Thirteen Days (2000)

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Released 18-Dec-2001

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Dolby Digital Trailer-Egypt
Menu Audio
Audio Commentary-Roger Donaldson (Director) et al
Audio Commentary-Historical Figures
dts Trailer-Piano
Featurette-Roots Of The Cuban Missile Crisis
Featurette-Historical Figures Video Biographies (17)
Featurette-Bringing History To The Silver Screen
Multiple Angles-Visual Effects (1 x 5 plus intro)
Deleted Scenes-* +/- Director's Commentary
Theatrical Trailer
Filmographies-Cast & Crew
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2000
Running Time 139:38
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (70:01)
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Roger Donaldson
Studio
Distributor

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Kevin Costner
Bruce Greenwood
Steven Culp
Dylan Baker
Case Amaray-Transparent-Dual
RPI $44.95 Music Trevor Jones


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English dts 5.1 (768Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    Thirteen Days is a dramatisation of the real life events surrounding the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. The title of the film refers to thirteen suspenseful days in October 1962, during which time the United States of America and the United Soviet Socialist Republics nearly went to war with each other, with the possibility of either or both sides unleashing nuclear weapons. If that had happened, the world would have been a very different place today. The story celebrates the level-headed actions of key political figures within the US Government which prevented the war (including the then President John F. Kennedy one year before he was assassinated).

    On 16 October 1962, at the height of the Cold War, President John F Kennedy (Bruce Greenwood) is shown a series of spy photographs taken from a U-2 reconnaissance flight over Cuba. These photographs indicate that the Soviets are assembling a number of nuclear missiles in Cuba. The president hurriedly assembles a select group of his closest advisers to determine an appropriate response, including his brother Robert Kennedy (Steven Culp) and Appointment Secretary Kenny O'Donnell (Kevin Costner). This group later became known as the Executive Committee of the National Security Council, or EXCOMM.

    What should they do, given that the Soviets have denied that they are building missiles in Cuba? Should the US launch a series of attacks on the missile sites before the missiles are completed, and perhaps even invade Cuba, with the risk that the Soviets may retaliate elsewhere, perhaps in Berlin? Or should the US pursue a diplomatic solution, and in the process reveal to both USSR and Cuba that the USA has been spying on Cuba from the sky for years?

    President Kennedy is reluctant to retaliate by force, even though certain members of the military are urging him to strike before the missiles become operational. Both sides have been amassing nuclear weapons for some time now. He fears the unthinkable - that the conflict will eventually escalate into a full-blown war involving nuclear weapons, with disastrous and terrible consequences. On the other hand, he does not want to be seen as weak and indecisive, and doing nothing may encourage the Soviets to be even bolder in the future. Finally, resolving the situation diplomatically may take months, by which time the missiles will become fully operational, endangering huge sections of the US populace.

    Of course, anyone who lived through the period (thankfully the crisis unfolded before I was born!) and anyone familiar with history will know what happened next. However, I won't spoil the fun for those who don't, as the story is quite gripping and full of drama, made more chilling by the fact that the events actually happened.

    The story mainly focuses on the character of Kevin O'Donnell, confidant and adviser to the Kennedys, and we mainly see events unfold from his perspective. The film starts with him waking up and playing with his son, having breakfast with his wife (Caitlin Wachs) and kids - later on in the film we see a glimpse of how the crisis is impacting upon him and upon members of his family.

    This film did not really do all that well at the box office, and I suspect that this is because we are used to watching action-oriented films where the good guys bomb the hell out of the bad guys and the explosions are rendered in surround sound. Essentially this is a film in which the world is saved through deliberate inaction and verbal promises rather than by 007-like antics. The ending seems somewhat anti-climactic and the characters somehow unheroic.

    This is further compounded by the filmmakers (including Australian-born director Roger Donaldson and writer David Self) succumbing to the temptation of trying to "dress up" the plot to make the film more like an action movie - including a brief scene involving a spy plane being targeted by surface-to-air missiles complete with surround sound, various explosions at sea and even the opening credits which feature footage of nuclear explosions. These scenes are actually detrimental to the film's integrity as they give the viewer the false expectation that something exciting is going to happen. I would actually have preferred it if the filmmakers had played down the fly-overs and explosions and concentrated more on making it a dialogue-focused drama which it clearly is.

