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DVD Reviews

HTF REVIEW: The Interpreter (RECOMMENDED)



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#1 of 17 OFFLINE   Steve Tannehill

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Posted October 01 2005 - 07:23 AM

Posted Image
The Interpreter
Studio: Universal Studios Home Video
Year: 2005 (2005 Release)
Rated: PG-13
Aspect Ratio: 2.35x1, enhanced for 16x9 displays
Audio: English, French, and Spanish DD 5.1; Commentary
Captions/Subtitles: English SDH; French and Spanish Subtitles
Time: 2:08:18
Chapters: 20
Disc Format: SS/DL (DVD-9)
Layer Switch: 1:16:13
Case Style: Keep Case with locking side-tabs


The Feature:

Political thrillers like The Interpreter can be dangerous territory as far as movie genres are concerned. Politics by their very nature can polarize people (which is why we don't talk about them at this forum). So how can you make a political thriller that is "safe" and still have it be thrilling? You make it about something everyone can agree on, something universally bad. Then to make it interesting, you set it at a spectacular location, throw in some powerful, Oscar-winning Hollywood stars, and add an Oscar-winning director to the mix.

Silvia Bloome (Nicole Kidman) is an interpreter at the United Nations. After a security breach causes an evacuation of the building, she has to return later that night to recover some of her personal effects. From a control booth over the darkened chambers of the General Assembly she overhears what is apparently a death threat, but on whom she does not know.

The hot-button topic at the United Nations is the country of Matobo, Africa and its president, Dr. Edmond Zuwanie, who is accused of genocide--a policy of ethnic cleansing not unlike that of Solbodan Milosevic in Kosovo, Serbia. The U.N. security council is debating his immediate referral on charges to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Silvia, it turns out, is fluent in the Matoban language of Ku, and she is called in to translate for a closed session where the the Matoban ambassador is offered a way for Zuwanie to avoid charges. Zuwanie's people claim that the 'victims' are terrorists (others would call them resistance fighters), and they are attacking him first. The defiant president is going to defend himself by speaking directly to the U.N. General Assembly.

It is there Silvia realizes that the death threat is most likely an assassination plot--and the target is Zuwanie. She turns this in to U.N. Security, who brings in the United States Secret Service. Enter Agent Tobin Keller (Sean Penn), who along with his partner Agent Woods (Cathering Keener) is on the foreign dignitary protective detail.

At first, they don't believe Silvia, because she is reluctant to fill in all the details of her past. When it is learned that she has dual citizenship between the United States and Matobo, she becomes a suspect--even though the most likely suspects would be the resistance leaders Ajene Xola and Kuman-Kuman. Xola is in-hiding. Kuman-Kuman lives in exile in Brooklyn, in very public fashion. Uh oh.

Agent Keller, who has suffered a recent loss, finds himself frustrated by Silvia, who only seems to cooperate when she wants to, who speaks elusively about her past, and who we as an audience want to believe. As the story unfolds, and Silvia's life is jeopardized, Keller becomes more sympathetic, but even our faith is shaken as the layers of her background are peeled back. Still there is a relationship that forms between Silvia and Keller, conflict and all.

And then a terrible event happens. I'd rather not talk about it here, but it is ripped from today's headlines.

The realism and vitality of The Interpreter is due largely to its location: for the first time ever, a major movie production was allowed to film inside the actual United Nations. That is the actual General Assembly, and Security Council chambers, the corridors, foyers--for once, it is not just second-unit exterior shots and mere approximations of the interiors. It makes a suspense thriller just that much more compelling. The performances by Kidman and Penn are also top-notch, adding believability and sensitivity to their roles. The story would fall flat if you did not believe them. Finally, the direction, the look, the pacing, the assembly--it all comes together into a taut package.

The Feature: 4 / 5
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Video:

For a two-hour movie with three 5.1 tracks and a commentary, the picture quality achieved is quite good. The interior shots of the U.N. are stunning, with stylish cinematography--after all, if you are actually inside the U.N., you are going to want it to look good! The exterior shots of the U.N., including New York City in the distance are generally good, although I noticed brief and slight instances of ringing in the distance that could be interpreted as edge enhancement. It was not distracting, though--at first.

Unfortunately, as I have looked closer at the picture in a number of scenes, I have found more instances of edge enhancement, and they warrant comment, as well as a reduction in rating. EE is really beginning to get on my nerves.

Still, colors are rich and varied, thanks to the variety of scenery in the film--night clubs, apartments, city streets, dusty soccer stadiums, and of course the United Nations. Detail is good. You could clearly see textures in clothing, details in backgrounds.

