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Blu-ray Review Savages Blu-ray Review (1 Viewer)

Kevin EK

Senior HTF Member
May 9, 2003

Savages blazes onto Blu-ray in an edition that provides good picture, sound and extras but which cannot make up for the central problems the movie itself has.  For all the ingredients in the mix, from the source novel by Don Winslow, the direction of Oliver Stone and some choice character performances by Benicio del Toro, John Travolta and Salma Hayek, the movie never really sparks to life on its own.  The Blu-ray edition offers a longer, unrated edition that adds a bit more character material but still fails to make the whole anything more than the sum of several parts that don’t add together.


Studio: Universal/Relativity Media

Year: 2012

Length: 2 hrs 11 mins (R-Rated), 2 hrs 22 mins (Unrated)

Genre:  Drama/Action/Drugs/Oliver Stone

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

BD Resolution and Codec: 1080p, (AVC @ 23 mbps)

Audio:  English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (@ an average 3.7 mbps, up to 5.2 mbps), Spanish DTS 5.1, French DTS 5.1, English DVS 2.0 (on Theatrical Version Only)

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish

Film Rating: R (Strong, Brutal and Grisly Violence, Some Graphic Sexuality, Nudity, Drug Use and Language Throughout – and those are its good points), Unrated (See the note for the R-Rated version)

Release Date: November 13, 2012

Starring:  Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, Aaron Johnson, John Travolta, Benicio del Toro and Salma Hayek

Based on the Novel by:   Don Winslow

Screenplay by:  Shane Salerno, Don Winslow & Oliver Stone

Directed by: Oliver Stone

Film Rating: 2 ½/5

Savages is a head-scratcher of a movie.  On its face, you’d think this would be a slam dunk.  The idea of Oliver Stone returning to the territory of Scarface to tell a modern story about marijuana wars in Southern California is an enticing one, and for the event, Stone has assembled an attractive cast with several ringers, including solid supporting turns by John Travolta, Salma Hayek and especially Benicio del Toro.  The source novel here is an unashamedly direct piece of work that starts off with a pretty direct warning to the reader about how frank the proceedings will be.  And the basic story idea is workable enough – two high-grade pot growers (Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson) and their mutual girlfriend O (Blake Lively) are targeted by an aggressive cartel from south of the border, spearheaded by a brutal enforcer (del Toro, playing a neat inversion of his role from 2000’s Traffic).  As a further inversion of the usual idea, the cartel is headed by a ruthless woman (Salma Hayek, in a part that slightly recalls Catherine Zeta Jones from Traffic as well.)   Things devolve quickly into mutual attacks that leave the viewer wondering which side of the border holds the real savages.  But while the basic setup is solid, and the production value here is also good, from the cinematography to the excellent stunt work, the movie stumbles over its own feet in multiple areas.

MAJOR SPOILERS HERE – BE WARNED BEFORE READING THIS:   A big part of the problem lies with the three leads.  They’re attractive, tanned and heavily tattooed, but they’re not all that interesting to watch.   Stone’s depiction of graphic sex scenes between Lively and the men doesn’t change the fact that there isn’t much in the way of real heat between the characters.  The only one who registers on more than a single level is Blake Lively, and it takes her nearly an hour of the movie’s running time to warm up.  So the viewer is left waiting for the moments when Benicio del Toro will attack someone else, when John Travolta’s corrupt DEA agent will hop into the middle of things, or when Salma Hayek will put everybody in their place.  A large part of the movie winds up being taken up with the cartel’s obduction of O, and some fairly uncomfortable scenes between Lively and del Toro.  The movie winds up at the climax depicted in the book, wherein the leads engage in a brutal firefight with the cartel and everybody winds up in a bloody heap in the dirt.  The book is satisfied to end things there, given that this was the inevitable conclusion to the story.  But for some reason, Oliver Stone has not been satisfied to let that be the end. 

BIGGER SPOILERS HERE:  Instead, he takes a moment after the slaughter to prod the viewer with O’s voiceover and say that the shootout was actually only in her head, where the real windup was a lot more mundane.  All of a sudden, the viewer is asked to believe that Travolta’s character would suddenly pop up with DEA helicopters and close the situation down, thus saving everyone from themselves.  This is a ridiculous conceit, and one that feels completely tacked on.  It’s as though Stone wanted to replay the ending of Scarface, only with Tony Montana somehow walking away from the mayhem.  This may be a sign of a kinder, gentler Oliver Stone (although given the brutal violence shown in the film, one has to question if that is possible) or it may just be that Stone had an affection for these characters and didn’t want to end them in the same ruthless fashion as Tony Montana.    But adding a second ending to the movie is a strange way of expressing that idea – if anything, it shows a lack of confidence in the material.  Most people I’ve spoken to who have seen the movie have cited this exact moment for the focus of their exasperation.  Having watched the sequence more than once, I can understand their feelings.

NO MORE SPOILERS, SAFE TO READ NOW:  The new home video presentation of Savages includes two cuts of the movie.  One is the theatrical cut, rated a fairly hard R for all the gratuitous sex and violence.  The other is an unrated cut that adds about ten minutes to the movie.   I watched the extended cut as a basis for this review but noted in going back to the theatrical cut that the key sequences appear in both.  It seems to me that the added material is a few more moments with Benicio del Toro (not a bad thing) and a bit more character development.  But the big motions of the plot are the same.

Savages was released on Blu-ray and standard definition two weeks ago.  The DVD and the Blu-ray each have both cuts of the movie, as well as a pair of scene-specific commentaries.  The Blu-ray adds some deleted scenes and a linked group of  behind-the-scenes featurettes.  Of course, the Blu-ray release includes both discs. Instructions for downloading a digital copy and getting an Ultraviolet copy are also included in the package.


