L  e  n  s  V  i  e  w  s

A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz


Introduction: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.

The LensView Home Theatre:




Jarhead [Blu-ray]


(Sam Mendes, 2005)







Review by Leonard Norwitz



Theatrical: Universal Pictures

Blu-ray: Universal Studios Home Entertainment



Region: All

Runtime: 2:02:50

Chapters: 20

Feature Size: 20.,9 GB

Case: Standard Amaray Blu-ray case

Release date: November 25, 2008



Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: VC-1



English 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio. Dub: Spanish & French DTS 5.1



English SDH, French & Spanish



• Commentary by Director Sam Mendes

• Commentary by Screenwriter William Broyles, Jr. and Author Anthony Swofford

• My Scenes: Create your own video montage




Set during the Gulf War, the episodic tale follows Anthony Swofford (a.k.a. "Swoff"), a third- generation enlistee, from his sobering stint in boot camp to active duty, where he's sporting a sniper's rifle and a hundred-pound ruck sack on his back, while moving through Middle East deserts with no cover from the intolerable heat. As well, he advances with no protection from the Iraqi soldiers--and there's always a potential enemy sighting, just over the next horizon. Swoff and his fellow Marines sustain themselves on humor and camaraderie as they tread the blazing desert fields in a country they don't understand, against an enemy they can't see, for a cause they don't fully fathom.

The Movie: 6
War is 99% waiting and 1% terror. Oftentimes the waiting is the terror. Sometimes it's just putting up with another boot camp imitation of Louis Gossett Jr or R. Lee Ermey.

I'll try not to belabor flogging the voiceover as I seem to do with so many movies these days. I think the last really good one in an English language movie was Edward Norton in Fight Club. Maybe there were others but the sheer multiplicity of actors who can act but can't read is staggering to the point of drowning out the good ones. In the present case, it would almost go against the grain for Jake Gyllenhaal's narration to be much more than even-toned, since his character is so hopelessly bored. He does manage to convey a touch of the desperation that Swoff feels, but I have to say that I found Gyllenhaal's acting to be at odds with his reading. His performance is incredibly intense, even when he isn't expressing anything in the usual sense. Given that the movie is taken form the Diary, I can understand the motivation for the voiceover, but something doesn't quite work for me here.

- Leonard Norwitz


The Movie: 9

Leonard and I rarely differ, and I less-than-frequently agree with Mr. Ebert (who gave a 3.5/4 score for this film) - but Jarhead moved me as possibly the best film about the Gulf War that I have seen to date. The Marine indoctrination certainly evokes Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, although perhaps with a harder and more realistic edge. Roger Deakins cinematography of the Kuwaiti desert, with understated contrasts that overpower the entire film's composition, reflects a immensely surreal and inhuman environment - almost a totally different planet. Like many great films it is the story of one man - his world, values, laws and perceptions turned upside down. But Anthony Swofford isn't simply one man - he is all men who find themselves thrust onto the frontlines of a War - with Gyllenhaal juggling the multiple personal eccentricities that undoubtedly evolve in such circumstances. Jarhead's unspoken pauses and visuals create a chiaroscuro experience in their depth and impact. Without sexist undertones I'll say beyond this being a film that everyone should watch - it is definitely a film that all men should positively see at some point in their lives. 

- Gary W. Tooze



Image: 7/8   NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were ripped directly from the Blu-ray disc.
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

This is one tough image to evaluate. For much of the movie, the action takes place in the scorching desert. To underscore the point, daytime photography is way overexposed and desaturated. It's a not very subtle cue for the colorless boredom that these Marines suffer through. Only in night scenes and some interiors does the picture become engorged with any sense of color – the night scenes near the oil fields especially. I found no problems with the transfer, but I have to say that it wasn't much fun to look at – nor is it supposed to, as it would have defeated the purpose. Bit rates tend to settle in the teens to mid-20's.

- Leonard Norwitz



Deakins and Mendes intentional 'bleached look' of the desert and stylized, hand-held, camera work is transferred quite well to this Blu-ray. The sparse look is one of barren and desolate vistas reflecting alienation and the boredom of waiting soldiers. It works. The scenes involving the oil fires were created both on location and within Stage 12 at Universal and they look just magnificent. The Blu-ray's deft contrast really accentuates these visuals to the level of 'awesome'. There is both heavy noise and artefacts but one might think an increase (doubling?) from the 20 Gig of feature space could have removed some of this and possibly improved detail. Contrast and depth of contours are the star of this image while color brilliance is virtually non-existent till the end of the film. This transfer seems to faithfully represent the filmmakers intent - often appearing like a faded newsreel.

- Gary W. Tooze















Audio & Music: 7/7
The Blu-ray audio is bumped from the DVD and HD-DVD to uncompressed DTS HD-MA. This, no doubt, improves the dialogue, but there is precious little in the way of ordinance going off that, even if that were also helped, it wouldn't be enough to warrant an upgrade. In any case, I found the big moments, such as they were, to more muffled than I would have expected.



Operations: 9
Universal has opted for not trying to reinvent the menu wheel for every Blu-ray that comes along – and for this, I give them points for sanity and courage. I also happen to like the menu design, though I feel that U-Control in general is a little labor intensive. This Blu-ray has no extra features for U-Control, so all is well.



Extras: 3
Two commentaries – one by the director and the other by the writers – are pretty much the total content of the extra features. Universal opted not to include the extra features on disc two of the DVD: the Jarhead Diaries, Sempre Fi: Life After the Corps, and Background. Nor did they include Swoff's Fantasies or the uncut News Interviews in Full from disc one. Was this simply a question of an unwillingness to go for a dual layer disc? Universal's HD-DVD managed to include all these features plus the Deleted Scenes. Whatever the reason, given the current relevance of some of these features, their omission for the Blu-ray is inexcusable.




Bottom line: 4
It's hard to get behind an HD disc, regardless of feature film content, that skimps on bonus features and scores less than big points on image and sound. Thus the thumb down on this one.

Leonard Norwitz
November 19th, 2008

Bottom line: 7
For me, the film's impact and the Blu-ray's apparent faithful rendition of the theatrical give me enough of a reason to be content. At times, this 1080P transfer left me mesmerized - more credit to Deakins, Mendes... and the performances (Gyllenhaal, Foxx, Scott MacDonald, Peter Sarsgaard, and briefly, Chris Cooper). I agree with Leonard about the supplements although I got a lot out of the commentaries. He's right in that it could have certainly been a better package and I'm scratching my head why more wasn't put in. I was far too enamored with the film to be hypercritical of this Blu-ray's weaknesses.  It remains the best home presentation of a brilliant movie experience. 

Gary W. Tooze

November 19th, 2008








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