Three Kings

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Details At A Glance

Category Action Theatrical Trailer(s) Yes, 2
1 - 1.78:1 (16x9), Dolby Digital 2.0 
2 - 1.33:1 (4x3) Dolby Digital 2.0
Rating r.gif (1169 bytes) Other Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - Dolby Digital Rain
Year Released 1999 Commentary Tracks Yes, 2
1 - David O. Russell (Director
2 - Charles Roven (Producer), Ed McDonnell (Producer)
Running Time 110:05 Minutes Other Extras Cast & Crew Listing 
Production Notes 
Featurette - Under the Bunker (21:34) 
Featurette - Tour of the Iraqi Village Set (10:17) 
Deleted Scenes (with commentary or production audio) (6:34) 
Interview with DOP Newton Thomas Sigel (7:07) 
Featurette - An Intimate Look Inside the Acting Process with Ice Cube (2:22) 
Special Photography 
Easter Eggs 
DVD-ROM features
RSDL/Flipper RSDL (73:03)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 4 Director David O. Russell
WarnerBros.gif (2960 bytes)
Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring George Clooney 
Mark Wahlberg 
Ice Cube 
Spike Jonze 
Nora Dunn 
Jamie Kennedy
Case Horrid Button Thing
RRP $34.95 Music Carter Burwell

Pan & Scan/Full Frame None MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Dolby Digital 5.1
16x9 Enhancement 16x9Yes.jpg (4536 bytes) Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 5.1, 384Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary 1 (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary 2 (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    Many a person has probably wondered exactly what the bomb sees as it is falling towards its target, and I am sure that a few weirdoes out there have wondered what a bomb thinks before it hits its target. Early in 1991, the former question was answered for Western societies as the first Television War began, a six-week campaign in the Persian Gulf to liberate Kuwait from the clutches of Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein. Of course, with the media being the pernicious force that it is, and with the public being as perniciously gullible as they are, it didn't take a lot of effort for American military spin doctors to keep the public ignorant as to the real reason why so many American soldiers were being sent to the Middle East. Sadly, the Iraqi public learned the hard way when the uprising called for by then American President George Bush began to turn sour, and American aid was nowhere to be found. Being that George Bush was almost as slimy and pernicious a dictator as the joke of a man we have pretending to lead our fading country at the moment, I was not all that surprised in hindsight.

    "Too often, on social issues, my party has painted an image of America slouching toward Gomorrah. Too often, my party has focused on the national economy, to the exclusion of all else, speaking a sterile language of rates and numbers, of CBO and GNP. Too often my party has confused the need for limited government with a disdain for government itself. This is not an option for conservatives. Our founders rejected cynicism, and cultivated a noble love of country."
    -- George Bush, June 10, 1999

    I simply cannot think of a more ironic quote, given Bush's failure to understand the meaning of democracy, or of his demonstrated devil-may-care attitude to the people of Iraq, except maybe "I have opinions of my own, strong opinions, but I don't always agree with them". Yes, he really did say that. Anyway, David O. Russell's Three Kings is based on two things from two wars: the first half of the film's concept revolves around a group of American soldiers stealing gold from the bunkers where Iraqi troops had hidden everything they'd stolen from the Kuwaiti people. The second phase of the story revolves around the result of the American forces leaving the people twisting in the wind when they answered the call to drive Hussein out of power. As you would expect, the Iraqi army turned upon the citizens that Bush had called upon to rise up against the government, with messy and painful results. This is the situation into which a group of four bored American soldiers are plunged, and the film revolves around the manner in which they resolve both their desire for wealth and the way in which their conscience is troubled by the plight of ordinary Iraqi citizens.

    Archie Gates (George Clooney) is a Special Forces officer, a Major to be more exacting, who is disgusted with the war and eager to retire, which he is meant to do in a matter of weeks. Three of the rather bored officers under his command, Troy Barlow (Mark Wahlberg), Chief Elgin (Ice Cube), and Conrad Vig (Spike Jonze) discover a map detailing the location of stolen Kuwaiti gold, and together they plan a heist to steal it for themselves. What begins as a remarkable caper for some wealth to take home after a wasted effort quickly turns into a deeper, more sombre journey when the soldiers realize that the war they were told was over is still very much in progress, except that the Iraqi soldiers are now attacking the civilian population. Along the way, we are treated to a series of bizarre effects that demonstrate such things as the results of bullets hitting the liver, lungs collapsing, or even the occasional infra-red goggles-eye view. This, of course, is where one problem with the film stems from. In spite of the uniformly strong acting, even from Ice Cube, Russell's story and the photographic techniques tend to overwhelm the story from time to time. By Russell's own admission, he was trying to experiment with the look of the film a little and make it unlike any other war film, but the trade-off is that the audience is often made to feel as if they are merely watching a film, rather than being immersed in it.

