Salvador: Special Edition (1986)

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Released 12-Nov-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category War Main Menu Audio & Animation
Audio Commentary-Oliver Stone (Director)
Featurette-Into The Valley Of Death
Deleted Scenes-4
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 1986
Running Time 117:42
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (78:37) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Oliver Stone

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring James Woods
James Belushi
Michael Murphy
John Savage
Elpidia Carillo
Case ?
RPI $31.95 Music Georges Delerue

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Auto Pan & Scan Encoded English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    Salvador was possibly one of the most intense movies I've reviewed for quite a while. I originally saw this on video when it was first released, and although the name Oliver Stone wasn't big in my lexicon of movie-makers, he's certainly come along in leaps and bounds since his earliest days as a director. Although Salvador wasn't his first movie (he originally made a couple of schlock horror movies called The Hand with Michael Caine and Seizure, both of which should never have seen the light of day in my opinion), it certainly marked the turning point in his career from the standpoint of sheer quality.

    If someone asked you to point to El Salvador on a map I doubt that most of us would have anything more than a vague idea of where it is but not any substantive knowledge of the country. Like many Central American countries over the years, it has been subjected to violence and atrocities committed in the name of freedom and democracy that have little to do with either concept, except to perpetuate the ruling classes in power. I make no claim to expertise in the area of foreign policy, but from what I've read and seen and heard, the mid 1980s saw possibly the most destructive period of history for this and many other Central American countries. No doubt many attribute the blame for these problems on American foreign policy at the time and their fear of communist-backed revolution. It was probably a healthy part of it, but so much more had to do with with fear, ignorance, drugs and other factors that no one cause can be totally to blame. The sheer scope of the horrors that emanate from those times often make it hard to sift fact from fiction.

    But enough of politics. Salvador is a movie that emulates the events that transpired during those tumultuous years, presented as a very intense and intriguing drama. There are some unique and wonderfully diverse characters and although much of this movie is based on fact I have no doubt that there was a certain degree of poetic licence used by the director. However, regardless of whether the facts are correct or not, the whole effect has been to create a very powerful vision with disturbing overtones.

    The main focus of the movie is a sometimes photographer, cum-journalist, cum-writer, mostly drunk, doped and otherwise smart-a*sed character named Richard Boyle (played with almost maniacal fervour by James Woods). Accompanying him is Doctor Rock (James Belushi), another down-and-outer with no money, no home and no dog, who make their way down to Salvador, ostensibly for Boyle to make some money taking photographs of the current conflict between the communist-backed rebels and the government forces, but essentially to revive his flagging career. Dr Rock on the other hand is there to score dope, screw women and basically hang out hoping to get lucky. Boyle is your typical con-man, and although by the movie's end has undergone a journey of self-realisation, for much of the movie he's out there hustling with the best of them. Several of the cameo characters, including John Savage as John Cassady are based on real life people who lived and died in El Salvador.

    Oliver Stone wrote the story in conjunction with the real Richard Boyle and this is a potpourri of events, often combined in order to make a more plausible and dramatic presentation for film, but not precisely true to fact. Certainly many of the events portrayed did happen but have been overly dramatised and certainly condensed to make the movie more appealing. All-in-all this is an excellent movie, although some parts of it are not for the squeamish and some of the scenes are certainly very close to the bone in regards to good taste, but for the most part this has a real air to it with a competent cast and crew. Unfortunately, this is a movie that was almost passed by because of the more topical and slightly more relevant movie Stone made a few months later, Platoon. Definitely one to watch and definitely a pleasure to watch!

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Transfer Quality


    Although this wasn't director Oliver Stone's first major motion picture (he'd previously directed The Hand and Seizure, both of which did little), and was made on a very small budget ($3 million but blew out to $4.5 million according to his estimates) you wouldn't expect too much from it. To the contrary, this is not only taken from an exceptionally fine print but the cinematography of Bob Richardson is fabulously represented with a superb transfer that is especially pleasing visually.

    The original theatrical ratio is listed as 1.85:1 and we are presented with a transfer in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and 16x9 enhanced.

    The quality of this transfer is just slightly on the soft side during the first few minutes but picks up dramatically from about 5 minutes in. Sharpness for the most part was excellent, with only minor edge enhancement to annoy the viewer. There is plenty of shadow detail on offer throughout with good background detail discernable during most of the movie. There are the odd darker moments which tend to blur out some of the finer details, but for the most part this isn't a problem. The blacks were generally noiseless and solid with some delineation visible. Grain is the only real blot on an otherwise excellent transfer from this perspective. For the majority of the movie it isn't heavy or imposing, but there are some 'TV' shots and inserted 'live' footage designed to augment the flow of the movie and these really do exhibit high grain and plenty of other artefacts. Overall though, the grain is very minor and given the budgetary constraints the movie was made under, this was a real bonus.

    Possibly the finest aspect of the entire disc is the colour. A comprehensive array of colours are on offer from a diverse palette during many scenes. The general brightness of the print also enhances the quality. At no stage did I spot any colour bleed or oversaturation and the general feeling I got was that this transfer was taken from a quality source.

    The usual array of minor nicks and scratches are on offer throughout this movie. For the most part, I doubt that you'll notice them as they are the less irritating sort. The most obvious culprits were at 3:53 with a very noticeable scratch, and at 6:45 where it looks like a piece of emulsion flaked off on James Woods' neck. From there on in, most of the others are the usual 'wear and tear' type distractions common in all but the most recent movies but nothing untoward.

