DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Witness - Special Collector's Edition

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Scott Kimball, Aug 21, 2005.

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  1. Scott Kimball

    Scott Kimball Screenwriter

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    [​IMG]
    Witness - Special Collector's Edition



    Studio: Paramount

    Year: 1985

    Rated: R

    Length: 112 minutes

    Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

    Audio: Dolby Digital English 5.1, English, French 2.0

    English Subtitles

    Closed Captioned

    Special Features: 5 Part Documentary, Deleted Scene, TV Spots, Theatrical Trailer

    Suggested Retail Price: $19.99 USD


    Release Date: August 23, 2005

    The Feature

    Peter Weir is one of the finest filmmakers working today. Witness was the film that introduced him to America.

    It’s not that American audiences hadn’t taken notice to prior works, such as Gallipoli, and, more notably, The Year of Living Dangerously. But Witness brought the Australian director to our shores, and had him working with a cast of American actors. The film proved that Harrison Ford could break his renegade sci-fi adventure mold, and it made a star of untried actress Kelly McGillis and the young Lukas Haas. It also gave a then unknown actor his first taste for film acting - leading to an astounding career in recent years - one Viggo Mortensen.

    Weir followed up Witness with a string of hits, including (but not limited to) Dead Poet’s Society, The Truman Show (also released this month in a special edition DVD), and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.

    Weir made an unusual choice for his first American film, setting most of the film in a place that is decidedly unlike any other place in America. In Witness, a young Amish boy (Lukas Haas) witnesses a murder at a train station in Philadelphia. He and his mother, Rachel (Kelly McGillis) must stay in Philadelphia - until the investigation leads to dirty members of the police force. At that time, detective John Book (Ford), having been seriously injured in a gun fight, escapes with the mother and child and brings them back to Amish country, Lancaster, PA.

    Rachel nurses Book back to health. Then, Book stays in hiding, trying to blend in with the Amish community as powerful forces hunt him and the young boy down. All the while, forbidden attraction builds between John and Rachel.

    Witness is three films in one - it is a murder mystery, a dual-edged fish out of water story, and a love story. Weir balances all aspects tremendously well, and pulls incredible performances out of the entire cast. Additionally, the beautiful cinematography by John Seale and the haunting score by Maurice Jarre combine to make this one of the best films of the 80’s.

    The film won an Oscar for Best Editing and Best Screenplay. It was nominated for Best Actor (Ford), Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Director, Best Music and Best Picture.

    The Transfer
    The picture is a mixed bag, in relation to the prior release of the film.

    Witness is presented in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1, and is anamorphically enhanced. The print used for the transfer is nearly spotless.

    Colors are beautiful - earthy and nicely saturated. Black levels are very good, with good detail in the shadow areas. Whites are bright and slightly warm, blooming on occasion, by design.

    The one area where the new edition doesn’t best the previous version is in sharpness. I have a mixed response to this. The original edition suffered from mild, but noticeable ringing due to over sharpening. The new version is mostly free of ringing or other sharpening artifacts, but has a slight loss of texture as a result. Noise is all but eliminated from the frame, high frequency detail has suffered as a result. Somewhere in between the two versions is the sweet spot.

    If you’re considering upgrading only for a new transfer, you’ve got a tough choice. Warmer, richer colors and a slight opening of the frame are offset by a touch of softness.

    I do not own the original version of the film on DVD. While I was able to screen parts of the original disc recently, I wasn’t able to get screen captures, or do a side-by-side A/B comparison for this review.

    The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 (as well as in English and French 2.0). The 5.1 track delivers a nice, full experience. Dialog is always clear, full and intelligible. Music fills the front soundstage nicely, with some rear effect. Active and ambient sound effects occasionally make use of the rear channels to good effect. The low frequency effects are slightly lacking, but are adequate. This is a solid 5.1 mix for the film’s era.

    Between Two Worlds: The Making of Witness - Five Part Documentary
    Broken into five parts and totaling over an hour, this is a terrific documentary about the making of the film. Included are recent interviews with Peter Weir, Edward Feldman, Harrison Ford, Kelly McGillis, Lucas Haas, and Viggo Mortensen. Though not one of the chapter headings, there is a segment on the wonderful work of cinematographer John Seale, including some enlightening interviews with the cameraman. This segment was deserving of its own chapter.