    The Australian theatrical release of Three Kings was trimmed down a little in order to avoid an R rating. The scene that caused the censors a problem can be found on this disc, and I am surprised to say the least that this full cut of the film requires the strongest OFLC rating. Sure, there's a few shots involving internals, but these are done in such a clinical and cold fashion that you could really expect to see such shots in an educational film. Situations such as this, their lack of recognition that adults also play computer games, and the loss of meaning in the content advisory below the rating (how much meaning can "Medium Level Violence" have when it is shown below both a PG and R rating?) lead me to believe that the OFLC has definitely lost the plot.

A Small Rant

    Village, enough with those horrid button cases, already. I certainly understand that you've had a lot of complaints about your slicks not being able to fit properly in a Brackley case, but this is not the way to solve the problem. The button case makes extracting the DVD from its casing a decidedly dangerous task with the risk of destroying the (expensive) disc contained therein, and thus the usual response of the consumer is to put the disc and slick into a Brackley case post-haste. In the end, the original problem remains: the slick is the wrong size for the case. Please consider going back to the Brackley cases and making your slicks the appropriate size, Village.

Transfer Quality


    After the first time I viewed this film in the comfort of my home, a single train of thought crossed my mind about the message that pops up at the beginning of the film. I didn't need a warning to know that Oliver Stone used a lot of unconventional techniques in the making of Natural Born Killers, and I don't need such a warning to know that I am supposed to think someone put something in my drink during some moments of Three Kings. This pandering to the lowest common denominator (in this case, the simpletons who didn't realize that the strong green tinge during some sequences in The Matrix was deliberate) simply must stop, as it is completely contradictory to what the DVD format is all about. In case you're wondering what prompted this ranting, the first thing you will notice when you begin playback of the main feature is the following message on your screen:

    This film is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and is 16x9 enhanced. This is the only constant between the three film stocks that were used to make this film. In order, the makers of the film used Bleach Bypass processing, Ektachrome film stock, and standard film stock in the shooting of the film. The first of these techniques, Bleach Bypass, is so named because a stage in the processing of the film is bypassed, which leaves a layer of silver on the negative that deepens blacks and boosts contrast. As a result, the first third of the film has a harsh, colourless look that accurately reflects the lifeless boredom felt by the soldiers in the barracks, and gives the conflict around them a lifeless, unreal appearance. During this part of the film, the colour saturation is dull, shadow detail is minimal, and the sharpness is somewhat reduced.

    The second third of the film, in which the three soldiers make their way to an Iraqi village and find the civilian population being slaughtered by Saddam's militia, was photographed using a film stock known as Ektachrome, which is similar to the type of film that is used in conventional still cameras. This gives the colours an unusually saturated appearance whilst increasing the amount of grain in the resultant image, resulting in imagery that looks and feels as if it is being viewed under the influence of mind-expanding drugs.

    Finally, the last third of the film was photographed using what appears to be more conventional film stock, giving the film a sense of clarity and focus not present in the other sections of the film. This is an excellent reflection not only of what the characters' emotional states would be in these circumstances, but how I presume I would feel in a similar situation.

    Overall, the transfer ranges from being reasonably sharp to razor sharp, with reasonable to very good shadow detail, with no real low-level noise problems, and a perfectly acceptable level of film grain.

    The colour saturation is an accurate reflection of the director's intentions, to the point where the middle of the film made me wonder exactly what was in the lemonade I was drinking during my first viewing.

    MPEG artefacts were not noticed at any moment during the main feature, even during the sequences involving Iraqi chemical grenades, which must have placed an awful amount of stress on the compression. The extras make up for the main feature, however, by showing some mild compression artefacts from time to time, although they are not nearly as bad as the extras on The World Is Not Enough where artefacts are concerned. I noticed no instances of aliasing or telecine wobble, although the camera movement in some interior car shots left a lot to be desired. There are no noticeable film artefacts other than those that resulted from the different filming techniques used in each act.

    This disc is presented in the RSDL format, with the layer change taking place at 73:03, just at the end of Walter Wogaman's (Jamie Kennedy's) attempt to kiss Adriana Cruz (Nora Dunn), the reporter he is escorting. While this isn't the quickest layer change I have ever seen, the placement is perfectly acceptable.


    Three soundtracks are provided with this DVD: the original English dialogue, encoded in Dolby Digital 5.1, and two audio commentaries in Dolby Digital 2.0 with surround-encoding for good measure. The English 5.1 soundtrack we are provided with is a slightly worrying effort, although this appears to be the fault of the production itself rather than any specific phase of the transfer.

    I noted some minor problems with the dialogue, with some high-frequency fuzziness making its way into some lines, especially those spoken by the Iraqi civilians. There did not appear to be any problems with audio sync, although it is interesting to note that much of the dialogue was shot in such a manner so as to hide the face of whomever is speaking.

    The musical score by Carter Burwell is a wonderful effort. The score music helps to build the appropriate atmosphere during the moments in which it appears, giving the film much of its comedic edge. The use of contemporary music that one normally associates with American war movies is a very nice touch, as it gives the action and dialogue a certain alien, foreign feel. The best thing about this score music is that on the one occasion where it does descend into the use of what sounds like pseudo-Arabic dribble, it is actually very funny.

