Casualties of War (1989)

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Released 21-Aug-2002

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Featurette-Eriksson's War
Featurette-Making Of
Deleted Scenes-5
Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-In The Line Of Fire; The Caine Mutiny; A Few Good Men
Filmographies-Cast & Crew
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 1989
Running Time 108:58
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (78:59) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Brian De Palma
Studio
Distributor

Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Starring Michael J. Fox
Sean Penn
Don Harvey
John C. Reilly
John Leguizamo
Dale Dye
Ving Rhames
Sam Robards
Case Brackley-Trans-No Lip
RPI $24.95 Music Ennio Morricone


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.40:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.40:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
French
German
Italian
Spanish
Dutch
Arabic
Bulgarian
Croatian
Czech
Danish
Finnish
Greek
Hebrew
Hindi
Hungarian
Icelandic
Norwegian
Polish
Portuguese
Swedish
Turkish
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    Based on a true story from the Vietnam War that was published in The New Yorker in 1969, Casualties of War is one of the better war films that I have seen.

    Watching it for the first time, (I do not know how it has eluded me for so long!) I found it to be a refreshing change from the modern war film that is hell-bent on depicting raging battle scenes and trying to be like Saving Private Ryan. A human tale, this story is dark, incredibly disturbing, emotional and a film that actually made me enraged at its content.

    Michael J. Fox stars as Eriksson, a newcomer, or cherry, to a Vietnam platoon whose sergeant is the equally young Meserve, played menacingly by Sean Penn. Along for the ride in this platoon are Hatcher (John C. Reilly), Diaz (John Leguizamo) and the psychotic Clark (Don Harvey—in a performance that equals Penn's in its ferocity).

    After being betrayed by some Vietnamese citizens, Meserve directs his hatred toward the Vietnamese people instead of at the Viet Cong, and, together with the rest of the platoon, he kidnaps a young Vietnamese peasant girl for some 'portable R&R'.

    The idealistic Eriksson simply cannot stomach that the respectable US military would kidnap and rape an innocent civilian, and he bravely takes his fight up with his commanding officers — much to the detriment of his livelihood, manhood, and his safety within the five man platoon.

    The performances in this film are very solid. Fox manages to break the mould of Alex P. Keaton from Family Ties and Marty McFly from Back To The Future very well. For the first 20 minutes of this film I found it hard to picture Michael J. Fox as someone other than Stuart Little, but soon enough I was entrenched in the story enough that I did not even think of it again. Penn is as you would expect, brilliant. Has he ever had a bad performance? No. He has fire in his eyes and murder on the mind for the whole film. His shrieks and bellows leap from your speakers and managed to scare the hell out of me, let alone everybody around him.

    By far the most stunning performance comes from Vietnamese actress Thuy Thu Le as Oahn, the kidnapped peasant girl. There are hardly words to describe her performance without giving away major plot spoilers, but she manages to express her feelings, fears and pain without speaking a word of English. An amazing performance and one that everybody involved in the film still holds as one of their greatest memories from the set.

    Brian DePalma directs this film with the right amount of gore and violence to show the brutality of war, but does not lose sight of the fact that this story is about personal angst, pain, disgust, want and fear. Some magnificent shots accompany this film. It was actually shot in Thailand. DePalma has never really been a director that inspires me much, but I have to say that he impressed the pants off me with this one. DePalma made me hate some of the characters so much that I felt sick, but he balances this with some artful sequences way ahead of their time. A great directorial performance.

    With supporting performances from Ving Rhames, Dale Dye, Sam Robards and Erik King, Casualties Of War is a truly fantastic film. I enjoyed it more than Oliver Stone's Platoon and definitely rate as my favourite Vietnam film. Definitely one to watch if you have not yet experienced it.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The video quality presented here is very very good considering the film's age, and the size of its release. There are some minor artefacts here and there — none of them are too bad, but they are definitely apparent. All the colours are bright and beautiful and the focus is spot on. A very decent transfer indeed.

    The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.40:1, and is 16x9 enhanced.

    The video transfer is very sharp and well detailed throughout. Possibly at the start of the film there is a bit of a lack of shadow detail, but I would suggest that the film was shot that way to show how thick, dense and dark the jungle can be. There is some mild edge enhancement noticed, with the worst example being at 48:09. There's some grain at 63:14. These times represent the strongest examples of these artefacts, but even though they appear a few more times, they are quite mild. There was no low-level noise.

    The colours are strong and vibrant with the countryside shown off very well. The greens of the hills are deep and beautiful, and the browns are solid and rich. There were no instances of colour bleed or or any other colour-related artefacts.

    There were no MPEG artefacts noticed, and only some mild film to video artefacts noted in the form of aliasing. The aliasing is seen throughout the film on the soldier's live ammo around their necks, but the worst example lies between 76:08-78:59 along the rims of Ving Rhames' glasses. Some very minor telecine wobble can be seen in the opening credits as well. There is a smattering of film artefacts in the form of dust and dirt, with the worst example being at 63:14.

