Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: The Siege: DTS (1998)
Studio Line: 20th Century Fox - An enemy they can't see. A nation under siege. A crisis they can't control

Bruce Willis and Denzel Washington deliver action and mayhem in this edge-of-your-seat thrill ride from the director of Courage Under Fire and Glory.

When a crowded city bus blows up in Brooklyn and a campaign of terror begins to make its bloody mark on the streets of New York, it's up to FBI special agent Anthony "Hub" Hubbard and U.S. Army General William Devereaux to find out who's responsible and put an end to the destruction. Together, they face explosive danger at every turn when they team up to a wage an all-out war against a ruthless band of terrorists.

Co-starring Annette Bening (The American President) and Tony Shalhoub (Men In Black), The Siege is a "tense and nerve-wracking" (Los Angeles Times) action-adventure that's "packed with excitement and surprises!" (Journal News).

Director: Edward Zwick
Cast: Denzel Washington, Annette Bening, Bruce Willis, Tony Shalhoub, Sami Bouajila, Mosleh Mohamed, Lianna Pai, Mark Valley, Jack Gwaltney, David Proval
Box Office: Budget: $70 million. Opening Weekend: $13.931 million (2541 screens). Gross: $40.932 million.
DVD: Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9; audio English Dolby Digital & DTS 5.1, Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround; subtitles English, Spanish; closed-captioned; single sided - dual layered; 30 chapters; rated R; 116 min.; $29.98; street date 12/26/00.
Supplements: Theatrical Trailer.
Purchase: DVD | Score soundtrack - Graeme Revell

Picture/Sound/Extras: A-/A-/D-

When one considers all of the folks out there who despise the United States, it seems fairly remarkable that terrorism has been so absent on our shores. The most significant act in modern memory - the Oklahoma City bombing - was executed by Americans, which leaves the 1993 incident at the World Trade Center in New York as the biggest affair apparently caused by foreign elements.

However, we may not remain so lucky forever, and 1998’s The Siege took a look at the potential outcome of terrorist activity in the US. More specifically, it examines what might happen if New York City became the focal point of a concentrated campaign of destruction.

The result is a nicely tight and tense thriller that manages to fit in some thought-provoking material about the price of freedom. The Siege looks at the issue mainly from the point of view of Anthony Hubbard (Denzel Washington), and FBI agent who slowly finds himself engulfed in greater and greater turmoil with little apparent resolution. With the sporadic help of a mysterious and shifty CIA agent (Annette Bening), “Hub” pursues various leads to track down and eliminate the various “cells” of this Arab-run campaign, but the situation leaves his control when the President orders martial law to take effect in New York.

At that point, General William Devereaux (Bruce Willis) brings in the troops, and the issues related to freedom become more prominent. Essentially the movie discusses at what point the public good allows for various excesses as we see Arab-Americans imprisoned and tortured for no reason other than their national background.

Director Ed Zwick has covered similar issue-oriented topics in films like Courage Under Fire, and he neatly presents ideas without making the movie appear forced or preachy. While it also seems clear on which side of the fence Zwick’s sympathies lie, the story looks at the concerns in a relatively fair manner; all viewpoints are presented and while one takes priority, the tale still relates the others in an acceptably objective way.

In other words, The Siege doesn’t promote easy answers, as there would be none in this kind of situation. Mostly the story debates whether or not the end justifies the means. This leads to some of Washington’s best scenes as he stands in defense of freedom and the notions upon which the US was built. At one point he delivers a speech on the topic; while this text probably looked stiff on the printed page, Washington brings it to life. Heck, I was tempted to stand and cheer when I first heard this during the film’s theatrical run! Washington is almost uniformly a strong actor, and he presents another solid performance here. He lends the role a wonderful sense of authority and presence that makes it work.

Actually, the entire cast provide fine acting. Willis is a little too hawkish as Devereaux, but he never descends into truly cartoony work. Bening seems deft and appropriately evasive as the CIA agent, and I’m always delighted to see Tony Shalhoub, who plays a fellow FBI agent and Hub’s best friend. Shalhoub is very able to straddle the comic and dramatic aspects of his role; even during some serious moments, he can inject a little levity that appears perfectly natural and appropriate. Yeah, I’m in the bag for Shalhoub, but this is still one of his better performances.

