DVD Review HTF Review: Reds 25th Anniversary Edition


Supporting Actor
Jun 13, 2002

Reds 25th Anniversary Edition

Studio: Paramount Home Video
Rated: PG
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 enhanced for 16x9 displays
Audio: English DD 5.1, English Mono, French Mono
Subtitles: English
Time: 195 minutes
Disc Format: 2 DVD-9’s
Case Style: Keep case with cardboard slipcase
Theatrical Release Date: 1981
DVD Release Date: October 17, 2006

Warren Beatty’s Reds finally makes its DVD debut in a two disc special edition. Set in the time period around World War I, John (Jack) Reed (Warren Beatty) is a revolutionary and political writer/ activist who seems to attract the attention of beautiful women quite easily. When he meets Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton), he is instantly transfixed with her and her somewhat unimportant (according to him, at least) writing. The two, who are in competition for each others professional and emotional respect, begin an affair that sends Louise to Greenwich Village in New York to live with Jack. Once there, she finds her writing is not what its cracked up to be, nor is the lifestyle she envisioned with Jack. Jack introduces her to his friend, poet and play write Eugene O’Neill (Jack Nicholson). Due to John’s frequent trips where he is becoming more consumed with his politics, and her increasing frustration with her writing, she turns to Eugene for emotional and physical support. Once John finds out about the affair, and unbeknownst to Louise, he promptly asks her to marry him. Eugene is persistent and leaves Louise with a note declaring his feelings to her, and as John finds it, so ends the marriage. The end of the relationship is the impetus Louise needs to strengthen her writing and chart her course as part of the feminist movement. Over the intervening months, she becomes quite popular, and a chance encounter with John gives the two of them the chance to establish a writing partnership and they head off to Europe to witness the Russian Revolution.

The rest of the picture transitions from the relationship being in the forefront to the politics leading the charge. While it is not forgotten, we are given a concise history lesson on the American politics of the time, and how the U. S. Communists rose. We are also shown how the Russians reacted to and dealt with the American support. Beatty and Keaton do an excellent job of bringing these powerful historical characters to life by showing us no matter how much we may philosophically believe in something, the heart often takes over to set us on our way. Beatty, as a director, is able to define Louise by her budding political interest that is often sidetracked by her inability to penetrate the predominantly male field of the time. Beatty presents his main characters as slaves to their emotions, and this flaw often leads to violent outbursts that set Jack and Louise off to the next part of their lives.

Reds was nominated for twelve Academy Awards and won three, including Beatty for best director. It lost out to Chariots of Fire for best picture that year, which seemed to come as a blow to Beatty’s usually hefty ego. Regardless, watching the picture today, I was struck with the parallels to today’s political climate and maybe Paramount did a wise thing in waiting to release the DVD until now. Beatty uses a framing sequence of elderly “witnesses” who knew of Reed or were around at the time the story takes place. It is a fascinating way to interject the real world people into the story while giving you another perspective besides Beatty’s on who Reed and Bryant were.

The picture is in its correct aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and it is an anamorphic transfer. The picture displays a washed out color palate, unfortunately, as this presentation would have looked great with richer colors. There are some instances of more vibrant colors, specifically during a couple of the scenes set during sunsets or when the characters were on the beach. Due to this, I believe it was Beatty and Director of Photography Vittorio Storaro’s intent to wash out the film to keep the viewer placed in the time frame of the story and enhance its sometimes dour story. Black levels are good and show a fair amount of detail. Detail itself fluctuates from scene to scene, sometimes it is quite good, but then it degrades into haziness and mild smearing. The picture looks like Paramount upped the DVNR to make the picture sharper than it should be, so this also spotlights the edge enhancement. Grain does make a couple of appearances, as does an instance of some print damage: the first scene on the beach shows some lines in the background. I had hoped to have the HD-DVD version in time for this review for comparison, but it hasn’t arrived yet. When it does, I will update the review in the HD Software section of the forum.

