Dancer in the Dark (2000)

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Released 4-Jul-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio & Animation
Scene Selection Anim & Audio
Audio Commentary-Lars von Trier (Dir) & Per Streit (Sound Designer)
Interviews-Crew-Lars von Trier
Theatrical Trailer
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-von Trier's 100 eyes
Music Highlights
Web Links
Gallery-Photo
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2000
Running Time 134:27 (Case: 139)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (45:34) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Lars von Trier
Studio
Distributor

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring Bjork
Catherine Deneuve
David Morse
Peter Stormare
Jean-Marc Barr
Joel Grey
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $36.95 Music Bjork


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Danish 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 Danish
Swedish
Norwegian
Finnish
English Audio Commentary
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    Dancer In The Dark concerns two subjects about which I have strong feelings. To make it worse, I had heard very little about this film before I sat down to review it. Had I known, I would most likely have chosen not to review it. If you have already seen the film, and want to hear whether this DVD does it justice, then I recommend you skip forward to the Transfer Quality section now.

 

    I have worn glasses for most of my life. I suspect that people who have imperfect vision value their sight more. So the fact that the central character is losing her sight hits home hard. I can empathise all too well.

    Capital punishment is wrong for many reasons. The one reason that I consider most important, though, is "what if you are wrong?". This film may be intended to argue against it, but it portrays it far too well.

    So those are the thematic problems I have with this movie. I don't have any real problems with the script - it tells an unpleasant story - but it is hardly unique in that. Let's move on to the problems I have with the director.

    This is the first film I have ever seen made by Lars von Trier. It will also be the last. Quite clearly this man values style over story, and loves playing games according to rules he makes up for himself. "Let's film this dance number with 100 cameras fixed in position - that sounds like a cute rule" - never mind if it is a good way to make a movie - it appeals to his aesthetics. It may be high art, but it is not to my taste. He has obsessions, and he gives them full rein - he is obsessed with "real sound", and "real sets". "You can feel that we are in that small set with them" - that's exactly what I don't want to feel. Apparently he has even infected other directors with his "dogma" - fortunately the documentary includes a list, so it will be easy to avoid them.

    I watched the movie before I watched any of the extras. I always work that way, because the extras often contain plot spoilers, so I had no idea of this style. As I watched, I made notes that the style seemed "documentary" - jarring cuts between shots, discontinuities, subtly amateurish sound, hand-held camera work complete with camera shake and lapses in focus (it might be high art, but it smacks of home movies). As I watched the extras, I was shocked to discover that the director was working hard to achieve just such an effect.

    Finally, we come to the commentary. The commentary is in Danish, with English subtitles - I left the Danish running, because I did not want to listen to the soundtrack again. By listening (OK, watching) the commentary I gained insight into the director's ideas and behaviour. At first I was surprised at the suggestions that he and Bjork had had problems. I was listening to him, and I felt some sympathy - after all, musicians can be temperamental, and some of what he was saying sounded reasonable. A musician should be open to making some changes to accommodate the needs of the film. But as he continued, I began to wonder. More and more I began to suspect that his problems with Bjork were not all her fault. As he expounded his obsession with "real sound" I found it easy to understand how a modern musician, used to a recording studio and accustomed to releasing recordings that include only the best sounds, might be unhappy at being expected to record in a machine shop, and on a moving train. He complains that the dance numbers sound "much worse than they had to be" - by which he means that they sound too good, too polished! It was amusing that he also said that she was extremely good in the role, but he qualified it by saying that she could not act, only feel (I wonder what the Method school of acting might have to say about that?).

    The blurb on the back of the cover describes "a magnificent and tragic finale", and "an astonishing and triumphant musical melodrama". I do not agree. I'd say more that it is an unpleasant story of a determined woman trapped in a horrible situation by another person's weakness, with tragic consequences that are shown in graphic detail. The musical numbers are unusual, but striking.

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

Transfer Quality

Video

    The video transfer looks to be an excellent transfer of inherently lower grade source material.

    The movie is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and it is 16x9 enhanced.

    The picture is sometimes sharpish, but a lot of the time it is a bit soft, with either fine grain or low-level noise, plus lapses in focus. Shadow detail is better than I'd expect, judging from the sharpness.

    The colours appear muted, with a slight sepia cast. Although there is no mention of it, I would guess that this is deliberate. The film is set in 1963 or 1964, and it may be that this is an attempt to mimic the look of those times.

    I saw few film artefacts. Aliasing was very well-controlled, almost non-existent, and I saw no other film-to-video or MPEG artefacts. I think the image is as good as it can be, given the source material.

