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DVD Reviews

HTF REVIEW: Dogville

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#1 of 13 OFFLINE   Michael Elliott

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Posted July 28 2004 - 03:27 PM

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Studio: Lions Gate
Year: 2003
Rated: R
Film Length: 177 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1)
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English
Retail Price: $26.95

The town of Dogville consists of a dozen or so hard working people that get an unexpected visit from a young woman named Grace (Nicole Kidman). Grace arrives late one night after the townspeople heard gunshots coming from the direction that she arrived. The town’s spokesman, Tom (Paul Bettany) greets her when a car drives up. Inside the car are some gangsters asking Tom if he has seen the young woman but he answers no. The gangsters leave a card with a number so that they can be reached but when they drive off the town sets their eyes back to Grace.

Tom thinks that the town should take Grace in and protect her from the gangsters but the rest of the members aren’t so sure. Protecting Grace could get them killed and they really aren’t getting anything in return so Tom decides to come up with a plan. Grace is to work for the town for two weeks and after that time the town can choose what to do with her. They can keep Grace as one of their own or they can send her on her way. After the two weeks Grace begins to grow on the town so they keep her on but it isn’t long that the town’s kindness turns to evilness and certain members start to abuse Grace. Soon, everyone in the town sees Grace as a target of some sort of abuse but there’s one little secret that they don’t know about the mysterious Grace.

Dogville like the director’s previous films will be one that people either love or hate. Throughout the three hour running time I really wasn’t sure where I stood because like Grace trying to figure out the town and discover who these people our, I as a viewer was trying to figure out what was the point of the film only to see its truth near the end at the same time as Grace makes her final decision. This is a very complicated film and a film that requires a lot of thought and imagination from the viewer but in the end I couldn’t help but feel that I had just seen something very special and unlike anything I had seen before.

The first shot of the movie is one looking down on the town, which sets us up for what we’re in for. The film takes place on a soundstage where there are no buildings, no trees, no mountains and pretty much nothing else. The town is marked off with chalk and everything from those trees to the mountains aren’t really there and instead of viewing them we must use our imagination of how things are really supposed to look. At first this is a very distracting thing to get used to but I suppose the director did this for a purpose and that was to make us learn these people and this town the same way Grace does. As her character begins to settle in and see the town more clearly then the viewer starts to not notice that characters are walking through doors that aren’t there and that the houses are simply marked off in chalk.

The biggest thing the film has going for it is Nicole Kidman who once again proves she’s the best actress out there. I wouldn’t be hesitant to call this a very brave performance and I’m rather curious why anyone would want to do a film like this. Was it the idea of creating something new? I suppose that could be the case but either way it’s quite remarkable watching Kidman as she slowly becomes torn down by the town and the people living there. Kidman shows a great deal of range throughout the film from a happy, loving friend to a woman beaten down. Kidman as well as the other actors go through the film in a trance and could easily be mistaken for zombies due to their quiet voices and slow actions. The supporting cast does a wonderful job setting Kidman up for everything she does but in the end this is the actor’s showcase and Kidman is the star carrying this three-hour film.

I’m sure the film will gather a lot of heat due to its portrait of Americans as being loathsome, hateful rapist but I really don’t feel the director is doing any sort of anti-American bashing. I really don’t think it matters that this film takes place in America because if you think about it nothing in the film is real. Must like A Clockwork Orange, this film takes place in no real time and you could say it doesn’t take place in any certain country, state or even a matter of space. The director does a remarkable job making his own world and in his world people are ugly creatures will to hurt others just to make themselves feel better. The look and the feel of this film isn’t bashing America today because the film could have taken place a million years ago or a million years from now. Dogville is an ugly and depressing film but it’s a film unlike any I’ve seen and it’s a film that has guts, which isn’t too common today.

