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MOVIE INFO
Synopsis: In the brutal World War II Battle of Saipan, Sergeant Joe Enders (Academy Award winner Nicolas Cage) guards - and ultimately befriends - Ben Yahzee (Adam Beech), a young Navajo trained in the one wartime code never broken by the enemy, the Navajo Code. But if Yahzee should fall into Japanese hands, how far will Enders go to save the military's most powerful secret? John Woo directs the film that was written by John Rice and Joe Batteer and inspired by the true story of the Navajo soldiers whose courage and sacrifices helped win the war in the Pacific.

Director:
John Woo
Cast:
Nicolas Cage, Adam Beach, Christian Slater, Peter Stormare, Noah Emmerich, Mark Ruffalo, Brian Van Holt, Martin Henderson, Roger Willie, Frances O'Connor
Screenplay:
John Rice & Joe Batteer

Tagline:
Honor Was Their Code.
Box Office:
Budget
$115 million.
Opening Weekend
$14.52 million on 2898 screens.
Domestic Gross
$40.904 million.
MPAA:
Rated R for pervasive graphic war violence, and for language.

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

Runtime: 153 min.
Price: $19.94
Release Date: 4/25/2006

Bonus:
• On-Camera Introduction with Director John Woo
• Audio Commentary with Director John Woo and Producer Terence Chang
• Audio Commentary with Actors Nicolas Cage and Christian Slater
• Audio Commentary with Actor Roger Willie and Navajo Consultant Albert Smith
• Trailers


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EQUIPMENT
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Windtalkers: Director's Cut (Single-Disc Edition) (2002)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 17, 2006)

For a movie that barely scratched past $40 million at the box office – and cost well over $100 million to make – 2002’s Windtalkers sure has inspired a lot of versions on DVD. In late 2002, we got a bare-bones release of the 134-minute theatrical cut. Seven months later, the powers that be put out a deluxe three-disc special edition that included a 153-minute “Director’s Cut” along with a collection of extras.

Now that we’re in 2006, we get a third DVD for Windtalkers. If you’re a big fan, don’t get too excited, however. This single-disc version simply offers DVD One of the 2003 special edition. It packages the “Director’s Cut” with all of the commentaries and whatnot found on the old set’s first disc.

To get a plot synopsis and a longer recap of my impressions of the original cut, please refer back to my review of the prior DVD. Here I want to restrict my thoughts to the “Director’s Cut”. Frankly, I found it difficult to recognize the new footage. Perhaps that’s because I only saw Windtalkers once before I got the “Director’s Cut”. However, it didn’t make much of an impression on me at that time, and I think that’s the bigger issue. The movie seemed commonplace and drab, and not much of it was memorable to me. This made it more difficult for me to differentiate between the two, as I didn’t have a lot of distinct recollections about the theatrical cut.

Maybe I should have just cut and pasted my thoughts about the original version, for nothing in the extended edition altered my opinion about the film. Some parts of it worked decently well, but not much stood out from the pack. Anyone who hoped that the “Director’s Cut” of Windtalkers would improve it will likely feel disappointed. The longer version remained sporadically interesting but mostly came across as a fairly lackluster and awkward flick, just like the original.


The DVD Grades: Picture B- / Audio A- / Bonus B+

Windtalkers 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. I thought the original DVD looked decent but demonstrated some concerns that surprised me due to the age and budget of Windtalkers. The “Director’s Cut” seemed to present virtually identical visuals.

Sharpness varied. Most of the movie came across as acceptably accurate and distinct, but quite a few less than detailed segments occurred. At times the film seemed a little blurry, largely due to the presence of some notable edge enhancement. From the opening credits through too many other parts of the flick, I noticed distinct halos around lettering and objects, and these made the image less crisp than it should. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no obvious concerns, and only a few small print flaws appeared. I saw a little light grain at times, and I also detected a few bits of grit, but most of the movie came across as clean and fresh. However, I did think the presentation seemed a little noisy at times.

Colors offered some of the transfer’s strongest elements. The movie provided a naturalistic palette for the most part, and the tones looked vivid and rich throughout the film. I noticed no signs of bleeding, noise, or other issues and felt the colors appeared lively and vibrant. Black levels also came across as deep and dense, but shadow detail seemed a bit weak at times. Low-light sequences were somewhat thick in general, and these tendencies appeared exacerbated by some problematic “day for night” photography. Those scenes displayed a heavy bluish tint that made them too impenetrable. A lot of Windtalkers actually looked very good, but it felt it showed an excessive number of small problems for a recent flicks, so it earned a “B-“.

One visual improvement over the original disc occurred. The theatrical DVD used ugly player-generated subtitles to translate the Navajo dialogue, but the “Director’s Cut” featured the burned-in text seen during the movie’s theatrical exhibition. These integrated with the image much more smoothly, so I definitely appreciated their presence.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio of the various Windtalkers DVDs also appeared the same, but since the old disc sounded very good, I won’t complain. Though not reference level, the mix offered a pretty solid piece of work. The soundfield maintained an active and engaging affair. During the film’s quieter scenes, the forward channels dominated. They remained somewhat passive at those times, but they still showed good stereo imaging for the score and also offered generally realistic ambience.

Not surprisingly, this war movie kicked to auditory life during its many battle scenes, and those offered excellent use of all five channels. The action tended to fly hot and heavy as bullets, artillery and other military elements zipped all around the soundfield. The elements seemed appropriately located and they blended together nicely, though a few bits seemed slightly speaker-specific. The surrounds added a fair amount of unique information and meshed together neatly. The results didn’t match Saving Private Ryan levels, but they seemed positive.

