The Pelican Brief (1993)

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Released 7-Oct-1998

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Biographies-Cast & Crew
Production Notes
Featurette-Director's Corner
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1993
Running Time 135:25
RSDL / Flipper FLIPPER (74:29) Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 4 Directed By Alan J. Pakula

Warner Home Video
Starring Julia Roberts
Denzel Washington
Sam Shepard
John Heard
Tony Goldwyn
James B. Sikking
William Atherton
Robert Culp
Stanley Tucci
Hume Cronyn
John Lithgow
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $24.95 Music James Horner

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    The Pelican Brief is another of John Grisham's many novels turned into a movie (so far we've had The Firm, The Client, The Rainmaker, The Chamber and A Time to Kill). Some of his adapted novels have obviously worked better than others when translated for the big screen, but The Pelican Brief is probably the slowest of them, although to be fair the performances handed in by the likes of Denzel Washington, John Lithgow and Sam Shepard, not to mention an outstanding effort from Julia Roberts save this movie from mediocrity.

    The movie begins with the murder of two Supreme Court justices during a single night, sparking an outcry as to the safety of the judiciary in the country. A college professor, Thomas Callahan (Sam Shepard) awakes to discover that his old mentor Justice Rosenberg (Hume Cronyn) was one of those murdered. Suffering from his own personal demons (the booze) he falls into a deep depression and his current girlfriend Darby Shaw (Julia Roberts) decides that she can work out who killed both justices where the authorities have failed.

    Disappearing for a week, she sifts through mountains of documentation and court decisions and comes up with a short dissertation which becomes known as The Pelican Brief, in which she outlines that the murders were committed because of plain old-fashioned greed over the rights of an endangered species of pelicans and that the perpetrators have links right into the White House.

    Callahan is slightly dismissive (as is she) of the whole brief and it's only when in Washington to attend the memorial of his dead mentor that Callahan, meeting up with an old friend from the FBI, Gavin Verheek (John Heard), that he mentions it again. Verheek obtains a copy of the brief and shudders run through the corridors of power culminating in the death of Callahan in a car bomb and leaving Darby on the run from unknown enemies.

    During all this, Gray Grantham (Denzel Washington), a reporter, is also following his own leads into the deaths of the two Justices and eventually Darby and Grantham get together: Grantham to solve the mystery and Darby to try and stay alive long enough to reach her 25th birthday.

    Like I said earlier, this is a slow-building movie with the storyline tending to run out of steam towards the end but it is bolstered by an excellent cast who help maintain the momentum. This isn't one of director's Alan Pakula's better efforts but it's still very watchable especially if you like political thrillers.

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Transfer Quality


    This was one of the earlier DVDs released in Region 4. You will often find it in one of Warner Bros original 'snapper' cases and it is a flipper (you must turn it over to see the second half of the movie). The DVD has recently been repackaged in the more acceptable Amaray case with sleeve, but is still a flipper.

    The original theatrical aspect ratio was 2.39:1 according to all reports, and this transfer is offered to us at 2.35:1 with 16x9 enhancement which isn't a problem.

    The first thing I noticed with this transfer was the proliferation of edge enhancement used. It is basically visible in nearly all scenes where you can see an outline, which was annoying. It's hard to make a solid call on the sharpness as a result of this. I made a judgement of 'reasonable' because of the fact that a lot of scenes offered good fine detail in their presentation. Shadow detail was a little on the poor side, mainly due to the fact that the transfer was unnaturally dark. If you look at the picture of Denzel Washington on the rear cover you'll get an idea of what I mean. That sort of dark shot was fairly endemic throughout which was definitely not how I remember it at the pictures. Grain was tolerable although present, but not enough to present a problem or be annoying. Low level noise didn't appear to be an issue with blacks being solid at all times.

    The colour for the most part was good, with what seemed to be just a slight red enhancement. The overall darkness of the transfer may be a possible cause of this but it was mainly noticeable in the browns and not the skin tones fortunately. Apart from this, the colour palette was reasonably good with no noted colour bleed or oversaturation on offer.

    There were quite a few noted artefacts on offer in this transfer. The usual flecks were noticed at 3:30, 21:52 and 58:21, fortunately only on Side 1. Both sides did have occasional little marks and nicks in the film but these were minute and barely noticeable for the most part. There was some shimmering which was noticeable at 16:03 on a table edge and at 28:00 on a park bench on Side 1. On Side 2, aliasing was noticeable at 9:08, 25:00 on a car and at 34:09. There were other minor incidences but not worth noting. A slightly more common problem was the number of moiré effects on offer at 17:34 and 17:56 on a TV screen, on window shutters at 25:28 and 72:44 on another visible TV screen on Side 1, and on Side 2 at 4:46 there were substantial moiré effects on office Venetian blinds in shot.

    There were 3 subtitle tracks on offer which I had occasion to turn on. They are in white, and since the picture is slightly darker than normal were very visible. They were concise to the vocals, omitting only the unnecessary dialogue and were in a very readable font.

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


    My initial response to the audio on this disc was one of slight disappointment. I thought there'd be a lot more to recommend it than was on offer but that was mainly due to the slow build-up throughout the movie. There is substantially more on offer on Side 2 in regards to both the surrounds and the subwoofer. The opening sequences offer a nice displacement effect and the fronts are never quiet with some excellent enveloping work coming later in the movie to really give this some punch.

    There is only one soundtrack on offer on this disc in English Dolby Digital 5.1 at a reasonable, but not overly generous 384 kilobits per second. Being the only track on offer ... well you know the drill.

    I noted no problems with the dialogue although there did seem to be some ADR work in evidence during the scenes with noisy backgrounds. Audio sync was not an issue even so.

    Good music on this disc. James Horner's music ideally matches the mood of each scene with a solid score. Possibly not his best effort but I doubt there will be too many complaints. The opening pieces are soft and subdued with more robust offerings during the climatic scenes in the movie.

    There is far more surround usage on Side 2 of this disc than Side 1, but they are used with frequency throughout the movie, mostly augmenting the music and offering some excellent atmospherics. They also produce some decent bangs during the special effects sequences.

    The subwoofer was used very judiciously during the course of the movie. A lot of bass redirection to the subwoofer gave it a solid feel during many parts of the picture.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Biographies-Cast & Crew

    Quite a decent array of 'ographies on offer, but nothing you haven't seen before.

Production Notes

    5 pages of mostly 'ho hum' detail.


    Typical featurette with a running time of 1:52 and in 1.85:1, 16x9 enhanced aspect ratio. There are some slight blemishes on offer but basically this is a good clean offering. One thing to note is that this featurette is not as dark as the movie on this disc.

R4 vs R1

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

    There isn't much to chose from between the regions. There were some slight differences on offer:

    The Region 4 DVD misses out on;

    The Region 1 misses out on;


    The Pelican Brief was the second of John Grisham's novels to be made into a movie (if my memory serves me correctly) but it wasn't the most interesting. The plot was a little slow, although Julia Roberts did give a stellar performance which saved it somewhat. It is a good movie without being totally convincing. Nonetheless, it is worthy of a repeat viewing.

    The video transfer was a little too dark for my liking. There were some noticeable transfer errors, but they didn't detract too much.

    The audio was far superior to the video transfer. Good all-round effort

    A typical early release DVD effort in the extras department.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Carl Berry (read my bio)
Tuesday, August 21, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDLoewe Xemix 5006DD, 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

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