Senior HTF Member
- Oct 30, 1997
- Aberdeen, MD & Navesink, NJ
- Real Name
- Sam Posten
Blu Ray Title: The Kingdom
Disk Release Date: 25 November, 2008
Screen format: AVC encoded 1080P, 2.35:1 High Definition Widescreen
First theatrical release: 28 September, 2007
Previous releases on disk: DVD and HDDVDs on 23 December 2007
Director: Peter Berg
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner, Ashraf Barhom, Ali Suliman, Jeremy Piven, Danny Huston, Richard Jenkins
Sound Formats: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Spanish & French DTS 5.1
Length: 1 Hour 51 Minutes
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
(Note that much of this review is based on my previous HDDVD review of this film)
Like most Americans, I’m woefully ignorant of Middle Eastern history, religions, and politics, and especially unaware of the shared history between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the US. For these reasons alone I was both shocked by and appreciative of the quick recap that the title sequence of The Kingdom gives, and then became emotionally hooked into the story of an FBI investigation into a slaughter of US citizens on Saudi soil. While I wasn’t as gripped through the rest of the film, as it alternates between a kind of CSI episode and culminates in a Rambo film, overall I was very impressed with the whole package, including story, acting, action, and audiovisual qualities.
In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, teams of US workers are housed in protective compounds to both keep them out of the way of religious extremists who oppose America and to allow them the freedoms they are used to but which are forbidden to most Saudi citizens. As The Kingdom opens, one such compound is infiltrated and attacked, causing massive damage and death. The team of FBI agents who work Saudi issues from back in the States manages to arrange a politically risky trip to investigate the attack first hand. Led by Ronald Fluery (Foxx) they team up with the head of the local Saudi “police” force, Colonel Faris Al Ghazi (Barhom). Fluery and his team, which includes explosives expert Grant Sykes (Cooper), computer tech Adam Leavitt (Bateman) and special agent Janet Mayes (Garner) immediately experience a variety of issues in conducting the investigation, especially with regard to Mayes, as she stands in stark contrast to the veiled native women.
The team identifies a known terrorist, Abu Hamza, as a likely culprit. While Hamza’s name might be familiar, this one is apparently no relation to the one handed cleric Abu Hamza Al Masri. They experience a minor success in discovering a small time operation and the Saudis jump at the chance to get the Americans out of their hair, but on the road to the airport a new attack is launched, this one aimed at Al Ghazi, Fluery and his team, and at this point the film goes off the rails a bit, changing from police drama/thriller to an all out action film. While not as satisfying intellectually, those who are big fans of ‘Heat’ and other Michael Mann films will find his fingerprints all over this, and in actuality these are terrific and terrifying action sequences. The downer of it all is that it actually turns out to be a pretty decent buddy film and action thriller, without really fulfilling the promise of really investigating the relationship between the two countries other than to note that violence merely begets violence, even when that violence is born out of passion, whether that passion is religious, personal, egotistical, or retribution in origin.
If the film had taken a different path it wouldn’t have surprised me to see its name come up quite a bit during awards season, but I’m not sure how seriously it will be taken the way it is. Regardless, there are a few standouts that are worth mentioning, particularly the non English speakers Barhom and Suliman do excellent jobs of giving very different faces to a culture we are so closely tied to and yet know so little about. Barhom’s Col. Al Ghazi’s friendship with Fluery actually bridges the two cultures in ways that neither believed possible. Chris Cooper is always reliable, and he is perfectly cast here as the aging veteran that is the leader among peers. There’s also a great cameo by Tim McGraw as a grieving husband, who is one of the contractors whose family followed him to the kingdom and whose wife is slain in the attacks. Jason Bateman, whom I initially thought was completely miscast, turned a corner in this film when I spotted him reading ‘The complete idiot’s guide to Understanding Islam” (yes it’s a real book!). For me, that is just a completely apt metaphor for the average American’s solutions to things. He represents the guy who, like most of us, is just trying to do his job the best he can, protecting his friends, and often getting caught up in things way over his head.
Sound Quality: 4.5/5
I was initially excited to see Danny Elfman listed as the composer for this film, but found that the action takes such a front seat to the score that I never much paid it attention. Listening to the sample tracks thanks to Amazon.com really reinforces this, despite being bass heavy synthesizer based, and electronica influenced orchestral works, there aren’t really the grand sweeping themes we have come to expect from Elfman, tho in fairness I wouldn’t argue against their appropriateness for this particular film. It all fits perfectly and sounds great, but was just not what I was expecting. The Finale track in particular really does add a nice counterpoint to the closing message.
