"Thirteen Days" was a critical hit last Winter, as it opened during Christmas in limited release and went further after. Unfortunately, it never really caught on with audiences, who carried some more mainstream titles onto success during the period. It's unfortunate, and maybe it couldn't be helped. The movie is more of an October release, but maybe it just wasn't ready by then.
The film takes place in 1962 during the two-week period that was the Cuban Missle Crisis. A U2 plane over Cuba spots Russian missles, and it appears that there are further weapons building up in the area. Tensions arise in the White House and President Kennedy (Bruce Greenwood) must find a way to remove the threat. The majority of the first half of the film takes us on a "behind-the-scenes" tour of what happened during this period. Intense discussions between the men are well-filmed to keep things interesting; Attorney General Bobby (Steven Culp), General Curtis LeMay (Kevin Conway), Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Dylan Baker) and advisor Kenny O' Donnell (Kevin Costner, with the worst accent I think I've ever heard) are only a few of the members of government who are playing a chess game. Will cooler minds prevail or is agression and attack needed?
Director Roger Donaldson, more recently known for directing thrillers like "Species" or "Dante's Peak" may not have been the best director for the material, but more often than not he shows he is capable of generating suspense from the proceedings, even if he does make some visual bad judgements, including some stock footage and a couple of scenes (almost randomly) in black and white. More impressive is David Self's script; after the horrid effort with director Jan De Bont's remake of "The Haunting", Self's strong screenplay here develops characters wonderfully and is an intelligent look at a dramatized version of history, keeping the events detailed, but still easily understood. Still, I had some problems with "13 Days" in terms of pacing. The film occasionally focuses on Costner's character and his family a bit too much. I also began to get a little tired of the actor (and producer)'s over-the-top and distracting attempt at an accent. And when the other two main actors (Greenwood as Kennedy and Steven Culp as Robert Kennedy) were noticably better, I wish I could have seen even more of them. Costner's literal performance isn't that bad, but, and it's a first time for everything - his accent actually not only distracted from the rest of the movie but almost completely sunk his performance.
Flaws aside, I found a lot to like about "Thirteen Days". Performances are generally very good and Self's script, directed by Donaldson, is able to move things along rapidly when Costner's character is not the main focus. At its best, I found the film to be a riveting look at a dramatized version of what happened during this terrifying period in history.
VIDEO: New Line presents "13 Days" in an anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer that's not among their best work, but they do what they can with the somewhat "gritty" look that the movie presents. There's a great number of scenes that are presented in rooms at the White House, occasional inserts of slightly rough stock footage as well as some scenes that are filmed in black and white. Sharpness and detail are generally quite good, but there are some sequences that are noticably on the soft side. The picture does not present much in the way of depth to the image and most of the film has a "flat" look to it.
Aside from the problems that are obviously going to pop up during the stock footage, there wasn't any instances of marks or scratches on the print used. There was, however, a noticably "grainy" feel to much of the movie. Edge enhancement is also visible during the film, although I didn't see anything in the way of pixelation. Black level seemed slightly lacking at times, as well.
Colors looked fine, but unremarkable - they were subdued when apparent and a film like this one that takes place in rooms and offices isn't going to be that colorful in the first place. I'm suprised to see that there were three cinematogrpahers involved with "13 Days" including two who I think are the best in the business, Roger Deakins ("Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?") and Andrzej Bartkowiak (director, "Romeo Must Die"). Also working as cinematographer is Christopher Duddy, who has previously worked in special effects. The intended look of the film is not a visually pleasant one, but I also think that there were a few concerns about New Line's work. It's still a very good effort, but I suppose that from New Line, based on past experiences watching their titles, I expect greatness each and every time out.
SOUND: "Thirteen Days" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 for this DVD release. As the film mainly revolves around dialogue and conversations between characters, much of the time the audio folds up almost completely. Yet, when the music comes in or during the more intense scenes in the movie, things open up nicely. The tense score by Trevor Jones sounds terrific throughout the film, with good presence among the other sound elements. During the opening half of the movie, it's really the only thing that the surrounds occasionally offer, if subtly. Surround use does pick up during the more active scenes later in the film, but "13 Days" is not a picture that calls for agressive sound use and it never becomes one. Bass in the few action scenes remains solid, but doesn't go overboard. Dialogue, the focus of most of the movie, sounded clear and natural. There is no DTS presentation or Dolby 2.0 presentation - likely, there was no room left on the disc.
MENUS:: New Line's new Infinifilm series opens with this edition of "13 Days" and the menus are new from the studio. The menu opens with an animated clip in 5.1 audio, and comes into an image of a magnifying glass looking over the film logo with clips. It's a little odd trying to navigate to the selections around the magnifying glass (it didn't seem to go directly around the circle when I tried to navigate as usual), but it's a very minor concern. I was also very pleased to see frequent "help" icons around the menus that further explain things and a "need help?" option on the main menu that has a very basic list of the features so that viewers can jump to that feature easier.
EXTRAS: "13 Days" is the first edition of New Line's "Infinifilm" series (although "Little Nicky" is secretly a smaller version of this new kind of DVD). The studio's "Platinum Series" will still be there, as well as the occasional basic, but still often very nicely done titles that New Line produces for their smaller features. The "Infinifilm" series takes the viewer into the film's production and beyond into, for example, the events that surrounded the story, making "13 Days" a good first choice.
When you open up the main menu, there is an "Infinifilm" choice. Select that and you will be taken to a main menu where you'll find either a choice to play the "Infinfilm" (more on that later) or look through the "Infinifilm" features. The features selection takes the viewer to an additional menu that is seperated into an "all access pass", which is production information and "beyond the movie", which is information about the history behind the film.