    Another bonus for this disc is the almost complete absence of film and video artefacts other than those caused by inserted footage from other sources. At 6:16 there is some slight shimmering on the buildings in shot, 10:12 sees some aliasing on the car's bodywork and the only really big issue I had was at 32:55 with some heavy interlacing break-up on the Election board and platform when panning downwards. There were no MPEG artefacts noted and the general quality was excellent. Again, I make note that inserted, original footage from TV and other sources is quite poor in parts exhibiting moiré effects and offering plenty of film artefacts.

    The subtitles that are common throughout the picture (explanation titles I suppose you could call them) are burned in, in English, to this print. The normal subtitles are fairly easy to read and reasonably accurate to the movie, missing out on only minor dialogue for the sake of brevity. They occupy the usual bottom sixth of the screen and due to the general quality of the print are quite easy to read.

    The layer change occurs at 78:37 during a scene transition. It is a major pause (or was on my player) but decently located so as not to interfere with the general flow of the movie.

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


    The audio on this transfer is offered up in two flavours, an English Dolby Digital 5.1 encoded track at the excellent bitrate of 448 kilobits per second, or an Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 encoded track at 192 kilobits per second. Except for the overdubbed dialogue, I doubt you'll notice a whole lot of difference between the two. To be brutally honest, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack sounded like nothing more than a stereo soundtrack with some surround encoding and minor redirection towards the subwoofer, but in essence nothing more than 2 channel. There was some light surround activity, mostly later in the movie during the battle sequences, but for the most part the surrounds were fairly silent and added little to the overall envelopment. The basic focus is across the fronts where you would expect it. The sound from these speakers is relatively crisp and solid for the most part.

    There didn't appear to be any problem with the dialogue or the syncing, although there was plenty of evidence of ADR work on offer (60:25 - the gun used to kill Archbishop Romero has a silencer, but you hear it).

    The music is credited to Georges Delerue, who also went on to do the music for Stone's next movie, Platoon. This definitely isn't as memorable as Platoon, but is nonetheless a nice piece with some dramatic moments to augment the on-screen action.

    For the most part, unless you have your ear against the surround speakers you won't hear a whole lot of activity coming from them. Occasionally they will break their silence, but for the most part any sound coming from them is merely redirected from the main speakers. The best sound you'll hear comes around 60:25 and again at 97:00 during the final climatic battle scenes.

    To be honest, the amount of subwoofer activity can be termed minimal. Around 91:40 you might feel it a little and then during the battle at the end (97:00) there is some minor activity. For the most part though, the subwoofer barely raises more than a murmur.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Main Menu Audio & Animation

    This is an interesting animation effect that is displayed as cells of a film with inserts from the movie displayed in each cell. There is a grittiness to the overall effect that is actually in keeping with the movie as a whole. The overlaid music is from the movie soundtrack.

Audio Commentary

    Unlike his effort on Platoon, Oliver Stone's commentary for Salvador is a lot sparser, more politically motivated, including many references to other great directors and actors of bygone eras, and occasionally not specific to what is happening on-screen. He makes a lot of comments about the way in which he manipulated the events to create more drama or to highlight certain things that he wanted to make plain. He also indicates the problems he encountered when making the movie, the sets, the lack of money and the lack of cinematic success the movie garnered in its original release, but how it took off on video. All-in-all, this is a very juicy commentary with lots of meat but far too many lengthy pauses for top marks.

Featurette - Into the Valley of Death

    Possibly the best documentary on the making of a film I've ever seen. This isn't your typical 'lets pat them on the back and make like one big happy family' effort, this is a warts-and-all look at the making and almost non-making of the movie from all aspects (actors, writer, and director).

    Presented in full frame 1.33:1, outtakes from the film are presented at 1.85:1 letterboxed. It starts off rather predicably, with Oliver Stone detailing how he got the idea for the movie and how he and Richard Boyle wrote the screenplay, but from then on you are given details on the making of the movie, the political climate of the time, details of the shooting conditions, the bust-ups between the actors, the director and the writer, and so forth.

    This is literally a fascinating look at what can only be described as 'guerrilla movie-making' in its purest form. Observations on the movie are forthcoming from James Wood and James Belushi, amongst others. This is about as unsanitised a retrospective as I've heard and is an absolute gem. It has a running time of 62:52 and is well worth the hour to watch it.

Deleted Scenes

    All are in Full Frame, 1.33:1.

Theatrical Trailer

    With a running time of 1:53 this is in 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced for a change. Plenty of artefacts but good colour if a little oversaturated.


    46 still photographs from the movie/making of the movie in a slow moving montage. You cannot select individual photos unfortunately and either must watch the slide show or abort.

R4 vs R1

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

    There don't seem to be too many differences between the Region 1 and Region 4 releases of this DVD.

    The Region 4 version of this DVD misses out on:

    The Region 1 version of this DVD misses out on:    Given the only substantial difference is in the number of deleted scenes on the R1 disc, unless you have a compelling desire to see what was left on the cutting room floor, the Region 4 disc is definitely the better option in my opinion.


    Salvador is a powerful and compelling drama that only a director like Oliver Stone could imbue with such passion. Definitely one of the best movies of the past 20 years but overshadowed by his more illustrious offering, Platoon made in the same year. For those of you who love movies, this is definitely a must-see.

    The video is simply stunning for a movie made in the 80s and is beautifully transferred to DVD. There are a few minor blemishes, but the colour and clarity make them seem insignificant for the most part.

    It's a pity the audio doesn't match the video or the extras, because then you'd have the full package. Adequate rather than exceptional is the keyword here. This one won't blow you out of your seat but neither will it annoy you.

    An extras package that is worthy of praise. A definite quality documentary is augmented by a decent Director's Commentary and other add-ons for a solid all-round effort.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Carl Berry (read my bio)
Sunday, December 09, 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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