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#1 of 28 OFFLINE   Herb Kane

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Posted June 03 2006 - 11:18 PM


Studio: Warner Brothers
Year: 2005
Rated: R
Film Length: 128 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Enhanced Widescreen
Audio: DD 5.1
Color/B&W: Color
Languages: English & French
Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
Genre: Political Drama
MSRP: $28.98
Package: Single disc/Keepcase

The Feature:

Sadly, due to our dependence on gasoline, Syriana is a film that will have national appeal. This movie is plot-driven requiring all of its 128 minutes to take you though its complicated journey. There is no hand holding, no coddling and no spoon feeding. This fast paced film doesn’t slow down for a moment – blink, and you’re done. The film was based on ex-CIA agent, Robert Baer's “See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism”. What’s most disillusioning is perhaps Syriana’s conclusion in that we have become so dependent to oil, that a replacement (read: solution) will never materialize.

The film is made up of three plot points which intersect at various spots throughout the film. The first: Middle East CIA agent, Bob Barnes (played by George Clooney). The second involves the merger of two major oil companies, Connex and Killen. And the third, centers around Prince Nasir Al-Subaai (played by Alexander Siddig). Prince Nasir believes that it would be best for his country to not cave in to the Americans. While watching Syriana, this reviewer couldn’t help but be reminded of the stylized method of storytelling to Traffic, and that's no surprise considering that Gaghan wrote both scripts and Steven Soderbergh serves as Executive Producer and helmed Traffic.

Strong performances abound here from Matt Damon and Amanda Peet in strong supporting roles, while the heavies, George Clooney, Jeffrey Wright, and Alexander Siddig offer strong leads. Clooney sheds his usual G.Q. image and appears with an unkept beard and having gained 35 pounds.Syriana is guaranteed to cause a great deal of contention among viewers, as conservatives are sure to debate staunchly with liberals. The film was nominated for two Academy Awards with George Clooney winning for Best Supporting Actor. Stephen Gaghan was unsuccessful but nominated for Best Screenplay.

The Feature: 5/5



Presented in it’s OAR of 2.35:1 this enhanced for widescreen transfer looks fantastic. Given the accolades this film received over the last few months, it’s rather surprising that this wasn’t announced as an early release candidate for HD DVD. Hopefully, the wait will be a short one. Now, having said that, this SD transfer is almost perfect. Colors, though vivid, fall short of looking vibrant and given the look of the film, one would assume this was the intent. Blacks were incredibly deep. Much of the film has a slightly blue or grey hue to it making it appear on the cold or sterile side.

Image definition was satisfactory however my only real complaint, there were as many scenes which I felt bordered on slightly soft. Many of the wider and longer shots looked slightly soft as well. Depth and texture was nice – although not outstanding. One can only assume both of these factors will be remedied to perfection when the HD versions surface.

The print is immaculate and absolute free of any annoying marks or blemishes. Authoring also seems to have been handled to perfection as digital or compression errors were non-existent including haloing – and this is a film that could be rife with EE. Also gone from this SD transfer is that glossy look that seems to permeate many of these new releases – something I find rather off-putting.

Video: 4.5/5



While I was enamored with the video portion of this transfer, I was somewhat let down with the audio portion. While the fundamentals here are done well, the DD 5.1 track falls clearly on the anemic side. There are gun shots and explosions aplenty, however, the punch that one might expect with a modern, big-budget film is non-existent. Gunshots sound flat and an explosion which occurs early on in the film, is really disappointing. On the important side, dialogue was clear and always intelligible.

Surrounds were employed with minimal work beyond a few scenes and LFE (see above) was severely underused. The soundstage was satisfactorily wide and the film proceeds with music oddly placed in style – usually in the form of only a couple of notes here and there or even silence to emphasize its target.