Savages is presented in a 1080p AVC 2.40:1 transfer that deftly shows the work of Dan Mindel, who shot this movie on film.  Skin tones tend toward the tan, but that’s an accurate presentation of how the actors appeared on set.  There’s a satisfying range of looks here between the sun-drenched exteriors and some pretty inky night scenes and warehouse interiors.  Oliver Stone’s penchant for high end technical work in his movies continues unabated here.


Savages is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, as well as standard DTS mixes in Spanish and French.  This is a fairly active mix, with songs and music filling the surrounds in many scenes, and atmospheric sound and directional sound effects occurring on a regular basis.  And you may want to duck when the shooting starts.  There is also an English DVS track for the theatrical cut.


The Blu-Ray presentation of Savages comes a few special features, including two scene-specific commentaries, some deleted scenes and a making-of featurette collection.

My Scenes – The usual Blu-ray bookmarking feature is available here, allowing the viewer to set their own bookmarks throughout the film.

BD-Live - This Blu-ray includes access to Universal’s BD-Live online site, allowing for the viewing of trailers online.  

pocket BLU – This Blu-ray includes the usual pocket BLU functionality, enabling viewers with appropriate laptop, iPad or smart phone integration to remotely control their Blu-ray player and access some of the bonus content from the separate device.  Also, a digital copy is available for download via the pocket BLU application.

D-Box – D-Box functionality is available on this disc for those viewers that have the capability in their home theaters.

Feature Commentary with Oliver Stone (AVAILABLE BOTH ON BLU-RAY AND DVD – THEATRICAL CUT ONLY) – This scene-specific commentary on the theatrical version finds Oliver Stone in a thoughtful mood.  He discusses a variety of subjects as the scenes go by, ranging from trivia about the owner of the house in which Benicio del Toro’s character makes his first major appearance in the movie to discussions about John Travolta and his character, down to how little makeup Travolta wore on set.  In the end, Stone acknowledges that he couldn’t stay with the original ending of the novel and felt a need to come up with something more in keeping with his thoughts about the War on Drugs.

Feature Commentary with Producer Eric Kopeloff, Writer Don Winslow and Production Designer Tomas Voth, with later appearances by Writer Shane Salerno and Producer Moritz Borman (AVAILABLE BOTH ON BLU-RAY AND DVD – THEATRICAL CUT ONLY) – This scene-specific commentary on the theatrical version is primarily driven by producer Eric Kopeloff, but there are some key contributions by the others.  Don Winslow relates that the opening video pieces are based on real material that was sent to him when he was writing the novel.  There are many discussions about the locations and logistics of making the movie, as well as a thorough discussion about how Stone insisted on changing the book’s ending as the first thing he wanted upon beginning prep.

Deleted Scenes (16:01 Total, 1080p) (EXCLUSIVE TO BLU-RAY) – Nine scenes are included here, mostly consisting of extra character moments and connective tissue.  There’s nothing particularly essential here, and fans looking for the deleted material with Uma Thurman should be warned that her scenes are not here.  The scenes can be viewed individually or via a “Play All” option.

Stone Cold Savages (33:53, 1080p) (EXCLUSIVE TO BLU-RAY) – This is actually a collection of five featurettes, entitled “Origins”, “The Savages”, “Real Savagery”, “A Savage Set” and “Savage Cuts”.  Taken together, the five featurettes give a pretty good overview of the production of the movie on-set and in post production, as all the editors sit together to discuss their work.

DVD Copy – A second disc is included in the package, holding the standard DVD of the theatrical cut of the movie.  It contains the movie presented in standard definition in an anamorphic 2.40:1 picture with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound in English, French and Spanish (448 kbps), as well as the DVS track.   The commentaries are included, but the other special features are not to be found.

Digital and Ultraviolet Copies – Instructions are included in the packaging for downloading a digital copy of the movie to your laptop or portable device, as well as for obtaining an Ultraviolet streaming copy to be placed up in the cloud.  I did not see an expiration date for the code in the packaging, so this may be a new wrinkle in the land of digital copies in the Cloud...  I note again that the pocket BLU online menu also includes an option for downloading the digital copy.

Subtitles are available for the film and the special features, in English, Spanish and French. A full chapter menu is available for the film.


Savages is not a movie that everyone will want to see or enjoy.  Even if it had been successful in translating Don Winslow’s brutal book, it still wouldn’t be appropriate for most audiences.  In the form we see here, complete with plenty of graphic sex and violence, it just doesn’t come together.  In the end, the viewer is left with some interesting supporting performances by John Travolta, Salma Hayek and Benicio del Toro to keep them interested while the movie unspools.  The Blu-ray presents the movie as well as it can, including solid picture and sound, and a fairly thorough look at the production.  Oliver Stone fans will want to rent this title to see his latest work.

Kevin Koster

November 25, 2012.

Equipment now in use in this Home Theater:

Panasonic 65” VT30 Plasma 3D HDTV – set at ISF picture mode

            -Set professionally calibrated by AVICAL in June 2012

Denon AVR-3311Cl Receiver

Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray Player

PS3 Player (used for calculation of bitrates for picture and sound)

5 Mirage Speakers (Front Left/Center/Right, Surround Back Left/Right)

2 Sony Speakers (Surround Left/Right – middle of room)

Martin Logan Dynamo 700 Subwoofer



Who do we think I am?
Senior HTF Member
Dec 1, 1999
Gulf Coast
Real Name
Tony D.
I really disliked this movie.
It was just boring and violent and the sex wasn't that graphic from what I saw and I watched the unrated longer or different version.
Pretty sure that Blakelively never even took her clothes off.
Terribly disappointing movie.

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