The War Zone

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Details At A Glance

Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Featurette - Behind The Scenes (6:32)
Featurette - Shooting The Film (8:28)
Theatrical Trailer - 1.33:1, not 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0 (2:13)
Biographies - Cast and Crew
DVD Credits
Year Released 1998
Running Time 95:00 minutes
RSDL/Flipper No/No
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 1,2,3,4,5,6 Director Tim Roth
Film Four 
Siren Entertainment
Starring Ray Winstone
Lara Belmont
Freddie Cunliffe
Tilda Swinton
Case Transparent Brackley
RPI Rental Only Music Simon Boswell

Pan & Scan/Full Frame No English (Dolby Digital 2.0, 192 Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
Macrovision ? Smoking Yes
Subtitles None Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    It does not take too much to notice the difference between the rubbish films thrown out by Hollywood and the quality of foreign films, as this film attests to within the first two minutes. Whilst appreciating that there as many pieces of rubbish turned out in other countries, it is just unfortunate that we get to see nearly all the rubbish from Hollywood and virtually nothing from anywhere else. My personal theory is that given the quality of the very best of the rest of the world as compared to that of Hollywood, the rubbish from the rest of the world would have to be better on average than the rubbish from Hollywood, yet we never seem to get a chance to see it. And what has this mindless rambling to do with the subject DVD you might ask? Simply that here we have another excellent example of a superb British film that probably most have never heard of, yet there are plenty of pieces of Hollywood rubbish that we all probably know all too well. This is the sort of film that one sits down to review and end up lamenting why excellent foreign films are still no closer to release on DVD (name any number of, for example, Krystof Kieslowki's films here, but The Three Colours Trilogy foremost amongst them) yet Hollywood rubbish cheerfully gets churned out by the major distributors ad infinitum. Thank god for the smaller, independent organizations if you appreciate diversity in your films.

    The War Zone is Tim Roth's debut as a director, and it is a superb piece of work dealing with a subject that I doubt would be touched at all by Hollywood. I would suppose that the title of the film would have most suspecting this to be a film about war or connected to war in a military sense. Far from it indeed in this instance, but it sure represents a war zone. This is the story of an ordinary family, recently moved from London to the comparative wilds of Devon, where they are struggling to come to terms with the major change in their lifestyle. Add into the mix the arrival of a new baby, in the remains of a car crash, and one especially alienated son, Tom (Freddie Cunliffe). Returning home from the hospital with new babe in arms, Mum (Tilda Swinton) and Dad (Ray Winstone), together with daughter Jessie (Lara Belmont) and son Tom, seem to be a typical family with the usual problems associated with teenage children, new baby and new home environment...except this family hides a very disturbing secret.

    Namely that Dad is sodomizing daughter Jessie. A secret which alienated, and seemingly sexually retarded (sorry, sexually challenged), son Tom has happened upon. The film basically deals with the interactions of the family as it slowly devolves towards a climax that is best not divulged at all. This really is a film that needs to be seen and experienced, and the entire disturbing and harrowing film should be approached with as open a mind as possible - and with as few expectations as possible.

    With a very small cast, and probably not too much of a budget, Tim Roth has succeeded in crafting a brilliant film that intelligently, and realistically, deals with the subject of incest. Filmed from the perspective of the children, this is a stunning look at the increasingly self-deprecating sense of self worth of Jessie as she loses any sort of emotional anchor as she is brutalized by her father. Wonderfully played by Lara Belmont in her film debut, this is a no-holds-barred look at the topic with enough portrayal of the sexual violence as is necessary without becoming a peep show. The alienated and sexually repressed Tom is equally well played by Freddie Cunliffe, also in his film debut, as he comes to terms with the knowledge of something that he knows to be completely wrong, but really having no idea of what to do about it: "stop it or I'll tell Mum", being the initial extent of his understanding of the dynamics involved in this sorry state of affairs. As things get more problematic, Tom becomes more unglued in a sense and this is only resolved by a sudden clarity of mind that really adds to the climax of the film. Dad is well played by Ray Winstone, who denies that anything is happening and Tilda Swinton does a superb job of the recent mother trying to hold everything together without any knowledge of what is going on.

