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Category:    Home > Reviews > Thriller > World War II > Windtalkers (MGM/3 DVD Set)

Windtalkers – Director’s Edition (3-Disc DVD-Video Set)

 

Picture: B-     Sound: B-     Extras: A+     Film: A-

 

 

Windtalkers (2001) is a brilliant film that went heavily overlooked, overanalyzed, with criticism hitting the film long before it even was released due to its delay because of the events of 9-11.  Windtalkers does carry the formula that has been used again and again.  It has the platoon made up of your typically optimist, pessimist, city boy, country boy, etc., etc.  The film is also staged like a shoot-em-up type of game where bodies come from everywhere and are shot over and over.  The enemy is never given a face.  Although this may be the case, what is important is that the film never claims to be original.  It understands visual language and it understands that if a story is good enough that it can tell that story just by showing it. 

 

Some may question this films realism and historical significance.  Others may wonder what the significance is or what the purpose was.  Comparing this film to something like Steven Spielberg’s grossly overrated Saving Private Ryan is a shear mistake and insult.  If you notice the way that the storyline is Saving Private Ryan is constantly motivated throughout.  Each scene must carry something that allows the next scene to take place. Windtalkers lets us sit back and watch the story unfold before us.  We are not informed about everything that is going on.  Certain details that might seem important are never really taken into full consideration.  We do not delve deep into its characters, which was perhaps the problem that some had with this film.  This is not a character study film!  Our interactions with the characters are as with most relationships between men and war…short and tragic. 

 

What is realism anyway?  All films are fake, and even a documentary is manipulated.  Someone once said that from the very first edit you are immediately manipulating a film.  Well, perhaps the manipulation occurs even before that when the action is placed within the frame of the camera and we only see what the camera sees.  From this moment on we are being manipulated as we see what the director wants us to see.  It’s a world that does not truly exist, but its job is to make us believe.  We are brought into another world and sometimes that world is a possible one and other times it is not.  So if a war film is typically gauged on its accuracy and ability to be ‘realistic’ then unless we were in battle or war what do we have to gauge?  Do we gauge based on what we think might be real?  Do we gauge based on what other films depicted as real?  For this critic, it’s a matter of does it “feel” real.  Windtalkers seemed real enough.

 

What does it matter if the film is not perfectly real?  If you know no different than it should not matter.  While watching Windtalkers it is easy to become involved by the magnitude and vastness of the war scenes.  Yes, it has many major battle scenes that do go on and on, but war is not something that has a planned time limit.  This was certainly a film that needed to be seen in a large theater, but unfortunately very few people had that opportunity since the film did not do so hot at the box office.  Especially after being pushed back from a December release date to a late summer release.

 

The film was it had low predictability and played out very well.  The pacing was not too fast or too slow.  It kept you interested.  The characters were not studied, but you began to feel like you knew them in a way.  Since there have been numerous war films made its hard to say that this film was original, but in many ways it was.  The battle scenes seemed different because when it comes to WWII films we mostly see U.S. vs. Germany.  This time we get a different perspective as the U.S. soldiers are invading Japan.  Windtalkers was also slightly overshadowed by some of the success of the overrated Randall Wallace picture starring Mel Gibson entitled We Were Soldiers, which plays out more like a John Wayne war picture with the hero always saving the day. 

 

Windtalkers’ main character Joe Enders is played magnificently by Nicolas Cage and unlike the typical ‘hero’ character that is all too often personified during these war pictures it was not about winning or losing.  It was not about saving not saving, but it was about just doing something.  Cage’s character is wounded during the beginning of the film and while Sgt. Enders is being treated for in a hospital he can only think about getting back out to war.  This notion seems ludicrous.  Who would want to go back out there?  Well, there is a certain amount of valor, honor, and dignity that is carried with his character and it is important that he does his duty despite a beautiful nurse that bats her eyes at Joe only to have her hopes crushed as he returns to battle.  A below average clichéd war picture would have had these two end up together. 

 

Our storyline is never that complicated as we have Sgt. Joe Enders being assigned the task of taking the Navajo Indians into enemy territory and bringing back intelligence that they can by using the their code talk.  Since the Navajo are valuable soldiers they must not let the enemy take any captives or else the code becomes no use. 

 

M-G-M delivers to us another version of Windtalkers onto DVD as this edition is the 3-Disc Director’s Edition of the film, which is far more respectable than their bare-bones October 2002 DVD release of this film!  The transfer is identical in terms of audio and visual quality, but all the extras here make for a whole new experience of this film.  Not only that, but the added material takes the film was 134 minutes to 153 minutes. 

 

The film itself is located on Disc One with three optional audio commentaries for the film.  The first commentary is director John Woo and the producer Terence Chang.  Woo was a great choice for this type of film, especially coming off a slightly disappointing Mission Impossible 2.  On this track we receive more of the technically involved aspects to the film from the director’s standpoint as well as how this project came about.

 

The second audio commentary features Nicolas Cage and Christian Slater.  Some may have their reservations about Nicolas Cage as an actor and that is understandable, but Cage is starting to become affiliated with better projects and starting to do work that accommodates him better.  Woo and Cage team up together after the fairly successful Face/Off (1997).  This commentary track is sporadic, but interesting to hear these two actors talk about this film. 

