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DVD Reviews

HTF REVIEW: Elephant (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED).



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#1 of 47 OFFLINE   Herb Kane

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Posted April 23 2004 - 02:52 AM

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Elephant





Studio: HBO
Year: 2003
Rated: R
Film Length: 81 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 4:3 & 1.85:1 Enhanced Widescreen
Audio: English DTS, DD 5.1 & 2.0, French & Spanish mono.
Color/B&W: Color
Languages: English, French & Spanish
Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
MSRP: $27.95
Package: Keep Case





The Feature:
I happen to subscribe to the “less is more” philosophy. I’m not a big on reading a fifty page report that can be summed up in six paragraphs, nor am I a fan of watching a three hour film where I felt that an hour of it should have been lopped off. And by the same token, I do appreciate a film or a book that causes me to think and doesn’t needlessly spell out every detail to a point where nothing is left for the imagination. If ever a film was created and subscribed to the “less is more” philosophy, Elephant would be the epitome of such an example.

Rarely do I complete reviews where the actors aren’t listed, such is the case here. Virtually all of the actors are teens who attend one of the local high schools (the film was shot in Portland, Oregon), most of whom actually went by their first names in the film. Elephant was written and directed by Gus Van Sant (who was responsible for directing Finding Forrester and Good Will Hunting). For those not familiar with the film, this is similar to a day-in-the-life of many of those who attended Columbine High School on April 20th, 1999. The story takes place at any school in any town in American suburbia. The film is simple in that there are only brief sequences following a dozen or so kids who attend the school and the brief interactions they have with other students throughout the day as they go about their daily routines.

It’s interesting to see many of the kids and how their stories cascade eventually causing them to intersect right back to where we see them in first place. It’s a great technique that allows us to follow each and every student throughout the course of the day showing a different perspective. Ironically, some of them interact with the killers, while others do not. You’ll see many Kubrick-esque looking shots as well as several stationary camera shots, a technique which simply allows us to watch the innocence of the kids as they throw around a football or stare up into the sky, forcing us to think about the inevitable doom they’re all about to endure.

Other than the usual torments of school and post pubescent situations all of our kids must face, you’ll find no explanation for what happened nor will there be any plausible reasons for certain individuals losing their lives or others being spared. What you will see are two boys unable to cope with life’s daily struggles forcing you think about what it was that caused them to do such unspeakable things. Unfortunately, due to many of the various news agencies looking for quick ratings, we’ve been conditioned to focus on the negative in terms of catastrophic events such as Columbine. Case in point; I suspect many of us here could name Harris and Klebold as the monsters who perpetrated this heinous act. How many of us could name any of the victims as easily? Something to think about…



Video:
Apparently, this film was shown theatrically in a 4:3 aspect ratio and from what I have read may have been shown in a 16:9 ratio at other venues. In any case, the disc supplies both formats giving us the option to choose upon selecting the “play movie” feature on side “A” of the disc. As you watch this, you should keep in mind that the entire film was made with a three million dollar budget… it most certainly doesn’t look or sound like a low budget film. The A/V presentation is on par (and even better in some instances) than many current films that have been released recently.

The blacks are adequately deep and contrasted nicely were whites, always appearing clean. Colors were always vibrant and nicely saturated. Skin tones had a tendency to appear slightly on the red side.

The overall level of image clarity was pretty impressive. Though it appeared slightly soft throughout the entire, there were instances of very fine detail. As we would expect with such a new film, the print was free of any debris, dust or dirt, nor were there any scratches etc. I could not detect any compression errors and only a few instances of slight edge enhancement which wasn’t particularly bothersome.

With the budget being an obvious consideration, this image is quite pleasing and looks far better than you would ever imagine.



Audio:
This disc comes with English DTS, DD 5.1 & 2.0 as well a French and Spanish mono track. For the review, I chose DTS (hey, what would you expect a guy who exclusively reviews titles for Warner Bros. to choose?).

To say I was impressed with this track would be a gross understatement. The track could use a little help in the bottom end but everything else is all praise. This film is basically dialogue driven but what stood out was the amazing level of dynamic detail the track possessed. Things like clanging plates, walking on fallen leaves, rubbing whiskers, cameras snapping pictures, and the pouring of liquids were all sensational rendering detail as good as anything I have heard on any disc.

Dialogue was always clear and exceptionally bold even during much of the music that was used to score the film. Ironically (and effectively) much of the movie is accompanied by poignant yet peaceful music which included Beethoven’s Fur Elise which elicited a sense of melancholy knowing what the future holds. The front was relatively wide allowing for a spatial and airy soundstage. Surrounds were used minimally to capture ambient noise such as the din of the cafeteria. LFE was really only present during a thunderstorm.

