included on this disc that the closing sequence had two pages of dialogue between Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis, but he decided that he honestly wouldn't need that much if he'd done his job correctly. Nonetheless, if drama mixed with a small dose of action is your thing, then Witness will entertain you for a hundred and seven minutes.

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

Transfer Quality


    Before I say anything else, I would like to point out that the packaging states the aspect ratio of this transfer to be 1.78:1, which is an accurate reflection of the actual transfer: 1.78:1 with 16x9 Enhancement. This honesty makes a nice change from all of the other distributors and their habit of stating the transfer to be in the ratio of 1.85:1, regardless of whether it is really in 1.85:1, or the 1.78:1 substitute. Now all we need is another caption on the packaging stating whether the transfer has been open-matted or cropped to achieve this exact match to the display unit of the future.

    While there are no specific artefacts that can be directly blamed on the film-to-video-to-DVD transfer process, just watching the first two minutes of the film makes it easy to see that this is an unrestored source. The sharpness of this transfer is very good, with the slow sequences in daytime conditions being very clear and easy to follow. Unfortunately, every second of the sixteen years this film has aged shows up in the shadow detail, where blacks are exactly that: black sections with little or no discernable picture detail. There is no low-level noise, but grain and possibly compression artefacts show up quite a lot.

    The colours in this transfer are muted and dull, which is hardly a surprise given that the film is set in a gritty urban environment and an Amish community, neither of which really lend themselves to bright splashes of colour. Occasionally, a display of light green grass would occur, and the transfer would capture this change in the colour scheme with no problems.

    MPEG artefacts were not a specific problem for this transfer, unless you count the pervasive graininess in the backgrounds as pixelization. Film-to-video artefacts consisted of some very minor aliasing at times, with the only really objectionable instance coming at 12:15, on a heater in the restroom. Film artefacts are a consistent problem in this transfer from the get-go, with a sprinkling of black marks peppering the picture from 0:00 to 2:07, which didn't give me much confidence in what was to follow. Thankfully, things improved in this area when the story got underway, but sizeable scratches on the picture were spotted in the bottom left of the frame at 66:00, and in the middle left of the frame at 88:28.

    This disc is RSDL formatted, with the layer change taking place between Chapters 9 and 10, at 61:35. Although this layer change doesn't actually disrupt the flow of the film, it is just a little jarring, and very noticeable.

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


    While I was going to say that at least the audio transfer is in better shape than the video, the spectre of source material not getting at least a half-hearted attempt at restoration raises itself once again.

    There are a total of seven soundtracks to be found on this disc. First, there is the English dialogue in Dolby Digital 5.1 with a bitrate of 448 kilobits per second. Next are dubs in Czech and German in Dolby Digital 2.0 with surround-encoding and a bitrate of 224 kilobits per second. There is also a Spanish dub in Dolby Digital 1.0 with a bitrate of 192 kilobits per second, plus dubs in French and Italian in Dolby Digital 2.0 with surround-encoding and a bitrate of 224 kilobits per second. Lastly, there is a Polish dub in Dolby Digital 1.0 with a bitrate of 192 kilobits per second. I listened to the English dialogue, not really minding the lack of any approximation of its original format.

    The dialogue is generally quite easy to understand all the time, except for some moments when distortion creeps into the soundtrack, such as when Harrison Ford says "Well, I was wrong" at 31:50. I'm hoping that this distortion wasn't introduced by the original recording techniques, because it certainly isn't very pleasant to listen to. There did not seem to be any problems with audio sync.

    The score music in this film is the work of Maurice Jarre, and a strange effort it is, indeed. Much of the music has a very overstated, invasive feel that tends to accentuate the alien feel of the environment from the perspective of either Harrison Ford's or Kelly McGillis' characters. Greg Chapman's performance of (What A) Wonderful World makes an appearance in one scene, and it is certainly much more appropriate to the scene than most insertions of contemporary numbers. The whole scene is enough to make one question whether John Book is thinking about turning his back on civilisation and maybe even taking up life in the Amish community.

    The surround channels are consistently used to separate the music and some directional sound effects from the dialogue. There aren't many enveloping uses of the surround channels during this film, but the biggest of the musical cues are well served by a feeling of literally coming from all directions. One excellent surround effect came at 94:12. The subwoofer was used to support the music and some occasional effects such as car crashes and gunshots, which it did without calling any attention to itself.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



    The menu is static, 16x9 Enhanced, and very functional.

Theatrical Trailer

    This seventy-eight second theatrical trailer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, 16x9 Enhanced, with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

Crew Interviews - Interview With Peter Weir

    This interview with Peter Weir runs for seven minutes and seventeen seconds. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

R4 vs R1

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

    The Region 1 and Region 4 versions of this disc appear to be identically specified.


    Witness is a slow, poignant drama that is very rewarding to watch if you can stick with it to the very end. Harrison Ford is in fine form as usual, and it is quite a pleasure to see familiar faces in very unfamiliar roles.

    The video transfer is disappointing.

    The audio transfer is a little less disappointing.

    The extras are minimal.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Dean McIntosh (Don't talk about my bio. We don't wanna know.)
Tuesday, July 24, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 2109, using S-Video output
DisplaySamsung CS-823AMF (80cm). Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 576i (PAL).
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony STR DE-835
SpeakersYamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NSC-120 Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer

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Special Edition - cztery