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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 5/26/00
updated: 1/17/01

The Thin Red Line

review by Greg Suarez of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Thin Red Line (DD & DTS)

Encoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

The Thin Red Line
Enhanced Widescreen - 1998 (2001) - 20th Century Fox

Film Rating: A+

Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): A/F

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): A/A+

Specs and Features

170 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:21:36, at the start of chapter 15), Amaray keep case packaging, film-themed menu screens, scene access (31 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 and 2.0 and DTS 5.1), subtitles: English and Spanish, Closed Captioned

The Thin Red Line The Thin Red Line
1998 (1999) - 20th Century Fox

Film Rating: A+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A/D+

Specs and Features

170 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:21:36, at the start of chapter 15), Amaray keep case packaging, Melanesian songs selection, film-themed menu screens, scene access (31 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), subtitles: English and Spanish, Closed Captioned

"One man looks at a dying bird and sees nothing but unanswered pain… another man sees that same bird and feels the glory - feels something smiling through it."

Life and death. Love and hate. Beauty and ugliness. Polar opposites of the same continuum, and the crux of Terrance Malick's The Thin Red Line. What happens when all you have to live for is violently ripped from your heart? When the balance of good and evil suddenly crashes down under the weight of evil? Some survive and some perish. Still others move on to their destiny.

The Thin Red Line is a story of spirituality set in the Pacific islands during World War II. The American army must conquer some key jungle territory to prevent the Japanese from building an airfield, which would allow them to dominate hundreds of miles worth of ocean that will make or break the Allied victory of Guadalcanal. There are many characters in this film, but the focus is on three very different soldiers, all involved in this campaign. Private Witt (Jim Caviezel) is an introspective man who relishes the peace and serenity of the island people. Witt has deserted his assignment several times to flee to a peaceful existence, always ending up back in the war. He dumbfounds his compatriots by always finding the beauty and serenity in even the most hellish circumstances. Private Bell (Ben Chaplin) is a man desperately in love with his wife back in the States. All that Bell does - all he needs to survive - depends on the love of his wife. Capt. Staros (Elias Koteas) is a leader that his men love and respect, but his superior officers question. The love and respect he gains from his troops exists because it's reciprocal, but the condemnation comes from the fact that he might care too much.

As the film - and the battles - progress, each man grows a little stronger, and a little wiser. Faced with the most horrific, subhuman situations, the men reach deep within their souls and embrace the loved ones and feelings that give them the inspiration to press forward, as they look death square in the eyes. The line between Heaven and Hell disappears as each character's world comes crashing down around them, and the men must search deeper within their soul to find their place in the majesty of life.

The Thin Red Line is not for those with short attention spans. It is a long, poetic, and very deliberate look into human nature. This is a film that studies human spirit and happens to take place during a war. The centerpiece of the film is the beauty of life and peace, juxtaposed with the hell of death and war. Sure, there are battle scenes - damn good battle scenes - but I would be shattered if anyone left this film saying, "Yeah, the war parts were cool, but I was bored by all of the poetic dialog and those weird pre-war flashbacks." This film is all about the dialog, and the flashbacks are integral and lovely. This film is about how people, faced with death, can dive deep within themselves and pull out a beautiful image to comfort them and remind them what they are living for. Perhaps it's the intimate touch of your wife, or the way the sun feels on your face as you float in the warm tropical water. But your dream is shattered when you open your eyes and find yourself face down in the mud, gripping a semi-automatic rifle, feeling the weight of a dead friend on top of you, and anticipating the order that might very well send you to your own violent and painful end. You grasp for that one thought - that one memory that can help bring you peace and remind you why life is so precious.

The large supporting cast reads like a laundry list of Hollywood's current favorites. Expect to see small, but very worthwhile performances by Woody Harrelson, John Cusack, John Travolta, John C. Reilly, and a blink-and-you'll-miss-him cameo by George Clooney. In substantially larger roles are Sean Penn as First Sgt. Welsh, and Nick Nolte as Lt. Col. Tall (this is perhaps Nolte's pinnacle performance). Also an important character in The Thin Red Line is Mother Nature herself. The brilliant and beautiful photography of the jungle island is a key to the serene side of the film. Lush landscapes, gorgeous mountains, and unusual wildlife are captured wonderfully and mixed into the film to portray the dualism of the story. The music by veteran composer Hans Zimmer is some of his best work. The score is majestic and grand as it glides through the story and helps guide the viewer into the emotion of the situations. In one of the more spiritual parts of the film, Zimmer integrates an organ into the score giving it something of a religious flavor. And during chapter 19 (the storming of the Japanese camp) the surreal beauty of the score confuses the violence and brutality of the situation creating quite an emotional moment.

Fox has released 2 versions of this film on DVD - the original release and a new one that features dual Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks. Both versions of The Thin Red Line are presented on DVD in anamorphic widescreen (framed at 2.35:1). This feature is not listed on the back of the packaging of the first release, but is labeled correctly on the new release. This stunning film definitely received the video treatment it deserves, boasting highly detailed and textured images. There is no apparent compression artifacting, and the colors are very realistic. The video is smooth and has an excellent black level. One unfortunate complaint is that the picture can become a tad soft in some areas. You should note that the transfer on the new "enhanced widescreen" release is identical to the now discontinued original release. The layer switch location and chapter stops are even identical in both releases.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack on both discs is very spacious and enveloping. The dialog, especially the narration, is natural and easy to understand, but is a bit harsh at times. There are also some minor instances of the sound being slightly one-dimensional, but like the harsh dialog, it is brief and will not detract from the total experience. Overall, the soundtrack is open and lively. Ambient effects like wind and rustling grass are welcomed, and the music score is integrated well into the mix. During the battle scenes the audience is placed in the middle of a barrage of directional effects, like gunfire and airplane fly-overs, and the LFE channel is powerfully engaged for explosions. The DTS 5.1 soundtrack on the new disc excels just slightly over the Dolby track by presenting tighter, more controlled low frequency effects, smoother panning effects, and slightly more detailed ambience effects. Both Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks are spectacular, and do volumes of justice to the film they support.

Unfortunately, both versions of The Thin Red Line on DVD are short on extras. The original release contains a montage of traditional Melanesian song excerpts. What it boils down to is a soundtrack CD advertisement. Otherwise, there are no other features on the disc. The new version of the film on DVD contains no extras whatsoever (the soundtrack bit was probably dropped to maximize room for the new DTS track).

The Thin Red Line is an artfully surreal and well-executed film. The characters are as interesting and richly textured as the story and the poetic beauty in the images and words are inspirational and emotional. Video and audio quality are excellent on both discs, and are sure to please the critical home theater fanatic. The new DVD version of the film contains an identical anamorphic widescreen transfer to the discontinued original, and the new DTS audio only improves slightly on an already brilliant soundtrack. If you own the original disc, it's hard to justify spending the extra money for the nominal improvement the DTS track holds, especially considering that no extra features were added to the new release. But if this film does not already grace your library, now's your chance to own this disc with the best possible audio/video quality. The Thin Red Line is so wonderful that I cannot recommend it enough.

Greg Suarez
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The Thin Red Line (new DTS & DD)

The Thin Red Line

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