Audio: 2.5/5


Special Features:

Syriana is another new release title with limited special features – quite surprising, given the accolades the film was afforded. Particularly shocking is the noticeable absence of a commentary track. While I can’t imagine a Special Edition anytime soon, the disc looks like this:

  • First up is a Conversation with George Clooney which is a brief – far too brief featurette, as he discusses the theory behind the film and why it seems to be as engaging as it is. Some interesting behind-the-scenes footage is shown as well as discussion with the director and what he wanted in terms of character set-up. I recall being impressed with Clooney’s Arabic which is also discussed in this feature. Clooney sums everything up quite succinctly stating that, “everyone in town wanted in on it – but the screenplay was the star of the film.” Duration: 9:10 minutes.

  • The next special feature is entitled, Make A Change, Make A Difference is basically a carryover from the original feature, this time with appearances from Matt Damon and Stephen Gaghan among others who discuss the status of the world and it’s oil consumption including their personal feelings. Also discussed are societal differences between the western world and the Middle East. Duration: 11:18 minutes.

  • Next up are a series of Deleted Scenes which really do very little one way or the other to add to the near perfect film. Accessible individually or via Play All.

    - Scene #8 – Bob, Margaret and Robbie at the café.
    - Scene #58 – Bob and Fred walk and talk
    - Scene #123 – Margaret visits Bob

    Total duration: 5:37 minutes.

  • The Theatrical Trailer closes off the section and appears in excellent condition. Duration: 2:18 minutes.

    One would think that given the topic at hand, including an Academy Award win, there would have been much more here to discuss. Apparently not.

    Special Features: 3/5


    **Special Features rated for the quality of supplements, not the quantity**

    Final Thoughts:

    Syriana is a film, which at times is a difficult one to watch; not in the literal sense, but in the corrupt-establishment-offensive-corporate sense. While it’s one thing to condone commercialism at its best, it’s another thing to ignore the grip-hold a single product has over an entire planet. The film is skillfully effective at painting the canvass of world politics as it relates to the oil industry. In the end, if this film doesn’t motivate you to trade in your Range Rover or Hummer in exchange for a mountain bike or a bus pass, then nothing will.

    Terrific performances all around, unique and stylized storytelling along with an outstanding video presentation all add up to a very easy recommendation in what was without question, one of the year’s finest films.

    Overall Rating: 4.5/5 (not an average)


    Highly Recommended…!!

    Release Date: June 20th, 2006
    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 28 OFFLINE   ScottJH


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    Posted June 04 2006 - 01:33 AM


    It looks like Best Buy will have an exclusive bonus disc.


    #3 of 28 OFFLINE   donnie_d


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    Posted June 04 2006 - 02:43 AM

    and walmart


    #4 of 28 OFFLINE   Shawn.F


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    Posted June 05 2006 - 04:26 AM

    Great review, Herb. I am dying to get this into the ol' HD-DVD library. Fingers crossed on a day-and-date.

    #5 of 28 OFFLINE   Aaron Silverman

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    Posted June 05 2006 - 05:27 AM

    Excellent writeup, Herb! The BB bonus disc sounds really cool, but $20 is over my blind-buy limit.
    "How wonderful it will be to have a leader unburdened by the twin horrors of knowledge and experience." -- Mr. Wick

    #6 of 28 OFFLINE   Jason_V



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    Posted June 05 2006 - 08:05 AM

    I would love to pick this one, but the fact that this isn't a 2 disc SE and 6/20 is already loaded with other releases, I'm throwing Syriana into the Netflix list.

    #7 of 28 OFFLINE   Vincent-P


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    Posted June 05 2006 - 09:25 AM

    Aaron, I'm sure it will be cheaper on the release date.

    #8 of 28 OFFLINE   Mark_TS



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    Posted June 05 2006 - 04:00 PM

    Great review Herb-though im sure that this film barely touches upon the tip of the iceberg. What is scary is the two-thirds below water that we are not privy to, and the so-called "Liberal Media" never much bothers to report in depth on. Why was a Republican like Ike Eisenhower alarmed enought to warn us of this coming 'Military Industrial Complex' slowly taking over? (id say theyve nearly finished and are picking at the carcass)-IMHO
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    #9 of 28 OFFLINE   Dave Scarpa

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    Posted June 06 2006 - 01:13 AM

    Is this going to Be a HD-DVD, SD Combo ?
    My DVD Collection

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    #10 of 28 OFFLINE   Joseph J.D

