The Thin Red Line

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Details At A Glance

Category Drama Theatrical Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - 1.78:1, non-16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0 (2:54)
Rating Other Trailer(s) No
Year Released 1998 Commentary Tracks No
Running Time 163:37 minutes Other Extras Melanesian Songs (11)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 2,4 Director Terrence Malick
20th Century Fox
Fox Home Entertainment
Starring Sean Penn 
Adrien Brody 
Jim Caviezel 
Ben Chaplin 
George Clooney 
John Cusack
Woody Harrelson
Elias Koteas
Nick Nolte
John C. Reilly
Case Transparent Amaray
RPI $39.95 Music Hans Zimmer

Pan & Scan/Full Frame No MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Dolby Digital 5.1
16x9 Enhancement
Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 5.1, 384Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking Yes
Subtitles Czech
English for the Hearing Impaired
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    It is somewhat ironic, as well as being mildly indicative of the somewhat incestuous nature of Hollywood, that the period around 1997 and 1998 saw a spate of what were perceived as "paired movies": Antz and A Bug's Life, Deep Impact and Armageddon, Dante's Peak and Volcano, and The Thin Red Line and Saving Private Ryan. This is not to suggest that there is anything the least in common between the aforementioned movies, other than the fact that the pairs had a similar core: bugs, big objects hurtling towards earth, volcanic eruptions and World War II respectively. As an aside, listing out pairs like this also highlights another fact: that Paramount and Dreamworks are responsible for the three films from these pairs that have yet to grace Region 4 (or indeed our PAL sister, Region 2). To some extent, The Thin Red Line was lost amidst the hype-fest that accompanied Saving Private Ryan, which is something of a shame as on a number of levels this film is at least the equal of Steven Spielberg's take on how America won D-Day, and in some respects far exceeds it. Having avoided both films at the cinema, it is interesting to sit back and watch them both for the first time on DVD. If you want action and blood and gore, then Saving Private Ryan is your film, but if you want a distinctly different take on World War II, then you simply have to see The Thin Red Line. Now don't get me wrong here - I did not especially like The Thin Red Line, but it certainly has one of the most unique stances on World War II that I have seen, at least since the magnificent Patton (a film which Fox should be getting onto Region 4 DVD as soon as possible in my opinion).

    Don't ask for a synopsis of the film, though, as there really is not much of a story here. This is not so much a story-based film as a character/situational based film, with the individuals' reactions to what is going on around them being the entire basis of the film. The broad story takes place during the invasion of Guadalcanal, and concentrates on the soldiers of a single company assigned to take out a hill during the campaign aimed at capturing the island and securing the airfield as a base for US air power in the region. The absolute need to take the island means that basically any casualty rate is acceptable and the film looks at the campaign from the eyes of the various characters in the unit.

    The main problem that I have with the film, and it was one that many critics appeared to have, was that the film did not really sustain its length at all well. Indeed, this is as close to an "arty" war epic as you are ever going to see, and as a result I would hardly call it gripping entertainment. This is not a John Wayne film about heroic figures storming up a hill in a heroic battle to the death, whilst tossing the Japanese off the hill. This is a story of the diverse characters, many of whom were draftees, who made up any unit in the United States Army at that time and their personal reactions to the often senseless violence going on around them. In that respect, this really is not a war film, but rather a poignant human drama. The arty aspect of the film is emphasized enormously by the narrative style of the dialogue at times and the very subdued use of sound at times beneath that narration.

    The cast assembled for this effort reads like something of a who's who guide, to the extent that even such a relatively big name as John Travolta does not even rate a mention on the slip cover! Yet George Clooney is mentioned, in a role that only seems to make an appearance in the last couple of minutes of the film! Overall, whilst the cast is certainly extensive, not one of them really provides a standout performance. Having said that, the entire film is actually conveyed by way of some of the best cinematography that has ever been used in a war film. This conveys quite provocatively the ethereal manner of the film and heavily emphasizes the human struggle that is going on here.

    Overall, I have to rate the film as somewhat of a disappointment from an entertainment point of view. The material is certainly not good enough to sustain a film of 163 minutes, and at times it certainly drags quite badly. However, I doubt that you will see a more ethereal war film ever and in that respect this does at least demand a viewing. It is not Saving Private Ryan and never will be, so do not approach it that way. It is The Thin Red Line, and it is on those terms that this film must be viewed.

Transfer Quality


    In a word - gorgeous. It took all of about thirty seconds for me to realize that this was an anamorphically filmed effort (later confirmed by the Internet Movie Database) and it shows in every leaf of the jungle scenes and every blade of grass in the hill scenes. This is quite possibly the best video transfer to yet come from Fox.