Commentaries: The first commentary contains thoughts from quite a few folks involved in the production - director Roger Donaldson, writer David Self, producer Armayan Bernstein, actor/producer Kevin Costner, executive producer Michael DeLuca and finally, visual effects supervisor Michael McAlister. All of the participants are not recorded together, although it seems that Costner is the only one who is alone when commenting. The commentary is also not always screen-specific, but does do a very fine job with the arc of the production, from the early ideas for the picture and first inner-workings of getting things together to production and the final film itself. Self offers a wonderful amount of information about the history, as he was the one who did a great deal of research about the time period in order to be able to write the screenplay. Donaldson also contributes some discussion of the history, as he was intent on creating an accurate look to the picture and the sets. DeLuca offers some production information and a few jokes, as early on he "reveals" who might have been cast as the Kennedys. Costner occasionally comes into the track to discuss the way he played the character as well as his thoughts about general work on the film. It's a very good track, well-edited together and very informative about the making of the film. Some discussion on the track reverals that this was recorded before Christmas, probably right near the film's release.
The second commentary is available in the "beyond the movie" section. It features historical interviews from John F. Kennedy, Jr., Kenneth O'Donnell, Press Secretary Pierre Salinger, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, Sergei Khrushchev as well as Ernest R. May and Philip D. Zelikow. These interviews are offered to give further insight into what happened during the Cuban Missle Crisis and for those who could use a bit more detail on history like myself, they provided a great deal of interest.
Bringing History To The Silver Screen: This 11 minute feature discusses the real-life history behind the events, as writer David Self talks about looking through sources and listening to actual audio tapes to get not only the reality for the screenplay, but there also had to be research done for production designer Dennis Washington to really build the actual White House. We see the sets actually built in a stage and learn more about the importance of having accurate sets so the actors can get into character. The second half of the documentary talks about the other major sets - including having the Cuba scenes filmed in the Phillipines. It also discusses how the two actors had to work tremendously hard to get their roles as the Kennedys down.
Visual Effects: After an introduction by visual effects supervisor Michael McAllister, there is a multi-angle deconstruction of the flight sequence. The first angle is the plate without animation, two is rough animation/greenscreen, third is flat color animation, fourth is composite and fifth is the final scene.
Deleted Scenes: 9 Deleted scenes are presented in 2.0 audio and non-anamorphic widescreen. Optional commentary from director Roger Donaldson is provided and although the scenes are interesting, the general thought about the why they were taken out seems to be because the filmmakers wanted to keep the pressure and tension going and these scenes might have taken away from it.
Infinifilm Track: This is one of the technical innovations that New Line has come up with for the Infinfilm series. If selected, during the opening seconds of each chapter of the film, a blue bar comes up at the bottom of the screen and offers choices of looking at things like deleted scenes, interviews, filmorgraphies and other features. Choose quickly, because the bar dissapears after a few seconds (although I suppose that you can always skip back to the opening of the chapter). When you click, the player searches for this information, allows you to watch/view it and brings you back into the movie after its all over. How quickly the search and return functions might depend on your player, but personally, I found the transitions between the clip and going back to the movie to be exceptionally quick. Some of the extra features are taken from other extras on the disc, but others are available only here.
Yes, I think that this kind of feature has been implimented before on titles like "The Matrix", but to have it available on every chapter and to often have two choices to skip to at the chapter begining is impressive work and I personally found the option to be able to learn more at points in the movie about that certain part of the story to be an excellent feature - the bar also tells you how long the clip you'll be going to is so you know how long you'll be gone from the film itself. And, of course, it's an optional feature. If you want to watch the film free of this feature, you certainly can. But, I think it's certainly worth a look. In terms of "Little Nicky"'s infinifilm features, there is a "Lord Of The Rings" trailer. Like the Infinifilm series itself, think about "going beyond" that particular Easter Egg.
Roots Of The Cuban Missle Crisis: A main aspect of the "beyond the movie" section, this 48 minute documentary is produced specifically for this disc and really, is a wonderful effort on New Line's part. Many people who were involved in some way or deeply familiar with the Cuban Missle crisis are interviewed in great detail as they discuss the planning and manuvering involved by both sides. Sam Donaldson, Sergei Krushchev, professor Earnest May, Pierre Sallinger and many others are interviewed and I found this piece to be tremendously educational, especially with all of the historical footage included. This is absolutely something that should be shown in both high school and college history classes and I would be dissapointed if it isn't, since its such a tremendously well-produced and informative piece that I was fascinated by.
Historical Figures Biographies: Here you'll find clips of many of the historical figures involved behind the story of "13 Days". Separated into five sections (Leaders, Advisors, Milliary, Diplomats and Press) there are 19 very informative clips in all as people who knew them discuss their work.
Historical Information Track: This is an additional subtitle track full of information about the time period.
Also: Cast/Crew Bios, Trailer (1.85:1/5.1), DVD-ROM features including theatrical website and script-to-screen viewer.
Final Thoughts: "13 Days" is an excellent film that gets better as it goes on, but still becomes sidelined occasionally by some problems. Although the audio/video presentation is a little less than I usually expect from the studio, their first attempt at an Infinifilm series title takes the format one giant step forward, providing a massive wealth of information about all aspects of the feature. Highly Recommended and a terrific value for the $26.98 retail price.
Upcoming titles in the Infinifilm series include "15 Minutes", "Blow" and "Rush Hour 2". Also, many will be pleased to know that these titles will be presented in Amaray cases, not snapper cases.