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    Posted June 06 2006 - 01:41 PM

    I'm actually surprised that this isn't a 2-disc set. Surely a movie as interesting and controversial as this one would warrant it. I think I'll wait and see on this one.
    Recently watched- April Love, Summer Lovers, Journey To The Center Of The Earth(1959), The Bounty, Mississippi Burning, The Wolf Of Wall Street, First Men In The Moon, The Jewel Of The Nile, Romancing The Stone, They Live, Into The Storm, John Wick, Finding Nemo 3D, Drag Me To Hell, It Follows, Ninja III: The Domination, Ravenous, The Big Lebowski

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    #11 of 28 OFFLINE   TheBat



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    Posted June 07 2006 - 02:52 AM

    I am not suggesting that its a bad movie.. its more of a rental then a buy. I saw it in the theatre. it was okay.. very slow. slower then kong for that matter. I felt that the movie traffic did a better job with all of the characters. granted that clooney was good. but his other movie that was nominated for best picture was a much better movie, even if it was on another subject. JACOB

    #12 of 28 OFFLINE   Holadem


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    Posted June 07 2006 - 03:26 AM

    I found it literally difficult to watch. It requires at least two viewings to get everything. Even then. Dialogue is not easy to follow, and I really hate to say this, but I would have prefered a little more hand-holding. Just a little. Anyway, good movie, not great. A slight dissapointment. -- H

    #13 of 28 OFFLINE   Mark Zimmer

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    Posted June 07 2006 - 01:44 PM

    As a general, Eisenhower had firsthand experience with them, and knew what they would do to his beloved army, and to the country. And that's exactly what they've done.

    #14 of 28 OFFLINE   Sten F

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    Posted June 09 2006 - 04:44 AM

    Hmm, a 2-disc set will be released in Region 3. Wonder what that will have which R1 doesn´t have. Ah, just found out the R3 will include the same features that the Wallmart & Best Buy discs.
    It´s nice to be important, but it´s more important to be nice.

    #15 of 28 OFFLINE   donnie_d


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    Posted June 10 2006 - 05:20 PM

    do you have the artwork of that R3 version?

    #16 of 28 OFFLINE   Sten F

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    Posted June 11 2006 - 05:19 AM

    It´s nice to be important, but it´s more important to be nice.

    #17 of 28 OFFLINE   Steven Good

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    Posted June 19 2006 - 04:14 PM

    While Best Buy's website does show a 35 minute bonus disc (10 minute Matt Damon interview + 25 minute CIA interview), Walmart's site lists it's bonus disc as RUNNING ON EMPTY.


    So, I don't see where Walmart will have a bonus disc that actually has Syriana-specific bonus material....

    The R3 release looks like the better choice.
    Roger Ebert--"This is one more pathetic example of the dumbing of America--to show the films in the wrong aspect ratio to placate the stupid, instead of in the right aspect ratio to reward the knowledgeable."

    #18 of 28 OFFLINE   JonZ


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    Posted June 20 2006 - 12:35 AM

    Theres nothing else for me to get today and I thought this was a really good movie - so Im picking it up.

    #19 of 28 OFFLINE   Dave Scarpa

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    Posted June 20 2006 - 01:11 AM

    I have'nt seen it yet, but I doubt it'll be something I'd watch more than once, so it's on it's way from Netflix
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    #20 of 28 OFFLINE   Steven Good

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    Posted June 20 2006 - 03:15 PM

    After doing some more digging, I've discovered that the two featurettes on the Best Buy exclusive bonus disc: WEAVING REALITY INTO DRAMA--25 min. A CONVERSATION WITH MATT DAMON--10 min. are also on the HD-DVD release of the title. The HD-DVD specs indicate that these featurettes are "exclusive" (which ignores the deal that Best Buy struck with Warners to make BB's bonus 2nd disc). So, if you want all the goodies that are on the HD release, pick up your standard DVD at Best Buy this week.
    Roger Ebert--"This is one more pathetic example of the dumbing of America--to show the films in the wrong aspect ratio to placate the stupid, instead of in the right aspect ratio to reward the knowledgeable."

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