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Manchurian Candidate

DVD Two Stars

Being a fan of the original movie with Frank Sinatra turning out what must be his best onscreen performance, I wondered if the modern remake curse was going to hit this movie.

With the writing credits of Daniel Pyne and Dean Georgaris it did have the promise to be something more interesting and thoughtful than many modern films, and then there was the directing talents of Jonathan Demme to add to the possibility pile, not forgetting the casting of Denzel Washington, Jon Voight and Meryl Streep.

Could this be something to rival the original? I rented from LOVEFiLM and found out.


ManchurianCandidate_Poster.jpgIf I can push out my love for the original for a while, I can easily see the clever turns of the updated script. Manchurian refers now to a global corporation essentially buying out as much of the US Government as possible (no, that could never happen!), and some of the roles have changed slightly. It's actually a good thing that these changes are here as they've not attempted to do a straight remake, instead they've looked at the story with a modern eye and also deliberately tried to step away from many of the iconic images and moments of the Sinatra classic.

There's a lot of confusion in this movie, and not just from the characters, unfortunately I found I was confused from the opening moments. The jump cut opening sequence is confusing, harsh and just doesn't feel right. It's as though they had so much footage to squeeze into a short introduction...strangely that's just what is said in the Audio Commentary later. Straight from these scenes I wasn't enjoying the film, and things just weren't getting any better. The scenes of the desert battle looked false and half hearted, and didn't make me believe in it.

Some confusion was meant to be apparent with twists and turns in the story, yet for these parts of the film I wasn't as confused as they would have had me be. The story would push one way then flip back the other in order to provide that twist surprise, but it didn't make either change of direction clear enough or believable enough for me to be taken with it. Instead I found myself watching the story try to turn off course and wondering why, and what was going on. In these parts it seemed to lack some clarity and cohesion.

There were some good moments and well executed ideas though, particularly the whole work with the soldiers behind the scenes, especially the trigger effect of the brainwashed men. This was modern, believable and superbly done, showing off some great cinematography and lighting which was quite apparent through the entire film.

However not all was good with the camera work, the highly annoying subjective camera gave me the feeling of playing the game Half Life during a cinematical sequence. Faces shot far too closely giving a strong feeling of imposition and making the actors look highly unrealistic and almost quite comical. Not only did these shots seem wrong but they were seemingly placed at random through the film, there didn't seem to be a reason why the camera suddenly leapt into this style. Disconcerting and quite off putting.

Despite the overall story being strong there seemed to be something distinctly lacking for me, and that was the build up of suspense or suspicion. I wasn't really in fear of something happening, it just appearing to happen, and in a story such as this both suspense and suspicion should be at the forefront of the audience feelings.

Another story issue I found a bit of a let down was the fact that Marco discovered things far too easily and just compounded this feeling of the watching the events rather than feeling involved and surprised at the twists.

There are some strong performances though. Washington is good in his role and manages to give a very convincing performance of falling apart, but by far and away the best performances of the film are through Voight and the superb Streep. I don't think I've seen such a powerful performance from her as this, and during her rallying speech for the Vice Presidential nomination you would be forgiven for thinking that she really could be a Senator herself.


Presented: Widescreen 1.85:1 Anamorphic The picture is good with strong colour reproduction from such harsh requirements as the desert scenes to the bright and garish Campaign HQ. This scene in particular shows off the strong lighting and cinematography, as do the trigger scenes and the lake murders.


Presented: Dolby Digital 5.1 The audio is okay, but there's nothing here that really does make use of all of the speakers.


Presented: Audio commentary from director Jonathan Demme and screenplay co-writer Daniel Pyne; Deleted scenes; Outtakes; 'Inside The Making Of A Political Thriller' featurette; 'The Cast Of The Manchurian Candidate' featurette; Liev Schreiber screentest, and 'Political Pundits' with optional audio commentary

The audio commentary provides some good insights into the script changes and comparisons with the original movie. It also points out the moments that we should be going "Wow, that's the truth!", and you feel them when they're pointed out, it's just a shame that they didn't have the right effect while viewing.

The featurettes are quite interesting, and a step above the usual made for TV spots that we see. The cast featurette is good although it is filled with back and forth praise for each of them. Whereas although the Political Pundits section has good intentions only the first couple chatting make any discernible sense, with the others rambling about some bizarre ideas. The addition of a Directors audio commentary here is strange as there's nothing really to say and the situation is entirely out of the Directors hands. Odd, and mostly unintelligible.

The deleted scenes carry the nice touch of having a Directors audio commentary, although the explanations don't always run too deep, they are always a nice added touch.

I'm about to mention a very surprising thing for my DVD reviews, the menus. I never mention these and I hate that practice from the online stores who list it in their "Special Features" or "Extras" sections - these are standard items for all DVD's, you need a menu to make your choices, how come it's "Special" or an "Extra"? It is not. However, on this DVD they provide some visually engaging menus which are particularly pleasing to use, they are also very intuitive. You select Deleted Scenes, then it asks you if you want to view with audio commentary on or off, then with subtitles. I like this more than hunting for selections, very nicely done.


Let's face it, nothing can match the original, even an updated and rewritten movie starring some acting heavyweights. In fact here we see some poor choices in direction, cinematography and writing. It's a confused and ineffective film. Yet this is a DVD review, and the audio commentary is good, as are the selection of featurettes, so this does lift the score somewhat.

Strangely I began this review with a three score in mind, and now I'm here, having written all this, I'm now thinking a two is more appropriate. Nothing special to see here, apart from some superb scenes of Streep in full flow.

IMDB UK movie details



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