Senior HTF Member
- Feb 24, 1999
Studio:TOUCHSTONE Year:2004 Rating:PG-13 RunTime:137 minutesAspect Ratio:16x9 encoded 2.35:1 OAR warning: separate Pan-Scan version available, so beware when renting, purchasing, or receiving as a gift!Audio:5.1 DD English, 5.1 DD French Subtitles:English, French, SpanishSpecialFeatures:Feature Commentary, Deleted Scenes, Documentaries… ReleaseDate:September 28, 2004
It will be easier not to “Remember the Alamo!” this time around.
The movie wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t good either. I was expecting an “epic”. At the minimum I wanted a film that pulled me into a state of emotion so I could identify with the passion and pain of the dramatization of the historical account. I wanted a film with moments of dialog that would resonate with a penetrating force, and imagery that would pull together disparate story lines into visual, poetic harmony. I wanted characters with whom I would become involved emotionally, so that the investment would cause a twinge of pain as I’d watch them be slain, and then sling-shot me back into a victorious encore with the final battle won.
None of that happened.
But it wasn’t bad. Though it never moved me, the dialog never gave me cause to cringe or disengage. Acting seemed adequate, but it was as though the characters were never “given a chance” to really speak to me. Images were bold without feeling pretentious or forced, yet didn’t captivate me with a sense of “awe” as I had hoped. So nothing out-right “wrong” with the movie, just nothing out-right “right” about it either.
I’m not a U.S. history buff, though I’ve read reviews of this film which testify that (astonishingly) the Hollywood account here isn’t offensively off-base and that the majority of facts upon which this film is based are indeed accurate. The special feature content of this disc, including the undocumented commentary, goes into great detail elaborating on the level of historical accuracy that the creative team was intent on establishing in this film, which lends an authentic sense of integrity to the production even though artistically I didn’t consider it to be a “good movie”. You history buffs out there lurking the HTF boards…do us all a favor and post your thoughts on this matter.
I’m sure some of you out there love this movie. I’m sure some of you passionately dislike it. Me—I’m indifferent. Consider the table of discussion open for all opinions to be expressed.
Disappointing on a wide-angle system. From my approximately 1.6 screen-width viewing distance (16x9 106” screen) the 2.35:1 anamorphic image looks grossly over-filtered with absolutely no fine-detail preserved. The effect is not very different than that of the original Kill Bill Volume 1 DVD. A few close-up shots provide a temporarily satisfying level of perceived detail but this is normal for even generously-filtered DVDs. Edge enhancement is also quite obvious at my viewing angle and rooftops, character silhouettes, and sharp-edged objects don’t escape its ringing signature. I’m actually a little surprised by all of this because most of the TOUCSTONE DVDs that have crossed my path lately have generally had “good” preserved detail and relatively low-levels of EE. I continue to hope that Disney will, at some point, begin to consider these problems more ardently and seek to correct whatever is “going wrong” in the mastering chain of the DVD titles under their care.
I should point out that my criticisms of this title are I the context of “wide angle” viewing, which means anyone watching a front-projection image from a “normal” distance or anyone choosing to sit closer to their large-screen HDTV or flat-panel display (measure how wide your display is, then move until your head is just over 1.5 times that width away from the screen…that’s the kind of relative distance I’m talking about when I say “wide angle” which seems uncomfortably close to most direct-view or HDTV sets, but is perfectly appropriate for some very refined HD displays and front-projection systems). If you’re viewing your HDTV from more than two screen-widths away, then chances are that The Alamo will look “good” in overall sharpness and perceived clarity and the ringing artifacts from EE may be negligible or invisible altogether.
Ok, it’s not all bad. Good news is that compression seems well employed and I noticed no distraction from MPEG artifacting. Color is also outstanding…saturation is bold and vivid and the blues and reds in the soldiers’ uniforms are especially breathtaking. Much of the movie utilizes a subdued color-palette but that’s an artistic choice and not to be confused with any technical discrepancy with the disc. Black level is well grounded and contrast seems strong with a bold expanse from deep black to bright whites. One thing that I’m assuming is a point of artistic intention: Black levels appear crushed at times and whites appear a bit blown…not a “digital” looking blown but more like a photographic blooming…like some of the film stock was intentionally manipulated to provide an other-worldly and hyper-dramatic impact. If so (as I’m assuming) then the effect is successful, and one of the earmarks of this film that added quality to the presentation.