    Despite that, I would still recommend that you watch this film, and I think this film has the strong potential to get young adults excited about history and historical events. It reminds us that often there are much better solutions to political conflicts than pressing the trigger or launching an attack - a lesson that some of our current world leaders may well want to heed.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    I've said it before and I'll say it again: New Line movies always seem to get very good transfers, and this one is no exception. Surprisingly (for a high profile film like this) we only get a 1.85:1 transfer (16x9 enhanced) instead of 2.35:1 but this is the intended aspect ratio so there are no complaints here. And besides, given that this aspect ratio (or, to be more precise, 1.78:1) fills up my screen with no black bars - this is also rapidly becoming my favourite aspect ratio.

    This is a very high quality transfer that just narrowly misses out on being labelled "reference quality" (I'll explain why later). Detail levels and colour saturation are very good. I think whoever who did the telecine transfer has deliberately avoided using edge enhancement which is a Very Good Thing in my opinion. Sure, the transfer looks a teensy-weensy bit soft, but all the detail is there and the lack of ringing is most satisfying. Besides, the slight softness actually makes the transfer more film-like somehow.

    Obviously, the quality of the film source is very very good and there's hardly any film artefacts to speak of. The only complaint I have (and this is the reason why this doesn't get the reference quality label) is a slight tendency towards some very low level grain. The grain occasionally seems to be on the verge of materialising but never quite makes it except for one occasion at around 31:04 (which is surprising because this is not a low light situation).

    The quality of the video transfers for the Region 1 and Region 4 versions are very similar. This is surprising, because I would have expected the Region 4 transfer to be superior to the Region 1 version. The Region 4 version is a two disc set with only the film on disc 1, therefore it could utilise a much higher transfer bitrate against the Region 1 version which fits all the extras (and more) on the same disc as the film. This just goes to show that the transfer quality is less directly correlated with the average bitrate than it is with how intelligently the bits are being used by the encoder.

    There is an English for the Hard of Hearing subtitle track, which I turned on for the first half an hour. The subtitling seems reasonably accurate, and tries to attribute dialogue to the relevant character (where this is not clear from the visuals) and makes an attempt at placing dialogue next to the character on-screen where possible. Some, but not all auditory cues are included in the subtitle track.

    This is a dual disc set, with Disc One containing the film and commentary tracks on a single sided dual layered (RSDL) disc, and all the other extras on a second single sided single layered disc. The layer change occurs at 70:01 during a scene change, but is mildly disruptive due to the slight pause.

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

Audio

    Quite surprisingly, the film has been given the red carpet treatment when it comes to audio tracks. Not only do we get the obligatory English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack (but at the higher bitrate of 448 Kb/s) but we also get an English dts 5.1 track (woo hoo!) at the lower bitrate of 768 Kb/s. In addition, we get two audio commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks (224 Kb/s).

    I listened mainly to the dts track. This is pretty much a reference quality audio track, sounding clear and full-bodied at all times. The rear surround channels are very intelligently utilised (though not 100% of the time) to give you the impression that you are right in the middle of any given scene.

    As this is mostly a dialogue-driven film, most of the time the sound is front centred, but the film does use the other channels, including the subwoofer, in the right places - which means during the opening "nuclear explosion" scenes and whenever there are planes flying around or explosions at sea.

    All in all, there is nothing to complain about aurally. The dialogue is excellent and there are no audio synchronisation issues.

    When comparing the Dolby Digital and dts 5.1 tracks, I found that the Dolby Digital track was sharper and "punchier", as well as more directional. In addition, the subwoofer track seems more pronounced. I know quite a lot of people who like the "punchy" sound of Dolby Digital soundtracks and associate it with a "cinema theatre" sound, so if you happen to be one of those you are going to love this track. On the other hand, the dts track seems more subtle with the different sounds integrating better with each other to create an enveloping whole, and the dialogue seems less boomy. Again, I know people who prefer the "smoother" more "integrated" dts sound and again if you are one of these you will like the dts track.

    The original music score by Trevor Jones is unashamedly majestic, patriotic and stirring, and is a bit hard to stomach if you are not into these sort of things, but it does suit the film reasonably well. At times, it too falls into the trap of thinking this is an action film - again giving me the expectation that something exciting is about to happen.

