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The Spin Sheet

DVD reviews by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Love Me If You Dare

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Love Me If You Dare
(Jeux d'enfants)

2004 (2004) - Studio Canal/Paramount Classics (Paramount)

Film Rating: B

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C+/B/F

Julien (Guillaume Canet) and Sophie (Marion Cotillard) have known from a very early age that they're kindred spirits... two halves of the same coin. As children, they bonded and inspired one another with a never-ending game of "Dare". The game is their touchstone through all manner of life's difficulties - their own reaffirming in-joke. Yet as they've gotten older, the stakes of the game have become greater and their need to play it has grown more obsessive. Almost inevitably, Julien and Sophie fall in love. No sooner do they recognize their feelings, however, they begin to wonder... is their love real, or is it just a product of the game? As their connection grows ever more intense, Julien and Sophie struggle to answer that question before the game takes over their lives completely.

There's something terribly romantic in the notion of a love that's so powerful and so all-consuming that it casts aside all other considerations. The first film of French writer/director Yann Samuell, Love Me If You Dare deals with just such an attraction. This is a carefully crafted tale that's part romantic comedy, part fantasy and part tragedy all at once. There's a sad and yet undeniably attractive quality about this story - a sort of charm that draws you in and engages you. It's not spoiling anything to say that you sense almost immediately that a reckoning is ultimately due these young lovers, and yet you can't help but like them. You root for them... you WANT them to find happiness together. Much of this lies in the strength of the performances of Cotillard (A Very Long Engagement, Big Fish) and Canet (best known to U.S. audiences for his part in Danny Boyle's The Beach). Their playful chemistry onscreen is undeniable, and ties this film together perfectly.

On DVD, Love Me If You Dare looks good, if not great. The anamorphic widescreen transfer is solid, but the quality of the print is less than optimal. Given the film's independent nature, much of this is either by design or due to production limitations. The picture is a little too soft - not quite muddy and it's not due to excessive grain, but detail is sometimes lacking. The colors are very muted at times and stylized at others - the whole palette is warmer that you tend to see in most films. Not having seen this in theaters, I can't say for certain that this was intended, but I tend to suspect it was. Contrast is generally good, however. If this isn't the best looking DVD you've ever seen (it's pretty average), it represents the film well enough. I should note here that the English subtitles are part of the film image itself - they're not a function of the DVD player (which means you can't turn them off).

The audio is presented in French Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0. The surround mix is of decent quality. This being a dialogue driven film, there's not a lot of rear channel activity, but you do occasionally get nice atmosphere and panning. Most of the action is in the front half of the soundstage, and dialogue is clear and clean at all times. Overall, this a solid but somewhat less immersive mix.

Don't bother looking for extras, because there aren't any, other than non-anamorphic preview trailers for other Paramount Classics titles coming to theaters and DVD. Irritating is the fact that when you start the disc, these play automatically - you can't use the menu button to bypass them. You can skip past them, but there are several and once you do get past them all, you still have to sit through the usual mandatory copyright warning screens. Irritating.

Love Me If You Dare is by no means a traditional romance, and you might have a very hard time getting past the sheer selfishness of some of Julien and Sophie's actions. That said, this is a surprisingly good filmmaking debut, and it's certainly deserving of your attention. Keep in mind that the DVD is movie only, so give it a rent first or buy it on sale.

Battlestar Galactica: The Miniseries

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Battlestar Galactica
The Miniseries - 2004 (2004) - SciFi Pictures (Universal)

Film Rating: B-

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

I'll admit, I was a fan of Battlestar Galactica back in the 70s. But entertaining though it was, the original series was just way too campy for its own good. ABC's much-hyped television answer to Star Wars collapsed under its own weight after a single season, and so I never thought a revival would work in a million years. Imagine my surprise when I reluctantly tuned to The SciFi Channel for this updated miniseries... and discovered that it didn't, in fact, suck.

