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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Windtalkers
MGM // R // October 15, 2002
List Price: $26.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted October 12, 2002 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

MGM, in my opinion, remains the one studio whose track record has been most inconsistent over the past few years. Although the studio has had several hits ("Legally Blonde", "Barbershop", the last few Bond movies) over the past few years, their misses ("Supernova", "Hart's War", "Windtalkers") seem to be especially high-profile. "Windtalkers", a $115 million war epic that was supposed to be released towards the end of 2001, was eventually delayed until the Summer of 2002. By that point, audiences had already gone through Ridley Scott's "Black Hawk Down" and Randall Wallace's "We Were Soldiers" (not to mention "Band of Brothers" on HBO, the art-house "Dark Blue World" and others), all of which had gotten generally positive receptions from audiences. The mixture of audiences seemingly having had enough of the genre for the moment, the film's negative reviews and delayed release equaled general disinterest and a $40m take.

The film is directed by highly regarded action helmer John Woo, whose recent attempts at merging his remarkable style with basic entertainment ("Broken Arrow", "Mission: Impossible II") have resulted in some highlights. Still, one gets the idea that the director is capable of something truly classic with a better screenplay. This is not that screenplay.

Nicholas Cage (of Woo's "Face/Off") stars as Corporal Joe Enders, who we first meet in the middle of a horrific battle in the middle of World War II. The brutal battle ends terribly and Enders ends up in a hospital bed with hearing damage. Nursed back to health by nurse Rita (Frances O'Connor, a good actress playing a one-dimensional and unnecessary love interest), Enders finds himself back into battle, as part of a top secret operation involving the use of the Navajo language as code. He and Sgt. Pete "Ox" Anderson (Christian Slater) are assigned two Navajo soldiers Ben Yahzee (Adam Beach) and Charlie Whitehorse (Roger Willie) are are told by their commanding officers that they must protect the code at all costs - which means killing the codetalkers if they fall into enemy hands.

The story of the Navajo codetalkers is a potentially interesting one, but this film does not seem particularly interested in their story or its characters. None of this film's characters are really developed much, especially when the film seems more concerned with its action sequences and putting together cliches from other war dramas during its rare subtle moments.

To its credit, the performances at a least make an attempt to try and better the mediocre material. Cage, coming off his disasterous performance in "Captain Corelli's Mandolin", underplays here to an usual level. The result is not entirely terrible, but it's not involving or convincing, either. Beach is superb as Yahzee, while the other supporting cast members do little with even less - even the outstanding Mark Ruffalo of "You Can Count On Me" is wasted in a nothing role. O'Connor's role, on the other hand, is almost laughably pointless. Although I could discuss several scenes that offer mediocre performances, it's difficult to criticize actors who are working with a screenplay that really has neither character development or interesting dialogue.

Although Randal Wallace's "We Were Soldiers" was not always without fault, one of that film's strongest elements was its ability to make the geography of any battle or scene clear, which is not something this film does with nearly as much success. Given the fact that "Windtalkers" essentially abandons plot after the first half and concentrates purely on action scenes, the film really does suffer as a result.

Although less so in most of his Hollywood efforts, Woo has the ability to bring issues into the middle of action: loyalty, friendship, honor and more. I honestly can't figure what he saw in the screenplay, which not only uses a remarkable amount of cliches, but very rarely touches on any of these themes. Also, given the director's hyper visual style doesn't seem right for the war genre (although it does make for dazzing action in something like the end of "M:I 2"), I don't particularly understand why he was decided to be the right choice to helm this picture.


VIDEO: "Windtalkers" is presented here in both 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and a severely cropped 1.33:1 full-frame presentation. Although MGM has been offering discs for such films as "Legally Blonde" and "CQ" where both the widescreen and full-frame presentations exist on the same side while the extras are housed on the flip-side, they take a different approach here. Unusual for any studio due to the reported expense and production issues, "Windtalkers" is presented on a DVD-18 - a dual-sided/dual-layered DVD, which has each edition on its own side. The anamorphic widescreen presentation is rather inconsistent at times. Some scenes display exceptional clarity, smoothness and detail, while others look a bit softer and less impressive.

Unfortunately, some problems occured throughout the film. The picture seemed free of edge enhancement for the majority of the running time, although when it did appear, it was noticable enough to be bothersome. Some light artifacts were visible on a couple of occasions, as well. On a positive note, the print used remained in great shape, with only one or two small specks.

Colors were very well-rendered, appearing vivid and well-saturated, with no noticable faults. Black level remained solid, while flesh tones looked accurate.

SOUND: "Windtalkers" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. While certainly not a terrible soundtrack, the film's sound design comes up short in comparison to pretty much every recent picture in the genre. Offering neither the remarkable envelopment of soundtracks like "Black Hawk Down", "We Were Soldiers" or "Saving Private Ryan" nor the mixture of detailed ambience and almost impossibly low bass offered by "The Thin Red Line". Surrounds are certainly put to use at points throughout, but there were moments where their use seemed ineffective or the sound seemed to lean more heavily towards the front. James Horner's score only is delievered by the front speakers, where it tries to fight for space with dialogue and sound effects.

The main concern that I had with the soundtrack is that it really could have been opened out a bit. Although the surrounds occasionally do a decent job offering the sound effects in the battle sequences, I just didn't quite feel the sense of "depth" that most soundtracks for similar films create. Low bass, while not impressively powerful, was still heard and occasionally felt. Horner's score has moments of warmth and clarity, but seems a bit buried in the midst of the battle sequences. Dialogue, on the other hand, seemed crisp and clear. Again, while not a weak soundtrack, this may disapoint those seeking the kind of audio experience that other similar films have provided.

MENUS: As expected, the animated main menu combines dramatic bits of score with various clips from the film.

EXTRAS: Not much - aside from the teaser and theatrical trailers for "Windtalkers", a few scattered trailers for other MGM efforts are thrown in.

Final Thoughts: A disapointment from director John Woo, "Windtalkers" spends far too much time on progressively louder action sequences than developing characters or the potentially very interesting story of the Navajo soldiers. MGM's DVD offers next-to-nothing in the way of supplements along with somewhat above-average audio/video. I'd consider a light rental recommendation, but there's plenty of similar/better films out there more deserving, such as Michael Apted's recent drama
"Enigma", which focused on the British codebreakers at Bletchley Park.

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