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PLEASE NOTE: Michael D's is currently in READ ONLY MODE. Anything submitted will simply not be written to the database.
Lots of stuff is still broken, but at least reviews can now be looked up and read.
Once Were Warriors (1994)

Once Were Warriors (1994)

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Released 20-Aug-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Audio Commentary-Lee Tamahori (Director)
Theatrical Trailer-Music Trailer
Theatrical Trailer
Music Video-6
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 1994
Running Time 98:26 (Case: 102)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (72:56) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Lee Tamahori
Magna Home Entertainment
Starring Rena Owen
Temuera Morrison
Mamaengaroa Kerr-Bell
Case Click
RPI $14.95 Music Murray Grindlay
Murray McNabb

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 1.0 (96Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.66:1
16x9 Enhancement
Not 16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes, pervasive
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    I can't say I wasn't warned. And neither can you. Once Were Warriors is a strong film, one which will test your sensitivities, your empathy, and which may hurt you. But I am going to recommend that you watch it, and think about what it is saying. Do not watch this film if you are feeling vulnerable or depressed - go watch something heart-warming, or uplifting, or even mindless. Only watch this film when you are feeling strong and resilient.

    This film, superficially, is talking about New Zealand, and the problems of the Maori trapped at the bottom of its socio-economic scale. If that helps you cope with it, so be it. Close your eyes to the fact that the problems are here, too, and that they are not isolated to Maori (here endeth the political comment).

    There is some brutal violence in this film. Lots of coarse language. And some sexual violence, including rape. Like I said - you can't say you weren't warned.

    I am not going to reveal any of the plot. I knew nothing of the plot beforehand, and it hit me hard. You deserve the same! Suffice it to say that the plot doesn't pull any punches (you'll get the pun afterwards). Let me just say that the actors give an astounding performance, and the film deserves every award it received (12 international awards so far).

    The music in the movie is very much to my liking, even though I can't describe it well. The theme tune feels like Hendrix (this is not a coincidence). There are chunks of hip-hop, reggae, Polynesian rhythms, and rock music, plus some traditional Maori sounds including a haka. (A haka looks rather more impressive when it is not being performed in rugby strip.)

    Oh, I wanted to mention that I think the front cover artwork has been reversed, because it has the tattoos on the wrong side of Nig's face, and the eyebrow scar on the wrong side of Jake's face. The Region 2 version of the cover has the same photo, but reversed - I think they have it the correct way around.

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

Transfer Quality


    This movie is presented in an aspect ratio of about 1.66:1, and is not 16x9 enhanced. It isn't evenly cropped - the top seems a bit ragged (it dips in the centre, too), and the bottom black bar is much wider than the top one. Moreover, there are moments during the film when a bright spot at the top or bottom of the frame will bleed into the black bar (see 37:14 for example). During the final credits, the red bars the credits are on extend to the top and bottom. I don't know exactly what is going on here, but I suspect a low quality telecine transfer is at least partly to blame. The film appears to have been cropped slightly on the right side - the reel change markings are cut in half vertically. There may have been some slight cropping on the left, too, but it looks less than the right.

    The picture is generally quite sharp, although there are a few scenes which are imperfectly focussed. During the commentary, the director admits to choosing a shot with poor focus for one scene because it was the best performance - it's hard to argue with that. Shadow detail is mostly very good. There is little to no low-level noise in most scenes, but some crops up in darker shots.

    Colour is awesome in the very first shot, then it is reduced slightly to emphasise the sombre situation. I don't think there's another fully-saturated colour in the rest of the film.

    There's some aliasing, but it is quite minor. There's some shimmer, too, but again quite minor. The biggest trouble is film artefacts. I suspect this transfer was made from a commercial copy of the film, because it has reel change markings every 20 minutes. These markings are not neat and uniform; they are ragged and blotchy - possibly scratched on the print with a blunt object. They have been cut in half by the cropping, but there's still plenty to object to. In addition, on either side of the reel-changes the level of film artefacts is higher - the ends of each reel are a little more prone to damage. We get flecks, scratches, and blobs. One blob (4:24) appears above the frame, in the black bar - I've never seen that before.