Audio quality appeared positive. Dialogue came across as natural and warm, as speech showed no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Music seemed bright and vibrant, as the score presented clear highs and tight low-end. Effects packed a serious punch. Those elements appeared distinct and vivid. They lacked problems related to distortion, and they demonstrated deep and rich bass response. Overall, the soundtrack of Windtalkers didn’t match the absolute best of the genre, but it worked very well.

I alluded to this earlier, but I want to clarify: the transfer on this 2006 Windtalkers DVD is exactly the same as the one on the 2003 Special Edition. In fact, this is literally the same disc as DVD One from that set. It includes the same mastering dates for the files and offers the identical trailers and extras found on that platter. It even still says “Disc One” on it!

Some confusion may relate to the aspect ratio. In my prior review, I referred to the AR as 2.35:1, whereas here I call it 2.40:1. Chalk that up to the transition in the film’s ownership between MGM and Sony. The latter often like to refer to films in the 2.40:1 ratio, but don’t interpret that to mean that there’s a difference between the old presentation and this one. There’s as identical as could be.

As I noted earlier, this release includes all of the extras found on Disc One of the 2003 “Special Edition”. The movie includes an extra 19 minutes of footage reintegrated into the film proper. I can never quite decide if I should count “director’s cuts” as bonuses or not, but I thought I’d mention it again nonetheless.

You can start Windtalkers with an introduction from director John Woo. He quickly discusses why he wanted to make a director’s cut and what he added. This doesn’t really tell us much, so it fails to embellish the proceedings.

In addition, the set features three separate audio commentaries. The first comes from director John Woo and producer Terence Chang, both of whom sit together for their running, screen-specific piece. Woo heavily dominates this track. Chang occasionally relates a tidbit about the flick, and he tells us most of the differences between the original cut and the director’s edition, but this remains Woo’s commentary most of the time.

That’s fine with me, for the director offers a nicely honest and charming appraisal of the film. The range of subjects seems typical, as he covers areas like working with the actors, dealing with effects and stunt concerns, ensuring the reality of the flick, and whatnot. However, Woo brings a different slant to the affair, as he seems to delve into these topics more fully than usual. For example, he gives us a lot of information about Nic Cage’s demeanor on the set, and he presents solid notes about his filmmaking and storytelling techniques, as he chats about his trademark visual elements and why he mostly avoided them here. Woo even makes fun of those tendencies at times. The commentary suffers from a moderate number of empty spaces, but the filmmakers include more than enough useful material to make the track worth a listen.

For the second track, we hear from actors Nicolas Cage and Christian Slater, both of whom were taped together for their running, screen-specific chat. Along with Patricia Arquette, Slater participated in one of the all-time worst commentaries I’ve ever heard. The Slater/Cage track definitely offers a step up from that catastrophe, but it still features a lot of weaknesses. On the positive side, the pair interact nicely and show a lively chemistry. At the start, Cage indicates a generally reluctance to do commentaries as he doesn’t like to give away all his secrets. Despite that disclaimer, Cage proves to be fairly open and chatty. He goes over some elements of his performance, reveals different influences and choices, and gets into character elements. Slater does a little of the same, but he doesn’t seem as thoughtful or insightful, so his remarks stay more on the surface.

In one fun element of the track, the actors often just shoot the breeze. They discuss other films they’ve made and different parts of their lives. The pair show a nice rapport and provide a light and funny track.

Unfortunately, the actors’ commentary suffers from two concerns. For one, they praise each other and the film way too frequently. This gets tired quickly, as the piece becomes too much of a mutual love fest. In addition, the track displays a lot of very long empty spots. Plenty of the movie passes without any information. When they speak, they generally seem fun and engaging, but the piece remains awfully erratic.

Lastly, we get a discussion with actor Roger Willie and Navajo consultant Albert Smith, both of whom also were taped together for their running, screen-specific track. The commentary focuses on a number of different issues. We learn about Navajo culture in general, and real-life code talker Smith goes over some of his war experiences. Willie talks about his life as an inexperienced actor and tells us quite a few good details from the set. Those elements offer the commentary’s best moments. Willie’s perspective as a neophyte actor puts him in an unusual position, and he tells us some nice examples of his reactions to being on the set.

Unfortunately, Smith’s remarks seem less compelling. He tells us only a little about what he did in the war. Instead, he tends to relate general Navajo information, and those elements are very inconsistent. While he and Willie help give us a better feel for the culture, Smith often rambles and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Those moments as well as a lot of dead air drag down this commentary. Usually when Willie speaks, it works well and offers an interesting perspective, but much of the rest of it seems dull and slow moving. Chalk it up as a mediocre track overall.

The set finishes with some trailers. We get both the theatrical and “teaser” clips for Windtalkers as well as ads for the DVD releases of Die Another Day, the Dances With Wolves special edition, and Hannibal. The disc also tosses in general promos called “MGM Means Great Movies” and “More Great MGM Releases”. Bizarrely, the Windtalkers theatrical trailer dubs Peter Stormare; I guess they thought they needed someone less... guttural.

Though it featured extra footage, the “Director’s Cut” of Windtalkers remained insubstantial and oddly flat. I didn’t think the new version enhanced the theatrical one. As for the DVD set, picture and sound seemed the same as the original, but it packed many more extras than the old “bare-bones” version.

Since I don’t think much of the film, I can’t recommend Windtalkers as a “blind buy”. Basically this edition will interest fans of the flick who don’t own either of the prior DVDs. It’s a cheaper version of the deluxe package that omits some extras, though it retains the best materials from that set. The two discs of video components weren’t extensive or particularly interesting; the commentaries are the best pieces, and all three appear here. If you already own the three-disc release, though, there’s absolutely no reason to check out this one.

To rate this film, visit the Director's Edition review of WINDTALKERS

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