This new miniseries is fairly faithful to the premise of the original 1978 telefilm. Twelve far-flung planets colonized by Humanity are obliterated in a sneak attack by the ruthless Cylons, a race of robots bent on exterminating Mankind. Led by the only surviving warship, the Battlestar Galactica, thousands of survivors escape into space in a ragtag fleet of ships, and begin a desperate search for a new planet to call home... a lost and mythical 13th colony known as Earth.

But while the basic story is the same in this updated version, many other things have changed. The Cylons are no longer the stiff, silvery robots of the late 70s... many now look and act Human, and they've infiltrated the survivors, eliciting doubt and suspicion at every turn. To draw in new audiences, all of the original characters have been recast with new, younger faces. Several of them are now female (Starbuck and Boomer, who were dudes back in the 70s) including the most dangerous Cylon (the sexpot seductress "Number Six"), while the show's elders are more reluctant (President Roslin, played by Mary McDonnell) and more battle weary (Edward James Olmos as Commander Adama) than before. These and other changes had many longtime Galactica fans up in arms last year.

Against all expectations however, these changes are the very thing that make this updated version believable. Strangely, the show's sci-fi elements are actually its major weakness. While some of the production design and the logic of the story world is outstanding, much of it seems far too contrived or only barely thought out... as if the plan were to pencil in the details later. For example, for a civilization capable of building behemoth starships that travel faster than light... would the twelve colonies really be the only outposts of humanity? Wouldn't someone have mapped and explored enough of deep space that Adama would have a better idea what was out there and where to lead his people? Having created the artificially intelligent Cylons in the first place, wouldn't colonial scientists have been able to develop better defenses against them?

Its flaws aside, Battlestar Galactica: The Miniseries is definitely a cut above the usual TV sci-fi fare. It isn't so much science fiction as it is a gritty drama about people on the edge in a desperate situation - people with frayed nerves and often clashing personalities. Better still, the visual effects work is outstanding. Spaceships maneuver and handle realistically, battle footage is framed as if it were shot handheld by combat photographers under fire, the camera interacts with its surroundings. The overall effect is to give the series an edgy, almost documentary look and feel that definitely sets it apart.

Presented in anamorphic widescreen, the video on Universal's DVD release of the miniseries is fairly good looking. It holds up well to large screen projection. Colors are accurate if stylistically muted, and there are few compression issues. Contrast is often lacking, however, and shadow detailing suffers from time to time. The image displays light grain in some scenes, and much coarser grain in others. When the image quality is good, it's surprisingly good. When it's not, it's little better than average.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack tends to fare better. Music is well balanced, and the dialogue is largely (but not quite always) clear. The soundfield isn't highly directional in terms of surround effects and panning, and the low frequency isn't going to test your sub, but the mix is nicely atmospheric and matches the visuals well.

This title was originally announced as a single-disc release (a double-sided DVD), but likely for manufacturing reasons, many copies have been issued as 2-disc sets (each side of the original DVD has been pressed as separate discs). Unfortunately, the menus weren't updated to reflect this - they instruct you to flip the disc over for additional content, when they should tell you to swap discs. That problem aside, the extras you get are pretty decent. There's a feature length audio commentary track with producers Ron Moore and David Eick, and miniseries director Michael Rymer. It's fairly substantial, with a good deal of interesting information conveyed about the miniseries' concepts and development. On the flip side of the disc (or Disc Two if you have the 2-disc version), you'll find the 40-minute Battlestar Galactica: The Lowdown documentary and 20 minutes of deleted scenes, all of it in non-anamorphic widescreen. This isn't outstanding material, but it's nothing to sneeze at either. What's perhaps most interesting about it all is that Moore, who conceived this miniseries and happens also to be a Star Trek production alum, seems pretty anxious to differentiate this project from anything even remotely Trek-ish.

In the end, the best thing you can say about Battlestar Galactica: The Miniseries is that it works. Whether you like the changes or not, the miniseries is... by and large... engaging and entertaining. Thanks to boffo ratings, Galactica has become a new weekly series, the first several episodes of which have already aired in the U.K. (it debuted here in the States last week on SciFi). If the episodic version can build on the successes of the miniseries, and patch up a few of its holes, I'm betting it'll last a helluva lot longer than its namesake. Go figure.

Bill Hunt
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