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DVD Reviews

HTF REVIEW: Windtalkers Director's Cut



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#1 of 12 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted April 21 2006 - 01:18 PM

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Director's Cut

Note: This is a single-disc repackaging of Disc One from the three-disc Director's Edition released in 2003.


Release Date: April 25, 2006
Studio: MGM Studios
Year: 2002
Rating: R for pervasive graphic war violence and for language
Running Time: 2h33m
Video: 2.40:1 anamorphic
Audio: English DD5.1, French DD2.0 (Commentaries: English DD2.0)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese
TV-Generated Closed Captions: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Menus: Animated menus with some animated transitions
Packaging/Materials: Single disc keepcase
MSRP: $19.94



The Feature: 2/5
History and moviemaking have a less-than-perfect relationship. While history provides inspiration and foundation for many of our most beloved movies, movies are not trusted to be historically accurate. And for good reason. Film - and especially a big budget one from Hollywood - is ultimately an entertainment medium. Invariably there are historical compromises made to facilitate the storytelling and filmmaking process. Those of us who are aware of this tend to go to a library rather than a theater to get a true understanding of a subject, but books have rarely rivaled film for reach. Accurate or not, a high profile movie can generate discussion and interest on an incredible scale. With that in mind, "Windtalkers" should compel most viewers to want to learn more, but at the cost of reducing the code talkers and Navajo Code to window dressing for a big action/war movie.

The film's primary code talker is Ben Yahzee (Adam Beach), who we meet as he's saying goodbye to his family to join the Marines. We later learn he enlisted because he wants to protect his family and country as much as any other American. His Navajo compatriot is Charlie Whitehorse (Roger Willie) a friend and a sort of older brother from the reservation. On intersecting trajectories are Sergeant Joe Enders (Nicolas Cage) and Sergeant Pete 'Ox' Anderson (Christian Slater), both of whom are at a Navy hospital for combat injuries. Enders has the more egregious experience, which we see in the film's first of many graphic battle scenes. Ultimately the lone survivor of his company, Enders gets a Purple Heart and perforated ear drum for his commitment. Yet disturbingly eager to return to war, he enlists the help of pretty Navy WAVE nurse Rita (Frances O'Connor), who helps him clear any medical restrictions that might prevent deployment.

Once on the battlefield, Enders shows he has issues beyond being sullen and antisocial, diving into the fray with little regard for his own safety. This may seem like poor execution of his and Anderson's mission - to protect Yahzee and Whitehorse - but it's really the least of the film's problems. The biggest one is the raison d'etre of the film - why send code talkers into the thick of battle if their capture is such a risk to Allied victory? When we see them in action, they relay coordinates to entrenched enemy positions so offshore ships can bombard them with their big guns. Why relay that information in code? What's so secret about an enemy position that will get obliterated in a matter of seconds? Unfortunately the film makes no attempt to clarify the issue and winds up shortchanging the significance of the Navajo Code.

Though the code and its experts take less importance than the title of the film would suggest, the film is certainly an effective action piece. Large scale battle scenes and smaller hand-to-hand fights are expertly staged and executed. Not surprising coming from action movie veteran John Woo, whose signature, slow motion effects are more restrained here compared to past efforts (welcome news for some).

Perhaps, as Roger Ebert suggested in his review, an independent film would have done justice to the code talker story. At the same time perceived accuracy in a film may not compel viewers to learn more. So ultimately "Windtalkers" is a mixed blessing that will disappoint most, but may intrigue enough to (indirectly) educate many.


Video Quality: 3/5
The transfer displays edge enhancement (EE) throughout, which results in an overall harshness to the image. As usual, wide and medium shots suffer most, as do scenes displaying some grain, which EE seems to exacerbate. The most problematic scenes are those between O'Connor and Cage at the Navy hospital, displaying mild flickering and moments of instability. An occasional dirt speck shows up, but nothing that will distract. Black levels are excellent with good detail and range. Colors are rich and deeply saturated, but never seem unnatural.


Audio Quality: 4.5/5
Though primarily an action film, dialogue is clear and intelligible amidst the frequent combat sound effects. Surrounds are active throughout the film, whether providing support to the score or directional effects in the battle scenes (bullets whizzing by, incoming mortar rounds, etc.). Low frequency effects (LFE) are primarily used in conjunction with heavier explosive sounds, though a few times low rumbles in the score emphasize a dramatic moment. My only criticism is it lacks an expansive/immersive quality found in the best mixes and transfers.


Special Features: 3/5

Audio commentary with Director John Woo and Producer Terence Chang: Woo and Chang have plenty of background information on the making of the film and stories from production. This is the most interesting of the three commentaries.