    The surround channels were aggressively utilized by the music and the action sequences, with a hail of bullets flying around the surround channels during each of the action sequences. A lot of opportunities to have sounds rush from one speaker to another are seized, and while this isn't the best example of surround channel usage I have ever heard, it is certainly an excellent example. This is a disc with which you can demonstrate to your friends why you spent all that money on a Dolby Digital amplifier. The subwoofer was present and accounted for, adding a deep floor to the gunshots and the explosions, and generally adding a bit of vibration to the deep sounds.


    This time, we are truly blessed with both quantity and quality. All of the extras are presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1, with Dolby Digital 1.0 sound, unless otherwise noted.


    The menus are themed around the film with the appropriate animation and audio, and they are 16x9 enhanced.

Commentary - David O. Russell (Director)

    David talks about everything you could want to know about the film and how accurate it is to the reality of the war. The commentary is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 surround, and worth listening to once.

Commentary - Charles Roven (Producer), Ed McDonnell (Producer)

    Again, many insights are offered into the making of the film and how much of a struggle it was to keep the film true to its concept. Again, the commentary is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 surround, and worth listening to once.

Cast & Crew Listing

    This contains the first of two easter eggs, which can be found by pressing the up arrow key when the option to go back to the Special Features menu is selected. I will comment more about this easter egg later.

Production Notes

    Four different texts are presented under this option: Origins (an explanation of how the idea for the film came about), Historical Basis (an explanation of how the film coincides with the real Gulf War), The Iraqis (an explanation of the extent of Iraqi involvement in the production), and Different Film Stocks (an explanation of the different types of film that were used to capture the action). The production notes are more interesting than I would normally expect, but they are still production notes.

Theatrical Trailer

    Presented in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1, with 16x9 enhancement and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo sound, this trailer is of surprisingly good quality. Director David O. Russell was unhappy with the advertising angle Warner Brothers took with the film, and says as much during the commentary track.

TV Spot

    This is another Easter Egg, which can be selected by hitting the down key at the last Special Features screen until the red football is revealed. The TV spot is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround sound.

Featurette - Under The Bunker

   This is much better than your usual extended promotional featurette in which members of the cast and crew tell you how exciting it was to work on the film and why. It actually offers some interesting interview footage and insights into the making of the film.

Featurette - Tour Of The Iraqi Village Set

    This is a demonstration of how the Iraqi village was built in Mexico, with the level of detail and authenticity to real Iraqi architecture.

Deleted Scenes (with commentary or production audio)

    These are pieces that were cut from other scenes in the final cut of the film, with commentary by the director about the reasons for trimming this footage out of the film. The production audio is nothing to get excited about, nor is the commentary, although they both fulfil their task of demonstrating something about the footage in question. It is, however, rather easy to see even without the commentary why these snippets of footage were cut out of the final film.

Interview with Director Of Photography Newton Thomas Sigel

   Another discussion of the film's unique visual styles, a topic that has been slightly beaten to death.

David O. Russell's Video Diary

    The director took a camera with him during the casting process, and during discussions with the studio, giving us an interesting insight into the things a director has to go through in order to get their film made their way.

Featurette - An Intimate Look Inside The Acting Process With Ice Cube

   I have one thing to say about the title: are they [expletive deleted] serious? Anyway, this effort, photographed by Spike Jonze, is worth looking at the one time, I guess.

Special Photography

    Also photographed by Spike Jonze, this is simply a small collection of posed stills with no annotation.

DVD-ROM Features

    I have one thing to say about this kind of crap: it is a waste of the valuable MPEG space on the disc, so get it the hell off my DVD! I watch films to get a respite from toiling over a computer, and I have no interest in using a computer to see them. Compounding this fact is the fact that the DVD-ROM features will only work on a computer that is running Windows 95 or better, which puts Apple users out of luck. Bill Gates was recently burned by the American judicial system for trying to attain a monopoly over the Internet and then lying about it to cover his dirty work, so the idea of anyone handing him the same kind of monopoly over the DVD format is more than just a tad unsettling.

R4 vs R1

    It would appear that the Region 4 and Region 1 versions of this disc are equal, which leads me to grudgingly recommend you stick with the local version of this disc.


    Three Kings is a surprisingly enjoyable film, presented on a very good DVD.

    The video quality is an excellent reflection of the film's unusual style.

    The audio quality is a reflection of the conditions under which the film was recorded.

    The extras are comprehensive.

Ratings (out of 5)

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© Dean McIntosh (my bio sucks... read it anyway)
June 27, 2000.
Review Equipment
DVD Grundig GDV 100 D, using composite output; Toshiba SD-2109, using S-video output
Display Panasonic TC-29R20 (68 cm), 4:3 mode, using composite input; Samsung CS-823AMF (80 cm), 16:9 mode/4:3 mode, using composite and S-video inputs
Audio Decoder Built In (Amplifier)
Amplification Sony STR-DE835
Speakers Panasonic S-J1500D Front Speakers, Philips PH931SSS Rear Speakers, Philips FB206WC Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Subwoofer