The picture is presented in 16x9-enhanced 2.35x1 widescreen. Be sure to check out the extra where directory Sydney Pollack discusses why he chose that aspect ratio for the movie.

Video: 3.5 / 5
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Sound:

Since I started to review Universal product for Home Theater Forum, I've been looking for a disc that pushes me over the top for the sound quality rating. My absolute reference recording would be Gladiator in DTS-ES (ranking about a 6 on my scale of 5). I also feel obligated not to penalize a movie when the sound design is secondary to the story. For example, we just have to accept that a documentary or old TV show may not show off your sound system.

The Interpreter will. From the opening dust storm in Africa, to cars passing by, to the not-so-subtle placement of interpreters' voices while the U.N. is in session, to the usual sounds of New York City, this is an active Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. There are plenty of LFE and surround effects; there are subtle effects, like the chirping birds on a quiet street; and the cacophony of a busy office. The dialogue scenes, of which there are many, are represented nicely. But even when the speech has the chance of being drowned out by other factors, it is incorporated into a clean, transparent mix that sounds excellent.

James Newton Howard's moody and pulsating score is also a highlight.

Sound: 5 / 5
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Extras:

The Interpreter starts up with trailers to Carlito's Way: Rise to Power, the oddly placed Pride & Prejudice, Fox TV's [/i]House M.D.[/i], and NBC's E-Ring. You can escape them with a push of the Menu button, but are then taken to the FBI warning that you can not escape.

The disc includes a variety of video supplements in 4x3 letterbox, with subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.
[*]Alternate Ending (3:00) - The original ending is included as a supplement; when it did not test well with audiences, it was replaced with the ending that now appears in the film. (Note that due to circumstances beyond our control the exclusive interview footage that we were promised did not transpire.)
[*]Deleted Scenes (2:19) - three brief scenes which give away some key plot points that are otherwise deferred to other parts of the movie.
[*]Sydney Pollack at Work: From Concept to Cutting Room (10:02) - an all-too-short exploration of Sydney Pollack's challenges, goals, background (from actor, to teacher, to director), and methodologies.
[*]Interpreting Pan & Scan vs. Widescreen (5:10) - a continuation of the previous interview. Pollack had not done a widescreen movie since the "flat" Out of Africa. He went back to "scope" widescreen for The Interpreter because he could provide more information on-screen at the same time. He is a staunch supporter of widescreen 2.35x1 aspect ratios, and against someone going in after the fact and panning and scanning his work. So if you have the pan and scan version of The Interpreter.... take it back as defective and get the widescreen version!
[*]The Ultimate Movie Set: The United Nations (8:04) - The Interpreter was the first movie allowed to film inside the United Nations, to amazing effect. This featurette explores the challenges of getting permission to do so, and the positive influence it had on the film.
[*]A Day in the Life of Real Interpreters (8:18) - We meet the interpreters, find out about their jobs, and see how their background influenced the production of the film. Fascinating. So help me, they made up a country, and made up a language for Nicole Kidman to learn.
[*]Feature Commentary with Director Sydney Pollack - in an engaging commentary track, Sydney Pollack discusses the creative process of making the film, which was made even more difficult because production started without a finished script. He does not talk throughout the entire film, but he focuses on a number of areas, and comes in during most of the key plot points to discuss them. I find Pollack's notion of "arias" intriguing--where 5-6 page dialogue scenes are inserted into a genre that typically does not permit them. It takes talent like Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn to perform those arias, and Pollack points out that there are several in the film. Best comment, although not intended as a joke: "Since I work cheap, I gave myself the part of Sean's boss..." Best movie technical information: the discussion of "mosaics" in the editing room, putting two scenes together to achieve heightened effect. You get the real feeling that this movie was shaped and improved entirely during the editing process.

Extras: 5 / 5
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In Conclusion:

The Interpreter works as a political thriller because of compelling performances and direction, but it is rather "safe" in the sense that it avoids actual current events. That's fine, though. The movie does make some rather pointed statements about the purpose of the U.N., but it also has a more fundamental theme that words can be used to heal, not in a diplomatic sense but in a personal sense.

The Interpreter is a good movie and a nice DVD.

Overall Rating: 4 / 5
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Recommended


Release Date: October 4, 2005




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#2 of 17 OFFLINE   Iain Quinn

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Posted October 01 2005 - 11:12 AM

The critics were a bit harsh on this. I really enjoyed it, it’s a brilliantly efficient thriller that works from start to finish. The cover art chosen for the DVD is absolute rubbish though. The theatrical posters were much better.

#3 of 17 OFFLINE   Steve Tannehill

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Posted October 01 2005 - 11:42 AM

Yeah, I just checked out the reviews at Rotten Tomatoes and see that it only got 60-percent "fresh" from the critics--barely positive. But what do critics know? Posted Image

There is a lot of talk in The Interpreter. Some people will call it character development. Some people will wonder when the talking will stop and the next Vespa chase will occur.