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

    Superlatives just cannot convey how good this transfer looks. The transfer is extremely clear and extremely sharp throughout. Detail is a joy to behold, hampered only very slightly by the odd instance of loss of ultimate detail in darker scenes, but this is more a reflection of the way the film was shot rather than the mastering of the DVD. Despite the sharpness and clarity, there was no hint of edge enhancement at all at any stage of the film. Shadow detail is generally very good indeed, although again there were a couple of instances where the detail could just have been a tad better, which again probably reflects the way the film was made. There is absolutely no problem with grain, and low level noise is similarly non-existent. There have been few films in Region 4 that have been blessed with as good a video transfer as this one. If you really want a video highlight, just check out the tracer fire coming straight at you during the fighting on Hill 210: stunning stuff indeed.

    The colours were gorgeously vibrant throughout, and absolutely spot-on as far as saturation is concerned, without any tendency towards oversaturation. The result is a gorgeously natural looking film that oozes exquisite colour detail. The colours are remarkably consistent throughout. Wonderful looking stuff indeed.

    There are no apparent MPEG artefacts in the transfer. Being exceedingly pedantic, there were a couple (and I do mean a couple) of quite minor instances of film-to-video artefacts in the transfer. However, I would be willing to make a decent wager that they would not be noticed by the vast majority of viewers - and I will not mention where they actually are so that I do not spoil the wonderful transfer for you. As usual for such a recent film, there are no significant film artefacts in the transfer.

    This is an RSDL format disc, but I have yet to detect where the layer change occurs. It must therefore be a good one, as for the life of me I have not noticed any pause in the film, nor has my player exhibited its minor habit of becoming just a tad noisy after the layer change.


    If you like big booming demonstration soundtracks, you will be sadly disappointed here. If however, like me, you love wonderfully detailed surround efforts, then this is going to make you happy.

    There is just the one audio track on this DVD, an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack.

    The use of the narration throughout the film causes just a few problems with the listening experience, as some is recorded at a quite low level, and I did need to adjust my listening level a couple of times during this epic length film.

    There did not appear to be any audio sync problems with the transfer at all.

    The musical score comes from the pen of Hans Zimmer, and a reasonably understated effort it is too. However, it is nicely complementary to the film and almost made me wish that there was an isolated music score on offer here. The use of Melanesian songs has been well-handled in general.

    As indicated, the film is heavily influenced by the narrative style of the dialogue overlaid on a subdued soundtrack at times. This is an interesting technique, even if it does hide some of the lovely detail in the soundtrack. When given its full reign, the soundtrack really does sing in all but one respect: I found the weapon discharges and explosions to be a little underdone. Maybe I am wrong, but I would have thought that these would have had a bit more of a percussive effect in the soundtrack. We do, however, get plenty of detail whizzing across the sound stage, especially gun fire, that is quite impressive. Overall, this is a nicely detailed soundtrack, without being an overtly aggressive soundtrack. The surround channel use is generally very effective, with the bass channel adding its support when required in a very convincing manner. There is nothing too over-the-top here, and really the only quibble is the stylistic one of the subduing of the soundtrack during narration. The result is a somewhat false soundscape during those sequences, but in all other respects this is a generally convincing effort.


    This is another slightly poorish effort from Fox, even though there is more here than usual. This really does need an audio commentary from the director.


    A very nice looking effort, very vibrant and 16x9 enhanced to boot.

Theatrical Trailer (2:54)

    A good quality effort that probably did as good a job of promoting the film as is possible. Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, albeit not 16x9 enhanced, and with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

Melanesian Songs (11)

    As enthralling as the Melanesian songs are, having eleven as an extra is perhaps adding just a little too much cream on top of the cream pie. The presentation of the audio, in Dolby Digital 2.0 at 192 Kb/s, over a menu is perhaps not the most conducive way of presenting the songs either. Taken in small doses, quite palatable, but you would be well advised not to attempt to listen to all eleven at once.

R4 vs R1

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on:     The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on:     Looks to me like another Region 4 winner here.


    Not the most overtly "war" war film that you are ever likely to see, The Thin Red Line nonetheless has a lot to commend it. Whilst the inevitable, if completely false, comparisons with Saving Private Ryan may not be in its favour, at least it has one big advantage over Mr Spielberg's effort - it is available here and now in Region 4 on what is a fine DVD technically. The film will certainly not be to everyone's taste, and I definitely fit into that category, but there is a lot of subtlety to enjoy here and the cinematography is as good as you are ever likely to find. A definite addition to the collection if the film style is to your liking.

    An excellent video transfer, bordering on reference standard.

    A fine audio transfer.

    An inadequate extras package for a film of this stature.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris (have a laugh, check out the bio)
19th August 2000

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 84cm. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built in
Amplification Yamaha RXV-795. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL