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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Three Kings
Three Kings
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Review by Aaron Beierle | posted April 12, 2000 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

"Three Kings" dissapointed me, but it certainly does give it a decent effort in trying to tell it's off-center tale. The picture wants to be both things: an all-out action film with spectacular stunts and explosions, and a moral drama about the gulf war. Not only that, there's elements of dark comedy that I certainly wasn't entertained by.

The story goes a little something like this: a band of soldiers(Clooney's Archie Gates, Mark Whalberg's Troy Barlow, Ice Cube's Sgt. Elgin and Spike Jonze's annoying Conrad Vig, find a map(in a very odd place) that leads to a massive amount of stolen Kuwaiti gold. Gates finds a way to ditch the reporter who he's escorting through the war, and the group sets off to find gold, but what they find is far different.

The group blasts tunes as they fly across the desert, throwing footballs attached to C-4 explosives through the air. Although it's all about the gold, they soon find themselves helping the local people who are being terrorized and killed by the Iraqi soldiers. The drama didn't work for me simply because I could almost feel the movie wanting to throw in more action during the dramatic portions. If this movie didn't want to be an action film, I doubt it would stop for slow motion shots of exploding cars spiraling through the air. Beyond that even, I didn't really care for these characters. Ice Cube's performance was the most interesting for me, and also the least cartoonish. Clooney has a fairly good performance here, but it's not nearly as good as his performance in "Out Of Sight". Mark Whalberg begins to have some interesting scenes, but the movie only touches the surface of possibility for not only him, but the majority of characters involved. Last and certainly least, director Spike Jonze gets stuck with an annoying, whinny stereotype of a character as Vig. Nora Dunn plays the reporter who follows the soldiers around. Not only she is an annoyance to the characters, but I couldn't wait till her character left each scene.

The film has a fascinating, high-energy visual quality from ace cinematographer Newton Thomas Siegel(whose work in "The Usual Suspects" I still find fascinating; in "Fallen", his work was the star of the film as far as I'm concerned). When the camera is still(or at least close), the images of the vast expanse of the desert are breathtaking. The only visual element I didn't care for was the constant motion in the film (in addition to the gross diagrams showing the effects of a bullet on a human body), which made me a bit ill.

If anything, I was more impressed here by the style than the substance. The only problem with that is that the style here is so overpowering as to subtract ever further from any message that the film is trying to state. The film is simply hyperactive to the point of being frustrating. We spend fractions of a moment here, fractions of a moment there- Russell never stops to build to any sort of a conclusion in most of these pieces, and after awhile, I just gave up and let the movie wash over me visually and explode around me.

Occasionally the picture does manage to come up with an interesting idea or scene, but it doesn't have the patience to stay with anything for more than a second(sometimes literally). I haven't enjoyed director David O. Russell's first two films and although this film has it's moments, it's more style than substance.

Watching it at home though, I did find it more enjoyable, and was able to appreciate the performances a little more. I still have some problems with the picture, but overall, it's an entertaining film. After watching it a few times, I suppose I'm one of the few who "liked it, but didn't love it."

The DVD

VIDEO: The presentation starts off with a warning about the various visual styles that were employed in creating the look of "Three Kings"; in other words - this is how it was intended to look. The film was shot in a wild looking style by "Usual Suspects" cinematographer Newton Thomas Siegel, and it looks exactly like it did in the theater on this DVD edition. The intent is a grainy, washed-out feel that, on this DVD edition, has sharp images and fairly good detail. With this process, colors vary greatly from being rather washed-out to looking bright and vibrant, but I never felt that they looked problematic in any way here.

While many seemed to dislike the look of the film or question the reason of it, I actually liked it quite a lot. Siegel is one of my favorite cinematographers, and he's created a very specific, very strong tone for the look of each of the films that he's done, especially "Three Kings" and "Fallen". I really didn't see any problems with pixelation or shimmering here, and the image in general looked just about the same as it did to me in the theater. All in all, really strong image quality that keeps to the visual intent.

SOUND: "Three Kings" is an absoutely intense and agressive film in terms of sound on all counts; the score full of classic rock and a number of intstumental pieces is impressively loud, but always clear and dynamic sounding. Beyond that though, there are a number of action sequences that had me worried the neighbors were going to complain. Surrounds are used often and very agressively. Gunfire and explosions come from all sides and envelop the viewer with sound so realistic it had me ducking. Explosions pack a very solid, deep punch that impressed me greatly. Dialogue isn't always completely clean and clear sounding, but I think that may have been the intent for a sort of realistic, edgy feel.

MENUS:: The main menus and sub-menus are fairly basic, but easily navigated. They offer photos from the movie as backgrounds. When an item is selected from the main menu though, a clip does appear. Easily navigated and functional, the menus aren't overly impressive, but they work well.

EXTRAS: With "Three Kings", Warner Brothers has provided what is really one of their most "extras-packed" editions yet.

Commentary One: This is a very interesting and informative commentary from director David O. Russell. He starts the commentary off by giving the viewer the history behind his enterance into the project and why he chose to do it - from there, he goes into a very organized discussion of both technical and story commentary.

He leads us through the details of the war quite well, and actually provides some interesting tidbits and viewpoints about what actually happened in the war. The director also had to do a large amount of research, and he mentions following CNN broadcasts and other coverage of the war in preparing to start production.Russell transitions smoothly to a number of other subjects, such as working with George Clooney.

