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MGM Studios DVD presents
Windtalkers: Director's Cut (2002)

"Begging the major's pardon, but I believe I'd best serve the corps killing Japs. Not babysitting some Indian."
- Sgt. Joe Enders (Nicolas Cage)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: May 08, 2006

Stars: Nicolas Cage, Adam Beach
Other Stars: Christian Slater, Peter Stormare, Noah Emmerich, Mark Ruffalo, Roger Willie, Brian Van Holt, Martin Henderson, Holmes Osborne, Frances O'Connor
Director: John Woo

MPAA Rating: R for pervasive graphic war violence and language
Run Time: 02h:32m:22s
Release Date: April 25, 2006
UPC: 027616144003
Genre: war


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B C+A+A- B

DVD Review

Here's the third DVD release of John Woo's Windtalkers, this time cherrypicking elements from the previously released comprehensive three-disc set, including the director's cut of the film as well as three commentaries. It's a curious thing, especially for a film that received a rather lukewarm reception at best, but I guess that's marketing for you.

So what we get is another go round of Nicolas Cage as Sgt. Joe Enders, a battle-ravaged and bitter Marine during World War II ordered to protect an inexperienced Navajo soldier—played by Adam Beach—who is part of the military's experimental Code Talker program, which used the intricacies of the Navajo language as the basis for what proved to be a battlefield code that was unbreakable by the enemy.

The director's cut—splashed with an additional twenty minutes or so of footage—runs over the two hour and thirty minute mark, and in that time Woo doles out war movie cliches by the barrel full, interspersed with his trademark violence. And it's the drawn out battle sequences where Woo just hammers viewers with blood, and all the in between bits just seem like predictable filler until the next explosive shoot out. Cage is sullen and surly, Beach is all smiles and forgiveness, and the various soldiers meet the stereotype requirements for the genre, including the gruff gunnery sergeant (Peter Stormare), the racist redneck (Noah Emmerich), the woeful harmonica player (Christian Slater) and of course the give-my-ring-to-my-wife-if-something-happens-to-me-which-means-it-will-in-the-next-scene guy (Martin Henderson). There's even the obligatory cute-as-a-button-WAC-who-sends-letters-to-the-frontline-that-are-read-as-voiceover-narration (cute-as-a-button Frances O'Connor) who for reasons never made clear falls madly for the very unfriendly Sgt. Enders.

The screenplay comes from John Rice and Joe Batteer, who both wrote the goofy mad-bomber flick Blown Away, and somewhere along the line the story that ended up onscreen unfortunately never really seemed like anything other than any of a thousand other war movies that have come before it. The setup is certainly there for something a little different, but the Navajo code talker element—a fascinating story in its own right—takes a backseat to what quickly becomes your usual band of stock war movie soldiers fighting and dying against waves of enemy soldiers who are shown as an anonymous horde with generally very bad aim, unless of course it is time for one of the supporting characters to meet a dramatic and bloody end.

There's just something incomplete about Windtalkers that even the additional footage of the director's cut cannot bridge. Woo does imbue the battle scenes with plenty of chaotic carnage, but the extra material doesn't paint any of the characters with any more depth, nor does it bring greater clarity to what should be the important part of the story, which is the Navajo code talkers. Instead, it's just more. More fighting, more terse dialogue, more expendable characters.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.40:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is the same one found on the three-disc set, and thankfully it was—and still is—an absolute beauty. Colors and hues are consistently vivid, with exceptionally strong black levels throughout, and the image detail is razor sharp. The print here is immaculate, and there are no evident compression issues, grain, debris or any sort of non-essential ugliness.

This is easily a reference quality transfer from MGM.

Image Transfer Grade: A+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track does not deliver the same consistent caliber of quality that the image side does, but when it's on, it's on. The showcase moments are the battle sequences, and that is when the sub channel and the rears are highly active, coughing up a fairly immersive and loud soundstage. It is the in between time, during the non-battle bits where the transfer is simply average, providing clear voice quality but a minimal sense of any real depth. There are some small frills, however, that fall somewhere the middle, almost enough to make me forgive the inadequacies. During a scene where the muffled pops of distant mortar fire could be heard I actually thought for a moment something was hitting the side of my house, causing me to pause the movie and then, of course, feel like an idiot.

A French language 2.0 surround track is also included.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 40 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Die Another Day, Dances With Wolves, Hannibal
3 Feature/Episode commentaries by John Woo, Terence Chang, Nicolas Cage, Christian Slater, Roger Willie, Albert Smith
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Nothing new here, as all the extras here have been ported over from the previous three-disc set, and consist of three commentary tracks. The first features director John Woo and producer Terence Chang, the second has actors Nicolas Cage and Christian Slater, and the third is actor Roger Willie and Navajo consultant Albert Smith. Do the math and that's over seven hours of chatter, so one would really have to be enamored of Windtalkers to invest that much extra time. The Woo/Chang track (not to be confused with the Wu-Tang Clan) is probably the preferred choice if you had to pick just one, as it is the one that centers most heavily on the overall production, though it still fails to address exactly why this film never really came together.

A brief John Woo Video Introduction (:49s)—also found on the three-disc set—and a handful of trailers complete the supplements. The disc is cut into 40 chapters, and features optional subtitles in English, Spanish, French, or Portuguese.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

Here's an unnecessary triple-dip from MGM, a downgraded version of the three-disc set, which I imagine you already own if you are a fan of Woo and/or Windtalkers. The image transfer is outstanding, the audio provides some exciting moments, yet the film itself never becomes anything more than a bag of war movie cliches dressed up in long, graphic battle sequences.

 


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