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COLUMBIA TRISTAR

MOVIE INFO
Synopsis:
Loyal veteran Navy S.E.A.L. Lt. A.K. Waters (Bruce Willis) is sent into the heart of war-torn Africa on a hazardous assignment to rescue Dr. Lena Hendricks (Monica Bellucci), a U.S. citizen who runs a mission. When the beautiful doctor refuses to abandon the refugees in her care, Lt. Waters finds himself having to choose between following orders and the dictate of his own conscious. Together, they begin a dangerous trek through the deadly jungle, all the while being pursued by a rebel militia group, with only one goal in mind: to assassinate Lt. Waters' unit and the refugees in his care.

Director:
Antoine Fuqua
Cast:
Bruce Willis, Monica Bellucci, Cole Hauser, Johnny Messner, Tom Skerritt
Writing Credits:
Alex Lasker, Patrick Cirillo

Tagline:
He was trained to follow orders. He became a hero by defying them.

Box Office:
Budget
$70 million.
Opening Weekend
$17.057 million on 2973 screens.
Domestic Gross
$43.426 million.

MPAA:
Rated R for strong war violence, some brutality and language.

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 2.40:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:
English
French
Spanish
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 142 min.
Price: $19.94
Release Date: 6/7/2005

Bonus:
• "Journey To Safety: Making Tears of the Sun"
• Voices of Africa
• Interactive Map of Africa
• Previews


PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM

EQUIPMENT
Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Tears of the Sun: Director's Extended Cut (2003)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 27, 2009)

In the eyes of filmmakers, it appears that Africa has become the new Vietnam. Since movies have beaten the conflict in Southeast Asia to death and also seem to have wrung all the juice out of World War II, they need new fodder.

This led to 2003’s Tears of the Sun. Here’s David Williams’ synopsis from his original review of the flick:

“In Tears of the Sun, director Antoine Fuqua’s follow-up to Training Day, we meet Navy SEAL A.K. Waters (Bruce Willis), a lieutenant who’s sent into revolutionary Nigeria to rescue physician Lena Kendricks (Monica Bellucci). Given orders from his commander (Tom Skerritt) to extract all ‘critical personnel’, Waters heads into the jungle to get Kendricks – an American by marriage – and some of her missionaries out of the country before some rebels come knocking on her door and slaughter everyone in sight.

”However, when Waters and his crew get to Kendricks’ jungle hospital, they find that she doesn’t want to leave without the Nigerians that she has been caring for at her mission. In order to get the doctor to leave, Waters tells her that if they will march to the helicopter landing/rescue zone, that he and his men will make sure that everyone is extracted. However, he neglects to tell her that he’s lying.

”When the group arrives at the loading zone, Waters and his men try to jostle Doctor Kendricks on to the chopper so they can get out of heck out of Dodge, Nigerian patients/refugees be dammed. However, when Lieutenant Waters looks back and sees the natives waving goodbye at them, he has an unexpected change of heart and he begins loading old women and young children on the chopper to get them to safety first. He claims that he will lead the remainder of the group to safety himself – on foot – and for one of the first times in his military career, his conscience overrides his primary mission.

”Against the wishes of his commander, Waters and his men head back into the dangerous jungles, all while a militia group pursues them. Along the way, we see the atrocities that are occurring in the country, and the dangers to Waters and his group increase because of the humanitarian tone the mission has now adopted. Will Waters and his men see the group to safety or will the rebels track them down and slaughter them before they can rendezvous with the other Americans?”

Sign number one that Tears of the Sun is a typically Hollywood take on its subject: Bruce Willis. Ever since the original Die Hard, I’ve liked Willis, and I thought he brought something different to the standard action hero. However, he’s not the actor you want if you desire a full-dimensional performance. That doesn’t mean Willis is incapable of higher level work, but unless pushed, he’ll fall back on his usual glower and smirk.

Apparently Fuqua didn’t challenge Willis, for the actor sticks with the tried and true. He displays little subtlety as he keeps Waters stalwart and stoic. The movie wants us to believe he has a character arc as he goes from playing the obedient soldier to standing up for what he thinks is right, but his path is so utterly predictable that it doesn’t seem like anything changes. Willis scowls to convey the seriousness of the situation and does little more.

