Proof of Life (2000)

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Released 12-Sep-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio & Animation
Listing-Cast & Crew
Audio Commentary-Taylor Hackford (Director)
Featurette-Making Of
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2000
Running Time 129:50
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (65:00) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Taylor Hackford
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Meg Ryan
Russell Crowe
David Morse
Pamela Reed
David Caruso
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $34.95 Music Danny Elfman


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/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
Spanish
Italian
Dutch
Swedish
Norwegian
Danish
Finnish
Portuguese
Hebrew
Polish
Greek
Czech
Turkish
Hungarian
Icelandic
Croatian
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes, just about evey character in the film!
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, the entire credits are over beautiful landscapes.

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

Plot Synopsis

    If you believe the blurb on the back cover, Proof of Life is a "romantic thriller". If you watched the trailer, you would have been forgiven for thinking that it is an action gun fest. In reality, it is neither. Anyone coming into this movie expecting a strong romantic thread will be sorely disappointed, as the relationship is neither strong, nor obvious. Those wanting an action movie would not be much better off than the romantics, as there are really only three action sequences during the entire movie, and while they are quite brilliant, they certainly will not satisfy anyone looking for a gun fest. What Proof of Life is, and what it does extremely well, is part thriller, part psychological drama. If that is the type of movie you are looking for, and the type of mind-set you approach it with, then you will be in for a thoroughly enjoyable time.

    Proof of Life is based around the new boom industry of Kidnap and Ransom, or K&R. The film opens with K&R "consultant" Terry Thorne (Russell Crowe) recapping to his employers the latest kidnap retrieval case in Chechnya. The narration is presented over vision of the latter stages of the retrieval process, and this provides a very spectacular opening action sequence that rivals most Bond openings. Once we have established the concept of K&R and the character of Terry Thorne, we are taken to the fictional South American country of Tecala, where engineer Peter Bowman (David Morse) and his wife Alice (Meg Ryan) are having problems on both personal and professional fronts. For Peter, his dream of building a dam is in jeopardy as his company is quickly going under, while Alice is by no means happy to be stuck in Tecala. Unfortunately for the Bowmans, things get worse the very next day when Peter is kidnapped by the ELT, a local pseudo-political drug conglomeration. This, of course, is where Terry is brought back into proceedings as the K&R consultant. Of course, there are complications, and Terry is forced to forgo his career to help Alice.

    Proof of Life is a well written and tightly directed movie, cleverly weaving together elements of action, mystery, thriller and drama to produce a relatively original experience. It is worth seeing this movie for the jungle scenes alone, however. These scenes were shot in real jungle in Ecuador, which doubles for Tecala throughout the movie, and is some of the most magnificent scenery ever captured for a motion picture. There were many occasions when I realised that I was spending more time looking at the scenery than the action taking place, it was simply that beautiful.

    There are, of course, two interesting points that must be made about Proof of Life. The first is that Russell Crowe gets to speak in his Australian accent in this movie. This does, unfortunately, lead to the obligatory "your accent is Australian" line that it seems every American movie with an Australian accent in it must have. I do wonder at times why this is necessary. If I do not recognise an accent in a movie I might wonder about it for a few minutes, but it generally does not affect my view of the movie, so why American movies must insist on pointing out that an accent is Australian, I simply cannot fathom. The final result, however, is certainly a positive, as it is never a bad thing to hear an Aussie accent in a big budget American movie. The second side note to Proof of Life is that it was during production of the movie that Russell Crowe and Meg Ryan became involved with each other, ending Meg Ryan's eight year marriage to Dennis Quaid. At the time of the movie's release, this was a major story, and was blamed by Taylor Hackford for the movie's poor showing at the box office. Certainly it did effect the film, as Taylor Hackford notes during the commentary, a love scene between Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe was cut due to testing badly with audiences, and as such completely decimates the romantic plot, and makes a few scenes somewhat less meaningful than had the original story, including the love scene, been left in place. Despite this, Proof of Life as it is presented to us here is still a very fine movie that works well as a combination thriller and drama.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Warner have presented an excellent transfer here that really brings the diverse locations used in the film to life.

    Presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, this transfer is 16x9 enhanced.

    The transfer is extremely sharp, with the finest details clear to see (including severed body parts, or at least the remains thereof). The shadow detail is very good, with any action taking place in the dark being extremely easy to make out. It is somewhat unfortunate for shadow detail this good that the vast majority of the film takes place in well-lit environments. There is a light amount of film grain present at times, but for the most part it is not very noticeable. There is no low level noise present in this transfer.

    Colour is the highlight of this transfer, as the varied regions of the world in which it takes place all have their own characteristics that are quite disparate from each other. There is the drab, almost black and white feel of the Chechen opening, the muted greys and greens of England, the warm earthy colours of the Bowman home, and the vast, deep greens of the "Tecalan" jungles. Each setting is rendered in sumptuous detail, and there are never any problems with colour bleed or over-saturation. The only time that the colours appear muted is when intended, and where highlights are called for, they are there. Simply put, the colours here are brilliant.

    There is very little in the way of compression artefacts in this transfer, with the only culprit being background pixelization due to the previously mentioned film grain. This happens on numerous occasions and usually remains relatively minor, although occasionally becoming quite noticeable. One of the worst offenders in this regard can be found in the sequence at 44:00-44:25. Film to video artefacts consist entirely of some aliasing. This is not a constant presence, but does occur often enough to be a small blight on the transfer. As with the pixelization, when it does appear it is not usually a large problem, but there are some fairly noticeable occurrences, such as on the wall at 5:45. There are very few film artefacts present in this transfer, but the fact that those that do appear are quite noticeable is somewhat worrying for such a recent film, although this was most likely caused by the choice to use a source that had already had subtitles burned into it (and therefore has undergone more processing stages than usual before the film to video conversion).