VIDEO---The movie is shown widescreen (2.35:1) and is enhanced for 16x9 TVs. The picture quality is rather hard to judge because of the various lighting and the budget and since I didn’t see this in theaters I can only guess how it’s supposed to look and it appears the transfer is very faithful to what the director wanted. The most important factor is the black levels since most of the film takes place with a black backdrop. The black level is quite remarkably strong without any hints of scratches, speckles or soft spots. Even the white backdrops are very clear without any dirt or speckles popping up. Due to the lighting the colors are a bit faded but this is how they are supposed to look and they do appear very natural considering the look of the film. Constant, again appears correct but there are a few scenes where it appears the director filmed the scene with the contrast set very highly. Edge enhancement can be spotted in a few scenes but I doubt anyone with a television under fifty-inches will notice this.

AUDIO---We get a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, which is basically dialogue driven so don’t expect anything major. The dialogue sounds remarkably fresh throughout with voices upfront, easy to hear and with a large dynamic range. A music score is used periodically throughout the film but it’s usually far in the background but this too sounds nice for what it is. Various sound effects ranging from birds singing to gunshots can be heard in the Surrounds and they are mixed in nicely with everything. During the end credits the soundtrack picks up quite loudly as we get a louder songs that sounds remarkably well. The only slight problem I noticed was during a couple scenes where there appears to be a light scratch in the sound coming from the center speakers. This only happens around three times and lasts around a second or two so I’m going to guess this was how it was supposed to be.

EXTRAS---First up is an audio commentary with director Lars von Trier and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle. I haven’t seen any of the foreign discs but I’ve read reviews that said the commentary on those was a selected commentary that only played over a certain amount of scenes in the film. This could be a new track because the commentary lasts for the entire film. The track itself is pretty boring throughout and since not too many will finish the film itself I find it doubtful anyone will be entertained by the track, which mostly has the director telling us what we’re seeing on the screen. I was hoping for some good behind the scenes stories but I didn’t hear any of that. A theatrical trailer is the only other extra on the disc.

The foreign discs featured the Dogville Confessions documentary, which has sadly been left off this release. Also missing are interviews with the cast, press conferences as well as still galleries and another short documentary about the film at Cannes. Why this stuff was left off this release is beyond me but I’ve got the feeling it was done because no one saw the film when it was released in America. As many have said, it’s doubtful too many people will want to watch this film so it seem unlikely that we’d get a re-release but we can always hope.

OVERALL---It took me a while to get into the film but in the end I was very happy I took the three hour journey. As great as the film is I’m really not sure I’ll ever watch it again and I really can’t recommend this as a blind buy. I’d certainly recommend people rent this but I’ve just got a feeling that the movie is going to get more negative reviews than positive. If you didn’t care for the director’s previous films then you might want to stay clear of this one at all costs. The Lions Gate DVD is very nice, although you’ve got to wonder why all the extras didn’t make their way to this release.

If you own one of the 2-disc imports then I really don't see a need to buy this one.

Release Date: August 24th, 2004

#2 of 13 OFFLINE   Nick Sievers

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Posted July 28 2004 - 03:40 PM

Good job on the review, Michael. I adored this film and bought the Korean DVD in January, I was actually expecting a more divided reaction to this film than it actually recieved (around here anyway).
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#3 of 13 OFFLINE   Drew Reiber

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Posted July 28 2004 - 06:07 PM

I really can't express how disappointed I am in Lion's Gate for dropping all these special features we knew about well ahead of time. I even saw clips of Dogville Confessions (which looked fascinating) at the film festival ticket center when I bought my passes for this masterpiece. They know we'll buy it anyway and then probably milk us for the 2 disc set if they think there are enough people purchasing the 1 disc. Ugh, I hate when studios pull this crap.

#4 of 13 OFFLINE   Zachary Cohen

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Posted July 28 2004 - 06:49 PM

I think it's probably another example of Lion's Gate being a completely mindless company than them trying to milk customers out of their money. To say that would be actually giving Lion's Gate some sort of credit. Their obvious goal is to make as little money as humanly possible or maybe even lose some.

