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review added: 1/2/02



Uprising
2001 (2001) - NBC/Warner Bros (Warner)

review by Brad Pilcher of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Uprising Film Rating: B+

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

Specs and Features

Disc One - The Film
177 mins, NR, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at ???), library case with slip cover, audio commentary by director Jon Avnet, audio commentary by stars Hank Azaria, David Schwimmer, Leelee Sobieski and Jon Voight, cast/crew filmographies, film-themed menu screens, scene access (39 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, French, & Spanish, Closed Captioned

Disc Two - Supplements
Resistance documentary about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, Breaking Down the Walls documentary about making the movie, promotional clip for Uprising, film-themed menu screens, audio: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: none


"They did the one thing the Nazis never expected. They fought back."

Historical miniseries on TV haven't exactly become a dime a dozen, but there's been plenty of them. More importantly, plenty of them have been flat, essentially rating ploys, and sadly this has led to a general apathy towards the phenomenon. In that world, Uprising got a double whammy, because it ran up against the oft-rescheduled Emmy Awards of 2001. If the two-night showing were as bland as other miniseries of the type, this wouldn't be cause for concern. However, Uprising represents a more genuine and more successful effort, both for its approach and its subject matter.

Taking an appropriate docu-drama approach painted on an exquisitely detailed set, the film deals with the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in which the last remnants of Warsaw's Jewish population rose up against the Nazis for over a month... longer than the whole Polish Army. Knowing they'll likely die anyways, the fighters insist on dying with dignity rather than going to their deaths in silence.

Director Jon Avnet has based the story on the real exploits of the Jewish Fighting Organization, and has populated his cinematic canvas with a superb cast including Hank Azaria, as JFO leader Mordechai Anielewicz, Donald Sutherland, as Jewish Council Chairman Adam Czerniakow, and Jon Voight as SS Major-General Jurgen Stroop. Leelee Sobieski, David Schwimmer and Cary Elwes are also present, and all deliver top-notch performances. However, Stephen Moyer (seen previously in Quills and here as Kazik) and Andy Nyman (as Calel) are understated highlights even beyond the marquee cast.

Together, it's easy to tell the care and consideration all the players brought to the material. Avnet, particularly, took great steps to craft a recreation of the ghetto without over-dramatizing the events. His pseudo-documentary approach is perfectly suited to the story, and the actors really come to life in that setting. Originally aired over two nights, the film's three hours can be difficult to endure, but not because of the filmmaking. Rather, the subject matter is difficult to watch. But Avnet and company have wonderfully recreated the true story of the ghetto and the heroic resistance that took place there. Most of this, in keeping with a documentary style, comes in snippets. Perhaps the most amusingly dark snippet involves Elwes, as Nazi filmmaker Dr. Fritz Hippler, directing Czerniakow in a ludicrously silly propaganda film while wax from a menorah drips all over his work. Czerniakow, looking for something to say, merely comments on why he'd have a menorah on his desk.

From a technical standpoint, the DVD does a chillingly effective job of bringing this film and its lessons into the home. The video quality is top-notch, featuring an anamorphic widescreen treatment. At first glance, you might consider it a muted video image, but the film was shot that way - it's a stylistic choice in keeping with the gray death of the ghetto. A few early scenes of the world outside the ghetto display a nice contrast to this and fully illustrate the quality of the transfer. The resolution is sharp and the balance levels are dead-on.

The audio is equally strong, including subtle effects and booming sounds during battle sequences. This is nicely balanced against the dialogue, although a few bits have the voices turned down a bit too low in the mix. The musical score, on which Avnet spared no expense in bringing in Maurice Jarre, remains the most moving portion of the audio track.

Still, where the DVD moves ahead of the average is in the extras and production. The two commentaries and the two documentaries were all produced post-September 11 and the various players make several references to current events in their comments. Director Avnet's commentary is particularly telling with regards to the making of the film, but more so with the motivations behind the film. He makes numerous references, particularly in the documentaries to September 11, as does David Schwimmer and Jon Voight in the actor's commentary. They are joined by Azaria and Sobieski (apparently recorded separately from the three male actors) in an even more insightful commentary that provides historical background and emotional context for the various performances. These commentaries are special, not just because they are chock full of information, but because they genuinely enhance the viewing and emotional impact of what's on screen.

Popped onto a second disc are two relatively brief documentaries, clocking in at around 45 minutes between the both of them. The shorter Breaking Down the Walls chronicles the making of the miniseries and includes interviews with the principle actors, showing the set design and costuming. The documentary is good, but generally unspectacular. The slightly longer Resistance integrates the actors and director with survivors from the ghetto, including the real-life Kazik, who was on-set during Uprising as a technical advisor. This documentary delves deeper into the historical events surrounding the uprising and does a fine job of adding depth and enhancing the viewer's understanding of the true events which were very accurately depicted in the film.

Beyond these and a promotional clip, the extras are little more than the standard menus and filmographies. Still, the DVD is a really appropriate way of presenting one of the better TV miniseries in recent memory. To be honest, the commentaries are as good as the film, and so they alone make this a DVD worth having. For fans of good DVD quality and those with historical interest alike, this is an exemplary title to add to your collection.

Brad Pilcher
bradpilcher@thedigitalbits.com




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