This is a pretty impressive track for a low budget indie film. Though it’s lacking in the bottom end, for detail it rivals many of the recent blockbuster releases. A job well done.



Special Features:
There are only a couple of special features on the disc which are located on side two of this disc. They are:
[*] On the Set of the Film Elephant: Rolling Through Time. This is an interesting but brief “making of” which offers up comments from many of those who participated in the film, also interesting to see how the high school was converted into a mini movie set. The feature is as stylized as the film itself. Duration: 12:06 minutes.
[*] Next up is the Theatrical Trailer which is also included. Duration: 2:09 minutes.
[*] And finally, a trailer showing highlights from many of the HBO Films.



Final Thoughts:
Winner of the prestigious Palme d’Or and Best Director prizes at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival, I’d heard a lot about this thought provoking film before seeing it. It’s a very simple, yet very stylized look at what happened at a doomed high school caused by two kids who appear to be as normal as the kid next door. The film succeeds in its simplicity by allowing us to figure out what happens and by showing us how the lives of these young individuals intersect on that fateful day.

HBO has delivered a fine package with a better than average video presentation, an audio track that bests many of the big budget films and a movie that quite simply, shouldn’t be missed.

Highly Recommended…!!




Release Date: May 4th, 2004
My Top 25 Noirs:

25. 711 Ocean Drive (1950), 24. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), 23. Desperate (1947), 22. Pushover (1954), 21. The Blue Dahlia (1946), 20. The File on Thelma Jordon (1949), 19. He Ran All the Way (1951), 18. The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 17. The Killing (1956), 16. I Walk Alone (1948),...

#2 of 47 OFFLINE   Justin_S

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Posted April 23 2004 - 07:16 AM

Nice review. This brilliant film is easily one of the absolute best films of 2003, and is a definite new favorite of mine. Definitely not going to let my collection be without this film once it hits DVD.

#3 of 47 OFFLINE   Dave_P.

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Posted April 23 2004 - 07:23 AM

Can't wait to check this one out!

#4 of 47 OFFLINE   Mark Cappelletty

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Posted April 23 2004 - 08:37 AM

Saw this at a work screening. It was projected at 1.85:1.

#5 of 47 OFFLINE   Dean Kousoulas

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Posted April 23 2004 - 09:22 AM

I heard many good things about this film. May 4th can't come soon enough.

Thanks for the review
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#6 of 47 OFFLINE   Nils Luehrmann

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Posted April 23 2004 - 06:09 PM

Excellent review Herb.

Can you tell us if the 1.85:1 version is simply a cropped or pan&scan version of the 4:3 version - or is it the other way around?

Thanks!

#7 of 47 OFFLINE   Matthew_Millheiser

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Posted April 23 2004 - 06:24 PM

The widescreen is definitely cropped. Full frame is the way to go here. Posted Image


EDIT: 1.33:1 is the OAR. See my clarifying statements below.

Whenever the laws of any state are broken, a duly authorized organization swings into action. It may be the called the State Police, State Troopers, Militia, the Rangers, or the Highway Patrol THE CITIZENS AUXILIARY POLICE!!! These are the stories of the men whose training, skill, and courage,...

#8 of 47 OFFLINE   David Von Pein

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Posted April 23 2004 - 06:27 PM

Amazon is showing an odd assortment of ARs for "Elephant". .....

Aspect Ratio(s):
Widescreen anamorphic - 1.37:1
Full Screen (Standard) - 1.33:1


As if 1.37 is a "WS" ratio. They no doubt meant to say 1.85:1 instead of 1.37 there.

#9 of 47 OFFLINE   Daniel Windsor

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Posted April 23 2004 - 10:17 PM

For those interested in where the name 'Elephant' came from you can see the actual brilliant British TV film (from the director of Scum) on the 2 disc collector edition of Elephant that's released in France.

ww.amazon.fr/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0000DZ6R6

#10 of 47 OFFLINE   Mitch Stevens

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Posted April 23 2004 - 10:36 PM

So what's the aspect ratio that SHOULD be viewed? Is the widescreen aspect ratio the wrong one, or is the the right one, even though it's cropped?

#11 of 47 OFFLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted April 24 2004 - 12:36 AM

Damn you and your HIGHLY RECOMMENDED reviews! Posted Image

I am going to preorder this from Lasers Edge.

 

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#12 of 47 OFFLINE   Marc Colella

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Posted April 24 2004 - 01:28 AM

I found this interesting, but I'm not sure there's much repeat value here - so I really wouldn't recommend a blind purchase... a rental would be wise instead.

My main gripe with the film is that VanZant took liberties on a few scenes that really leave you scratching your head. It seemed like Van Zant threw them in just to push his own personal beliefs. I thought that was underhanded.

#13 of 47 OFFLINE   Steve K.H.

