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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Courage Under Fire: Special Edition
Courage Under Fire: Special Edition
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Review by Aaron Beierle | posted December 8, 2000 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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The Movie:

Few movies really move me deeply; at least in recent years. To really grab a viewer emotionally, you have to care about the characters deeply, and I think director Edward Zwick succeeded wonderfully with 1996's "Courage Under Fire". I'm still amazed that the film did not recieve more Oscar nominations.

The film starts off in the middle of the Gulf war, with colonel Nat Serling(Denzel Washington) leading his troops via tank into battle. In the middle of the chaos of the battle, Serling mistakes one of his own tanks for an enemy tank and fires upon it, killing the men. After that, Serling has become withdrawn and begins to abuse alcohol, pulling himself away from his family. He recieves an assignment to validate a medal of honor that would be awarded to a Karen Walden(Meg Ryan), a woman who gave her life to save her crew's.

But the story becomes more complicated than that. Serling interviews the remaining crew members(Matt Damon, Lou Diamond Phillips) one by one; one says that she was calm under the immense pressure, the other one says that she was in no way capable of leading. We find out even more from other viewpoints, and it's up to Washington's character to pull all the puzzle pieces together. We see the events as told by each person, and the flashbacks change to reflect how they saw it all, revealing just a little bit more than the previous time.

Denzel Washington is a performer who has really become more and more impressive over recent years. His portrayal of Nat Serling is detailed, complex and emotional. It's hard for a star as well-known as him to really become a role, but I think he gets close here; the character is absolutely engaging, and we care that he completes this mission. Meg Ryan also deserves mention here. Often known for comedy work, she really does drama well in the film with the tougher performance often a remarkable one. Also good in supporting roles are Lou Diamond Phillips and an early performance from Matt Damon.

"Courage Under Fire" is an intelligent, moving, powerful picture that remains, I think, as one of the better dramas in recent years.


The DVD

VIDEO: Fox's new presentation of "Courage Under Fire" may not be their best in terms of video quality, but it's certainly very close. Roger Deakins("Fargo")' excellent cinematography provides a bit of a washed-out, bleak look to the battle scenes and a more natural one during the current sequences. Sharpness and detail are both excellent; the DVD provides crisp, clear, bright images that are natural looking; free of all but a few very minor flaws.

There are literally one or two instances where I saw a tiny trace of pixelation, but these were too brief to be distracting. The print used is clear and clean with very few exceptions. A couple of tiny marks appear a couple of times during the film, but these are not terribly noticable flaws.

Again, some of the movie offers an intentionally subdued color palette, but overall, whether subdued or not, colors look accurate throughout. Flesh tones also are natural. I was very pleased with Fox's work here as I'm a big fan of Deakins' work on this and many other films that he's worked on. "Courage Under Fire" looks great. The layer change is at 54:45. THX Approved.

SOUND: I did not see "Courage Under Fire" in a very updated, flashy theater when I saw it in 1996; it sounded good then, but I don't remember it sounding like this. On Fox's new DVD, the full scope of the war scenes are revealed. Before I get to that, this is one of Fox's first wave of titles that offer both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 audio, and the choice is a welcome addition.

But, back to the film. The battle scenes provide some very deep, powerful explosions that are well presented, along with agressive gunfire. There are also a few scenes where planes flyover and seem to fly through the room. James Horner's score, one of his best, sounds wonderfully clear and well-defined, with the music coming through sounding warm and rich.

Certainly, surrounds play a heavy factor in the battle scenes. These scenes really are enveloping and convincing enough to have me ducking a few times. Although the more dialogue-driven scenes offer mainly audio from the front, there was enough detail to these scenes to keep me engaged. Bass during the more intense sequences is powerful and deep. Dialogue is clear and generally natural, not sounding edgy or thin.

Again, there are both Dolby Digital and DTS versions of the film on this DVD. Although both are similar, the DTS seemed slightly more dynamic and detailed; a little richer and more powerful, but not hugely so. Supervising sound editor Per Hallberg has also worked on such recent films as "Gladiator" and "The Patriot".

MENUS:: .

EXTRAS:

Commentary: This is a commentary from director Edward Zwick, who has also provided a track recently for his "Legends Of The Fall" and will provide one for an upcoming special edition of "Glory". After his excellent discussion of "Legends", I was eager to hear another track from him, and I wasn't dissapointed. The discussion often talks about the actors in the film and how they went about building characters and giving their performances. He provides an interesting analysis for many of the performances of the film, and thankfully never simply says what the character is doing at this point in the movie.

He seems to talk himself out a little bit though after the first quarter of the film. Where he was talking more consistently, there is a point where his comments seem to come between some slight pauses. Overall, Zwick provides some very interesting comments when he does talk, but I would have liked for him to be paired up with another person involved in the production (such as when he was with Brad Pitt for the "Legends" discussion) to provide some back and forth discussion for a fuller track.

Trailers and TV Spots: 3 trailers and 3 TV Spots(Dolby 2.0).

Featurette: A 6 minute featurette that is mainly promotional, offering interviews and some behind-the-scenes footage.

Final Thoughts: "Courage Under Fire" is an excellent, well-acted movie that is presented very well in terms of both audio and video. Highly recommended.

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