Wag The Dog

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Details At A Glance

Category Satire Theatrical Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - 1.33:1 non-16x9 enhanced, DD 2.0 mono
Rating Other Trailer(s) Yes, 2
Dolby Digital Canyon
Rush Hour - 1.85:1 non-16x9 enh, DD 2.0 surround
Year Released 1997 Commentary Tracks Yes, 1 - Barry Levinson (Director) & Dustin Hoffman (Actor)
Running Time
92:58 minutes
(not 97 minutes as listed on the packaging)
Other Extras Menu Audio & Animation
Scene Selection Audio & Animation
Featurette-On The Set (4:02)
Cast & Crew Biographies
Cast & Crew Interviews
Production Notes
Featurette-From Washington... (24:42)
RSDL/Flipper RSDL (27:49)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 4 Director Barry Levinson

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Dustin Hoffman
Robert De Niro
Anne Heche
Denis Leary
Willie Nelson
Andrea Martin
Kristen Dunst
RRP $34.95 Music Mark Knopfler

Pan & Scan/Full Frame No MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Dolby Digital 5.1
16x9 Enhancement
Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 5.1, 448Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary (Dolby Digital 2.0, 160Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking Yes
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Annoying Product Placement Yes
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    Wag The Dog is a movie that will go down in history as life imitating art. Shortly after its US theatrical release, the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal broke in the US, uncannily paralleling the fictitious events portrayed in Wag The Dog.

    The President of the United States of America has been caught with his pants down, being accused of molesting a Firefly girl. This could not have come at a more inopportune moment, with the election only 11 days away. The President calls in Conrad Bream (Robert De Niro), Washington's ultimate spin doctor to get the situation under control. Conrad's solution? Declare war on Albania to divert attention away from the issue. Not a real war, mind you, a fake war, produced by Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman), replete with patriotic anthems and a hero all created by Hollywood trickery.

    Wag The Dog is quite a rarity in Hollywood these days. Almost totally dialogue-driven, and scathing in its portrayal of an increasingly farcical situation, it nonetheless remains uncannily believable.

    I can't say that I overly enjoyed the movie, other than some stand-out moments from Dustin Hoffman, but it certainly gave me food for thought, and I certainly enjoyed it more on the small screen than when I saw it theatrically. I suspect it would play much better in the US.

Transfer Quality


    This transfer is generally very good, with only minor flaws detracting from it.

    It is presented at an aspect ratio of exactly 1.85:1, and is 16x9 enhanced. Subtitles defaulted ON, which was a minor annoyance.

    The transfer is very clear and very sharp throughout. In fact, at times I felt the transfer was too sharp, with the resultant artefacting that this subsequently led to. However, this is a minor complaint. There is a large amount of detail revealed in the transfer at all times. Shadow detail was exemplary, with lots of fine detail visible in the shadows, other than at the times when the cinematography deliberately hid details from the image for artistic effect. This was particularly the case down in the underground bunker, where the cinematography would often show disconnected faces - clearly a deliberate artistic choice, mind you, not a transfer problem. There was no low level noise other than in the deliberately degraded TV sequences.

    The colours are rendered with a very interesting palette - blues and greys predominate, with the occasional splash of red from Anne Heche's jumper thrown in for contrast. The occasional greens of the Whitehouse lawn made for a welcome change of palette. There was some very slight colour bleeding on occasion from Anne Heche's jumper, but nothing to be overly concerned about. There was also a slight amount of chroma noise in some of the deeper blues. Again, nothing to be overly concerned about.

    There were no MPEG artefacts seen. Film-to-video artefacts consisted of a moderate amount of aliasing, with the typical culprits for this being responsible. In the case of this movie, this was often the chrome lines of various cars. The aliasing is more bothersome than it should be, and detracts from what would otherwise be a reference quality transfer. I did not notice any specific film artefacts.

    There are two subtitle tracks on this DVD; English and English For The Hearing Impaired, though the English For The Hearing Impaired subtitles are not flagged as being of any language at all to the DVD player.

