Strange Days (1995)

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Released 8-Aug-2001

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Science Fiction Audio Commentary-Kathryn Bigelow (Director)
Theatrical Trailer
Featurette
Booklet
Rating Rated R
Year Of Production 1995
Running Time 139:12
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (66:48) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Kathryn Bigelow
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Ralph Fiennes
Angela Bassett
Juliette Lewis
Tom Sizemore
Michael Wincott
Vincent D'Onofrio
Glenn Plummer
Brigitte Bako
Case ?
RPI $36.95 Music Graeme Revell


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/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 for the Hearing Impaired
Spanish
Portuguese
Swedish
Danish
Norwegian
Finnish
Dutch
Smoking Yes, occasionally
Annoying Product Placement Yes, mildly
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    Strange Days is another film that sees James Cameron handing over the directorial reins to Kathryn Bigelow, and the result is one of my favourite films, one that is surprisingly entertaining in spite of not being particularly original. The plot is quite complex and difficult at times to follow, but it also has enough action, nudity, and violence in it to keep most of the red-blooded twenty-something male sector happy. Perhaps the best way to describe the plot of this film is to describe exactly who is who and what they do to one another, without trying to explain too much about why.

    The year is 1999, and the Los Angeles Police Department have developed a technology that allows people to record their memories as they experience things, for others to play back on special equipment. This technology has been outlawed, however, and it is doing a thriving business on the black market, where peddlers like ex-policeman Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes) pay people to record their memories so he can sell them to his clientele. One of Lenny's scruples, however, is that he doesn't buy or sell snuff-tapes that criminals or other such deviants have recorded while they were killed in the middle of whatever it was they were recording. One of the tapes in his private collection features ex-girlfriend Faith Justin (Juliette Lewis), who is now a musician in the employ of record mogul Philo Gant (Michael Wincott). This leads to a hilarious scene in a nightclub where Faith performs a number that had me laughing and wanting to inform Juliette Lewis that no matter how hard she tries, she will never come to be in the employ of a band like My DyING BRIDE or other such elite artists...but this is a sidetrack, albeit one that numerous IMDB users and critics of the film have also complained about, thanking Lewis for ruining a song by P.J. Harvey, who is also a very weak performer in my view.

    Nonetheless, Philo had another artist on his label by the stage name of Jeriko One (Glenn Plummer), who turns up with a band member by the stage name of Replay (Malcolm Norrington) under a highway, shot to death, execution style. No big loss, I hear everyone who is interested in music say. Nonetheless, the media makes a big deal about Jeriko's death, as do all the gang-bangers and oppressed minorities of Los Angeles who seem to be growing in number in this version of the city. The parties responsible for Jeriko's execution, policemen by the name of Burton Steckler (Vincent D'Onofrio) and Dwayne Engelman (William Fichtner), are hunting the only living witness to the event. Said witness is a colleague of Lenny's by the name of Iris (Brigitte Bako), who often wears the memory headset in order to record material for Lenny to sell. After a fellow ex-policeman named Max Peltier (Tom Sizemore) bursts in on Lenny while he's trying to make a sale to a new client, Iris comes in and tries to show him the recording. When Lenny's car is towed away, he calls an acquaintance named Lornette Mason (Angela Bassett), and then the race is on to get the memory recording of Jeriko's murder to the proper authorities. It doesn't help matters any that a killer is on the loose, murdering anyone who has any connection with the aforementioned recording, and recording his own brutal acts for Lenny's benefit.

    You're either going to love or hate this film, and it certainly isn't what I would call a pleasant night's viewing unless you really enjoy a good dose of violence and mayhem. It is interesting to note that all of the television screens shown in this film are 16:9 shaped, making me wonder exactly how long such units have been available in America. The memory recordings are also stored on Sony's proprietary MiniDisc format, which is a rather hilarious piece of product placement, given that I have yet to meet anyone who uses it. However, the funniest thing of all is the litany of disaster that this film predicted for New Years Day of the year 2000, a prediction that, when it was pretty much established that it wouldn't come true, had the doomsayers on the back pedal, whining about how the new millennium doesn't actually begin until 2001. You have to love such shining examples of human stupidity and how they shape certain art forms, so jump right in and let Strange Days take you to a mistimed view of the future that does look strangely appealing.

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

Transfer Quality

Video

    Strange Days, like everything James Cameron has been involved with since Aliens, was shot using the Super 35 process, and it was shown in theatres with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. This DVD version is presented in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and it is 16x9 Enhanced. This is an interesting contrast to the Very Hazy System version, which I am convinced was cropped more than just a tiny bit on the sides after having seen the film in its proper ratio.

    The transfer is very sharp, with plenty of subtle detail on offer for the viewer to pick out. Indeed, the climactic battles during the New Year's Eve celebrations show a deluge of ticker tape being scattered about, and it is possible to pick out each individual piece here, unlike what happened with the aforementioned VHS version. The shadow detail is good, being adequate to the demands of the film, but the film is extremely dark overall, and this is definitely one film that has to be viewed under strictly controlled lighting conditions. There is no low-level noise.