    There are numerous subtitles recorded here. I watched about 15-20 minutes of the English subtitles and found them to be over-simplified. I actually found it quite annoying and had to turn them off.

    This disc is RSDL formatted with the layer change occurring at 78:59. It's in the middle of a scene, but not in the middle of a sentence. This is not the best placement I have seen, but there are not too many good spots throughout the film. It is better than getting a lousy transfer or a flipper disc though....

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

Audio

    The audio transfer here is not fantastic and fails to use all of it 5.1 channels.

    There are plenty of audio tracks recorded here with the best track being an English 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack recorded at 448kb/s.

    I found some of the dialogue in this film hard to understand, and often I was forced to rewind the film and play the scene with subtitles to understand the dialogue properly. I do not really think that this was the fault of the DVD, but rather the clarity of the source material. There were no real instances where the music or effects drowned out the dialogue. Audio sync was fine, with no real concerns.

    A typical and classic Ennio Morricone score accompanies the action on screen here. Sounding very much like his work with The Mission, the score takes us through many styles of music with chorals to fast paced strings to long graceful orchestral sounds. The music emanates primarily through the left and right channels and occasionally wafts through the surround speakers as well.

    Besides the occasional musical cue, the surrounds do not get much of a workout in this film. This is the one area that I have to mark the transfer harshly on, as I really hate it when a 5.1 transfer sound more like a 2.0 transfer. In the action scenes, there are effects coming through these channels, but not enough to satisfy my hunger for surround activity.

    Much of the same can be said for the subwoofer, with only a small amount of work to do when it really needs it.

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

Extras

    There are not a lot of extras here, but what is here is informative, if not very exciting.

Menu

    The menu is a static picture of images from the front cover of the DVD. It is in a ratio of 1.85:1 and is 16x9 enhanced.

Featurette —Eriksson's War    (18:43)

    Presented in a ratio of 1.33:1 and with non 16x9 enhanced images of the film in 2.40:1, this featurettes is more an interview with Michael J. Fox recorded in 2001. Fox recalls most of his memories from the film with topics ranging from casting, locations, Sean Penn and other actors, as well as talking about how he felt for the character of Eriksson and his plight. It is pretty interesting and worth a look.

Featurette — The Making Of Casualties Of War    (31:20)

    Presented in a ratio of 1.33:1 and with non 16x9 enhanced images of the film in 2.40:1, this featurette is again made in 2001 and features interviews with Brian DePalma, producer Art Linson and editor Bill Pankow. Again, it is worthwhile and shows us more about how the filmmakers feel about this personal film. It adds a lot to the telling of the tale and is an obvious replacement for the (lack of a) commentary.

Deleted Scenes    (5)

    All of these scenes are very short, and do not add much to the story, with the exception of Eriksson's Interrogation. All of these scenes are presented in a ratio of 2.35:1 and not 16x9 enhanced. As you might expect, there are a LOT of emulsion scratches and base marks on the film, along with lots of grain and not much shadow detail. Eriksson's Interrogation also includes some cross colouration.

Theatrical Trailer — Casualties Of War    (1:59)

    Presented in the incorrect ratio of 1.78:1 and not 16x9 enhanced, this trailer plays fairly well and hints on the sense of dread that is felt through the film. It is a good trailer but ultimately will not sell the film well to a wide audience.

Trailer — In The Line Of Fire    (1:23)

    This is one of the first truly original 'teasers'. Featuring absolutely no footage from the film, it is presented in a ratio of 1.33:1 and is almost useless in this context as the film was released 9 years ago!

Trailer — The Caine Mutiny   (0:53)

    A very short trailer for the Humphrey Bogart classic presented in a ratio of 1.33:1.

Trailer — A Few Good Men   (2:52)

    A great film and a trailer that plays well, but not here. It gets a wonderful 1.33:1 ratio and looks very blurry and wrong.

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 film seem identical in terms of their extras and their features. The Region 4 video transfer seems to be slightly better, but the Region 1 has a soundtrack that has more action from the surround speakers.

    In a very even contest, I would give the nod to the Region 4 simply because of the superior video format.

Summary

    I had not seen Casualties Of War before this viewing and I was more than impressed with the film's content and how some of the shocking values in it were handled. It is a very good war film that is a nice change if you have forgotten what a war film was before Spielberg 'put you in the middle of the battle' in 1998.

The video transfer is very impressive for a film of its age.

The audio transfer is not very exciting and lacks a bottom end and activity from the rear speakers.

The extras are informative, but it would have been nice to have some more.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Hugh Fotheringham (what the hell is going on in bio??)
Wednesday, October 30, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDSony DVP-S525, using Component output
DisplayLoewe Xelos (81cm) 16:9. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-DS797- THX Select
SpeakersJamo X550 Left and Right, Jamo X5CEN Centre, Jamo X510 Surround

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