Sign number two: Monica Bellucci. I can suspend disbelief about any number of things, but even I find the presence of a young, hot female doctor in the middle of nowhere to be more than a slight stretch. Is it possible that someone like her would be in a position like this? Sure, I suppose, but the concept remains unlikely. I don’t mean to imply that all medical workers in tough situations are Bea Arthur clones, but the chances remain slim.

We find a babe like Bellucci for one reason alone: she’s hot, and she gives the movie some eye candy. It doesn’t hurt that the sexy doc conveniently wears her shirts unbuttoned halfway down her chest. Hey, it’s hot in the jungle - gotta cool down somehow, right? Her boobs play such a prominent role in the proceedings that they deserve a screen credit of their own.

Sign number three: Bruce Willis and Monica Bellucci. Take aging but still handsome Actor A, place him with young, sexy flavor of the month Actress B, and you have Inevitable Movie Romance Z. Sun makes their eventual connection absolutely inevitable.

Not only is there no reason to cast two attractive leads without romance in the end, but also the movie uses the conventional methods to tell us they’ll wind up snogging. The pair are totally different personalities and they initially dislike and resent each other. That’s the ultimate Hollywood shorthand for eventual romance. Granted, the movie keeps this affair extremely understated and implied, but it’s there nonetheless.

Sign number four: with all the dramatic events that have occurred - and continue to take place - in Africa, the filmmakers prefer to offer fictional material. Black Hawk Down had its flaws, but at least it went with factual topics. Sun takes the truth as inspiration but otherwise branches into made-up characters and issues.

Why bother? At best, this seems pointless, and at worst, it appears dishonest since many filmmakers will assume the flick comes based on fact. With all the real-life events on which to base a movie, why waste our time with fiction?

Granted, one could argue the same about war flicks like Apocalypse Now or Saving Private Ryan. Perhaps I see a difference simply because those movies were good while Sun is not. Besides, they had a point to make, whereas the goal of Sun appears fuzzier.

Sign number five: Like most movies about African conflicts, it prefers to focus on white people. This made more sense in Black Hawk Down due to the particular story it meant to tell, but here it doesn’t seem as logical. The movie would work better if it dealt with the African issues and used the Americans as a sidebar rather than the opposite approach. Sun treats the Africans as props for its little morality tale, and they never emerge as anything more than stock characters.

The lack of subtlety really becomes a problem. During the opening, the film almost hints at nuances among the African leaders, as it implies the deposed - and soon assassinated - president has blood on his own hands. However, these shades of gray quickly vanish and the film immediately becomes a tale of good versus evil with nothing between those extremes. This gets worse as it progresses, especially when we find a silly, soap operatic plot twist toward the end.

Actually, the film gets a little more interesting during its third act simply because it finally pushes out some action. I won’t criticize Sun for its absence of action, or at least I wouldn’t slam it because I might have expected more war in this war flick. It doesn’t need to be Ryan and pummel us with bloodshed.

However, the lack of firepower becomes more noticeable due to the tedium of the rest of the story. The climax highlights this because the big ending battle really works quite well. When director Fuqua stops trying to involve us in his bland characters and just lets the bullets fly, the film comes to life.

But it’s too little, too late. I wouldn’t call Tears of the Sun a terrible movie, for it lacks any elements that seem truly poor. The acting’s perfectly passable, and the story has some potential. The film looks good and offers totally professional production values. Unfortunately, it rarely rises above mediocrity and embraces too many stock Hollywood techniques to become winning.

Note that this DVD presents the “Director’s Extended Cut” of Tears of the Sun. According to the case, it includes “over 24 minutes of never-before-seen footage”. Maybe my math is rusty, but I can’t figure out this claim. The original flick ran 121 minutes, while the DC lasts 142 minutes. Last time I looked, 142 minus 121 equals 21, not 24. Perhaps the DC drops some footage from the theatrical edition and replaces it with new material, but that seems unlikely.

So what do we get with the added minutes? That’s an excellent question that I can’t answer. I never saw the theatrical cut and despite many attempts, I found nothing on the Internet that detailed the changes. However, I have a feeling that the extra footage simply reinstates the deleted scenes from the prior DVD.


The DVD Grades: Picture A-/ Audio A-/ Bonus C

Tears of the Sun appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Very few issues emerged in this fine transfer.

Sharpness always appeared immaculate. Even during wide shots, I found the image to remain nicely crisp and well defined. At no point did I discern any signs of softness or fuzziness in this tight picture. No jaggies or shimmering appeared, and edge enhancement was very minor. As for print flaws, I saw a speck or two but nothing to cause distractions.