    The colours in this film are an interesting sort of contradiction, with the overall darkness of the picture generally keeping the colours subdued and muted, while some scenes such as the New Year's Eve party have numerous bright splashes of colour against the same muted, dark background. The killer's memory tapes are the most interesting feature of this colour scheme, however, being nearly monochromatic due to the killer's colour-blind status. Overall, the transfer captures these unusual colour schemes without a hiccup.

    MPEG artefacts were not a problem at all in this transfer, which is remarkable given all the stress that numerous scenes place upon the compression. I counted a total of four noticeable instances of aliasing in the entire film, although I may have missed one or two more, which is quite a good effort considering how many objects there are in the film that could be considered aliasing-prone. Film artefacts consisted of the occasional black mark on the picture that was hard to notice due to the dark nature of the picture. Overall, the picture looks very clean except for some slight instances of grain such as at 58:58, which appeared to be the result of zooming the film a little in post production.

    This disc is presented in the RSDL format, but repeated attempts to find the layer change were without success, making it one of the best I've seen for quite some time.



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

Audio

    There are a total of three soundtracks on this DVD: the original English dialogue in Dolby Digital 5.1 with a bitrate of 448 kilobits per second, a Spanish dub in Dolby Digital 2.0 with surround-encoding and a bitrate of 192 kilobits per second, and an English Audio Commentary in Dolby Digital 2.0 with a bitrate of 192 kilobits per second. I listened primarily to the English dialogue and the Audio Commentary, while I had a listen to a couple of my favourite sequences in Spanish for a laugh.

    The dialogue is pretty clear and easy to understand most of the time, although a number of actors, especially Ralph Fiennes, Tom Sizemore, and Michael Wincott, exhibit a tendency to mumble that gets a little tiring from time to time. A lot of the action sequences involve rapid, forceful speech that can be hard to follow, while the exposition that links them together is slowly spoken to make sure you don't miss a word. There were no apparent problems with audio sync.

    The music in this film can basically be divided into two parts: a score by Graeme Revell, and a collection of contemporary numbers by the likes of Prong, Deep Forest, Skunk Anasie, and the aforementioned Juliette Lewis. The score music left little or no impression upon me whatsoever, and I had little idea that it even existed before I saw Revell's name in the credits. The contemporary numbers, in my mind, can be summed up with one word that spans four letters and is cited in this film as one of the most common things a person says before dying.

    The surround channels are aggressively utilised throughout the film to support a number of sound effects. The most interesting usage first occurs at 0:58, the first sequence in which we see playback of a memory recording, where the voice of the person doing the recording can be heard coming from both surrounds. This creates a nice little illusion that we're right in the middle of the action without seeming out of place, one that is kept up throughout all of the playback sequences. Another excellent use of the surround channels occurs at 108:13, with a bizarre musical effect ringing out through the surrounds to create an unnerving feel that really helps this chase sequence during the New Year's Eve party. The subwoofer had a whale of a time supporting gunfire, car crashes, music, and all manner of bass heavy effects, doing so without calling any specific attention to itself.



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

Extras

Menu

    The menu is static, 16x9 Enhanced, and very simple to navigate.

Audio Commentary - Kathryn Bigelow (Director)

    For some bizarre reason, this audio commentary is encoded so that, when selected, the disc plays back Title 7, which has no timing information encoded into it. Kathryn Bigelow keeps completely silent until the opening robbery scene is over, which caused me quite some alarm when I first tried to play this feature. The tape hiss apparent in the background, combined with the generally tinny sound of her voice, leads me to believe that this commentary was recorded on a Dictaphone or similar device. After a while, it becomes apparent that this is actually a recording of Bigelow explaining the making of the film to an audience, which explains the poor resolution. If you've ever wondered exactly why director-only commentaries tend to raise alarm bells for reviewers, this is the commentary to listen to. It also only covers the first fifty-four minutes and forty-six seconds of the film, and the lack of screen-specificity to it will make most viewers grateful.

Theatrical Trailer

    Clocking in at two minutes and fifty-five seconds, this theatrical trailer is presented in the aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, and it is not 16x9 Enhanced. In spite of its running length, it doesn't really do a very good job of summing up the film.

Featurette

    Clocking in at six minutes and fifty-two seconds, this featurette is presented Full Frame with footage from the film in an approximate 1.85:1 aspect ratio with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. It is also not 16x9 Enhanced. It is basically another extended theatrical trailer, with occasional appearances by writer/producer James Cameron, and nothing of any real interest, although it is interesting to see Kathryn Bigelow and hear her voice without the distortion of the commentary.

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;

   Given that this film is visually darker than Batman and Get Carter put together, and some sequences involve extremely jarring changes in perspective, the extra resolution of a 16x9 Enhanced PAL version of this film is much appreciated. Stick with the local disc.

Summary

    Strange Days is a dark, disturbing film that deserved greater commercial success than that which it received upon its initial release in 1995. Audiences in search of an action film with some intelligence to it will have no problems enjoying it.

    The video transfer is excellent.

    The audio transfer is excellent.

    The extras are disappointing.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Dean McIntosh (Don't talk about my bio. We don't wanna know.)
Thursday, June 28, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 2109, using S-Video output
DisplaySamsung CS-823AMF (80cm). Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 576i (PAL).
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony STR DE-835
SpeakersYamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NSC-120 Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer

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