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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Windtalkers (Special Director's Edition)
Windtalkers (Special Director's Edition)
MGM // R // May 20, 2003
List Price: $39.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Mike Long | posted June 12, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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Poor John Woo. The man who helped define Hong Kong cinema has yet to match that success since he moved to the U.S. over a decade ago. Sure, "Broken Arrow" and "Face/Off" had their moments, but they couldn't match the artistry of "Hard Boiled" or "The Killer". And now comes Woo's most disappointing domestic effort, "Windtalkers", which is being released in a 3-disc Director's Edition from MGM.

The Movie

"Windtalkers" is set during World War II. The United State is having difficulty fighting the Japanese in the South Pacific. Part of this difficulty is the fact that the Japanese have been able to decode the encoded messages used by the U.S.. So, a code based on the Navajo language is created, and Navajos are recruited to communicate the code.

Having survived a terrible battle where all of his comrades were killed, Sergeant Joe Enders (Nicolas Cage) immediately throws himself back into action. He is assigned to the code talker project and is ordered to work with Private Ben Yahzee (Adam Beach). Similarly, Sergeant Ox Henderson (Christian Slater) is assigned to code talker Private Charlie Whitehorse (Roger Willie). However, Enders and Henderson are given grim orders -- they are to protect the code, and not necessarily the code talker, at all costs. As their platoon is sent into battle on a Pacific island, Enders once again finds himself battling to survive both phyiscally and emtionally.

The supposed novelty (and selling point) of "Windtalkers" is the inclusion of the Navajo code talkers plot. However, this isn't the focal point of the film. The movie is really about the emotional turmoil which Nicolas Cage's character endures. The Navajo code and the code talkers themselves merely act as a catalyst to get Enders back into the war. One can't help but wonder if Hollywood refused to green light a film which focused mainly on Native American characters. We don't really learn much about the code or the code talkers themselves, and only get a cursory idea of how they influenced the war. And the expected topic of racism, which must have played a huge role in the real-life story, only gets a brief glossing-over.

Given that, "Windtalkers" doesn't really have anything unique to offer. To Woo's credit, the film is very well-made on a technical level and the battle scenes are amazing. But, the story itself feels like many other films. We are introduced to a group of soldiers and then watch them go into battle. Much of the story is predictable, and most of the deaths are telegraphed long before they happen. And, the soldiers are the usual group of stereotypes, i.e. the coward, the jerk, etc. Woo's films always contain themes of male relationships and honor, and "Windtalkers" is full of these ideas. However, it can be very difficult for the audience to care about these characters. This new Director's Edition contains 20-minutes of footage that wasn't contained in the theatrical version, but these new scene don't add anything to the story or the character development.

Video

For this new release, "Windtalker" has been letterboxed at 2.40:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 Tvs . The image is very sharp and clear, showing only a minute amount of grain at times. The bulk of the film takes place during daytime, and these scenes look very good, nor being overly contrasty. The colors are very good, most notably the lush greens of the battlefield, which are often contrasted to the soldier's drab fatigues. There are occasional moments of artifacting, but otherwise the transfer is fine.

Audio

The primary audio track on this DVD is a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. This track provides clear dialogue and effects, with no overt hissing or distortion. The track offers superior surround sound during the battle sequences. All of the speakers are put to good use, adding to the reality of these scenes. This is complimented by a fine stereo mix and a stable dynamic range. Also, the bass response is excellent, as the explosions rattle the subwoofer.

Extras

Given that this is a 3-disc set, one would expect a superior group of extra features, but "Windtalkers" disappoints in this department as well. Surprisingly, Disc 1, which contains the film itself, also contains the best extras. This disc offers three audio commentaries. The first features director John Woo and producer Terence Chang. These long-time cohorts offer a very relaxed commentary, as they discuss the themes of the film, the making of the movie, and the vision that Woo had for "Windtalkers". The second chat features stars Christian Slater and Nicolas Cage. This is a fun talk, as these two insert many jokes into their discussion of the movie. This has to be heard, just to experience Cage's attempted impression of Ozzy Osbourne. The final commentary has actor Roger Willie and real-life Navajo code talker consultant Albert Smith. This is the least impressive of the three tracks, if only because the two speakers are so hard to understand. Disc 1 also contains both the theatrical teaser and trailer for "Windtalkers".

Disc 2 purports to focus on the historical aspects of the story, but doesn't really come through. "The Code Talkers -- A Secret Code of Honor" is a 23-minute documentary which tells the story of the real-life code talkers. It features historical photos and interviews with the surviving soldiers. But, it also contains clips from the film and soundbytes from Cage and Slater. This doc sheds some light on the true story, but not nearly enough. "American Heroes: A Tribute to Navajo Code Talkers" simply lists the names of all of the Navajos involved in the program. And that's it as far as the true story info. The only other extra on this disc is a profile of composer James Horner and his musical work on "Windtalkers".

The third disc focuses on the making of the film. Viewers can watch four battle scenes in three different formats (finished film, behind-the-scenes, and storyboards) using their DVD player's multi-angle feature. Similarly, one can view the behind-the-scenes footage for four battle scenes, and then view the finished product from the film. The most interesting extra offered here is a 15-minute featurette entitled "Actor's Boot Camp", which shows the military training which the actor's had to endure. The extras are rounded out by a still gallery and a text biography of John Woo.


It's been over a half-century since the end of World War II and there have been many movies which have told the stories of that war. Given that, it's surprising that "Windtalkers" doesn't really offer anything new to the genre. The DVD contains a great transfer, but the extras are a true let-down. This could have been a great DVD set, but that possibility has simply blown away.
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