    There are a couple of interesting MPEG artefacts in the music videos - I'll describe them later, under extras.

    There are no subtitles at all.

    The disc is RSDL-formatted. The layer change occurs at 72:56, and it is horrible. A guy is singing and moving, and he freezes during the layer change. It stands out like the proverbial.

    All things considered, the video quality is not good. The funny thing is, I think it fits. I think it is right that this movie, this story, has less than perfect video.

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


    There are three soundtracks to choose from, all English. The film soundtrack is available in both 5.1 and 2.0 stereo; there's a mono audio commentary track, too. I chose to listen to the 5.1 and the commentary.

    Dialogue is quite clear, Kiwi accent and all. I thought I noticed a single slip of audio sync, but I could not decide for sure. 

    The score is a selection of music, all contemporary, mostly by Maori artists. There's quite a selection of styles, and it works extremely well. Interestingly, the director has chosen to flag some of the important characters with music or sounds of their own. Jake is flagged, for example, with a Maori equivalent of a bullroarer (for our international readers, that's the Australian name for a thing you whirl around your head on a string). I noticed this, but didn't twig that it was deliberate until listening to the commentary.

    The surround speakers are mostly used for score, but they are quite effective in this. The subwoofer is used extensively to support the low octaves of the sound. I listened to a little of the soundtrack on a TV, and it was most definitely inferior - they have done a nice job on the 5.1 mix.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    The extras are rather good. This is not a fully-loaded Ultimate Edition, but it has plenty to offer.


    The main menu has the movie's theme tune playing. The main menu has the following entries:

    Strangely, they've chosen to put "audio set-up" in the "special features" menu - I would not expect to find it there. The special features menu contains:

    Also a little strangely, the only place there's any indication of the presence of the audio commentary is in the audio setup menu, where you get to choose between the three soundtracks.

Audio Commentary - Director

    This is an excellent commentary, revealing a lot about the process of making the film, and about the people involved. I gained considerable insight by listening to it. I really recommend it. The director has a lot to say, and rarely pauses. He continues talking from the first frame to the very last - I suspect the only thing that stopped him was the end of the credits.

Music Trailer

    This trailer is presented in the same aspect ratio as the movie, but with substantially noisier video. It runs 1:53 minutes, with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. 

International Trailer

    This trailer runs 1:52 minutes, presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. It has a strong voice-over, which appears only in the left speaker.

Interviews - Cast Members

    This is one piece of footage, running 6:50 minutes, in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1. It shows Rena Owen, and Temuera Morrison, speaking separately. In both cases, their voices are mixed solely into the left speaker.

Biographies - Cast Members

    There are biographies for Rena Owen, Temuera Morrison, and Mamengaroa Kerr-Bell. I found it difficult to navigate from one page to the next - the cursor did not appear to move to the obvious Next / Back buttons. I managed to look at the pages using the chapter skip buttons , but I don't think this was the intended way to do it.

Music Videos (6)

    These are music videos. They are:

Two of these videos show a strange single frame MPEG error - a strip across the middle of the frame breaks up into a host of fine vertical lines. It looks odd, but the sound is not affected, and the video is only affected for a single frame, so it's not too bad.

R4 vs R1

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

    This film does not appear to be released on DVD in Region 1, as yet. It is available in Region 2. There are reports of some problems in releasing it in New Zealand - perhaps our Kiwi readers will have to order it from Australia?


    Once Were Warriors is a powerful and disturbing movie, presented imperfectly on DVD. 

    The video quality is not good. Strangely, the video imperfections feel appropriate to the film.

    The audio quality is excellent.

    The extras are good.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Tony Rogers (bio-degrading: making a fool of oneself in a bio...)
Thursday, August 16, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDArcam DV88, using Component output
DisplaySony VPH-G70 CRT Projector, QuadScan Elite scaler (Tripler), ScreenTechnics 110. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVC-A1SE
SpeakersFront Left and Right: Krix Euphonix, Centre: Krix KDX-C Rears: Krix KDX-M, Subwoofer: Krix Seismix 5

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