    In addition to the usual “making of” territory, there is much talk of the cultural divide between the Amish and the filmmakers who lived among them during principle photography. It was a positive learning experience, overall, for both cultures.

    Here are the chapters:
    Chapter One: Origins
    Chapter Two: Amish Country
    Chapter Three: The Artistic Process
    Chapter Four: The Heart of the Matter
    Chapter Five: Denouement


    Deleted Scene (from the network TV airing) (4:10)
    This scene is set at Book’s sister’s house, while Rachel and Samuel are staying there.

    TV Spots
    There are three TV spots with a “Play All” feature.
    “Action”
    “Love”
    “John Book”

    Theatrical Trailer (1:32)
    full screen format

    Previews
    Airplane - Don’t Call Me Shirley Edition
    Tommy Boy - Holy Schnikes Edition
    The John Wayne Collection
    MacGyver

    Final Thoughts
    A nice transfer, superior to the original release in some ways and slightly inferior in others, makes upgrading a tough choice on the strengths of the transfer alone. This is a nice transfer - just somewhat different from the previous release.

    What is a strong selling point for this disc is the terrific one hour “making of” documentary, with considerable participation from Peter Weir, Harrison Ford, Kelly McGillis, Lukas Haas and others.

    Overall, this single disc Special Collector’s Edition is:
    Highly Recommended
     
  2. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    I've read the debate on this issue in the DVD Beaver thread and I think the issue about the transfer is going to come down to personal preferences as to which dvd is more pleasing to your eyes.




    Crawdaddy
     
  3. Christian Preischl

    Christian Preischl Screenwriter

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    Okay, let me be the first one to bring this up: Could you please check if the missing line of dialogue has been reinserted in this DVD version?

    Here's what I'm talking about:

    In the VHS version, just after John Book is shot, we see a close-up of his gun and a voice-over from an earlier conversation Book had with the captain. We hear the words: "Who else knows about this? "Just you and me." In the DVD version, we see the close-up of the gun and then it segues to Book's sister waking up Rachel and her son Samuel, minus the voice-over.

    Can this be heard in any of the audio tracks?

    Cheers,
    Chris
     
  4. Marko Berg

    Marko Berg Supporting Actor

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    I was going to post what Christian asks above. It would be nice to know if the dialogue is present on the DVD. I seem to recall hearing this dialogue when the film was shown on TV here last.
     
  5. Tim Glover

    Tim Glover Lead Actor

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    Wonderful film. I didn't buy the original version so this is a must.
     
  6. Tom Brennan

    Tom Brennan Screenwriter

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    The dialogue is still not on this disc.
     
  7. PeterTHX

    PeterTHX Cinematographer

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    Maybe it is only on the TV version?

    Fox showed "Star Trek: Generations" on television and tiny trims here and there were added. So it wouldn't be unusual for Paramount to have done it for the TV version (edited anyway for language and violence).
     
  8. James Luckard

    James Luckard Stunt Coordinator

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    Aargh. I was so hoping those lines would be restored for this new disc. The lengthy shot of the gun has no real purpose except to fill time as these lines are heard, leading us directly into Book's taking Rachel into hiding. Without them, his thought process is not as clear.

    Does anybody know if this voiceover exchange was heard in the original theatrical release? I know it was in every video and TV version I ever saw before the DVD.

    For a "Special Edition" with such limited extras, this fixed audio was going to be a key selling point to convince me to upgrade, pity. I'll still probably do it, but it's disappointing.
     
  9. JackKay

    JackKay Second Unit

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    Now what I would really like to see is a new Special Edition of "The Year of Living Dangerously". Again with Peter Weir's Direction and again with Maurice Jarre's excellent score. I think it was Peter Weir's previous film.

    P.S. It also has that Beautiful, Gorgeous, Immaculate Beauty, Heart Throbbing, Make Me Crazy - Love of My Life, Actress Sigourney Weaver!

    I hope I haven't exposed my true feelings for her.

    Also is there two versions of 'Year' out there? Or are they both the same? thanx.
     