I'm normally not one to dislike cover art, but this one
hovers dangerously into spoiler territory with the inclusion of the bus.

- Steve

#4 of 17 OFFLINE   ThomasC

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Posted October 01 2005 - 12:10 PM

Steve, regarding your spoiler text,
the explosion was shown in the trailer.


#5 of 17 OFFLINE   Steve Tannehill

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Posted October 01 2005 - 01:30 PM

You know something, I probably spoil things by putting it in spoiler tags to begin with. Posted Image

- Steve


#6 of 17 OFFLINE   Yumbo

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Posted October 02 2005 - 07:48 AM

I thought the EE was quiet distracting from the get go, on all the long shots having lots of long straight edges. This was on a projected 185" screen. Decent movie, shame about transfer. Watching it after ROBOTS just showed stark picture quality contrast.

#7 of 17 OFFLINE   TonyD

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Posted October 02 2005 - 12:16 PM

the pan and scan featurette was great. nothing lke an oscar winning director telling the consumer that the p s version is a very bad thing and that he wouldnt have his name on it if he could do that. he even explains/shows with actual scenes how youlose "50%" of the image. now if we can get him or someone tostart complaining about edge enhancement. best such feature i've seen on a dvd yet. subtitles are off the image into the bars on the bottom. thats another thing that bugs me.
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#8 of 17 OFFLINE   Bill Thomann

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Posted October 02 2005 - 03:49 PM

This is one I missed at the theater. Looks like I'm going to be making a blind buy. Movie sounds great and the dvd does too.

#9 of 17 OFFLINE   Dave_P.

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Posted October 03 2005 - 01:02 AM

Yep, I missed this in the theaters as well, but I'm really looking forward to the DVD now!

#10 of 17 OFFLINE   Darren Haycock

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Posted October 03 2005 - 02:49 AM

Saw this in the dollar theater and it really didn't do much for me. But that cover art is absolutely hilarious!
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#11 of 17 OFFLINE   Mark-P

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Posted October 04 2005 - 07:27 AM

Just picked this up today. The first thing I watched was the segment on interpreting pan & scan vs. widescreen. Even though I'm 100% in agreement with Sydney Pollack and absolutely never buy films that are panned and scanned, I still had to cringe at this segment because Mr. Pollack came off as very preachy.

#12 of 17 OFFLINE   Yumbo

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Posted October 04 2005 - 10:57 AM

and strange how the movie is also available in pan and scan still.

#13 of 17 OFFLINE   Jon Martin

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Posted October 05 2005 - 03:51 AM

Really? Most of the major reviews were positive though. I missed it theatrically, and was upset. Ebert especially liked it I believe. I watched it last night from Netflix. It is a pretty good movie, although I would probably suggest a rental, as I can't see a lot of replay value there. A bit overlong. At 129 minutes, it could have been tightened up and made a lot stronger easily. And I did like the explanation of widescreen / full screen. (I didn't think Pollack was too preachy in it).

#14 of 17 OFFLINE   Stephen Orr

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Posted October 05 2005 - 04:24 AM

Netflix...

#15 of 17 OFFLINE   Ric Easton

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Posted October 22 2005 - 03:00 PM

I took a chance on this movie today. I liked it more than the wife, but after I listen to the commentary, I'm probably done with it... So it probably should have been a rental. Two questions... Was anyone distracted by Nicole's hair in her first meeting with Sean Penn? It was a continuity nightmare as her hair kept flopping in and out of her face between takes. We found it very distracting. During the UN doc, there were some large walls/paintings and or screens that were blurred out. Anyone have any idea what these were? For UN eyes only? Ric

#16 of 17 OFFLINE   Robert Holloway

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Posted October 22 2005 - 08:42 PM

Steve I rented this from Netflix as i missed it at the theater. I am a big fan of Sean penn and used to be a big fan of Nicole. I agree with everything you said about the transfer (I have the JVC SX21 with anamorphic lens on a 120" hi power). I loved the widescreen / P&S feature As for the movie. I thought it was surprisingly flat and uninvolving. It just seemed very predictable and lacked and real suspense or thrills. OK disc, less than OK film IMHO Thanks for your reviews, which ar excellent. Rob
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#17 of 17 OFFLINE   CaptDS9E

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Posted October 22 2005 - 10:30 PM

Watched it last night and enjoyed it. Not the best political film in the world, and a bit slow, but thought it was pretty intresting. The acting by Penn and Kidmen was very good. Its a keeper for a rainy day.





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