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Kathryn Bigelow
Jason Clarke, Reda Kateb, Jessica Chastain, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle, Harold Perrineau, Jeremy Strong, J.J. Kandel
Writing Credits:
Mark Boal

The greatest manhunt in history.

For a decade, an elite team of intelligence and military operatives, working in secret across the globe, devoted themselves to a single goal: to find and eliminate Osama bin Laden. Zero Dark Thirty reunites the Oscar winning team of director-producer Kathryn Bigelow and writer-producer Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker) for the story of history's greatest manhunt for the world's most dangerous man.

Box Office:
$40 million.
Opening Weekend
$431.558 thousand on 450 screens.
Domestic Gross
$95.314 million.

Rated R

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1/16X9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Surround 2.0
English Audio Descriptive Service
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 157 min.
Price: $30.99
Release Date: 3/19/2013

• “No Small Feat” Featurette
• “The Compound” Featurette
• “Geared Up” Featurette
• “Targeting Jessica Chastain” Featurette
• Previews


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.


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Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 25, 2013)

After a long break from filmmaking, Kathryn Bigelow returned with a bang via 2009’s The Hurt Locker. Although the movie didn’t do much at the box office, it snared multiple Oscars – including Best Picture - and re-established Bigelow in Hollywood.

Which led to a higher profile for her follow-up: 2012’s Zero Dark Thirty. It didn’t win as many Oscars, but it got excellent reviews and became a moderate box office hit; no, Zero’s $94 million didn’t dazzle, but the low-budget flick turned a profit, and it delivered much stronger returns that the $17 million of Hurt Locker.

Although I found myself rather underwhelmed by Hurt Locker, I hoped to feel more impressed by Zero. Set two years after the 9/11 attacks, we observe CIA interrogations intended to deal with potential terrorism and its perpetrators. Into this setting steps Maya (Jessica Chastain), a young agent new to these techniques.

Although put off by the brutality of the interrogation at first, Maya quickly adapts and becomes part of the team. Along the way, she develops a single-minded obsession with the pursuit of Usama bin Laden. We follow her as she attempts to achieve this goal.

Like many historical films, Zero comes with one major possible obstacle: we know how the story will end. Not only do we realize that a Navy Seal team will kill bin Laden, but we understand that all of the soldiers will survive, too, so we lose some potential tension.

With 1997’s Titanic, Bigelow’s ex-husband James Cameron got around this pitfall to a degree: he focused on fictional characters, most of whose fates wouldn’t be known in advance. Zero can’t do that, at least not in the same way; while it does provide composite characters and puts them in non-factual situations, any attempts to fictionalize the climactic assault would’ve been disastrous.

This makes Zero more analogous to 1995’s Apollo 13. That flick could take liberties but not to a huge degree, and it needed to stay pretty accurate when it came to its finale.

In the case of Apollo 13, we got a movie that may’ve been predictable on paper but it still seemed exciting and tense. I’m not wild about Ron Howard as a director, but for that film, he brought out his “A-game” as he infused the already-known story with drama and pizzazz.

I’m also not a fan of Bigelow as a director, and Zero doesn’t change my mind. Unlike Cameron or Howard, she brings little flair and excitement to her film. Instead, she tends to rob potentially dynamic material of its vitality.

When I saw Zero theatrically, I did so a couple of days after I watched Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained and couldn’t help but compare the two directors. I sense a radical imbalance in skill between the two, for I feel Tarantino is a master filmmaker while Bigelow is completely average.

Django vs. Zero reinforces this notion. On the surface, Django - like Inglorious Basterds and pretty much every other Tarantino film – should be schlock. Django offers a story straight from cheap 70s “B”-movie fare and comes with little at its heart that should ensure greatness.

But miraculously, Tarantino takes this sow’s ear and turns it into a silk purse. He manages to create a dynamic, evocative effort that overcomes its humble beginnings and shows how much a great director can bring to the table.

While Tarantino takes flawed material and makes it shine, Bigelow does the opposite. Despite the potential negatives that come with its known outcome, Zero could – and should – have offered a gripping narrative.

It doesn’t. Instead, Zero feels almost shockingly devoid of drama. Actually, it does okay for itself during the first act, but before long, it runs out of steam. Bigelow resorts to cheap tactics like the gratuitous killings of agents and other hamfisted choices to involve the audience, but these backfire.

And when one of Maya’s colleagues dies, Bigelow’s choices backfire to a massive degree. The scene in which this occurs is so stupid that singlehandedly threatens to ruin the rest of the movie.