  10. John*D

    John*D Second Unit

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  11. george kaplan

    george kaplan Executive Producer

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  12. Christian Preischl

    Christian Preischl Screenwriter

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    I just checked the DVDBeaver screenshots. I'm sorry, but am I the only one who thinks that compared to the old standard edition the new one looks like crap? Just look at all the detail in the first screenshot (grass) that's visible in the standard edition.

    Chris
     
  13. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    You're not the only one, but I prefer the video presentation of the newer release.





    Crawdaddy
     
  14. Marko Berg

    Marko Berg Supporting Actor

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    Is this filtering (or whatever is actually done to the transfer) of new releases something Paramount has adopted only lately? This new edition of Witness, the Special Collector's Edition of Star Trek: Insurrection, and probably others, seem to be suffering from the same problem i.e. lack of fine detail compared to previous DVD editions.
     
  15. DeeF

    DeeF Screenwriter

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    I bought this DVD, and now I remember why I don't like the movie. It's... ludicrous, to say the least, and except for Kelli's breast-reveal, there isn't a fresh moment in the whole thing.
     
  16. Scott Kimball

    Scott Kimball Screenwriter

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    In both cases, it seems to be a two-part issue. One is that the original was over-sharpened. Two: the new release may have had some noise reduction performed on it.

    My guess is that if you were able to see the original version without any sharpening, it would come a long way toward what we're seeing on the new release. In other words, some of the "detail" in the earlier release is artificially created through the same sharpening process that causes ringing and other artifacts.

    Also, remember that screenshots are very good at revealing defects that are far less noticeable when motion is added to the equation.

    Yes, I'd like it sharper... but not at the expense of generating new artifacts.

    Both the Star Trek and Witness releases come down to a choice of flavors... would you prefer artificial detail and all the artifacts that go with it, or a picture that has been a bit over-processed to rid the frame of noise. Unfortunately, the ideal middle ground is missing.

    -Scott
     
  17. Peter Schorn

    Peter Schorn Extra

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    Believe the IGN review. Screen grabs can't capture the ugliness of the transfer and the noise and gunk in the dark scenes when in motion.

    My girlfriend, who thinks that I've lost the ability to just sit and watch a DVD without flyspecking the technical aspects (she's half-right) and has no idea what I'm yammering on about, noticed how poor the transfer was and remarked on it. If she notices, so should anyone not calling baseball games for a living.
     
  18. Scott Kimball

    Scott Kimball Screenwriter

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    Did you come here just to crap on the thread, or did you have something relevant to say.

    It's fine if you didn't like the film, but most would disagree with the idea that "there isn't a fresh moment in the whole thing."

    Setting aside one of Harrison Ford's best performances, you've got John Seale's gorgeous Oscar nominated photography and Maurice Jarre's Oscar nominated score. Not to mention an Oscar winning story that examines a culture that, though in America, many Americans had no idea existed before this film.

    -Scott
     
  19. DeeF

    DeeF Screenwriter

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    I agree Scott, that the production values are first rate. Sorry to be the curmudgeon -- I'm actually a very happy movie-goer normally. Sometimes, though, the alternative viewpoint needs to be voiced, and I felt this was one of those times.

    This movie is completely ludicrous -- cops killing a man in a public bathroom in the middle of the day by slitting his throat. Who is he? Why would they do such a thing? Why would Book hang out in Amish country at all, unless it's to give us a show?
    The movie seems like a visitor's center diorama with mannequins, more than anything else. Curiously, the title character (the boy played by Lukas Haas) pretty much disappears midway through the movie.

    And finally, the music score is simply atrocious.

    Big thumbs down from me.
     
  20. Peter Schorn

    Peter Schorn Extra

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    Hoo boy. Not to step into another reviewer's fight [​IMG] , I've got to address this howler:

    Why would Book hang out in Amish country at all, unless it's to give us a show?


    Um, could it be that...Book needs to hide where the bad guys can't easily locate him AND to protect the witness to the crime? The only reason they find him is because he punches out the townie thug.

    "Witness" is a movie that's more than its synopsis and its quiet tone and willingness to linger over the moments without being slow and draggy are remarkable compared to today's hyperactive or sluggish films.

    That said, the transfer still blows goats. Who cares about sharpening when it's a noisy, blobby mess?
     

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