Sun went with a palette that should be called “African War Basic”. This meant a blown-out, sandy look for street scenes along with oversaturated greens and little else for the jungle parts. Despite the inherently bland look of the film, I felt the DVD replicated the tones quite nicely. The colors appeared vivid and distinct at all times, as I saw no signs of bleeding, noise, or other concerns. Black levels also came across as dense and rich, while shadow detail was appropriately thick but not excessively heavy. Sun always looked great.

In addition, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Tears of the Sun was a winner. The soundfield presented an active affair that created a nice sense of the setting. All five channels received a good workout, as the mix featured fine stereo separation for the music and integrated effects material well. Material blended together neatly and smoothly, and the different elements seemed appropriately localized as well. The surrounds added a good sense of depth to the package, and they contributed quite a lot of unique audio during the battles, which meant the rear speakers received a lot of work.

Audio quality appeared fine. Though much of it must have been looped, dialogue seemed clear and natural throughout the film. I heard no concerns related to intelligibility or edginess. Music was bright and distinct and showed nice fidelity; the mix of score and songs came across with robust and lively tones. Effects seemed crisp and concise. Even with all the loud action onscreen, I never heard any distortion, and the material appeared accurate and vivid. Low-end response came across quite well, as the movie presented tight and taut bass. Overall, Sun provided a satisfying soundtrack.

Only a smattering of extras make it onto this “Director’s Extended Cut” DVD, virtually all of which repeat from the original disc. Sadly, a new audio commentary isn’t one of the components, and we lose some elements on the prior release.

We start with a featurette called Journey to Safety: Making Tears of the Sun. The 15-minute and three-second program goes with the standard mix of movie clips, shots from the set, and interviews. We hear from director Antoine Fuqua, producer Arnold Rifkin, technical advisor Harry Humphries, and actors Bruce Willis, Johnny Messner, Sammi Rotibi, Monica Bellucci, Cole Hauser, Paul Francis, Nick Chinlund, Akosua Busia, and Eamonn Walker.

They discuss the problems in Africa, the project’s evolution, casting and characters, shooting in Hawaii, Fuqua’s style on the set, using Africans as extras, Navy SEALS, the actors’ training, and military realism in the flick. That sounds like a good overview, but in reality, it consistently remains superficial. The show always comes across as promotional, as it seems to serve little purpose other than to convince us that Sun is a great film. It doesn’t work, and the featurette lacks any insight or depth.

For another featurette, we get the 20-minute and 53-second compilation called Voices of Africa. This lets us hear from eight Africans who fled to the US: Santino Garang (Sudan), Christiana Obani (Nigeria), Fabrice Habimana-Yahve (Democratic Republic of Congo), Nathaniel Nyok (Sudan), Alpha Osman Davies (Sierra Leone), Speciose Kayitezi (Congo), Alexander Kujo Ireland (Liberia), and Mulisya Paluku (Congo). All of them tell us about their painful experiences back in Africa. Most do so simply and without theatrics, which makes their stories all the more powerful. This becomes a moving and effective program as we learn about the struggles in Africa.

Next we find an Interactive Map of Africa. It allows us to click on icons for Nigeria as a whole and some of its smaller divisions, Sokoto, Maiduguri, Kaduna, Jos, Abuja, Lagos, Enugu, Escravos, Ogoni, and Calabar. These give us short text notes about the regions’ history and issues. They offer a decent examination of those areas and are worth a look.

Lastly, the DVD includes Previews for Black Hawk Down, Stealth, Layer Cake, Rescue Me and Full Throttle. No trailer for Sun appears.

If you want a one-dimensional piece of Hollywood war, look no further than Tears of the Sun. The flick packs a good action sequence in its climax but otherwise suffers from too many of the usual predictable conventions without any inspiration. The DVD presents very positive picture and audio but lacks a terribly substantial roster of extras.

I don’t like Sun enough to recommend it blind, so skip it unless you know it appeals to you. For those folks, they encounter a choice between the original theatrical cut DVD and this extended version. I’d probably push those people to the prior release. I didn’t see it, but I can’t imagine the shorter version is any less satisfying than this one, and that package includes a better set of supplements. The added 21 minutes of footage will likely appeal to some fans, but I still feel the original is likely the better release.

To rate this film visit the original review of TEARS OF THE SUN

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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main