#5 of 13 OFFLINE   Rich Malloy

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Posted July 29 2004 - 01:33 AM

Thank-you, Michael, for an excellent review! And, even more, thanks for pointing out the superiority of the non-R1 verson(s). I just want to add that with the availability of quality all-region, PAL/NTSC-converting DVD players for less than $100, there is no reason for anyone to be stuck with only R1 choices any longer. For only a little bit of money -- less than many of you spend on DVDs in a week or two! -- you will have purchased yourself the very great privilege of choice.

No longer will companies think they can deliver substandard product and you'll be forced to buy it! So, suck it, Lion's Gate. You won't be getting my hard-earned cash.
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#6 of 13 OFFLINE   Scott David

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Posted July 29 2004 - 02:47 AM

I'm about to place my order for the Region 0 2-disc DVD version of this on Korean DVDs, but before I do, just to be sure: is the "Dogville Confessions" extra on it the complete version, or is it abbreviated?

#7 of 13 OFFLINE   Brook K

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Posted July 29 2004 - 05:49 AM

This was announced as having Dogville Confessions. I'm very pissed it's no longer on the disc. Guess I'll be cancelling my order and picking up one of the non-r1 versions.

Thanks for the review.
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#8 of 13 OFFLINE   MarcusUdeh


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Posted July 29 2004 - 06:37 AM

As great as the film is I’m really not sure I’ll ever watch it again
I felt like that after leaving the theater!!

#9 of 13 OFFLINE   Nick Sievers

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Posted July 29 2004 - 09:32 AM

is the "Dogville Confessions" extra on it the complete version, or is it abbreviated?

I have the Korean R0 DVD and it is indeed an abbreviated version. Its very short, the best version is the Danish release.
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#10 of 13 OFFLINE   Joe Cortez

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Posted July 29 2004 - 04:20 PM

I have the Korean R0 DVD and it is indeed an abbreviated version. Its very short, the best version is the Danish release.

Is the audio/visual quality of the Korean version comparable with this region 1 release?

#11 of 13 OFFLINE   Derek Miner

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Posted July 30 2004 - 03:31 PM

Their obvious goal is to make as little money as humanly possible or maybe even lose some.
Actually, it seems as if they want to spend as little money as possilble in a penny wise/pound foolish approach to DVDs. They already put me on alert by creating their "Signature" line of DVDs which offered nothing new in most cases, not even 16x9 transfers.
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#12 of 13 OFFLINE   Dan Rudolph

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Posted July 30 2004 - 05:15 PM

Heck, a lot of their Signature line (Monster's Ball and O, for instance), cut out features.
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#13 of 13 OFFLINE   DaViD Boulet

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Posted May 03 2005 - 02:04 AM


Excellent review.

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I just watched this film for the first time a few nights ago and was stunned...absolutely blown away stunned. I left with the same "what just happened?" feeling when I saw the Cook, The Theif, His Wife and Her Lover and Pulp Fiction. This film is a brilliant work. Masterful and disturbing. Intelligent and unsettling.

You are spot-on with your view of Picture Quality and Audio. I commend you! The 2.35:1 image was exactly as you say...strong black level, noise-free with some minor edge-enhancement. Allow me to add that the level of detail in the transfer is strong...much better than the Miramax fare I'm so used to reviewing.

Audio as you say is also good and very "dynamic". I was impressed with the sound of the automobile engines and dialogue...very directional and "live" not sounding overdubbed but more like live-miced stereo/5.1. Cool.

I have a suspician that this film was actually not "filmed" at all but rather shot on 1080P 24P HD. Can anyone comment? It just doesn't look like film...but it's clearly never been interlaced...looks clean and stable like an HD cam.

Sad to hear about all the missing extras that could have been there. Having not seen any other region-version I can't comment or compare. Still...the image transfer is good on the R1 (except for the EE) and I heartily recommend folks buy or at least rent this film if you have an interest if you can get over the missing extras...be prepared for quite an experience...some of the best *theater* I've seen in a while!

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