I watched the feature with the Dolby Digital 5.1 track engaged. Since this is a strong character piece acted out by some spectacular performers, we are given many scenes of dialogue. Therefore, the mix stays primarily in the fronts, with the center channel getting the most work. When the surrounds are utilized, primarily for atmospheric effects, they provide a good surround stage and pleasing ambience. LFE’s are minimal, but they are smooth and natural sounding when they do come up. Voices are clear and natural, as is the rest of the soundtrack.

Bonus Material:
Beatty leads us through a multi-part documentary detailing the history and production of Reds with Witness to Reds. Laurent Bouzerau should get mass amounts of applause for the work he did on these docs, getting all the participants together and drawing such great stories out of them. While I would have loved a director’s commentary, these docs more than make up for it (and Beatty doesn’t like them). The doc is broken down into the following parts:

The Rising (6:30): Beatty discusses how the picture was conceived and some historical background of the time. Paramount’s Barry Diller talks about how and why Paramount took a chance on such a non-commercial project.
Comrades (13:29): Beatty, Jack Nicholson and Paul Sorvino discuss the characters and Diane Keaton and Maureen Stapleton, in particular. Nicholson is an exciting and unexpected bonus to this doc that gives us some interesting insight into O’Neill. Kosinski’s widow talks about Jerzy Kosinski as well.
Testimonials (11:57): A discussion on how Beatty came up with the idea of using the witnesses to frame the story. Storaro comments on the set up of the interviews and how this aspect of the picture developed. We get to see some of the behind the scenes shots of the interviews where Beatty is giving direction to coax the stories out of the subjects. I would have liked to have seen some of the uncut interviews as part of the documentaries since the participants were all engaging and informative.
The March (9:07): Beatty discusses the production of the picture and he makes light of the scope of such a production at times. Various participants on the production discuss their roles as well.
Revolution-Part 1 (10:18): This doc again goes into the production but highlights Beatty’s obsession in making pictures. It is a discussion of art vs. politics vs. commerce, and an explanation on how there were numerous different and conflicting ideas on how it should be done. It seems Storaro and Beatty had very different ideas on how the picture was going to be shot, so this makes for excellent viewing.
Revolution-Part 2 (6:54): We go back into the politics vs. art discussion with Beatty drawing parallels between his life and that of Reed’s. There is a discussion of the location shoot as well.
Propaganda (9:13): Beatty starts out with a cute story of his kids first experience with Reds, then he goes into a discussion of the editing accompanied by the pictures editor. The rest of the doc details the scoring, promotional material (including the incredible shot of Beatty hugging Keaton), the Oscar nominations (garnering Beatty his only Oscar for directing), and Beatty sums it up with a historical perspective.

New DVD trailer (1:24): An interesting way to put Reds in a context today’s audiences can relate to without really dealing with the true subject of the story.

A long wait has provided us with a great set of extras to accompany this epic picture. Reds seems to have been neglected by the public over the years, so I’m happy to see this DVD’s release coming with a wave of publicity. While I am not terribly taken with the video presentation, I’m hoping the HD version will solve these issues upon its release.

Mike Frezon

Oct 9, 2001
Rensselaer, NY

Fascinating stuff.

I am very much looking forward to the chance to see this film. I saw it when it was released in theaters in 1981 and remember being bored to tears. I am extremely curious to see if these 47 year old eyes will view the film differently than those 22 year old eyes did.
I'm expecting they will.


Second Unit
Jun 23, 2005
I had been waiting a long, long, long time for this DVD and I'm ecstatically happy I have it. I very much enjoyed seeing it again.

Saying that, I do have one or two quibbles.

While I have no problem with the names of the witnesses being displayed, an insert attaching names to faces would have been very nice. They did this with the VHS edition from eons ago.

If Beatty's feeling that a DVD commentary is not necessary, well, that is is decision and he should have the right to make it. And the documentary is well done (Nicholson must have recorded his after a Laker's game....he sounds very raspy). Do I want more information? Oh yes. But then I could read a book about "Reds" and still want more.

It's obvious from the documentary that there exists much more witness footage. Wouldn't a feature length documentary just with the witnesses be absolutely fascinating? I for one would love it.

In short, I am very very very very very happy that Beatty and Paramount released this DVD and that is primary. But I can't help for wishing in the future for more. 30th Anniversary Special Edition, anyone?

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