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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 3/20/00

Three Kings
Special Edition - 1999 (2000) - Warner Bros.

review by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Three Kings Film Rating: A

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

Specs and Features

115 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:16:06, in chapter 21), Snapper case packaging, theatrical trailer, commentary with director David O. Russell, commentary with producers Charles Roven and Edward L. McDonnell, cast and crew bios (with "hidden bunker" holding an online event code), production notes (with "hidden bunker" holding TV spot at the end), 3 documentaries: Under The Bunker: On the Set of Three Kings, On the Set of Three Kings: A Guided Tour with production designer Catherine Hardwicke and The Cinematography of Three Kings: An interview with director of photograhy Newton Thomas Sigel, David O. Russell's Three Kings Video Journal, four deleted scenes with optional Russell commentary, location photos by Spike Jonze, a short film by Spike Jonze entitled An Intimate Look Inside the Acting Process with Ice Cube, DVD-ROM features (including interviews, weblinks and an interactive tour of the set), film-themed menu screens with animation and sound effects, scene access (31 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), subtitles: English and French, Closed Captioned

Like it or not, we're living in a revisionist culture. Take a look at the schoolbooks you read as a kid, and the ones your own kids are reading now. They're all one sided and in most cases, based on perceived fact and nothing more. The truth is, most of history has to be made up, because no one writing these books was there. But now we have the media, twisting current events around. Facts today are needed to sell products, get votes or make powerful men even more powerful. Desert Storm was a war created out of need, pure and simple - and the media was there to capitalize on every aspect. We learned what they were allowed to show, but the picture was even bigger than anyone imagined. That's what makes a film like Three Kings - one of huge stars, witty one-liners and action filled stunts - much more important that what it seems. It's important because it's trying to tell the truth, but entertain us along the way. A spoonful of sugar as they say.

The story is pretty simple and straightforward. Four soldiers (played by George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube and Spike Jonze) find a map of the Iraqi desert planted on an Iraqi soldier they are stripping down for weapons. Based on rumors and legends, Saddam Hussein has stashes of stolen Kuwaiti consumer products and gold planted all over the desert. So, being the good capitalists we Americans are, the soldiers head out from camp to try and find it. What they end up locating, is 23 million in gold bouillon and group of Iraqi rebels putting their lives on the line, because of promises made by the American government with no follow through. The four soldiers must decide if gold is worth more than human life, or if it's the other way around.

See? This is as simple a story as you could tell. The Warner script logs listed it as a "heist story told against the backdrop of The Gulf War." That's about as high concept as you could get. But the story idea in the hands of a filmmaker as gifted as David O. Russell grows to epic proportions. Russell has proved in the past that he is a character-based kind of filmmaker, with Flirting with Disaster and Spanking the Monkey. But here he gives us characters as deep as the descriptions he uses to introduce them at the beginning of the film, and still makes us love them. This is a plot driven story, through and through and Russell proves he can pretty much do whatever he wants to do.

The actors are all top flight. Clooney is his magnetic self, Wahlberg shines in his role and Ice Cube proves he can hold his own in any film. The most loveable of the group is Spike Jonze. Right now, most everyone knows who he is, but at the time of the original theatrical distribution for this film, he was left out of most everything. He's as important a character as anyone here - but because we have three name actors and the title is Three Kings, someone has to get left off the poster and ad material. Might as well be him. The secondary cast should also be acknowledged as well - Nora Dunn (SNL), Jamie Kennedy (Scream), Mykelti Williamson (Forrest Gump) and Said Taghmaoui (Hideous Kinky) as the Iraqi who lost everything and wants revenge.

On disc, Three Kings is the true definition of special edition. This is as big a disc as Warner's biggest disc of last year, The Matrix. Just take a look at all the stuff there is. There are two commentaries, one with Russell and the other with producers Charles Roven and Edward McDonnell. Both are very informative and neither cross over too much. I enjoyed the producer's commentary a little more than Russell's. I tend to like commentaries with a couple of people who know what they're talking about, because there is better interplay. Roven doesn't shut up, but he's fun to listen to, and he's full of a truckload of information. I wouldn't have it any other way. Add to that three behind the scenes documentaries covering just about every aspect of the film, the trailer, Russell's own video journal (which is the very best thing on this disc and I wish it was 3 hours long), 4 deleted scenes, production notes, stills and a short film on Ice Cube by Spike Jonze. It ends up being a disc that takes a couple days to properly go through. Pop this sucker into a DVD-ROM drive and you get access to an even bigger world (which, sadly, kept crashing my Pentium III system). It's an interesting look at the making of the film.

Still... I can't help but feel like there was something missing. You see, since we live in a revisionist culture, it's easy to notice the things that get changed once you know what to look for... and there are two on this disc. One is so minor that it's almost not worth mentioning, and one is not so minor. The small one is in the trailer - an eagle-eyed viewer will notice that there's an electronically added black box covering something at the end of the trailer credits. What is it? Should we be concerned? I think it's the "this film has not yet been rated" tag and it's probably not worth complaining about. The other bigger omission is the minimal coverage that the original screenwriter for the film receives. John Ridley (U-Turn) wrote the original underlying story here based on a script of his titled Spoils of War. Ridley's version was more a Treasure of Sierra Madre type of deal about greed and how it can make a group of men can fall apart. Russell did a "page one" rewrite (meaning that he rewrote everything except the concept) and turned it into his own thing. Ridley cried foul and there have been some legal wranglings about this issue, although I think the WGA found that Russell was the sole author in the end. In any case, it's a hot button issue that deserved to be covered - and yet only in the producer's commentary do we even hear Ridley's name mentioned. Why is Warner not covering this? It pertains to the film and it's a very interesting thing. Look at the Criterion disc for Brazil - Universal allowed them to talk about all the "crap" surrounding the film, and it made for a wonderful piece of film history. This is a good reason why the studios aren't always the best at making special editions of their own films. They have their hands tied in too many ways (legally and otherwise). Sometimes, it takes a third party to gain a better perspective and do the film justice. That's not to say that what we get here isn't great, because it's probably the best thing Warner has ever put out on DVD.

Quality-wise, this disc is superb. Although it would take a film-to-disc comparison to truly prove how great this disc is, because of all the color distortion, I think it's a transfer about as good as you'll see. The colors are beautiful when they're there and the apparent grain only adds to the picture. Because of the stocks and processing this film went through, the film has an inherently grainy quality to it and exhibits a stylized high-contrast look. And it looks beautiful. There is no noise or artifacting to be seen in this anamorphic transfer. The shadow detail and blacks are very nice. I don't think I can complain one bit. Hell, it even looks good on DVD-ROM. The sound is also excellent, nicely alive in Dolby Digital 5.1. Your speakers will get a workout. If Warner does anything right, they do sound as good or better than anybody. This is a disc I'm proud to own in more ways than one.

When this disc streets, it should fly off the shelves. It's an experience that everyone from history lovers to film fanatics can appreciate. If you're looking for a big action film - this is it. If you're looking for a movie that will make you think - this is it. It's got a little something for everyone, and I can't wait to see what's next from David O. Russell. He's proving to be one of my favorite filmmakers.

Todd Doogan
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