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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 2/2/01

Waking the Dead
2000 (2000) - USA Films

review by Brian Ford Sullivan of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Walking the Dead Film Rating: A-

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

Specs and Features

106 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch 1:13:33, in chapter 18), audio commentary by director Keith Gordon, "making-of" featurette, 12 deleted scenes with optional commentary by Gordon, theatrical trailer, production notes, cast and crew information, film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (23 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0), subtitles: English and Spanish, Closed Captioned

Make no mistake, if you aren't already in love with Jennifer Connelly, you will be after watching Waking the Dead. Usually shuffled into the "girlfriend" or "attractive girl on screen" parts, Connelly flexes some astonishing acting muscles in director Keith Gordon's (Mother Night and A Midnight Clear) latest film. Connelly plays Sarah Williams, a human rights advocate who is killed in a car bomb explosion while helping Chilean refugees in 1972. Her lover, Fielding Pierce (Almost Famous's Billy Crudup), is an aspiring U.S. Congressman who is then haunted by her through the next decade as he struggles to win his first election bid. Told in a fragmented style that jumps back and forth through time, we see how the bonds between Sarah and Fielding were formed and how they affect him after her death.

Not a supernatural story about ghosts or a murder mystery about whether or not she is still alive, the film transcends both these genres to simply be about how love affects us. Connelly and Crudup are astonishingly convincing as lovers - there's no question they are in love with each other - little details like a tear falling from Sarah's eye during lovemaking is just one of a hundred ways their love feels quite real. But like all great loves, it's not necessarily good for either of them. Sarah is outspoken and opinionated, something that doesn't fit the mold of a Congressman's wife. Fielding is ambitious and enraptured by the American political system, something that doesn't fit with Sarah's beliefs about what a person should do with his/her life. Their slow realization of this is almost heartbreaking - "It is so infuriating loving you sometimes," Sarah tells Fielding after an argument on the subway. Obviously, this realization takes a startling turn with her death, as Fielding doesn't have any closure to their relationship.

When we see him ten years later, Fielding is a changed man - one who can't see who he is or why he's doing what he's doing. Instead, he has become an instrument for his family and mentor's (the always great Hal Holbrook) political ambitions. As he gets closer to his first election bid he becomes more and more convinced that Sarah is haunting him, perhaps even still alive - much to the chagrin of his family. He thinks he sees her in an airport, during a dinner with the press - more and more to the point that he starts to question his own sanity.

I can't say enough about how engrossing this film is, from its unique way of telling the story to the performances by Connelly and Crudup. It's simply one of those buried treasures of the year 2000. Frequently, people muse about how bad this last year has been for movies. I guarantee, after watching this film, you'll find one little gem to hang on to.

This could have been a tricky DVD to pull off, considering the film uses a lot of transitional fades to white. Normally, this would make artifacts and scratching glaringly obvious. Surprisingly, this is an incredibly clear transfer. The opening credit sequence might scare you with some slight artifacting in the deep heavy blacks, but this immediately clears itself up and doesn't rear it's ugly head again. Generally, the rest of the anamorphic-enhanced picture is stunning, something you rarely see for limited release films like this one. It's bold and beautiful and makes the film that much more watchable. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is also solid. The film is primarily music and dialogue, so there's no need to crank up the home theater. The score comes to life nicely, as it's distributed throughout the front portion of the soundstage. It definitely accents the film's spiritual, almost otherworldly tone.

Not only is this an impressive video and audio treat, USA Films decided to fill it out as a special edition as well. First, we get an audio commentary by Keith Gordon, which is very nice. Gordon speaks in depth about working with Crudup and Connelly and their commitment to the film. It's always nice to hear about a cast that's eager to engross themselves in a project. Gordon speaks frequently of the actors' requests for multiple takes and rehearsals. He also mentions a lot of personal notes on how he related to the source material (the film is actually based on a book by Scott Spencer) and how deeply he was affected by it. It's obvious this film is a labor of love for Gordon, as this is definitely one of those commentaries that takes you deep into the roots of the filmmaker. You can't help but be swept away by it.

Next up are 12 deleted scenes that run about 45 minutes in total. Most of them flesh out some of the smaller characters that had their scenes cut for length. Notable among these is a strong scene with Ed Harris (yes, that Ed Harris), who was limited to just a cameo size appearance in the theatrical cut. There's also some longer scenes with Janet McTeer (as Fielding's sister) and Hal Holbrook, that deepen Fielding's relationships with them. Gordon's commentary over these focuses on how difficult it was to reach a final cut, as more than a dozen different versions were made before reaching the final product. The scenes, while not the final prints, do look clean and feature a temp music track.

Speaking of music, each menu page offers a chance to hear Tomandandy's breathtaking musical score (akin to Peter Gabriel's for The Last Temptation of Christ) in the background. This is a nice touch, mainly because this music isn't available on CD - this is you're only chance to hear each cue isolated by itself. Lastly, there are the usual suspects - a theatrical trailer, production notes and a brief "making-of" featurette that runs about four and a half minutes.

All in all, the DVD experience for Waking the Dead is just as immersive as the film itself. While not exactly a film that screams for a special edition, its DVD treatment nonetheless feels like the film itself - a gem hidden amongst the big releases out there. When you're done with this disc, you'll have fallen not only for Jennifer Connelly, but for the entire film.

Brian Ford Sullivan

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