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DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Testament (1 Viewer)

Scott Kimball

May 8, 2000


Studio: Paramount

Year: 1983

Rated: PG

Length: 89 Minutes

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0

Subtitles: English

Special Features: 2 Featurettes, Nuclear Timeline

S.R.P.: $14.99 USD

Release Date: December 7, 2004

While films like Damnation Alley and Mad Max were 70’s films set in a post-apocalyptic world, they were action oriented films that paid little mind to character. They were iconic films of the Cold War 70’s, but lacked any real meaning, and didn’t connect with the audience on a personal level. That’s not to say the films are without merit... but they weren’t intended as a serious exploration of the modern apocalypse.

1983 saw two high profile films on the subject. The most prominent of these was the highly charged and controversial made-for-TV movie The Day After. This was a powerful film focusing on a nuclear blast in Kansas, and how the local people are forced to deal with their very real nightmare.

The other film, Testament, is very similar - though perhaps even more personal. After a nuclear explosion devastates San Francisco, the people of a small town nearby must find ways to survive. Moments before the blast, the Emergency Broadcast System was brought online to inform the country of multiple nuclear explosions on the east coast. Then, there is a flash, and the power goes out. The only communication with the outside world for the town is via ham radio. News is hard to come by. The residents of the town are on their own.

This film is both restrained and brutal. It is relentless in its portrayal of death, though it manages to do so without gore. The method used in this film is more reactionary. It is hinted that someone, a peripheral character, is sick... then the next day they are gone. Then, major characters begin dying off. The cemetery fills up.

The film stars Jane Alexander in the performance of her career. She is the focus of the story - the matriarch of a family with a missing dad, trying to hold the rest of the family unit together for the sake of the children. William Devane, Ross Harris, Roxana Zal, Lukas Haas, Leon Ames, Maco, Rebecca De Mornay and Kevin Costner also star. The film was directed by Lynne Littman.

This film isn’t for everyone, but it has a strong message and great performances. If you liked The Day After, you’d probably like this one, too.

The Transfer
The film is anamorphically enhanced and is displayed in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Given that this is a small, independent film, perfection can’t be expected - but this looks very nice. The print is remarkably free of damage, displaying only the occasional speck.

The image is very slightly soft, and displays variable grain. Colors are warm and well saturated. Shadow detail is acceptable, if not perfect. Contrast is good.

The audio is Dolby Digital 2.0. There is very little in the way of sound effects in the film - this is not an effects film. The sound has good frequency response and acceptable channel separation for the music. Dialog is always clear and intelligible, and is generally pinned front and center.

For a twenty year old budget independent film, I wouldn’t expect more than this transfer delivers.

Special Features
Paramount has seen fit to include a few special features on this catalog release.

Testament at 20 (26:39)
In this remembrance of the making of the film, director Littman stages a reunion with much of the core cast members. Those who were children in the film have grown, and recall their feelings while making this powerful film.

There are also interviews with Littman, Lindsay Law (from American Playhouse), Producer Jonathan Bernstein, composer James Horner, writer John Sacret Young, Jane Alexander, Kevin Costner - who took some time out to remember one of his earliest performances on film -- and others.

Testament: Nuclear Thoughts (12:35)
Director Littman kicks this off with a segment of a 2004 video produced by the Department of Homeland Defense, then segues into a 1950’s “Duck and Cover Video,” really showing how little an individual can do in a situation such as a nuclear attack. People involved with the film, including Jane Alexander and Kevin Costner, give their views on nuclear armament and frame it in the context of today’s realities. Finally, school kids react to the film, after having been shown it in class.

Timeline of the Nuclear Age
This is nothing but text, rolling like film credits, that gives a timeline starting from The Manhattan Project in 1942 and ending with the discovery in 2004 that two of Pakistan’s top nuclear scientists gave assistance to programs in Iran, Libya, North Korea and Iraq in the 1980’s - and that Libya gave up its nuclear program in 2004.

Final Thoughts
Testament is a gripping, relentless film that takes a personal approach to the aftermath of nuclear holocaust. This is not for all tastes, but it is solidly directed and expertly acted. It’s an unusual take on the subject, and is definitely worth checking out if this subject matter interests you.


Stunt Coordinator
Jan 13, 2004
Wow. I hadn't thought about this movie in years. I used to see it on HBO or Showtime back in the 80s. I was growing up on Minot AFB in North Dakota, which was supposedly a top five target for the Soviets. The price is pretty good, I may pick it up after the holidays. Thanks for the review.

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