Thunderheart (1992)

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Released 18-Jul-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Theatrical Trailer
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1992
Running Time 114:31
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (67:53) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Michael Apted

Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Starring Val Kilmer
Sam Shepard
Graham Greene
Fred Ward
Case Soft Brackley-Transp
RPI $36.95 Music James Horner

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (256Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (256Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (256Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (256Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (256Kb/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, Indian pipe
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    Thunderheart has a plot that combines elements from the government conspiracy theories of X-Files, the mysticism of Twin Peaks, and the good cop vs bad cop showdown in an ethnic enclave of Witness. And the strange thing is that it is loosely based on events that happened in real life - as documented by Michael Apted (who is also the director of Thunderheart) in Incident at Oglala.

    The Incident at Oglala documentary, produced and narrated by Robert Redford in 1992, describes the events surrounding the killing of two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge reservation (in an Indian village near Oglala) in South Dakota on 26 June 1975. It occurred during a period of high tension between traditional and activist Indian groups. Eventually one man - a prominent and highly visible American Indian leader named Leonard Peltier - was charged, and found guilty. The documentary strongly suggests that Leonard is the victim of a frame-up and made a scapegoat.

    Director Michael Apted is probably more well-known to Australians for his brilliant series of documentaries on several British children every seven years (appropriately entitled 7-Up, 14-Up, 21-Up, 28-Up ... and so on with the latest called predictably 42-Up). He obviously feels strongly about the subject matter of the Oglala documentary as he collaborated with writer John Rusco to produce this fictionalised thriller set in the same context as the real life events.

    In Thunderheart, Val Kilmer gives a powerful performance as Ray Levoi - a straight arrow FBI agent who happens to have some Indian blood in his veins (he is supposedly one quarter Sioux). Because of his background, he is sent to an Indian reservation in the Badlands in South Dakota to assist old pro Frank Coutelle (Sam Shepard) in a homicide investigation.

    From the beginning, we sense that Ray is uncomfortable - he has been brought up as a white man and does not empathise with the locals and their poor living conditions. Tensions soon develop between himself and Frank - who treats Ray like an inexperienced lackey - and more overtly between Ray and local law enforcement officer Walter Crow Horse (Graham Greene) - who considers Ray a traitor to his own people.

    There are some great lines between Walter and Ray that you have to watch the film to enjoy - including Walter showing off his observational skills to Ray and the scene between the two when Ray tells Walter he's had a "vision."

    Even though Frank does his best to convince Ray that the most likely murderer is Jimmy Looks Twice (John Trudell) - a well-known leader of the anti-government activist movement - Ray starts to suspect that the truth may be far stranger. Various village inhabitants - including schoolteacher Maggie Eagle Bear (Sheila Tousey) and medicine man Grandpa Sam Reaches (Ted Thin Elk) - drop clues that not everything is what it seems on the surface.

    Along the way, Ray also gradually discovers his cultural heritage and mysticism and begins to have "visions" - waking dreams that either reveal the past or provide guidance to what he must do.

    I quite enjoyed this film, although it is somewhat slow-moving and the mysticism is rather hard to swallow. The pace really picks up once Ray discovers the "secret" that some men are prepared to commit murder for and the ending is somewhat bombastic (including a car chase) but worth watching nevertheless. We also get treated to some fantastic prairie landscapes that look great in widescreen.

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Transfer Quality


    This is a very pleasing transfer in the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with 16x9 enhancement. Colours are brilliant and almost perfectly saturated, especially considering the film's age. The transfer is also quite sharp and full of detail. Shadow detail is only slightly above average but still impressive - I can just make out some details in the silhouette of the dancing Indians at the beginning of the film and in Ray's suit when he first arrives at the reservation.

    The film source is quite clean. The only thing that lets this transfer down is the presence of several MPEG artefacts, notably Gibb's effect particularly around the opening titles, and some pixelization particularly in the out-of-focus elements of the picture. For example, have a look at the papers being shuffled on the desk at 5:55 - 6:00.

    The disc comes with a number of subtitle tracks. I had to turn on the English subtitle track at various points in the film to catch what the characters were saying due to my unfamiliarity with Indian words and a tendency for some of the characters to mumble their lines. The subtitles only approximately correspond to the actual words spoken in the dialogue but conveys the general thrust of what was spoken reasonably well.

    This is a single sided dual layered disc (RSDL) and the layer change occurs at 67:53 in between a scene change. It is not too noticeable apart from an unnatural pause as the screen freezes.

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


    There are five language tracks on this disc - English, French, German, Italian and Spanish - all encoded in Dolby Digital 2.0 surround at 256 Kb/s.

    Despite the lack of a subwoofer channel, the bass in this track is rather good - especially at the beginning. However, the age of the soundtrack is revealed in pistol shots which sound somewhat tinny.

    The music score by James Horner is pretty average and forgettable.

    Rear surround usage is confined to occasional ambience and music, but then most of the film is dialogue-driven so I wasn't too bothered.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    The extras on this disc are fairly minimal.


    All menus are static and full frame.

Theatrical Trailer(2:26)

    This is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 (pan & scan?) with Dolby Digital 2.0 surround encoded sound.

Biographies-Cast & Crew

    This is a set of stills providing a couple of facts and filmographies for:


    There is censorship information available for this title. Click here to read it (a new window will open). WARNING: Often these entries contain MAJOR plot spoilers.

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;

    The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;

    I would say Region 4 wins by a narrow margin.


    Thunderheart has an interesting storyline somewhat based on real life events at an Indian reservation, but is marred by over-reliance on a "mystic" subplot reminiscent of the worst of cult TV series Twin Peaks. It features a brilliant performance by Val Kilmer and the directorial efforts of Michael Apted. It is presented on a DVD with an excellent video transfer and a more-than-passable audio transfer. Unfortunately, the extras are rather uninteresting.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Christine Tham (read my biography)
Tuesday, July 24, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-626D, using Component output
DisplaySony VPL-VW10HT LCD Projector, ScreenTechnics 16x9 matte white screen (254cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVR-3300
SpeakersFront and rears: B&W CDM7NT; centre: B&W CDMCNT; subwoofer: B&W ASW2500

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