For one, Bigelow completely telegraphs that a death will happen; films don’t focus on secondary characters like this unless something major will take place, so we can see the demise in advance. Also, the person in question behaves so idiotically that we don’t feel particularly bad when death occurs; the whole thing delivers such a contrived “movie moment” that we get none of the intended passion or emotion.

Even without that radical mistake, Zero lacks drama. We follow Maya on her quest toward the inevitable and rarely feel especially invested in her pursuit. Again, some of this may stem from the already-known outcome, but I think Bigelow’s flaws as a director are the bigger issue, as she just can’t add any spice to the proceedings.

The climactic assault becomes the biggest victim of Bigelow’s mediocrity. At no point does the extended military raid do much to involve the viewer; we follow the soldiers as they achieve their goals and don’t really care all that much.

How is this possible? Predictable finale or not, shouldn’t an attack like this have plenty of tension and drama?

Yup, but it doesn’t, and again, I blame Bigelow. I see no “signature style” from her – or much style of any sort, honestly, as anonymity seems to be her route. She turned Hurt Locker into little more than a “B”-level action flick, and she develops Zero into a slow, dull attempt at a thriller.

I take no pleasure from this opinion. I wanted to like Hurt Locker and I wanted to like Zero. I thought I would/should enjoy both of them.

But I didn’t. Zero Dark Thirty gives us a perfectly average thriller that could’ve been made by any number of other directors. It gets a boost from its interesting subject matter but ends up as a thoroughly generic film.

The Disc Grades: Picture B/ Audio B+/ Bonus C-

Zero Dark Thirty appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the disc has been enhanced for 16X9 TVs. This was a competent SD-DVD presentation.

Sharpness seemed acceptable. Wide shots tended to be a bit soft and blocky, but the majority of the film showed pretty positive delineation. Only minor signs of jagged edges or shimmering occurred, but mild edge haloes became apparent at times. Source flaws were a non-factor, as this was a clean presentation.

Orange and teal have become dominant colors in today’s Hollywood, and they influence Zero. Nonetheless, the tones consistently seemed acceptable within those parameters. Blacks were deep and firm, while low-light shots came across as appropriately dense but not overly dark. Nothing here excelled, but the image was fine given the limitations of SD-DVD.

I also felt pleased with the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Zero Dark Thirty. Though much of the film concentrated on character moments, the various action sequences offered enough pizzazz to create an impact. These filled out the speakers well, and the quieter moments delivered good involvement as well.

For much of the film, occasional explosions offered the most obvious “big moments”, but the final act used the speakers to much more consistent advantage. During the climactic assault, the various channels came to life and offered an involving impression. The rest of the movie seemed fine, too, but it was the climax that most obviously delivered the sonic goods.

Audio quality also was solid. Speech seemed crisp and distinctive, as I noticed no flaws like edginess. Music seemed warm and full, while effects added a real bang to the proceedings. Those elements showed good clarity and accuracy, and they offered tight, deep bass as well. The track seemed vibrant and dynamic as it accentuated the movie in a satisfying manner.

In terms of extras, the DVD comes with four featurettes. We find No Small Feat (three minutes, 52 seconds), The Compound (9:26), Geared Up (7:04) and Targeting Jessica Chastain (5:20). Across these, we hear from director/producer Kathryn Bigelow, producer/screenwriter Mark Boal, production designer Jeremy Hindle, set decorator Roderick McLean, DEVGRU operators Mitchell Hall and Barrie Rice, armorer David Fencl, Stealth helicopter special EFX supervisor Neil Corbould, and actors Jessica Chastain, Kyle Chandler, Mark Strong, Joel Edgerton, Jason Clarke, and Chris Pratt.

The programs cover story/characters, realism/accuracy, what Bigelow brings to the project, sets and locations, military elements, cast and performances. You’ll learn a decent amount from these programs, but don’t expect great depth; they’re essentially promotional fodder.

Kathryn Bigelow has come to enjoy a strong reputation as a director over the last few years, but I can’t figure out why. I’ve yet to see a Bigelow film that seems better than average to me, and 2012’s Zero Dark Thirty does nothing to change my mind. Watchable but curiously flat and devoid of tension, the movie seems anonymous and forgettable. The DVD gives us good picture and audio but lacks substantial supplements. As much as I want to like Zero, I just don’t find its alleged strengths to become apparent to me.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5714 Stars Number of Votes: 14
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