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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Manchurian Candidate (2004)
Manchurian Candidate (2004)
Paramount // R // December 21, 2004
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted December 20, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:


I don't think too many fans were looking for a remake of the popular 1962 film "The Manchurian Candidate", but I suppose that Jonathan Demme ("Silence of the Lambs") is one of the finer choices to helm such a project, despite his terrible remake of "Charade". The resulting effort has produced a pretty enjoyable update, with fine performances and a good deal of tension.

The film opens in the Gulf War, where Ben Marco (Denzel Washington) is driving along with other troops, who are doing a recon mission to judge the strength of the Iraqi forces. Soon, they find themselves trapped in an ambush and are saved, largely due to the efforts of Sgt. Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber). Years later, Shaw is running for Vice President, with his stage mother, Eleanor (Meryl Streep), calling the shots. Marco is composed on the outside, but remains haunted by the events that happened in the war. He's also confronted by another one of his fellow soldiers (Jeffrey Wright), who seems to be in worse shape than he is.

Marco's subconcious keeps nagging at him that all is not right - something happened while he was in Kuwait, and he begins to seek answers. Mind control may be involved, but Marco hits resistance from Shaw and especially, from Shaw's mother, who wants nothing in the path of her son's march to the White House. Raymond Shaw, on the other hand, may be a puppet - those pulling the strings would love to be able to have a remote control to work the White House as they please. When Marco finds a chip implanted in his shoulder, his suspicions are confirmed, and his race to find what Shaw is going to do becomes even more urgent.

The performances are generally very good. Washington is more subdued here than he has been in a while, but it's a controlled, strong performance that manages to be intense without raising the volume much. Schreiber plays the controlled candidate quite superbly, offering a strong performance while still portraying a person who has been turned robotic. Streep rips up the scenery and seems to be having a grand time really digging into the role.

Best thought of as its own film and not compared to the original, "Manchurian Candidate" offers a compelling take on the tale. Although Demme's film starts to seem a little long at times over the 129-minutes, it's mostly well-paced and suspenseful. The performances are generally very good, too, and overall, I enjoyed it.


The DVD

VIDEO: "Manchurian Candidate" is presented by Paramount in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality is fine, but it doesn't quite reach the level that most of the studio's major new releases hit. Sharpness and detail were mostly good throughout the movie, although some shots appeared slightly soft.

Some instances of minor edge enhancement appeared at times, and the picture randomly looked a bit grainy. No pixelation was noticed, but I was a bit surprised to see some instances of dirt on the print used. While the picture certainly didn't show that much wear, I was surprised to see marks and specks visible in a handful of scenes, especially given that this is a relatively recent theatrical release.

The film presents a fairly subdued color palette, although warmer colors poke through at times. Flesh tones seemed accurate and natural. Overall, the picture quality was satisfactory, but some concerns throughout kept it from reaching a higher level.

SOUND: "Manchurian Candidate" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film's sound mix was generally forward-oriented, although some sequences were more enveloping. When surrounds did kick in, they provided some very enjoyable sound effects work. Although there are some instances of mild ambience offered by the rear speakers, it'd be nice if they were involved for minor details more consistently throughout. Audio quality seemed fine, as Rachel Portman's score sounded rich and dynamic, while dialogue and sound effects seemed clean and well-recorded.

EXTRAS: The main supplemental feature is a commentary from director Jonathan Demme and co-writer Daniel Pyne. I found this to just be a mildly enjoyable track. Although both provide a pretty reasonable amount of insight and interesting tidbits, there also seemed to be a lot of "happy talk", as both spent a bit more time than I'd like chatting about how much they liked each other's work, as well as the cast's. When they did chat in more detail about the making of the film, they offered some compelling information about casting, altering the story for their film, technical shooting details and more.

Next are 6 deleted scenes and 2 outtakes, with commentary from Demme and Pyne. "The Enemy Within" is a 14-minute piece that provides a decent overview of the production, starting off with a discussion of the original film and how the rights were gotten from MGM, then shifts into a look at the new picture. "The Cast" is a shorter look at the actors and their characters.

Rounding out the disc are Liev Schrieber's screen test, footage of political pundits in a discussion (w/optional commentary from Demme) and finally, previews of other Paramount titles, including "Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events",
"Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow", "Without a Paddle" , "Team America: World Police" and "Stepford Wives".

Final Thoughts: "Manchurian" has a few slow moments, but it mostly moves along quite well. The performances are generally first-rate, too. Paramount's DVD edition offers okay image quality, fine audio and some insightful, enjoyable supplements. Recommended.

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