 

The third and least entertaining of the three commentaries is by actor Roger Willie and consultant Albert Smith.  This track, while not as entertaining, is more information rich as we are walked through the film with more of the historical significances covered.  The combination of all three of these commentaries really provides some in depth coverage that hits all bases.

 

There is also an introduction to the film provided by John Woo, in which he briefly explains why he felt that this director’s cut was more necessary and what makes this a more ‘complete’ version of the film.  The fun does not stop here as there are two more discs full of material to acquaint anyone with the story of the film as well as the true story from which it derives.  On the bonus discs are get a documentary on the code of the Navajo’s what was used in order to surpass the Japanese as they tried to break the codes of the U.S.  This is also followed up by a tribute piece to the Navajo’s, which is a very nice and appropriate touch since these individuals are hardly recognized. 

 

The music of the film is also discussed during a section that involves the compositions for the film and what certain selections were used for the film.  James Horner was responsible for the music of this film and although Horner tends to repeat himself, which is why we hear the bagpipes from Braveheart in the middle of Bicentennial Man, he does a terrific job here of trying to steer away from the typical sweeping, overly clichéd, bittersweet scores that have been attached to so many war pictures in the past few years. 

 

You can also access multi-angle options during four selected action sequences from the film.  This is a good segment that allows for consumers to appreciate the decisions that are made in order to give the best perspective of a certain scene and how placement can completely change the disposition of the viewer.  On top of all these supplements there are also diaries as well as segments from the actor’s boot camp training.  All of these extras compliment the film well for giving the viewer a complete package of this film with all the historical information that can be given.  While some of this may not be the most entertaining it is equally rewarding with its content for individuals more interested in learning something from this experience. 

 

M-G-M decided to recycle the same transfer for this film as they used on the previous DVD, which was to some degree a mistake. The film is presented in its original 2.35:1 scope aspect ratio and has been anamorphically enhanced.  The film was shot using Panavision cameras and lenses, but used Super 35mm film shooting (with less frame area than real scope) with Kodak 320T 5277 film stock.  Certain sections of this film were also shot digital as well and then transferred onto film. 

 

The biggest problem with this transfer when compared to the theatrical viewing is that the colors, especially the reds (blood), are way off!  The blood during certain scenes looks too fake, and this DVD diminishes some of the authenticity of the film by making this blood look too bright and paint-like.  This entire film had a drabber look to it that was captured by cinematographer Jeffrey L. Kimball, who has worked in the past on films such as Top Gun (1986), True Romance (1993), and again with Woo on Mission Impossible 2 (2000).  Kimball would also provide the very dark look of the latest Star Trek installment Star Trek Nemesis, which is also reviewed on this site.

 

Kimball’s take on the war scenes is much different than the scenes from Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987), which captured the beauty that still existed despite the chaos.  His camera work also stayed clear of the overused sepia tone that was present in Saving Private Ryan.  More importantly he did not try and go for a gritty look either as in the case of John Schumacher’s Tigerland, which is an excellent film in its own right.  What Kimball did however, was give the film a very authentic natural look with weather and conditions prevailing.  He never attempts to foreshadow events with the direction of the camera, but allows the action to play out before without it looking staged.  Comparing this film to We Were Soldiers we find that the camerawork in that film is once again motivated by actions to the point that we know what will happen before it ever does.  Jacket, Soldiers (both reviewed in HD-DVD on this site, but also available in nearly equal Blu-ray versions) and the theatrical cut of this film are all out in the HD formats.  You can read more about the improvements in picture and sound on the Blu-ray version (Fox & MGM will not be issuing an HD-DVD) at the following link:

 

http://www.fulvuedrive-in.com/review/4675/Windtalkers+(Blu-ray/Theatrical+Cut)

 

 

M-G-M in sticking with their limited use of DTS for their standard DVD’s presents Windtalkers with a semi-limited Dolby-only soundtrack.  The problem more than anything is that all of the low end and high end material of this film has been compressed (especially with the extra commentary tracks) to the point that the film never comes to life like it should.  Even turning the Dolby 5.1 mix up only complicates matter more as definition is then compromised.  Bass management is far easier to control with DTS audio and why M-G-M would only issue two films in DTS to date is unheard of.  Those two films being Hannibal (see this review on the site) as well as the latest in the Bond Franchise Die Another Day, which both of these films boasting their excellent sound dynamics, which Windtalkers is begging for on DVD.  Fortunately, the Blu-ray offers DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio for the shorter cut.

 

What becomes a huge problem is that consumers hear the film a certain way theatrically and then when the DVD of that film comes out the film is shortchanged and held back by not having the same lively dynamics that it might have had if DTS would have been used.  This same problem occurred with Columbia TriStar’s release of Ridley Scott’s exceptional film Black Hawk Down, now also out in a superior Blu-ray edition reviewed on this site.  The standard DVD did no justice to this films sound design at all!

 

Despite a few flaws with this film in terms of its audio/visual quality the extras make this a must-have for any fan of the film.  Hopefully this edition will find its place in skeptics as well since it provides much of the historical elements as well, which might further expand that viewers allowance for taking this film more for its face value rather than weighing it on the scales of believability.  Fact remains that all films are fake.  They are theatrical and staged, but Windtalkers manages to let us forget about that and gives us a point of view of being stuck right in the middle of this mess.  Whether there are some inaccuracies to this story or not does not necessarily matter all that much since history is written by those who believe it anyway.  History is only remembered by how it is taught.

 

 

-   Nate Goss


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