    The running time of this movie is incorrectly stated on the packaging as being 97 minutes. It is, in fact 92:58.

    This disc is an RSDL disc, with the layer change occurring very early during this transfer, at 27:49, between Chapters 8 & 9. It is quite intrusive, with a marked pause in the image during a tracking shot. It is probably all the more noticeable since it is placed so early, and you are not expecting it so soon in the movie.


    There are two audio tracks on this DVD; the default English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, and an English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack.

    The dialogue was pretty much always audible, clear, and easy to understand other than the odd word here or there. A movie such as this is critically dependent on dialogue intelligibility, and as such, there was some slight room for improvement in this regard.

    There were no audio sync problems with the English 5.1 soundtrack.

    The musical score was provided by Mark Knopfler and is in his unusual, laconic style. It provided an unusual and appropriate accompaniment to the increasingly farcical on-screen actions with its low-key approach. I can't say that Mark Knopfler does much for me as a movie composer, since his soundtracks all seem to sound the same, but this one seems to be the most appropriate sounding one that I have heard to date.

    The surround channels had very limited use indeed, with this soundtrack predominately being mono dialogue in the centre channel. The music was mixed in stereo and had a slight surround presence, and there was one scene in the rain which had rain effects mixed throughout the soundfield, but that was about it for the surround action of this movie. I didn't particularly miss it, as I found that I needed to concentrate on the dialogue throughout this movie, and any extraneous sounds tended to draw my attention away from the dialogue.

    The subwoofer had virtually nothing to do except to support the music on the odd occasion.


    This disc has a very good selection of extras, though quantity does tend to prevail over quality. All animated extras are presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 non-16x9 enhanced with Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound unless otherwise noted.

Main Menu Animation & Audio

    This is very effective in setting the mood of the movie. Well done to whoever thought up the concept. The audio is slightly distorted towards the end of its repeating sequence.

Scene Selection Animation & Audio

Dolby Digital Canyon Trailer

Featurette - On The Set

    Uninspiring behind-the-scenes featurette.

Cast & Crew Biographies

    These are presented as scrolling text rather than static images.

Cast & Crew Interviews

    Of limited value.

Audio Commentary - Barry Levinson (Director) & Dustin Hoffman (Actor)

    These are clearly two interviews that have been spliced together and bear no real relation to the on-screen action. Some interesting insights are provided, but they are few and far between. The background movie soundtrack is severely out of sync with the on-screen visuals, being ahead of them by around 1 second. It is most disconcerting to hear a spoken phrase in the background and then seen the actors mouthe the words. This is most noticeable towards the end of the movie, in the shack behind the country store where there is a brief pause in the commentary.

Production Notes

    Again, these are presented as scrolling text rather than as static images.

Featurette - From Washington...

    This is quite lengthy, but is of limited interest. It is worth watching once.

Theatrical Trailers - Wag The Dog & Rush Hour

R4 vs R1

    The Region 4 version of this DVD misses out on;     The Region 1 version of this DVD misses out on;     There is nothing compelling here to prefer either version of this DVD, with both versions missing out on some minor extras.


    Wag The Dog is a reasonable movie on a good DVD.

    The video is of very good quality.

    The audio is of average quality.

    The extras are copious, but of limited value.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Michael Demtschyna (read my bio)
19th April 2000

Review Equipment
DVD Start SD-2010VNK/Toshiba 2109/Palsonic DVD-2000, using S-Video output
Display Loewe Art-95 95cm direct view CRT in 16:9 mode, via the S-Video input. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Denon AVD-2000 Dolby Digital AddOn Decoder, used as a standalone processor. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Amplification 2 x EA Playmaster 100W per channel stereo amplifiers for Left, Right, Left Rear and Right Rear; Philips 360 50W per channel stereo amplifier for Centre and Subwoofer
Speakers Philips S2000 speakers for Left, Right; Polk Audio CS-100 Centre Speaker; Apex AS-123 speakers for Left Rear and Right Rear; Hsu Research TN-1220HO subwoofer