The star here of course are the attack, explosion, chase and gunfight segments and you would be hard pressed to find a film that captures any of these better than The Kingdom does. All are presented in a swirling mix of cross channel fades, punctuated by thunderous gut punching bass. Again, while this is Berg’s film, Mann’s influence is unmistakable here. It’s an interesting, and uncomfortable feeling to mix shockingly realistic scenes of terror with truly awesome and adrenaline pumping audio wizardry. One doesn’t know whether to smile because it sounds so good or to remain stunned by the carnage.
This disk gets an upgrade to Uncompressed DTS-MA, whereas the HDDVD was initially slated for a Dolby TrueHD but shipped with Dolby Digital Plus 5.1. I have not put these two versions head to head nor do I intend to, they both sound awesome in their own right and this mix matches what I would categorize as a 4.5 regardless of the underlying technology used to produce it.
Visual Quality: 5/5
Simply, The Kingdom looks identical to what I remember the HDDVD looking like and that is a near flawless transfer. Detail resolution is outstanding, all scenes are very sharp, even close up on individual faces, color reproduction is top notch, and there was zero evidence of any artificial sharpening, edge enhancement, noise, film defects or dust, or any other distracting elements. There is noticeable film grain that I suspect closely matches both the director’s intent (preserving a nice gritty, 3D look) and what was present in theaters, and it was never distracting or artificial looking. Any number of chapters on this disk are suitable for use both showing off a theater’s capabilities or simply looking for reference level material, I’d suggest the chapter late in the movie with the highway explosion and kidnapping, the scene with Jeremy Piven in the Prince’s Palace, or the initial softball attack, all are stunning looking, the softball scene actually gave a relative of mine nightmares she felt it was so realistic! Note also that the deleted scenes and several of the other extras are in full HD as well and they look great! Nice touch!
Extra Features: 4.5/5
This is the first BluRay from Universal where I can honestly say that the features were 100% identical to the HDDVD. Another nice job here for Universal, with the same caveats regarding U-Control, however. Veteran HTF readers are well aware of my disdain for the U-Control feature and there is both good news and bad news on that front here. The good news is that each chapter is menu selectable with each possible U-control content choice being shown. The bad news is that almost every chapter has ‘Mission Dossier’ and ‘Picture in Picture’ content, so if you want to see it all you might as well either set the time apart to watch this movie three times or click like a monkey on speed through the film each time you see the little bug pop up. The final U-control feature is VERY slick however. During one of the final chapters an apartment shootout has Fluery’s team split up and you can watch the action from four separate perspectives all the way through. Definitely a win for this technology, but still a little hokey trying to get it to work from the menus as the instructions are a bit lackluster.
Outside of the U-control features there is a feature length commentary track with director Peter Berg (while I have not listened to this one, watching him in the other featurettes has me tempted!), a number of deleted scenes all presented in full HD, and also two amazing featurettes. The first featurette goes into incredible detail on every aspect of the freeway explosion/kidnapping sequence, and is a must see if you are a nut about practical effects and slick filmmaking secrets as I am. There is also a traditional and highly informative behind the scenes titled ‘Creating the Kingdom’ which answered about 90% of the questions I had about this film, regarding how the idea came about and what Berg was like during filming. Berg makes some pretty interesting filmmaking choices, including having at least three cameras filming every shot (and using hand held cameras exclusively) and this featurette covers those and a lot of other neat details. There is also a relatively unique ‘Timeline’ featurette which takes viewers through the history of US/Saudi relations one decade at a time. It’s a little clunky and slow, but there’s a bucket of info that would be really of value to someone who is just starting to learn about the back-story as I was.
All told, I’d prefer better quality menu selection on the U-Control features but it’s still an overall improvement to that system. Together with the non interactive extras they comprise an impressive batch, especially for an initial release that isn’t billed as any kind of special edition. Note that while I gave the HDDVD a 5+ for the same set of extras there has been a year to develop better uses of the U-Control technology and this set does not match up with the high water mark for extras bundled in with a similar release, so I am scoring it with that in mind.
Overall: 5/5 (not an average) Highly Recommended
The Kingdom isn’t a flawless disk, but it is solid enough in just about every respect, equals the HDDVD so perfectly, and honestly it covers such untouched new ground that it deserves to get as much exposure as possible and is easy for me to give it high recommendation. It’s not often you get to learn a little bit along with a thrill ride like this, and the excellent quality (but again, not completely flawless!) of the audio-visual presentation is gravy on top of that. While I might grumble about the foibles of U-Control, it’s clear that progress is being made there too, and there’s a ton of very worthwhile standard, non interactive behind the scenes info that backs up the complex story with worthwhile production details too (Tho again note that while it is equal feature wise to the HDDVD it does not equal the inclusions that recent 5/5 BDs have been bundled with).
When I wrote my original review I was curious how the awards crowd would view The Kingdom, and I am shocked to say it only received two minor nominations, both for the stunt work! Just goes to show you never can tell. Still for me it remains ‘Highly Recommended’.