He's also quite knowledgeable about talking about technical issues, such as how some of the scenes were produced and shot, talking about how a couple of scenes were filmed in a similar fashion to "Saving Private Ryan". Production issues come up in the commentary at one point while Russell talks about working with the producers and the studio about keeping scenes in the screenplay. Along those lines, he also talks about a tigher than expected shooting schedule.

It's a very good commentary, with only a few small pauses between comments. He's not always an energetic speaker, but I think he provided plenty of details and actually got better as the discussion went on, going further down and following up on issues he brings up.

Commentary Two: This is a commentary from producers Charles Roven and Edward McDonnell. I like when producers can offer their viewpoint on a commentary track, because while actors and the director can provide an extremely strong viewpoint on the creative side, producers can tell the viewer the history and business behind the production. I found the two speakers on this track to be very informative, starting off with at the same point - the history behind the screenplay and idea for the movie, and how David O. Russell became involved.

The two producers provide some really superb "behind-the-scenes" tidbits, including talks about hiring and choosing the actors involved in the film, including their first meetings with Spike Jonze and working with Russell, who had only previously shot two smaller, independent films, and now was moving onto a picture of fairly enormous size. The two are also able to talk freely about the technical details, such as the shooting of the early truck crash sequence and what was involved in the process of shooting that milk truck crash. The two go further into detail also about the production design and locations, and how all of the details had to come together with the special effects and props that had to be involved with many scenes.

Like the Russell commentary, they also chat at points about the camerawork and film style, making me wish that cinematographer Newton Thomas Siegel was involved on one of the discussion tracks for this DVD. The two expand upon the research that had to be done for this picture, and talk in detail about the consultants that had to be hired. They take that information, and then go into how that research figured into the final movie. Although the Russell commentary is very good, I enjoyed the way that these two talked back and forth, and occasionally expanded upon the ideas that each other offered. There are a few small pauses, but like the Russell commentary, they don't become distracting.

Both commentaries offered for "Three Kings" provide a wealth of information - Russell's from the viewpoint of director and the producers, who offer detail of how the movie came together. Some of the same subjects are covered in both commentaries, but instead of feeling repetitive, they offer varying looks at the process involved in making a very large and complex production like "Three Kings".

Behind-The-Scenes Documentary: This is a very cool 20 minute documentary that takes the viewer into the pressure-filled process of the "Three Kings" production, with plenty of on-set footage that shows all of the difficulties that were involved. Interviews with the cast and crew provide further insight into the ideas and concepts behind the story of "Three Kings". Discussions with the advisors add additional detail about what really happened during the war, and how these details brought realism to many of the scenes in the final film.

The documentary is very well organized, going from characters to production details to locations and onwards. Unlike many documentaries, this one takes a very close-up look, with cameras focusing right-in on important discussions. I really enjoyed the visual look at the production, and although it wasn't as informative as the commentaries, it did provide a look at the movie being built, which was very cool to watch.

Tour Of The Iraqi Village Set This is a look through the process of coming up with the village set, taking the viewer through each step, from the original concepts to the construction to the final details. Our tour guide on this journey is production designer Catherine Hardwicke. The camera follows her as she walks through the set, and in-between we are treated to footage of the other steps in the process, or clips from the movie. The 10 minute discussion is packed with informative comments ranging from why details were chosen to how the sets work in the scene to the realistic nature of things such as props. Hardwicke is an excellent guide, and through footage of her going through the set and interview footage, I learned quite a lot.

The Cinematography Of "Three Kings": This documentary has cinematographer Newton Thomas Siegel taking us through the process of filming "Three Kings", including the texture and tone of the film, and the film stock that had to be used to achieve the intended look. It's a very technical discussion, but does provide a very strong idea of the direction and concepts that the filmmakers were going for. Siegel narrates while footage plays, and goes through the style that was brought to the screen for the tone of the moment and scene. It's a very interesting discussion, and for those who may question the reason for the style choices in "Three Kings" may learn and understand why Siegel chose to film the movie the way he did. For those who are planning to or learning to become future cinematographers, this is a must view.

David Russell's Video Journals: I've read that Russell likes to videotape the process of filmmaking, and this footage is an extremely cool look at the life of the filmmaker from before the movie even starts to things like casting and the production at work. The footage deals with things like calls from the studio, and Russell's first meeting with Clooney, who laughs (but doesn't honestly seem too pleased) as Russell enters with a video camera pointed at him. It's a very cool document though, and lets the audience in on every reaction to the positive events and negative ones along the way. The director even videos meetings with the studio people. This documentary only lasts about 15 minutes, but I wish that more had been included, since I think it's definitely one of the cooler features on the DVD.

Deleted Scenes: A handful of deleted and extended scenes are interesting to see offered as supplements on this DVD, but they aren't parts that I think would have wound up working in the final picture. Still, like any deleted scenes, they're cool to watch. They all play out together, and can either be watched with "production audio" or with commentary from the director.

A Look Inside The Acting Process With Ice Cube: Similar to the very funny documentary that took a look at Hugh Grant's acting process on the "Notting Hill" DVD, this documentary takes a look at Ice Cube preparing for a scene in the movie, and it's meant to be humorous - it definitely succeeds, and Cube's comments are hilarious.

Also: Wrapping it up, we have a collection of still photos by Spike Jonze; the trailer; cast&crew bios; production notes; DVD-ROM features and "hidden bunkers", which offer additional materials.

Final Thoughts: I did like the movie more watching it at home, but beyond that - Warner's DVD is easily one of the best I've seen from them. Offering stunning video and audio quality along with a massive amount of extras, this DVD is certainly a must-own.

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