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Warner Bros. // Unrated // December 18, 2001
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Aaron Beierle | posted January 2, 2002 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

For a while, it seemed as if the "miniseries" was a faded element of television, as several during the past few years seemingly came with a lot of promotion behind them and left with little audience interest. Yet, several recent efforts have shown what is possible with the format, such as HBO's "Band Of Brothers" and NBC's "Uprising". While I haven't seen all of the former, the later is a stunning, ambitious effort that surpasses its television origins and seems more like a feature film.

The film, which originally aired on NBC in November of 2001, is the true story of a group of Jewish people who stood up against the Nazi Army and formed the Jewish Fighting Organization, lead by Mordechai Anielewicz (Hank Azaria, in his finest performance). Nearly 500,000 Jewish people are corraled into the Warsaw Ghetto - the Nazis are brutal to the inhabitants, who also suffer further from poor living conditions, little food and illness.

While the head of the group, Adam Czerniakow (played by Donald Sutherland) does not choose to join their resistance, a group of settlers, lead by Anielewicz, decides that they must fight back. Azaria has been previously known for his comedic roles in films like "America's Sweethearts", but this is obviously his finest work; commanding, dramatic, emotional and intense, Azaria is marvelous. Also giving some of their finest work are David Schwimmer (who desperately needs to break out of playing similar characters and prove, as he does here, that he can actually provide a dramatic performance) and Leelee Sobieski, as Yitzhak and Tosia, two fellow fighters in the uprising. Jon Voight also stars as one of the Nazi commanders. While there may be some historical inaccuracies involved in "Uprising", all of the characters are well-written and fully-realized.

Outnumbered, but fierce and intelligent, the Jewish members who have banded together fight back against an enormous amount of millitary force for an astounding length of time, using smuggled weapons and remarkable planning. Director Jon Avnet has done a superb job handling the three-hour film, presented often in a "documentary"-type style. The combination of intense, strong performances and editing make for an exceptional amount of tension, especially in the film's second and third hours. Although the film is three hours, it didn't feel that long. The film is alternately saddening, horrifying, hopeful, suspenseful and triumphant, but always extremely involving and well-made, with good costumes and cinematography, among other technical elements.

Note: Although the film was originally aired on television, it did get a very small theatrical release in December of 2001. I'm unsure of the exact rules on Oscar voting for a film that has previously appeared on television, but I'm hoping that "Uprising" will gain some awards notice early next year, as it is deserving in several catagories. The entire 177 minute film is presented on one of the set's dual-layer discs, while the other disc contains two documentaries.


VIDEO: "Uprising" is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen by Warner Brothers. I must say that, with little hesitation, this is one of the best presentations that the studio has prepared in quite a while. Denis Lenoir's marvelous cinematography is rendered terrifically here, as sharpness and detail are nothing short of exceptional; strong detail is often even visible in the backgrounds. The picture has a strong amount of depth to the image and looks impressively "film-like".

I had a difficult time finding any flaws with the picture quality. Slight grain is occasionally visible, but seems intentional. Print flaws are not seen, while there is also no edge enhancement or pixelation. The film's color palette is expectedly subdued, but appears crisp and accurate, with no flaws. This is a phenomenal effort from Warner Brothers, offering this film's strong photography with reamarkable quality.

SOUND: "Uprising" is presented by Warner Brothers in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film's soundtrack is up to the quality of major motion pictures. While the majority of the film understandably does not use the surrounds much, Oscar winner Maurice Jarre's emotional score does occasionally open out into the room. The rear speakers do come into more (often extremely agressive) use later in the film during the battle sequences. Sound mixer Mary H. Ellis also worked on director Jon Avnet's "Fried Green Tomatoes". Audio quality is terrific, as the music comes through crisply and warmly, while dialogue and sound effects sound crystal clear and natural.

MENUS: A series of clips from the film provide a haunting introduction to the otherwise subtle main menu for disc one, while disc two's menu uses basic film-themed images. The discs are housed in a fold-out package, stored inside a cardboard slipsleeve. Some were irritated with the security sticker being underneath the clear plastic when Warner Brothers used the same package for "Citizen Kane". Here, the security sticker is hidden under the proof-of-purchase tags on the inner cover.


Commentary: This is a commentary from actors John Voight, David Schwimmer and Hank Azaria, as well as actress Leelee Sobieski, who has been recorded separately, but still has a great deal to offer. There are actors commentaries for very dramatic pictures, but viewers are often told of how enjoyable it was to work with the director or other cast members. For this commentary, the four actors really go into impressive detail about the preparations that they had to go through and the rehearsal process to get into these characters. There's a little bit of humor early on between Schwimmer and Azaria, but mostly, this is a serious and often fascinating discussion of the major production process that went into making this film.

Commentary: This is a commentary from director Jon Avnet. While Avnet does do a fine job discussing the production and technical details of the film, there are a few points of silence throughout the track, as Avnet isn't able to talk throughout the entire three hours by himself. When Avnet does discuss, he is able to provide some quality information about such topics as working with a cast and crew from many different backgrounds, the technical details of such an ambitious production as well as trying to portray the scenes accurately. This is a very good commentary as well, but I found the other track a bit more consistently engaging.

Breaking Down The Walls: This is a terrific "making-of" documentary that mainly features discussion by director John Avnet on both the historical aspects of the film as well as the incredible amount of work that had to be done not only with story, characters and research, but also physical elements, such as cinematography and the building of massive sets.

Resistance: This documentary offers the historical aspects, with scholars and actual survivors who discuss the reality of their situations and their stories. Footage and photographs, as well as some discussion from the cast and crew of the film, are also shown. This powerful, horrifying and saddening documentary further shows what really happened.

Also: Rounding out the package are cast/crew bios, trailer and additional DVD-ROM features, including web-links and future web events.

Final Thoughts: A strong, intense picture that includes outstanding performances (including the best of Azaria's career), "Uprising" is deserving of awards notice in several areas and certainly highly recommended. Warner Brothers offers a fantastic DVD presentation, with great audio/video as well as a group of informative, well-made supplements - all available at the low price of $24.99 or less.

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Highly Recommended

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