Audio commentary with Nicolas Cage and Christian Slater: Despite an ominous opening statement from Cage that he doesn't like doing commentaries, he and Slater quickly get comfortable, providing some amusing - though not particularly enlightening - production anecdotes. Though the two seem to be having a good time there are some long periods of silence.

Audio commentary with Roger Willie and Navajo Code Talker Advisor Albert Smith: A spartan commentary with ruminations about war, thoughts on the Navajo experience and spirituality and recollections of the film production from first-time actor Willie. I was hoping for more from Smith about the true code talker experience, but perhaps he provides that information on the other discs in the three-disc edition.


Recap and Final Thoughts

The Feature: 2/5
Video Quality: 3/5
Audio Quality: 4.5/5
Special Features: 3/5
Overall Score (not an average): 2.5/5

A film that suffers from the typical Hollywood treatment, renting "Windtalkers" before purchasing it is definitely advised. This single-disc release is an option if you don't want the special features of the three-disc edition and/or aren't interested in spending the money for it.



Equipment: Toshiba 42" CRT RPTV fed a 1080i signal from a Bravo D1 DVD player. For comparison purposes, some scenes may be viewed on an InFocus Screenplay 4805 fed a 480i signal from a Toshiba 4900 DVD player. Audio evaluation is based on an Onkyo TX-SR575x 5.1 AVR running JBL S26s, JBL S-Center, and SVS 20-39 PCi subwoofer with BFD equalization.

#2 of 12 OFFLINE   MarcoBiscotti

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Posted April 21 2006 - 01:39 PM

I agree that a rental is a good idea beforehand. I made the mistake of blindly purchasing this years back and disliked it immesenely. I ended up selling it on Ebay the next day. It's typical pretentiously hollow hollywood filmmaking.

#3 of 12 ONLINE   Tino

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Posted April 22 2006 - 03:59 AM

The WORST WWII film ever made.

Rent first people..for the love of God!Posted Image
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#4 of 12 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted April 22 2006 - 04:23 AM

Imagine how I felt after the first viewing knowing there were still THREE commentary tracks to go through!!! Posted Image

#5 of 12 OFFLINE   TonyD

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Posted April 22 2006 - 12:15 PM

i guess i'll watch thisone day. picked it up when the 3 discer came out for cheap then got a $10 rebate so it wasnt too bad.
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#6 of 12 OFFLINE   Brian Little

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Posted April 22 2006 - 05:18 PM


So this takes the place of "Pearl Harbor" then? I never thought there could be a worse WWII film made... wait, that is one, right? I swore if nobody told me 2/3rds of it was a silly Ben Affleck chick flick.... Posted Image
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#7 of 12 ONLINE   Tino

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Posted April 22 2006 - 11:38 PM

Pearl Harbor is Casablanca compared to Windtalkers.

Seriously, it IS that bad. Cameron was much too kind in his review.Posted Image
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#8 of 12 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted April 23 2006 - 06:38 AM

I actually haven't seen Pearl Harbor, so I can't weigh in on the poll. Posted Image
You should have seen the first draft Posted Image. When a movie is bad, I find if I go on too much it starts to seem vindictive. But I guess that just proved your point. Posted Image

#9 of 12 OFFLINE   Aaron Silverman

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Posted April 24 2006 - 10:27 AM

Pearl Harbor at least has some merit as a cheesy melodrama, and had some good special effects. Plus, expectations weren't too high (Michael Bay?). On the other hand, Windtalkers just doesn't do very much right at all -- even the action was pretty low-rent and completely unrealistic. Plus, its director has put together some great films (granted, not very recently).
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#10 of 12 OFFLINE   jez

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Posted April 25 2006 - 06:43 AM

Such a good package for a poo film.

How often is it NOT the other way round Posted Image
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#11 of 12 OFFLINE   ClaytonMG

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Posted April 27 2006 - 05:29 PM

Pearl Harbor was an entertaining film that I had no problems sitting through time and time again for 3 hours. It's not exactly what I would call a good film, but entertaining still. Windtalkers... that just is one big pile of poop. The fact that the actors just keep rolling their way out of danger in the battle sequences and doing summer saults is just... sad.

#12 of 12 OFFLINE   Nicholas Martin

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Posted April 29 2006 - 09:15 AM

Being a film music nut, I bought the soundtrack to this movie during its theatrical run, loved it, then waited for the DVD to hit rental shelves...After seeing it, not only was the music put through a blender/meat cleaver editing nightmare, but I had to double check to see if this really was a John Woo film - none of the style, skill, any of Woo's trademarks made it into this film. Like the music, the film itself was an editing disgrace. At first I thought it was because of an attempt to respect the cultural significance of the subject matter, and not lessen it with hollywood style...turns out it was just a mistake to have this particular director make a film like this.





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