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Category:    Home > Reviews > Thriller > Drama > Osterman Weekend (Divimax Ed./Anchor Bay DVD)

The Osterman Weekend (Divimax Edition Series Set)


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 projection systems. 


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


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