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

Extras

    The extras on this two disc set are very good - no less than two commentary tracks, two featurettes, lots of video snippets, deleted scenes ... but wait there's more! The two-disc formatting offers the best balance between transfer quality and quantity of extras: the film and audio commentaries on disc one, and all the other extras on disc two.

    I was pleasantly surprised to find that almost all the extras (with the surprising exception of the theatrical trailer) are 16x9 enhanced, including all featurettes, menus and stills. Some of the featurettes look like they have been originally shot in 1.33:1 and then cropped into widescreen. On reflection, I realised this is because on the Region 1 version of this DVD, these extras would be accessible via the Infinifilm menus (more about this later) and therefore need to be consistent with the feature film itself, which is 16x9 enhanced.

    The quality of the video transfer for the extras seem to be much higher on the Region 1 disc (where they almost match the video transfer quality of the film itself) than on the Region 4 disc, which looks soft and full of compression artefacts.

Menu

    All menus are 16x9 enhanced, and both discs feature menu introductions, and main menu audio and animation.

Dolby Digital Trailer-Egypt

    Standard (loud and overpowering) Dolby Digital trailer. This is played before the feature if you select the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track.

dts Trailer-Piano

    Standard dts trailer. This is played before the feature if you select the dts 5.1 audio track.

Audio Commentary-Roger Donaldson (Director) et al

    This filmmaker's commentary features the voices of Michael De Luca (Executive Producer), David Self (Writer), Roger Donaldson (Director), Kevin Costner ("Ken O'Donnell"), and Michael McAlister (Visual Effects Supervisor). Each of the filmmakers talk about their memories of the real life events (and one of them wasn't even born then!), the genesis of the film (and why they decided to centre the story around Ken O'Donnell), the quest for making the sets as accurate as possible, casting, and other anecdotes related to the making of the film.

    I found this commentary quite interesting to listen to, as there is a steady stream of dialogue and comments from the various characters. I suspect this is an edited commentary as the transitions across voices are quite smooth (either that, or these guys really work well as a team!) and there has been an attempt to correlate the commentary to what is happening on-screen. The commentary sounds like it was recorded with the participants in the same room as they do respond to each other's comments.

Audio Commentary-Historical Figures

    This audio commentary features an edited collection of some of the real life figures involved in the crisis, including excerpts from an audio interview with the real Kenneth O'Donnell, together with comments from various "experts" (mostly the ones included in the featurette). A female voice introduces each voice so that we know who is saying what.

    I did not enjoy this commentary as much as the filmmaker's commentary as it got boring after a while, and a lot of the commentary is also repeated elsewhere in other extras.

Featurette-Roots Of The Cuban Missile Crisis (48:45)

    This is a rather extensive featurette talking about the historical context behind the film and the motivations of the historical characters, and also the background leading to the Cuban Missile Crisis. It features historical footage, excerpts from the film, interviews with no less than the following cast of thousands (well, tens):

    Each interviewee's name and role is captioned every time he/she appears on screen - not just the first time, but on subsequent occasions as well. I was wondering about this until I realised excerpts from this featurette are also selectable from the R1 Infinifilm menus and hence each separately-accessible segment has to feature fresh captions.

    This featurette really opened up my eyes to the larger context behind the film and the chain of events leading to the Cuban missile crisis. It is easy to form the viewpoint from watching the film that the Soviets are the "bad guys" because they placed the missiles in Cuba which started the whole thing. But as the featurette explains, perhaps the Russians were simply responding to the US placing missiles in Turkey (which is pretty close to the USSR). And the whole nuclear arms race started because the US (not the Russians) threatened to use nuclear weapons to resolve the Berlin situation. Of course, the Berlin situation started because the Russians refused to withdraw from Germany after World War II. But then it was the US that started the anti-communist propaganda in the first place and turned an issue with Stalin into an question of ideology. So, I guess real life politics is a whole long chain of causes and effects, and one action leading to another until there is no good or bad side, just different sides, both equally stupid.

Featurette-Historical Figures Video Biographies (17)

    This includes biographical vignettes of the real life participants of the crisis, combining interviews (with the people from the above featurette) with historical footage contrasting the real life individuals and the actors who play their roles in the film. I found it uncanny how the filmmakers managed to find actors who bore such a remarkable resemblance to the people they play (apart from Kevin Costner who looks nothing like the real Ken O'Donnell).

