WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
Once Were Warriors isn't the type of film that's going to launch you into a good mood. It's a depressing-as-hell glimpse of domestic violence, full of anger and violence. It's also an important film, vivid in its imagery, raw power, and social significance.
This seething New Zealand film tells the story of Beth and Jake Heke (Rena Owen and Temuera Morrison), parents to five children, husband and wife with a history of violence not only in their own home but also in their Maori heritage. Although this film focuses on the strife between husband and wife, and the resulting anger broiling in their children, the story has as much to do with the Maori warrior race's culture and history. The twin specters of domestic violence and societal rage make for a cohesively potent theme.
One of the stronger aspects of this film is its performances, many from first-time New Zealand actors. Once Were Warriors pays as much attention to the oldest daughter Grace (Mamaengaroa Kerr-Bell) as it does to its two more high-profile leads. She and her siblings experience the sad results of her parents' turmoil, and Grace in particular is lost in a resentful adolescence within a society she obviously wants to escape. (Her bedroom walls are plastered with American movie posters.) Indeed, it's Grace's turmoil and fate that end up taking hold of your emotions and not letting go.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
Seville presents Once Were Warriors in a non-anamorphic transfer of the film's original 1.66:1 theatrical aspect ratio. This is a poor video presentation. Artifacting and aliasing abound, even in close-ups. Backgrounds are particularly lost in smearing and haze. The print is somewhat dirty, showing frequent speckling and scratches. Colors are muted, perhaps intentionally, but I suspect image quality has simply deteriorated to the point of general murkiness. Interestingly, the end credits are in full frame.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
The disc's Dolby Digital 2.0 sound presentation is centered at the screen. For this dialog-focused film, that's all right, but dialog is somewhat thin and has lost some fidelity. I'm sure the original sound elements were never exceptional, though.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
The sole notable extra is an 8-minute featurette entitled Behind the Scenes. I expected promo fluff, but this was a meaty little series of interviews, primarily with Rena Owen and Temuera Morrison. The two actors talk at length about their characters—their motivations and other insights. The interviews are spliced with scenes from the film. One notable aspect of this featurette is its odd sound separation: The actors are confined to the right speaker, and the scenes are confined to the left. Also, sadly, the video quality here is better than that of the feature.
There's also a filmography for the lead actors and the director. I learned that both actors have been cast in the upcoming Star Wars: Episode 2. I also learned that the director is helming the James Bond film Die Another Day (here misnamed Beyond the Ice).
A full-frame trailer wraps up the supplements.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
The DVD presentation of Once Were Warriors is disappointing. I wished more for this important film. Still, it's worthy of a rental.