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Posted April 24 2004 - 03:33 AM

Another film I wouldn't have considered were it not for a compelling review... good job!

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#14 of 47 OFFLINE   Gabe Oppenheim

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Posted April 24 2004 - 04:04 AM

Quote:
So what's the aspect ratio that SHOULD be viewed? Is the widescreen aspect ratio the wrong one, or is the the right one, even though it's cropped?


Many reviews of the film (and some interviews with van Sant) specifically mentioned the 1.33:1 aspect ratio of the film and its "boxy" "familiarity," so the widescreen version is not the one that reflects the director's intent, though it does, unfortunately, reflect what was almost certainly the most common theatrical experience (just as with some of Kubrick's last films, Elephant was not projected in most American theatres at the proper 1.33:1).

Use your judgement. If you're a hardcore OAR fan or want to see what the director wanted you to see, watch the 1.33:1 version; if you're a Joe 16:9-Pack or want to duplicate the most common (albeit incorrect) theatrical experience, watch the 1.85:1 version.

#15 of 47 OFFLINE   JohnRice

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Posted April 24 2004 - 04:01 PM

Quote:
The widescreen is definitely cropped. Full frame is the way to go here.
Why? Is it just because the widescreen is cropped? By that logic full screen would be preferable to a soft matte. I only ask because you were going only by the fact that the wide image is cropped, not based on what was intended by Van Sant.

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#16 of 47 OFFLINE   Bob Turnbull

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Posted April 24 2004 - 05:04 PM

Says Ron Epstein:

Damn you and your HIGHLY RECOMMENDED reviews!

Now that's the pot calling the kettle black! Posted Image

#17 of 47 OFFLINE   Herb Kane

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Posted April 24 2004 - 10:57 PM

Quote:
Damn you and your HIGHLY RECOMMENDED reviews!


Hey, I'm trying guys, really I am... its just that these companies keep sending so much damn good stuff... And to think the next review post is gonna be A Night At The Opera...Posted Image


Herb.
My Top 25 Noirs:

25. 711 Ocean Drive (1950), 24. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), 23. Desperate (1947), 22. Pushover (1954), 21. The Blue Dahlia (1946), 20. The File on Thelma Jordon (1949), 19. He Ran All the Way (1951), 18. The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 17. The Killing (1956), 16. I Walk Alone (1948),...

#18 of 47 OFFLINE   Matthew_Millheiser

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Posted April 25 2004 - 04:12 AM

Quote:
Why? Is it just because the widescreen is cropped? By that logic full screen would be preferable to a soft matte. I only ask because you were going only by the fact that the wide image is cropped, not based on what was intended by Van Sant.
1.33:1 is the Original Aspect Ratio, and what was originally intended by director Gus Van Sant.

Elephant was originally created for HBO television and shot full-frame. It was later submitted for consideration at Cannes and soon after became a theatrical release. Incidentally, I saw van Sant introduce the film at a festival last summer, and it was definitely projected fullframe.

I'm a 100% OAR junkie, but in this case that means the fullframe version is the correct one, and the widescreen is MARred.

Whenever the laws of any state are broken, a duly authorized organization swings into action. It may be the called the State Police, State Troopers, Militia, the Rangers, or the Highway Patrol THE CITIZENS AUXILIARY POLICE!!! These are the stories of the men whose training, skill, and courage,...

#19 of 47 OFFLINE   JohnRice

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Posted April 25 2004 - 05:31 AM

That's fine Matthew, but that's not what you said. The entire statement was "The widescreen is definitely cropped. Full frame is the way to go here." Virtually All full screen DVDs of soft matte movies include more image than the OAR version, meaning the OAR version is "cropped". The only reason I bring it up is because I see a lot of talk about there not being any loss of "information". Your statement about 1.33 being the way to go because the widescreen is "cropped" clearly implies 1.33 is preferable because there is more image. You say nothing about what the director intended. If you are going to make that statement, you need to qualify it at the time.


BTW, I've been looking forward to the release of this DVD. I'll be there.

The Hybrid System

The Music Part: Emotiva XSP-1, Thiel CS 3.6, Emotiva XPA-2, Marantz SA8004, Emotiva ERC-3, SVS PB-12 Plus 2

The Surround Part: Sherbourn PT-7030, Thiel SCS3, Emotiva XPA-5, Polk & Emotiva Surrounds.


#20 of 47 OFFLINE   Matthew_Millheiser

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Posted April 26 2004 - 04:22 AM

Fair enough. I qualified my initial assertation above. BTW John you're preaching to the choir. Posted Image
Whenever the laws of any state are broken, a duly authorized organization swings into action. It may be the called the State Police, State Troopers, Militia, the Rangers, or the Highway Patrol THE CITIZENS AUXILIARY POLICE!!! These are the stories of the men whose training, skill, and courage,...


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