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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Smiley's People
Smiley's People
Acorn Media // Unrated // February 25, 2003
List Price: $69.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ron J. Epstein | posted February 9, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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The Feature:
"Smiley's People" started out as a book by acclaimed author, John Le Carre. Years later, the BBC adapted it into a television mini-series of the same name. Sir Alec Guinness stars in "Smiley's People" as a retired detective by the name of George Smiley. He is called in to investigate the murder of his old friend, who was brutally shot in the face. Subsequently, he finds out more than he bargained for, as he is lead to the Russian Secret Service, and learns of his friend's deadly secret.

"Smiley's People" is a deliberately slow moving, and often confusing mini-series. Set in England, most characters talk with such a heavy accent, that I was left scrambling for the Subtitle button on my remote, only to find out that this box set does not have them. There are multiple stories happening at once, and it isn't until the very end that we learn how everything is connected.

"Smiley's People" features 6 episodes, each having a running time of approximately 50 minutes. Below are episode summaries broken down per disc. Be forewarned, there are some potential spoilers in their descriptions.

Disc 1:
Part One - A woman is stopped from getting onto a bus by a mysterious man, and is told that she isn't a very good parent. Later on, she is accosted by two individuals, and the results are tragic. Smiley is called in to investigate the murder of one of his acquaintances.

Part Two - Smiley takes a trip to investigate his friend's flat for clues. After finding a series of clues that lead to something bigger, Smiley interrogates a man about Vladimir's whereabouts. And lastly, a picture of two men in bed with a woman stirs things up.

Disc 2:
Part Three - The investigation of Vladimir's murder leads Smiley to interrogate his latest suspect. Smiley is told to stop investigating the case by a man on a motorcycle, and he just blows him off. Smiley's next stop is Oxfordshire, soeaking to a mother and a daughter about the case.

Part Four - Smiley continues his investigation, now looking for a man named Otto in a small fishing community, only to find his decaying body in his boat, and a mysterious chalk mark he's seen before. Smiley talks to the now-perpetually afraid woman.

Disc 3:
Part Five - Smiley and his co-workers read through an extremely long deathbed confession. Using an undercover name, Smiley travels to Bern (in Russia) to attempt to find the missing pieces of the murder mystery. Meanwhile, we are introduced to a woman in an asylum.

Part Six - Smiley interrogates a diplomat by showing him a series of photographs, and in turn, closes in on the person who killed Vladimir. He is lead to the asylum, and ironically, things eventually become clearer. I don't want to spoil the ending (although I didn't like it very much).

Video:
Having been shot in 1982 for the BBC, "Smiley's People" doesn't look as bad as I originally thought it would (for the record, I thought it was going to look horrendous). Presented in full frame 1.33:1, the video transfer is extremely soft and grainy. There's artifacting, as well as specs of dirt, present on the print. The picture gets even worse during darker scenes. On the flip side, I think that this is probably the best transfer they could do of an obscure television mini-series from over 20 years ago. But realistically speaking, this transfer looks bad although not quite horrendous.

Audio:
The audio is presented in Dolby 2.0. There are no audio dropouts whatsoever, and character dialogue sounds pretty good (although their accents left me a little confused on what exactly they were saying at times). Unfortunately, the background music, although sounding good, does feel a little hollow. For a dramatic show as this, it would have benefited from utilizing the speakers in a more effective manor. But honestly, I think I'm expecting too much from this obscure release.

Menus:
Every DVD has the same exact menu. A static screen with the show's theme song playing in the background allows you to select between the following options: "Episode Selection" (2 episodes per disc), "Scene Index", and "Special Features" (only found on disc 1). Everything is laid out nicely.

Extras:
"Smiley's People" has the following extras: a 20-minute "Interview with John le Carre", a "John le Carre Biography", "Production Notes" and "Filmographies." Aside from the interview, there's nothing here I wouldn't categorize as "fluff."

Final Thoughts:
"Smiley's People" did nothing for me. I'm not a real fan of the "mystery" genre, and when you add to the fact that I didn't understand most of what's going on because of the lack of a subtitle option (I only figured out towards the end that closed captioning is available on this title). I would be hard pressed recommending this title to anyone, especially when there are so many better TV shows on DVD these days (and cheaper, Smiley's People has an MSRP of $69.95... ouch!). Therefore, if you're a big fan of "Smiley's People", then go out and buy it. If not, then maybe this is worth a rental at best.

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