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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Empire of the Sun
Empire of the Sun
Warner Bros. // PG // November 6, 2001
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted October 31, 2001 | 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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P R I N T
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The Movie:

Probably the one Steven Spielberg picture that was not a commerical success, "Empire of the Sun" still remains one of the director's most visually astounding and powerful pictures. Based on the autobiographical novel by J. G. Ballard and adapted for the screen by Tom Stoppard, the film stars Christian Bale as Jim, a young lad who's obsessed with airplanes and who lives in Shanghai with his parents, who are wealthy. Driving through the streets, they remain indifferent to the faces of the the mobs that pass alongside them.

When the war begins and Japan invades China, they are suddenly awakened to what's going on around them. In the middle of a massive crowd of people, Jim and his family are separated. At first, Jim has the house to himself, but once he ventures out in the streets, he comes across two drifters (John Malkovich, Joe Pantoliano) who take care of him for a while before all three of them are taken off to internment camps.

The film, with its remarkable sets, impressive production values and brilliant cinematography, is amazingly carried by the young Christian Bale, who suprisingly didn't go on to much greater success after the award-worthy performance in this picture as a boy growing up in the middle of the war. I watch the film after several years and am still astounded that it failed to catch on with audiences; it's a truly glorious epic, a film that is moving and powerful without resorting to manipulative tactics - it is magnificent on its own terms, as it relies on splendid performances and marvelously crafted and detailed sequences.

Where the 155 minute length might have been a problem in the hands of another filmmaker, Spielberg's usual editor Michael Kahn does a masterful job, as the picture moves along at a wonderful pace. While I wouldn't consider "Empire" one of the director's best works, I still think it's certainly up there with some of his best efforts.


The DVD

VIDEO: "Empire of the Sun" is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen edition that apparently was done in 2001. Spielberg's collaboration with frequent cinematographer Allen Daviau for this film results in one of the director's most visually stunning efforts and thankfully, the film is done justice by Warner's new transfer. Sharpness and detail are quite good, if a little inconsistent, as some scenes can look remarkably crystal clear, while others remain slightly less so.

This presentation's main concern remains not in regards to print flaws (which are absent) or pixelation(which isn't visible, either), but the occasional edge enhancement that is unfortunately visible infrequently throughout the film. Other than that only somewhat bothersome flaw, the film remained pleasantly clear and clean.

Colors are intentionally subdued throughout the picture, with the exception of a few scenes that present brighter colors (the party at the begining). Colors remain accurate and solid, with no smearing or other problems. Overall, aside from a few complaints, a very fine effort. Subtitles are provided in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Thai, Japanese and Korean.

SOUND: As the image quality has been remastered, so has the audio, which is presented in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0. The main element of the audio is the score from John Williams, which sounds wonderfully rich and fills the listening space quite wonderfully. Otherwise, surrounds do occasionally contribute some decent information during the more intense scenes of the film, or even during scenes where trucks are passing through. The Williams score comes through with a superb, full and rich sound that heightens the emotions of the scenes even further. Dialogue remained clear and easily understood, as well. While not particularly agressive, this new 5.1 presentation added to the already riveting experience of the film itself.

MENUS:: Basic, non-animated menus that essentially use film-themed images and cover art. Score plays in the background.

EXTRAS::
The China Odyssey: This is a 45-minute documentary that deals with both the real history portrayed in the movie and the production of the film itself. Narrated by Martin Sheen, the documentary does do a fine job of providing historical information, but I didn't feel it went into exceptional depth regarding the production, which was massive and looks complicated. There are multiple sequences showing Spielberg at work, but I would have liked more in this regard and more discussion of the obstacles that the film's production must have faced to pull off such a major picture. Although this supplement (which is located on the second side of this disc) is certainly quite appreciated, I'm still awaiting a commentary from Steven Spielberg and this is certainly one of his films that could have used one.

Also: Trailer and cast/crew list.

Final Thoughts: Easily one of - if not Spielberg's most - underrated picture, "Empire of the Sun" is a beautifully filmed, moving and powerful picture that boasts a marvelous performance from Christian Bale. Although a Spielberg commentary is still nowhere to be found, the documentary is a nice supplement and the audio/video quality is quite good. Recommended.

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