Six degrees of Kevin Bacon time: at one point in The Siege, a character mentions the “BQE”. That’s the “Brooklyn-Queens Expressway”. The first time I ever heard of this road happened during 1990’s marvelous comedy Quick Change, in which some characters desperately seek to find that avenue. Quick Change was also the first time I ever heard of one Tony Shalhoub, who provided an extremely memorable performance as a cab driver. Spooky connection!

The Siege offers a very provocative and tense experience that kept me involved from start to finish. The movie examines serious issues but never does so in a dry or condescending manner as the package is wrapped in solid action/thriller elements. Add to that some terrific acting and you have a top-notch movie.

The DVD:

The Siege appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although the picture wasn’t without any concerns, as a whole if offered a very satisfying viewing experience.

Sharpness seemed nicely crisp and well-defined throughout the film. At no point did I discern any signs of softness or fuzziness; this was a clear and detailed image. Moiré effects and jagged edges provided no significant problems, and I saw only modest artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV. Some minor debris marred the presentation. I witnessed a few speckles plus a little grit and some light grain, but these remained minor. No more significant defects like scratches, tears, blotches, or hairs appeared.

The Siege maintained a fairly subdued and icy palette, but within that spectrum, the colors looked clear and accurate. At no point did the film use any truly vibrant or lush hues, but the tones I saw kept within the movie’s domain and seemed very solid. Black levels also appeared nicely deep and rich, and shadow detail was appropriately heavy but never excessively opaque; contrast looked positive, and all low-light situations came across clearly. As a whole, the movie looked very good.

Also quite strong were the soundtracks of The Siege. This new DVD includes both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 mixes. Except for the fact that the DTS version was mastered at a somewhat higher volume level, I thought that the two sounded virtually identical. At no point did I discern any noticeable differences between the DTS and the DD tracks.

And that’s just fine, since both mixes sounded so good. The film boasted a broad and engaging soundfield that always kept me involved in the action. Audio seemed appropriately and accurately placed within the spectrum and blended together neatly. Surround usage appeared very strong as the imaging cleanly engulfed me into a fairly seamless environment. The movie doesn’t contain any truly stand-out sequences, but the entire package seemed deep and engaging.

Audio quality also appeared strong. Some of the dialogue displayed minor edginess at times, but for the most part speech was crisp and distinct with no problems related to intelligibility. Effects were terrifically clean and accurate and they showed strong dynamics. Those parts of the film seemed clear and realistic and they featured no signs of distortion even at their loudest. The score was also bright and bold as it offered detailed highs and rich lows. All in all, The Siege presented a very solid auditory experience.

Less compelling are the extras on this DVD. All we find is the film’s theatrical trailer. This seems especially disappointing since director Zwick hasn’t been shy about participating in special edition DVDs; he offered audio commentaries for the recent releases of both Courage Under Fire and Legends of the Fall, and he’ll also participate strongly in the upcoming Glory DVD. The lack of extras almost certainly falls on Fox, who apparently were unwilling to invest any time or money into additional features.

That’s a shame because The Siege is a strong DVD in all other ways. The movie itself is a provocative and compelling examination of the price of democracy; despite the potential to become preachy, it always remains believable and exciting. The DVD offers excellent picture and sound but includes virtually no extras. For anyone who doesn’t already own a DVD of The Siege, this new release merits their attention.

For current owners of the original DVD, however, the situation is less clear. The new edition provides two features absent on the first one: an anamorphic transfer and DTS 5.1 sound. In regard to the latter, I didn’t discern any substantial differences between it and the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix; I’m sure others will disagree, but I thought they were identical, so I can’t recommend a repurchase of the disc because of the DTS.

The new transfer is a more compelling reason to examine the new DVD, however, if your TV can take advantage of the additional resolution. I’ve seen no indications that the original DVD had any distinct visual flaws other than the lack of anamorphic enhancement, so those with sets that can’t benefit from this kind of display will likely be fine with the old release. If you have a 16X9 TV or a 4X3 set that does the “anamorphic squeeze” - such as Sony’s WEGA models - you may want to give strong consideration to the re-released DVD, as it’ll undoubtedly provide a better-looking image.

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