Featurette-Bringing History To The Silver Screen (10:38)

    This is a short making-of featurette focusing on the accuracy of the transition from historical events to the storyline, how they recreated the White House of the "Camelot" era in the studio, including the detail in the sets, how they shot the Cuban scenes in the Philippines, casting, the rationale for shooting some of the scenes in black and white, and a discussion of how the visual effects were generated.

    This features includes interviews with:

    The fascinating part of the featurette for me was the ending where they revealed that they actually digitally enhanced and coloured historical footage (of protesters outside the White House and members of the public reacting to the news) and integrated them into the film. This was done so well I did not notice anything amiss whilst watching the film.

Multiple Angles-Visual Effects (1 x 5 plus intro)

    This is an introductory video (1:22) (featuring visual effects supervisor Michael McAlister) explaining how the special effects in a scene (featuring two planes equipped with cameras flying over Cuba and getting shot at by Soviet troops) was computer generated, followed by the scene itself (0:34) with 5 different camera angles, allowing you to flick between various layers of the scene at various stages of completion:

Deleted Scenes - +/- Director's Commentary

    This includes the following deleted scenes, which can be viewed with or without commentary from director Roger Donaldson. Most of the deleted scenes appear to have been taken out due to redundancy and a desire to keep the running time of the film down, and to retain the tension in the storyline. There was also a subplot involving a journalist wanting to interview President Kennedy that was mostly removed. I agree that these scenes do not really add value to the storyline and the decision to leave them on the cutting room floor was probably the right one, but it was nice to see them nevertheless. Incidentally, the Infinifilm menus on the Region 1 DVD allow you to play these deleted scenes at roughly the point in the film where they logically belong, which was a very nice feature as it allowed me to see how these scenes would look as part of the film.

Theatrical Trailer (2:35)

    Quite surprisingly, this looks more like an overlong TV spot than a trailer as it is presented in pan & scan with a Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track. As far as I can tell, this is the only extra not presented with 16x9 enhancement.

Filmographies-Cast & Crew

    This contains a number of stills featuring black and white filmographies and mug shots of the following:

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 is the first "Infinifilm" edition released by New Line. It is generally superior to the Region 4 edition in terms of extras but misses out on;

    For those of you who have not heard of "Infinifilm", what it is (stripped of marketing mumbo-jumbo such as "Beyond The Movie™" and "All-Access Pass") is basically like the "follow the white rabbit" feature of The Matrix, except you get a menu instead of a white rabbit. If you watch the film in "Infinifilm" mode, you get a menu at the bottom right of the screen every now and then at strategic points that allows you to branch off to view some of the extras contained on the DVD, such as excerpts from the featurettes, deleted scenes or information stills.

    Most (all?) of these Infinifilm menu items are also present on the Region 4 disc as standalone extras, but on the second disc (which means that Region 4 was not able to offer the interactive menus).

    So, is it just a marketing gimmick, or does it truly take you ... "Beyond The Movie™?" I would question the usefulness of Infinifilm for something like Blow or Rush Hour 2 (two other Infinifilm titles released in Region 1), but in this film, given the historical background and context of the plot, it works really really well. I would strongly recommend that history teachers actually get high school students to watch this film in Infinifilm mode - I think it may encourage them to really take an interest in the study of historical events.

    However, the presence of the dts audio track on Region 4 is also very compelling. Whilst this would automatically make me favour Region 4 (Infinifilm or no Infinifilm) on this occasion (only because because of the nature of the film) I am veering towards the Region 1 simply as a showcase of what Infinifilm can do.

Summary

    Thirteen Days is well worth watching as a dramatization and re-enactment of the events surrounding the Cuban missile crisis. It features great casting and above-average acting (even if you can't stand Kevin Costner). However, if you are expecting an action-filled film, you will be disappointed. It is presented on a two DVD set with the film and audio tracks on disc one and lots of extras on disc two. It misses the "Infinifilm" interactive menus found on the Region 1 release but surprisingly has a dts 5.1 audio track. The audio and video transfer quality is excellent.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Christine Tham (read my biography)
Friday, November 23, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-626D, using Component output
DisplaySony VPL-VW10HT LCD Projector, ScreenTechnics 16x9 matte white screen (203cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVR-3300
SpeakersFront and rears: B&W CDM7NT; centre: B&W CDMCNT; subwoofer: B&W ASW2500

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Comments (Add)
dts track - Pendergast (Why not take a look at my bio, you might think it stinks.)