    The disc is RSDL-formatted, with the layer change at 45:34. Bjork has lain her head in her arms, she is still, and the soundtrack is silent, then we cut to another scene. I had to use technical means to locate this layer change - I certainly did not spot it in watching the movie. A lovely piece of work.

    Subtitles are listed as Danish, Norwegian, Finnish and English - I think that's stretching the reality a little. There are Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, and Finnish subtitles for the movie. The English subtitles are for the commentary. There are no English subtitles for the movie, nor Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, or Finnish subtitles for the commentary.

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

Audio

    There are two soundtracks - the 5.1 English soundtrack to the movie, and the commentary in Danish. I listened to both.

    Dialogue clarity is variable. Because of the director's obsession with "real sound" we get some lines which are hard to hear, let alone understand (I'm sure they are very artistic, though). There are some examples of poor audio sync, too - the most obvious being at 86:55.

    The score is interesting. I have not heard Bjork's other work, so I cannot tell you if it is typical of her, but I liked it. There is plenty of bass, and some preference for brass instruments. It is well-suited to the environs, and quite effective in the movie. She did not write the lyrics, so we cannot blame her for their failure to scan properly.

    The surrounds only really operate during the musical numbers, but during those they are used well. The subwoofer supports the musical numbers, and is well-integrated.

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

Extras

    There are several extras, including a substantial documentary.

Menu

    The menu has clips of the movie behind it, with music. Rather a nice effort.

Theatrical Trailer (2:05)

    The trailer is presented in what looks like an aspect ratio of 1.66:1, non-16x9 enhanced.

Interview - Lars von Trier (10:21)

    Lars von Trier spends most of this interview lying on a couch. He explains that he sees musicals as "operetta", and that he was trying to make the "opera" equivalent - not something light and frothy, but something with more "melodrama" (I think he meant "drama"). He also goes on about his idea of using a large number of unmanned fixed cameras, rather than "staging things for a single camera".

Choose a Dance

    This is a scene selection menu that includes only the dance numbers. A nice touch.

Biography - Lars von Trier

    This 17 page bio includes a lot of information. It includes links to four trailers, all presented non-16x9 enhanced. These are trailers for:

    I recognised the background music to the trailer for Breaking the Waves - it was the second half of Child In Time by Deep Purple.

Documentary - von Trier's 100 eyes (55:50)

    This documentary is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced, with a soundtrack in Danish. English subtitles are available. It concerns, primarily, von Trier's use of 100 fixed cameras for filming the dance numbers. Interestingly, during the commentary he mentions that one dance number, the one on the train, used 300 cameras.

Production Stills

    32 still photos from the production.

Commentary - Lars von Trier (director) and Per Streit (sound designer)

    This commentary was quite clearly unscripted. They sat down with the movie and a recorder, and started talking. Lars von Trier comes from the left channel of the Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack, while Per Streit, the sound man, sounds quite muffled in the right. Most of what they say is covered in the subtitles, although there is at least one sequence that is incompletely translated. There were beeps covering some of the things Lars von Trier said about Bjork (the beeps were faithfully rendered in the subtitles as "beep"). I don't know what the beeps were covering, as Lars von Trier used most of the usual words in other parts of his commentary, and they were translated.

    About 24 minutes into the movie the director says that there is no point in watching the rest of the movie - the scenes we have seen are sufficient. As the movie continues, he becomes less and less interested in commenting. Close to the end he comments that directors should be forced to watch their own movies ten times over in a row - he thinks movies would be shorter as a consequence. His last words, over the credits, are "Oh, f*** it".

    He points out the name of the judge - Judge A D Mantle - and mentions that this name appears in another of his films "Breaking The Waves". I was amused for a different reason - I liked the fact that he was "Judge Mantle"...

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:

    It is surprising to see so many differences between the two discs. The only extras they have in common are the trailer, the index to the songs, and the 100 eyes documentary.

    Which is better? I call it a draw.

Summary

    This DVD is a very good transfer of flawed source material.

    The video quality is as good as the source material allows.

    The audio quality is as good as the source material allows.

    The extras are extensive.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Tony Rogers (bio-degrading: making a fool of oneself in a bio...)
Sunday, June 24, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-737, using Component output
DisplaySony VPL-VW10HT LCD Projector, ScreenTechnics matte white screen with a gain of 1.0 (280cm). 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

Other Reviews
DVD Net - Anthony H (read my bio)
The DVD Bits - Dean B

Comments (Add)
About the Region 1 version -