    A lot of potent imagery has been inserted into the film by Tim Roth, to enhance a superb screenplay, that highlights the closed door nature of the subject. Closed doors figure quite prominently but the superb cinematography does everything that it can to emphasize the isolation of the situation and the increasing isolation of the family members. Be warned though - this does not pull many punches at all and some might take extreme offence to the scene of sodomization in particular. Still, given the abhorrence of the subject matter, it has been as tastefully handled as it could possibly be, at least to my mind.

    Harrowing, gripping, abhorrent, provocative, this is everything that a Hollywood film could not be - even if they were to attempt to tackle the subject matter. The War Zone has been generally acclaimed by critics and it is easy to see why. Not the sort of stuff you put on for light entertainment by a long shot but Tim Roth's debut as a director is as memorable a film as you could ever want. A superb film that deserves plenty of exposure and a subject that needs to be brought out from behind closed doors if it is ever to be dealt with properly by the authorities. I hate rental-only DVDs with a passion and would not ordinarily encourage people to indulge in them, but this is one that really should be looked at. It may have a R rating and it may be harrowing and provocative, but it is not distasteful and should be seen by as large an audience as possible.

Transfer Quality


    It took all of about two minutes for me to realize this was one of those seductively glossy, vibrant anamorphically filmed efforts that always seem to produce great transfers. This is a delightfully superb transfer in almost every respect - unfortunately the one aspect which is not superb is enough to blight the film into average status.

    Given the broad scope of the cinematography at times, it comes as no surprise that the film is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1. However, quite unbelievably in this day and age it is not 16x9 enhanced. I am incredulous that in the age of digital television, with a burgeoning presence of widescreen televisions, or at least televisions with 16x9 modes, companies still find it acceptable to issue non-16x9 enhanced DVDs. This loses one star alone for that horrendous decision.

    As you would expect from a recent film shot anamorphically, the transfer is brilliantly sharp and detailed throughout. This is so, even despite the fact that the film has a decidedly darker image to it that enhances the subject matter and the feeling of isolation of all the characters. Only occasionally does the shadow detail disappoint, but I am suspecting that this is the result of artistic decisions and therefore inherent in the film, not transfer related matters. A wonderfully clear transfer, there is nothing in the way of grain issues and low level noise is also not an issue whatsoever.

    The film has a darker tone to it, and there is a preponderance of greys, browns and assorted other duller colours, heightening the darker feeling of the film. That is not to say however that this is not a vibrant transfer, as it clearly is a superbly vibrant image. I really felt that this was a superbly coloured film and the transfer only serves to bring out this aspect of the film. It is entirely evocative of Devon in winter, with the rain, turbulent darker seas and lots of grey in the landscape, which is all the more emphasized by the vibrant green of the fields. Really wonderful stuff. There is a delightful saturation to the colours here, without a hint of oversaturation or colour bleed.

    There did not appear to be any significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer, apart from pixelization in the tree around the 1:30 mark. However, the entire quality of the transfer is let down enormously by some quite shocking aliasing at times, especially exacerbated by camera movement. Especially grotesque examples are between 13:30 and 13:45, around 14:40 and again around 26:00. The closing credits were about as grotesque as I have ever seen on DVD, and that includes a number of very bad Region 1 non-16x9 enhanced DVDs. However, it is not just the more grotesque extremes that distract here, but the consistent presence of the aliasing problem disrupts a number of quite poignant scenes. Overall, this is an extremely disappointing problem that destroys everything good about the transfer elsewhere. There was nothing at all in the way of film artefacts in the transfer as far as I could note.

    This is yet another very full single layer, single sided DVD from Siren Entertainment and I really question why they do not switch to single sided, dual layer DVDs as I am sure they would result in much better transfers. I would suspect that much of the problem with the aliasing here would have been resolved by the additional space allowing better mastering on such a DVD. As it is, a truly superb transfer has been wrecked by the aliasing issue.

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


    There is just the one soundtrack on offer on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. Note that the packaging refers to the soundtrack format as surround encoded but I would argue to the contrary. There is no surround encoding here as far as I could tell.

