The Osterman Weekend (Divimax Edition
Picture: B Sound: B+
Extras: B+ Film: A-
Neil Postman’s 1984 book Amusing Ourselves to Death dealt with
how the Television is causing us to become less evolved or rather less
intelligent. TV provides everything in
an amusing way that we do not even think for ourselves. Not only that, but that TV is an invasion or
our privacy as citizens of this world.
Sam Peckinpah’s 1983 film The
Osterman Weekend also handles the idea of Voyeurism and the ‘what ifs’ of
having a world where our ever action was watched, via the Television.
There can be certain
advantages to not seeing a film when it is originally released or a large
portion of time goes by. I must admit up
until the DVD release of this film I knew nothing of it, but that’s not such a
bad thing, as this review shall explain.
One of the biggest advantages of course is that looking back you are
able to see a much broader context of the film and its impact or lack of
impact. Some may see this film as a good
film, with flaws, but then again this is a movie that will go over most
people’s heads. Most people are going to
expect the work of Sam Peckinpah at the height of his career with films like The Wild Bunch or Straw Dogs, but this is a director on his final film in which he
was mostly sick and had to be on oxygen most of the time.
First there is the
criticism of the acting and the characters in general as they act in unlikely
and unnatural ways, which in most films never really works, but in this film it
does for a few reasons. First of all is
that the characters are flawed and their flaws lead to their demise, both good
characters and the bad ones. Very few
intelligent films allow their characters to be flawed especially on both sides
and more especially in genre filmmaking, which is why William Friedkin’s To Live and Die in L.A. was a grossly
overlooked film that most passed off for substandard filmmaking.
One key factor of this
film was the casting, which puts some of the best talent together in order to
make the material work. Early in the
film an investigative TV host John Tanner (Rutger Hauer in one of his early
American roles) is told by a mysterious CIA operative (John Hurt) that his
closest friends (Dennis Hopper, Craig T. Nelson, and Chris Sarandon) are all
enemy agents. If convinced after their
annual weekend get together Tanner states that he will be cooperative in their
attempt to apprehend the agents, but is betrayal that easy? However, Tanner is
not as reluctant after even more mysterious happenings occur on the weekend and
the story becomes just as confusing as it does entertaining and twisted.
Burt Lancaster, Helen
Shaver, and Meg Foster (a familiar face that would go on to do John Carpenter’s
They Live, which dealt similarly
with invasion of privacy and identity) also aid in giving the film the right
dimension to pull off effectively.
Robert Ludlum’s best-selling novel is well-adapted here despite the fact
that some criticism fell concerning how it translated and whether it kept some
of the tone of the book. Obviously film
and literature can put forth different tone since one is visual it will always
maintain a more scrutinized look.
As mentioned earlier there
can be benefits from not seeing a film until later on long after its original
run. One absolute advantage in this era
of DVD technology is being able to see and hear these movies far better than
VHS could ever have offered and in some cases a notch above what LaserDisc was
able to do. Anchor Bay
has gone through some extreme measures for a low classification film like this
to bring it to the format in crowning glories.
Released as part of their Divimax Series this film receives the
treatment that uses a High-Definition film transfer process and attempts to deliver
the best possible product. Not only
that, but the soundtrack has been boosted up to include the original mono mix,
a 5.1 Dolby Surround EX, and a DTS-ES discrete option.
First there is the image
transfer, which displays the film in its original Academy Standard flat ratio
of 1.85 X 1, which has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. What some might notice is that the film has a
very muted older look to it with some definition problems. Colors look accurate and flesh tones are
nice, but there is too much softness for most tastes. Grain is somewhat minimal depending on which
scene and colors are controlled for the most part. Blacks could be a tad darker and even the
whites are slightly off. My best guess
is that this film was never really preserved and even though only 20 years or
so have gone by some degrading and aging have occurred. The print is virtually clean, but fails to
impress on some levels especially when viewed back on larger TV’s and or
The audio on the other hand
is quite impressive given the fact that this was originally a mono based
film. Some major work was done to
recreate a surround experience with this film and even though there are sure
signs showing that this soundtrack has a dated sound to it, there is no doubt
that this is the best the film will probably ever sound. That original mono mix is present on the DVD,
but is only there for purists. Home
Theater fans will certainly want to experience the impressive Dolby EX and
DTS-ES tracks. While some scenes are
general frontal in their presence there are certainly some highlighted moments
when the entire soundstage becomes engaging.
The car chase scene for example gives life to the rear surrounds and
even the sixth middle rear channel (EX, ES) as sound sweeps to the front
channels and vise versa. Fortunately the
audio is never overly spatial, but provides just the right amount of ambience
for appropriate situations. The DTS-ES mix
as expected far out performs any other audio option and is far more spatial and
provides more presence to put you further on the edge of your seat.
Perhaps another reason
that this disc did not perform as well as some of the other Divimax Series
titles (Halloween, Day of the Dead, Manhunter, and Time Bandits)
would be the inclusion of a commentary track with historians Paul Seydor,
Garner Simmons, David Weddle, and Nick Redman.
When doing High-Definition transfers the best results occur when more
space on the disc can be utilized by video and audio information. Adding more audio tracks or extras take away
from this information. This is why the
Superbit titles from Columbia TriStar always look and sound better than the
opposing edition, which typically only includes Dolby Digital audio and
supplements. The commentary track is
most information based dealing with aspects pertaining to Sam Peckinpah and
Ludlum’s book in general. It would have
been nice to hear some comments from the cast, but those are saved for the
second disc, which contains more extras.
Disc Two includes the new
documentary Alpha to Omega, which
runs 78-minutes and is far one of the better supplements provided for any
film. Part of the reason is that most of
the people involved are able to reveal interesting insight into working on the
film and working with the material of the film.
Then we have alternate takes on certain scenes and the most crucial,
which is the never-before-seen alternate ending, which was Peckinpah’s original
cut for the film. The footage is
essential the same only put in a different order, which does work slightly
better for the film. Rounding off the
extras is a still gallery, talent bios, and a trailer for the film.
The Osterman Weekend is certainly not a title that makes many top
lists, nor is a film that is discussed regularly even among the most educated
film people, but this is a fascinating, entertaining, and intellectual film
that can finally be appreciated in full glory on the DVD format. While there are still certain limitations with
the picture, this is the best the film has looked at home and the sound is far
better than it ever has been. Anchor Bay
made a wise decision in investing time and effort into this title for the
simple fact that setting a benchmark for a lesser known titles only
demonstrates that the company is set on making things look and sound good
despite the commercial or popular success.
- Nate Goss