The Manchurian Candidate Studio: Paramount Year: 2004 Rated: R Length: 129 Minutes Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Audio: English, French Dolby Digital 5.1, English 2.0 Subtitles: English, Spanish Closed Captioned Special Features: Director Commentary, Featurettes, Deleted and Extended Scenes, Outtakes Price: $19.95 USD Release Date: December 21, 2004 When I first heard that Jonathan Demme would be remaking John Frankenheimer’s classic cold-war noir thriller The Manchurian Candidate, I asked myself, “Why?” Then, I couldn’t bring myself to see it in the theater. While the original is a bit dated due to its cold-war era nemesis, the film still works today. The satire is interesting from an historical perspective. And its “datedness” is mitigated by the fact that it is set in a familiar historical time. The script, direction and performances added up to near cinematic perfection, but the film has struggled to hold a place in popular cinematic history. I suppose, in a way, that could be a good reason to remake a film. Since the original film has been missed by so many, a remake would pose the same themes in a modern-day film with a crop of movie stars relevant today. The 2004 version of The Manchurian Candidate, like its predecessor, follows members of an army unit deployed in a foreign conflict, after they return to the states. Surviving members of the unit experience disturbing dreams, and obsess over their experiences. It becomes clear, before long, that things did not happen as they remember them. The unit has been brainwashed. But to what end? The new film stars Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber and Meryl Streep. All of them offer up compelling performances, under the sure-footed direction of Jonathan Demme. It is a good film. A solid remake. But, for me, it stands more as a tribute to the original. It is a minor reworking of the Frankenheimer film, updating it for a modern audience. It has lost the noir appeal of the original. It is at once a more literal work, and has a less tangible nemesis... which seems a bit odd to me. Now, the threat is not communism - nor is it the corporate entity that takes its place - Manchurian Global (a thinly veiled supercorporation a la Halliburton). It seems that the new nemesis is corporate greed and political ambition. The new film stands tall on its own. But if you’ve seen the original recently, as I have, you begin to see that the new version is an analog copy - it has lost some of the resolution and focus, so to speak. It provides you with the themes and values of the original, but without the texture. This version of the film is based on the screenplay of the original film by George Axelrod, which was in turn based on the novel by Richard Condon. The Transfer This anamorphically enhanced, 1.85:1 aspect ratio transfer has very good sharpness and detail, with no obvious sharpening artifacts. The print is largely free of any defects, save for an occasional speck of dust. Colors are accurate and wonderfully saturated, deviating from this quality only when stylistic choices dictate. Blacks are deep and strong, while still providing for detail in the shadow areas. Contrast is excellent. Fine grain is visible to varying degrees, presumably from the original source print. Overall, the video is nicely transferred, providing little ammunition for complaint. Audio is served up in your choice of English or French Dolby Digital 5.1, and English 2.0. For this review, I sampled the English 5.1 track. The soundtrack is mostly front heavy, as the source material dictates. When called for, however, the surrounds and subwoofer kick in for a truly immersive experience. This is most notable in combat and dream sequences. Frequency response is excellent. Dialog is full and warm, and always well defined and intelligible over the music and effects. Special Features Commentary by Jonathan Demme and Daniel Pyne Demme and Pyne seem to spend more time reminiscing than providing meaty technical details about the making of the film. They do discuss story structure and some of the artistic approaches to certain aspects of the adaptation, but mostly they seem to react to what’s on screen, rather than provide insights into what made it work. The Enemy Within: Inside The Manchurian Candidate (14:05) Producer Tina Sinatra talks about acquiring the rights from United Artists, in order to remake the film that her father made famous. Jonathan Demme talks about approaching the film as a paranoid thriller. Screenwriter Daniel Pyne talks about adapting the story for modern audiences. There is discussion of justifying the title of the film. In my opinion, they should have re-titled it instead of trying to work a dated title into a current film. There is discussion of the original film, as well. Included, also, are comments from Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber and Meryl Streep. Finally, there is some discussion of the look of the film, the cinematography, and some of the research done for the film. This featurette is pretty standard fare, providing some basics but not going deep enough into any area to provide great interest. The Cast of The Manchurian Candidate (11:54) This is a virtual love fest, each actor praising the virtues of the other... not that it isn’t deserved. All the lead actors do a wonderful job with the material, so I suppose it is justified. This featurette includes comments from Jonathan Demme, Daniel Pyne, Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber, Meryl Streep and Jon Voight. This featurette is all about the actors, and the way they interpret their characters. Deleted Scenes (totaling 9:34) with optional commentary by Jonathan Demme and Daniel Pyne (with “Play All” feature) There are 5 deleted / extended scenes: Marco and Raymond talk on patrol Marco’s worried neighbor Raymond meets executives while Senator Jordan confronts Ellie at fundraiser Campaign Trail Montage Marco and Raymond interrupted at campaign HQ Some of the scenes were cut for pacing because they gave superfluous information. Others were cut because they gave away too much information too early. The commentary does a pretty good job of explaining why the cuts were made. Outtakes with optional commentary by Jonathan Demme and Daniel Pyne (with “Play All” feature) Ellie’s Interview with Stacey Newsome-Santiago Ellie’s Interview with Al Franken These aren’t bloopers, so much as footage that was shot, but just never found a home in the film. I suppose they differ from deleted scenes because they didn’t make the rough cut. The scene with Al Franken is funny to watch, as Meryl Streep tries, unsuccessfully, to crack him up. Liev Schreiber Screen Test (2:50) Interesting, if nothing else, for the improvisation. Political Pundits (10:00) with optional commentary Actors, writers, artists and comedians pose as pundits for the sound and video bites that appear in the background in the film. This piece gives us a chance to hear their improvisation. Previews Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events Without a Paddle Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow Team America: World Police The Stepford Wives I have to say it. Why must these previews play before the menu appears? Hitting the menu button will not bring you to the menu after inserting the disc. You must chapter skip five times, over almost ten minutes of previews that most likely aren’t of interest to the viewer, since they aren’t even close to the same genre as the feature. I don’t mind it when previews are in the Special Features area of a disc (they are there, as well). Just keep them out of my way. I want to see a menu when I insert the disc. The viewer should have control. What’s the point of having a “menu” button if it doesn’t work? Sorry... I couldn’t resist. Rant over. Final Thoughts It is rarely the case when a remake is as good as the original - especially when the original is a classic. This film is no exception. It is a solid film in its own way. But if I had to choose, I’d take the Frankenheimer version any day. The audio and video quality of the disc is good, but the featurettes are not of great interest.