    The English subtitles on this disc are quite accurate, dropping only the occasional word. They appear at the bottom of the image such that if a second line is required, it appears in the black letterbox area rather than on the image. This is always a good place to put subtitles in a 2.35:1 film. The font used to render the subtitles is easily readable, and looks quite nice. The English subtitles that are used in the film for Spanish and Russian dialogue are burned into the print, and as such are rendered in a very attractive font that is also easily readable, but is different from the other subtitles. The downside to this is that the non-English subtitle streams need to double up on the subtitles and are hence forced to the top of the screen for that period. On the positive side, the Spanish subtitle track provides no subtitles for the Spanish dialogue, and so does not suffer the double subtitle problem.

    This disc is RSDL formatted, with the layer change taking place at 65:00, during Chapter 18. This has to be one of the absolute worst layer changes I have ever seen. It takes place during a line of dialogue, and on my Pioneer 535 takes a very long time to navigate. It is very much an attention grabber, and disrupts somewhat from the scene being played. There are plenty of more fortuitous places it could have been located, so this placement seems somewhat sloppy.

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

Audio

    This is a brilliant audio transfer, being totally immersive, and very impressive at the same time. Certainly few action films rely as heavily as Proof of Life on dialogue, or alternatively, there are few dialogue-driven films that have as much action as Proof of Life, hence providing this soundtrack with a somewhat unique blend of requirements.

    There are four audio tracks on this disc. There is the original English dialogue and dubs in Spanish and Italian all in Dolby Digital 5.1, and there is a Dolby Digital 2.0 commentary track featuring director Taylor Hackford. I listened to both the English dialogue and the director's commentary track.

    English dialogue, apart from one whispered sequence, was always clear and easy to understand. The whispered sequence, occurring at the same point as the layer change (65:00) is extremely difficult to understand (and is not aided by the mid-sentence break-up thanks to the layer change). In fact, I at first thought that the dialogue was not in English, and I had to resort to turning on the subtitles to understand what was being said. To be fair, this is whispered dialogue in a German accent, which certainly would not make the job easy for the DVD authors.

    There were no audio sync problems whatsoever with this transfer.

    The score by Danny Elfman is an interesting mix of percussive and industrial sounds driven by pulsing bass, and a traditional orchestral score. It is very effective and complements the on-screen action nicely.

    The surround channels are used aggressively throughout the transfer to provide ambient surround for the quieter sequences and good directional placement for the action sequences. They are also used to complement the score. This is an extremely immersive soundtrack that grabs you from the start and never lets you go.

    The subwoofer is heavily used during action sequences to enhance explosions. Unsurprisingly, it receives no use during dialogue-driven sequences, which is to be expected. Overall, it is a very impressive subwoofer track, placing a good amount of support exactly where it is needed and staying away when it is not wanted.

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

Extras

    The extras presented here are few and only mildly interesting, certainly not worth considering in a decision to purchase the disc.

Menu

    The menu is animated, with the theme song used as audio. They are clear and very easy to navigate. These menus do have the nasty habit of automatically starting the movie after a few minutes of idle time. This seems a silly decision, as the only reason I can conceive of for why I would want this to happen is if the select button on my remote had broken, and in that case, I would imagine that I have bigger problems.

Featurette - Making of Proof of Life (14:04)

    This is presented in the 4:3 TV ratio and is of only mild interest, being mostly a marketing exercise to promote the film.

Theatrical Trailer (2:09)

    This is presented in 2.35:1, 16x9 enhanced, and with Dolby Digital 2.0 surround encoded sound. It is of excellent quality, and is quite effective at selling what is obviously another film with the same name, because it certainly was not the film that I watched.

Director's Commentary - Taylor Hackford (Director)

    Taylor Hackford has the ability to talk, and talk he does. He stops for only a few seconds of the film's 129 minute plus running time. Unfortunately, the vast majority of his commentary is simply talking through the story, and listing which country almost every actor in the film hails from. In a way, this complements the movie itself, giving much greater background to each of the characters, and showing the detail that goes into planning a story of this nature. It does become quite tedious however, and is difficult to listen to in one sitting. To make the commentary all the more frustrating, the occasional piece of interesting, non-story related information is let out. This commentary is certainly worth listening to if you are a fan of the film, but it is probably best to plan over a few sittings.

Cast & Crew

    A list of the major cast and crew. Yes, just a list, and a single page list at that. This is basically a mini-credits. Why it is there, I have no idea.

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;     Not only does the R1 come in a snapper case, but it has an RRP of $25 USD (over $50 AUD at this time). Those facts, combined with the PAL formatting of our disc would make the R4 the disc of choice.

Summary

    Proof of Life is a very good adventure thriller. It is not an action film. It is certainly not a romance film. It is presented on a very nice DVD from Warner Home Video.

    The video quality is excellent, with only a few instances of noticeable aliasing and grain letting it down.

    The audio quality is brilliant, presenting an immersive sound experience like few others.

    The extras are somewhat disappointing, but still worthwhile additions to the film.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Nick Jardine (My bio, it's short - read it anyway)
Monday, September 10, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-535, using S-Video output
DisplayRCA 80cm. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-DS787, THX Select
SpeakersAll matching Vifa Drivers: centre 2x6.5" + 1" tweeter (d'appolito); fronts and rears 6.5" + 1" tweeter; centre rear 5" + 1" tweeter; sub 10" (150WRMS)

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