Warner Bros. // 2006 // 143 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // July 12th, 2007
"In America, it's bling bling. But out here it's bling bang."
Edward Zwick's sprawling African conflict epic finally descends on HD DVD, months after its Blu-Ray release, with the promise of a more juiced-up batch of extras. Worth the wait?
It's 1999, and Sierra Leone is about to explode. Torn apart by civil war, where warlords fund their coups with illicit diamond sales, the country is collapsing on itself. Atrocities are rampant on both the government and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) sides and the latter has taken to kidnapping tribal children and turning them into murderous little zombies.
Amidst the havoc is Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio, The Departed), mercenary-turned-diamond smuggler, who profits from the chaos and Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou, Eragon), newly caught up in the bloodshed when his village is ransacked and his son is stolen by the rebels for reprogramming. Solomon is forwarded to a diamond mine, where he promptly discovers a possible solution to his problems: a 100-carat pink diamond.
A government raid on the mine lands Solomon in custody, but not before he buries the diamond. In prison he meets Danny, who overhears discussion about the diamond. They form an uneasy partnership, each after something precious; for Danny it's the diamond and his chance to get away from Africa, for Solomon, it's his family and son. Along the way they meet up with enterprising journalist Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly, The Hulk), who's documenting the tragedy and is never short on offering smarmy social commentary.
I liked this movie, but didn't really come close to loving it. Zwick obviously was out to craft an emotionally charged message movie, and while the mechanics of that were on-screen, I just wasn't feeling the frog in my throat toward the end. Perhaps I'm a cold-hearted bastard, but Blood Diamond failed to sock me where it counts.
Zwick knows how to stage an action set-piece, though. The action scenes -- two major pieces, including the sacking of Freetown and a chaotic helicopter attack at the end -- are visceral and thrilling. As he did with the The Last Samurai, Zwick's mastery of logistics for sprawling mayhem is impressive and engaging. It's the supplemental storytelling that seems to lack the magic, though.
I wish I were perceptive enough to put my finger on why Blood Diamond didn't fire on all melodramatic cylinders. One element I wasn't fond of was Jennifer Connelly's character. She appeared to serve no other purpose besides moralizing. As our heroes make their way through Africa, Maddy will pipe in with an observation that seemed more like contrived narration than organic dialogue. Her words held truth, sure, but their presence never seemed to fit the overall flow of the film. Zwick tries to give her stuff to do, like defusing a potentially hostile encounter with freedom fighters or turning Solomon and Danny into journalists (the lone bit of possible humor in the film, which, sadly, never goes anywhere), but it all came across, well, like the director was trying to give her something to do. This is Solomon and Danny's story, and how the two characters interact and develop a relationship and while Maddy is there to help propel it along, she's more a distraction than a catalyst. On the other hand, Jennifer Connelly is gorgeous.
What hit me the hardest was Solomon's son's indoctrination into the rebel forces. This is brutal stuff, but because Zwick aims his lens at a broad array of Africa's problems -- mercenaries, gun-running, diamond smuggling, political fractures, the squandering of resources -- the impact of such a horrendous ordeal is lessened. And, you know, that may be what led to my ho-hum reaction. Zwick tackles so many of the horrible things happening in Africa, the effect of each individual atrocity is diluted. If the film focused solely on the issue of child soldiers or illicit diamond smuggling or the civil wars, then the takeaway may have been more emotional. As it stands, Blood Diamond is a well-made film, sometimes exciting, sometimes moving, acted with gusto (Leo's South African accent, to my surprise, wasn't as bad as the trailers made it sound), but ultimately, not as memorable as it should have been.
Turning toward the HD DVD presentation, Warner Brothers has delivered an extras-jammed disc, with a decent technical treatment. The VC-1, 1080p encoded picture has some very strong moments, specifically in the panoramas of the African setting (Zwick has an eye for wide shots, that's for sure), but at times, the transfer loses its luster. The multiple dark scenes show some grain and the detailing is soft in places. Overall, it's a sharp picture, for sure, and the HD quality is a noticeable upgrade but, like the film itself, it didn't wow me. For sound, you get active mixes of Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 (English and French), that shine most in the action scenes. It's clean audio and at times will turn your living room into a war zone.
But this disc is all about the extras, a staggering display of bonus content that should make the holdouts happy:
* "In-Movie Experience"
Here's the bread and butter of the disc, an ongoing series of picture-in-picture commentaries, on-set footage and interviews. The IME icon will occasionally flash gold, and by clicking the "Enter" button on your remote, you'll be taken out of the film and served up a special making-of featurette.
* "Director's Commentary"
Zwick obviously underwent a life-changing experience when he made this film and he eloquently lays it out for you.
* "Blood on the Stone"
This feature on the African diamond trade is so substantial it's worth a separate release of its own. It will probably make you want to toss your engagement ring into Mount Doom, though.
* "Becoming Archer" and "Journalism on the Front
These two smaller featurettes profile DiCaprio and Connelly as they researched their roles.
* "Inside the Siege of Freetown"
Here, Zwick and his talented crew show how they staged one of the most elaborate action sequences in the film.
Batting clean-up is a Nos music video, trailers and web-access material (polls, maps) that can be called up through your player's Internet connection. From top to bottom, this is the best selection of extras I've seen so far in HD DVD.
Though the film didn't leave much of an impression, Warner Brothers' slick HD DVD treatment cements the studio's status as the premiere provider of top-shelf high def content.
Not guilty. Though when I look at my wife's wedding ring, I feel kind of guilty. Thankfully, it's, like, only 1/70 of a carat.
Review content copyright © 2007 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 143 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* In-Movie Experience
* Director's Commentary
* "Blood on the Diamond" Featurette
* "Becoming Archer"
* "Journalism on the Front Line"
* "Inside the Siege of Freetown"
* Music Video
* Web Content