    The dialogue is somewhat problematic in the transfer and at times is a little difficult to hear and understand. I would suspect that this is the way the film was made and therefore is not a transfer-related issue. It does, however, highlight the fact that there are no subtitles on the DVD and these are missed. It may be prudent to set your volume a little higher before you start playing this DVD, so that you don't spend the first few minutes trying to find a decent sound level. There did not seem to be any problems with audio sync in the transfer.

    The musical score comes from Simon Boswell, a name very unfamiliar to me. I would like to describe the soundtrack as minimalist but that would be a little misleading. It is not minimalist music but it certainly is a minimalist score, inasmuch as there is little here apart from a little piano music and some string music. However, what the score lacks in the size department it more than makes up for in the supportive role it plays to the film, and the slightly haunting piano theme that gets repeated throughout the film is certainly highly evocative. I would class this amongst the better efforts through my DVD player recently.

    This is not a film that really requires much from a soundtrack, and the Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack does it job pretty well. However, the lack of any substantial surround channel and bass channel use really does get noticed during some of the scenes on the cliffs: the lack of decent ambience through the rear speakers is especially noticed. I really did wish for a bit more sparkle from the soundtrack, but you certainly cannot complain about what we actually do have. Not the most dynamic soundtrack around, but it conveys the feeling of the film very well indeed.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use  


    What on first appearances looks to be a decent extras package turns out to be decent in appearances only.


    Well themed but with just some minor audio enhancement, hardly utterly memorable. Serves its purpose well enough though.

Featurette - Behind The Scenes (6:32)

    This is little more than an extended promotional video for the film with short interview material interspersed with excerpts from the film. Presented in a Full Frame format with the excerpts from the film in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Nothing especially terrific here and adds nothing to the film. Decent enough quality though.

Featurette - Shooting The Film (8:28)

    This is just a whole batch of very short video shots taken during the filming of the film. Mostly rather dull and uninteresting shots of the crew at work or the cast sitting around trying to keep warm and dry, this even lacks any sort of commentary to tie the whole thing together. Presented in a Full Frame format, this is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. On a scale of one to ten for insights into the film, it does not rate.

Theatrical Trailer (2:13)

    A fairly typical example of the modern theatrical trailer, nothing especially memorable and of decent enough quality. Presented in a Full Frame format, this is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

Biographies - Cast and Crew

    Rather brief efforts for the main cast and director.

DVD Credits

R4 vs R1

    Sadly, there is a lack of definitive information on the Region 1 release, as I could not locate any substantive independent reviews of the DVD and the online stores seemed to be a little divergent in the extras content. However, it would seem that the Region 4 release misses out on:     If this is correct, then that would be a powerful inducement in favour of the Region 1 release, as I would imagine that there would be loads to be learned from such a commentary. However, if you choose to look towards Region 2 you may well find something equally tempting. According to one review of the Region 2 DVD, that version of the DVD contains a 16x9 enhanced transfer and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Whilst it appears to miss out on the audio commentary, that anamorphic enhancement and superior sound format would tip the scales perhaps in favour of the Region 2 release. Certainly the review sighted makes no mention of any aliasing issues, which would certainly be a very heavy inducement towards the Region 2 release. It also makes mention of the beautiful recreation of the ambient sea sounds, which are sorely missing in the Region 4 release.

    What this does mean however is that you have to accept the loss of the audio commentary. Basically, there appears to be no release which satisfies the basic criteria I would be looking for here, namely 16x9 enhancement, Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and the audio commentary. Another Region 2 DVD I may well be picking up in London methinks.


    The War Zone is a superb film, definitely not for light entertainment though. Given the debut nature of half the main cast and the director, this is a little surprising. However, the superb film was let down enormously by a transfer marred by some ugly aliasing. Whilst the extras package is nothing special, and its presence may partly be a contributory factor to the video problem, it is not that bad for a rental-only DVD. Still, this is a film that deserves to be seen and is well worth checking out. This will however need to be remastered if it ever comes out for purchase, as I could not recommend the transfer for long-term viewing. It is also disappointing that not even a chapter listing is provided on the inside of the cover slick.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris (have a laugh, check out the bio)
3rd February 2001

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 80cm. 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