Hollywood can sometimes be so enthused to cash in on a certain type of film many decent projects looking to explore a worthwhile subject topple under the weight of the cash-grabbing, money-hungry throng. Such is the case with Director John Woo’s Windtalkers, coming to DVD a third time on April 25 in this director’s cut. Though it’s sometimes overly melodramatic, this Nicolas Cage vehicle makes good use of its characters to forge an intriguing story about Navajo code talkers, and the presumed military practice …f protecting the code and not the man. Cage plays Joe Enders, a soldier with a death wish and a lot of survivor’s guilt for having made it through battle-after-battle, only to receive another medal, while all of his friends die around him. He has grown to hate the medals because they remind him of this fact, and it seems like his whole mission is to die in battle with honor… not to go on living in a world so terrible that it welcomes the horrors of war. Then, he receives a peculiar mission: the U.S. has found luck with a form of code based on the Navajo language. It’s vital the Japanese do not get their hands on any of the Navajo code talkers, and Enders must do everything in his power to protect the code… even if that means taking the life of a fellow soldier to do it.
Such a situation lends itself to great drama; however, this is still a John Woo film, and his enslavement to self-imposed convention does cause the film to have a few problems. For one, I would like to see Woo – just once – shoot an entire film, edit, and release it, without the use of one slow-motion moment. The reason for this: if the technique is an option, he will abuse it with zero regard – or knowledge of – having done so. After seeing film-after-film of his resort to this overused tactic, I’d say it’s time he laid off. He has a good story, and characters viewers can get emotionally involved with – so why does each fallen soldier have to take an hour to hit the ground? Also, just about every war movie cliché there is turns up at some point, whether it be the bigoted soldier with a change of heart, or the loving husband telling his buddy to make sure his wife gets his wedding band “should anything happen.” (On a side note, any time a soldier says a variation of this in a war film, you know “should anything happen” actually means “when something happens.”) Lastly, there is the clunky dialogue, mostly given to Adam Beach as the featured code talker Enders must protect. With these things said, something intrinsic about the film still manages to hold everything together in a respectable narrative. And I think whatever it is, the stellar cast consisting of Nicolas Cage, Christian Slater, Noah Emmerich, Mark Ruffalo, and Jason Isaacs, has something to do with it.
Presented in the uncommon 2.40:1 ratio, the picture might as well be 2.35, as there isn’t a discernible difference. The colors are bright – perhaps a little too bright for such a violent film. Very little need for contrast here, the way Woo’s lighting affects each scene. In fact, my one gripe – other than the constant use of slow-motion – with the battle scenes is how pretty each of them looks. This is a war film, and Woo’s style eliminates the grit you would expect. Even as limbs are blown off and people are decapitated or lit on fire, the one thought at the forefront of my mind was “how gorgeous.” With that said, it is a top-notch transfer, free of grain or edge enhancement. Any complaints come from the director’s style for visuals, and not from how Sony has his vision articulated on this disc.
Two tracks are provided here: the 5.1 English and the 2.0 French. Both have a heavy emphasis on bass. The 5.1 is, of course, the best, although it does come out on the low end for dialogue. Still, it isn’t the worst rendering I’ve heard as far as that goes – just slightly out of balance with the heavy action, which takes up probably two-thirds of the film. The bass has a tendency to overwhelm some of the lighter background noises, but they’re there if you listen. Overall, the 5.1 is great. The only real weakness – if it can, in fact, be considered one – is that it’s sometimes too strong for its own good – or maybe that’s just the old man in me talking.
There are two theatrical trailers for the film itself – a host more for other MGM titles. The primary features, however, are the three audio commentaries. The first track is from Woo and Producer Terence Chang; the second, from Christian Slater and Nicolas Cage; and the third – and most engaging – from Roger Willie and Navajo Code Talker Advisor Albert Smith. Commentaries are, unfortunately, overlooked by most as a worthwhile bonus, but they can – and often are – some of the best inclusions a studio can provide. With each aspect of the production covered, there is something for everyone on these three tracks, and they should not be overlooked because they do not include visual elements.
Timing did not help this film’s poor box office performance. I’m certain Sony wishes to recoup some of MGM’s losses with this – the third release of Windtalkers to DVD. It probably won’t work, but all financial concerns aside, the film itself is an entertaining piece of melodrama – a little fluffy at times, but still heavy enough on characterization to keep the overblown action sequences in check. The A/V on this disc is terrific, and the audio commentaries provide plenty of interesting details into the production. It may be an annoyance as a triple-dip, but it should continue to chip away at the legion of movie-watchers yet to discover the film for its merits.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentary by director John Woo and producer Terence Chang
- Audio Commentary by Nicolas Cage and Christian Slater
- Audio Commetnary by Roger Willie and Navajo Code Talker Advisor Albert Smith
- Teaser Trailer
- Theatrical Trailer
- Other MGM trailers