But I just cannot overlook that blurry, video-esque/filtered image riddled with ringing from EE (a steady halo traces across the bottom of the image throughout the film as result of “ringing” from the “hard line” of the lower letterboxing bar!). It may only plague wide-angle viewers at present, but bear in mind that as time goes by such large-screen systems continue to improve in quality and decrease in price…and it won’t be long before you, yourself, are viewing your software on such a system. Hey…remember you also said that your 4x3 480-interlaced NTSC TV was “just fine” and that you “wouldn’t upgrade” to 16x9. And now you’re trying to convert your friends and get them to upgrade to a new 16x9 HD set just like you. Trust me…a 106” image isn’t that far off in your future either…and for that reason, I think it important to judge absolute DVD image quality from this point of reference.
Picture Quality: 3.5 / 5
:star: :star: :star: 1/2
Gorgeous. Outstanding. The 5.1 Dolby Digital audio on this disc is fantastic. All the usual accolades apply: great frequency response, unrestricted dynamic range (so it seems to the ears), smooth yet detailed and intelligible dialog etc. There are a few noteworthy points to add that really stood out to me. The first is that the instrumentation (as in musical instruments presented in the live-context of the film) are wonderfully recorded and have a very “live” or “there” presence. The fiddle playing especially. The other thing to commend is the visceral use of 5.1 mixing to full-advantage during the battle-action scenes. Bullets, canons, explosions, shrapnel impact and gunshots seemingly fill a 360-degree soundfield in which you, the listener, are disconcertingly placed.
The gunshots and such don’t have that blood-stopping, dynamic impact like they do on “Open Range” but they come close. Those of you who love a good battle scene, especially a “vintage” scene of a period battle like The Alamo will reach for this disc proudly as your “5.1 demo disc” of choice.
Sound Quality: 5 / 5
:star: :star: :star: :star: :star:
Some outstanding special features on this disc…which makes me wonder if the compressionist was tempted to add that extra notch of filtering given the competition for bit-real-estate. The extras focus heavily on the historical accounts we have of the Alamo battle and it’s surround entourage of players which should please any history fans and certainly educate the rest of us and help add a little appreciation for the great effort that went into the making of this film.
[*]Feature Commentary: Not mentioned anywhere on the packaging, Steven L. Hardin (historical advisor) and Allan Huffines (military advisor) provide outstanding screen-specific commentary that historical buffs will savor, and will add a deeper appreciate of the film and its historical foundation for those who take the time to explore it. Their discussion is informative, educational, and interesting. Given the historical nature of this film’s account, this is the rare exception where I might advice that someone unfamiliar with the details of the account might consider listening to this commentary track before watching the film. I found that understanding the details and care that the creative team underwent trying to invoke an sense of authenticity into this production was essential in helping me establish a positive view of this film, and I think I would have enjoyed the film much more had I possessed this knowledge prior to viewing.
[*]Deleted Scenes: There are about five. You can watch them with or without director’s commentary and there is a “play all” option. All are presented in 4x3 lbx with 2.0 audio. All but the last one (“candle dance” seemed to me to have made the film better by their absence, but I would have preferred to have the last deleted scene inserted back into the film. Just my preference.
[*]Walking in the Footsteps of Heros: 4x3 video, 2.0 DD audio. A wonderful study that details the historical accounts of several of the primary protagonist leads and explores the documented facts surrounding their stories and how the actors and direction attempted to reflect, or “replicate” those accounts in film. Added immensely to my appreciation for the film and all the integrity of effort that went into its produciton.
[*]Return of the Legend: Making of the Alamo: 4x3 video, 2.0 DD audio. This is the primary “making of” documentary on the disc. It clocks in at close to 20 minutes and is filled to the brim with great information about all aspects of making this film…from casting to historical details to set design to costuming to special effects…and it’s all good stuff. Watching this feature and becoming more aware of the great time and labor of love that were a part of this production gave me more respect for the feature than my impression of “just watching it” left with me.
[*]Deep in the Heart of Texas: 4x3 video, 2.0 DD audio. A little bit more of the “making of” fan-fare focusing more on 2nd and 3rd level characters and story lines. Again, the emphasis here is on historical accuracy and this shorter (about 8 mins) feature also added to my appreciation of the feature film.
While not high on entertainment value for the general audience, the strengths of this film lie in its faithfulness to historical accounts of the Alamo battle and the persons who fought and died there. As a result, while perhaps not appealing to those seeking a “good movie” in terms of an epic film or a dramatic, artistically-depicted story, American History buffs are bound to be pleased, especially given the special-feature content of this disc which is so history-centric. Picture is disappointing for wide-angle viewers, but most traditional TV viewers won’t find anything offensive about the image and the sound quality is reference-setting regardless of your system. I’ve provided the facts as best I can…it’s up to you on whether you buy, rent, or pass on The Alamo…