The Manchurian Candidate

The Manchurian Candidate (2004)
Paramount Home Video
Cast: Liev Schreiber, Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Jon Voight
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, Outtakes, Theatrical Trailer

The original 1962 "The Manchurian Candidate" was highly suspenseful political thriller that played upon sensibilities that directly affected people at the time, so how can you create a remake of such a move over 40 years later? By updating it accordingly, and that is exactly what Jonathan Demme and his crew did. Instead of using the Korean War as a backdrop, now it is the first war in Iraq, which rings just as true with today's audiences and doesn't diminish the story a bit.

Knocked unconscious during an ambush in Iraq, Major Bennet Marco (Denzel Washington) doesn't remember much of the events that followed. All he seems to know is that one of his soldiers, Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber) saved the day and comes out a war hero having killed all the attackers. Strangely no one on the team seems to really remember what happened that night and each of them seems to have weird dreams. Dreams that appear to be exactly the same for each of them. Major Marco is determined to find out what really happened that fateful night and is getting drawn into a plot of dark political intrigue.

The movie is following the original fairly closely in terms of the overall story but has its own identity nonetheless. Updated and using a few different story elements and plot turns, the story is exciting and thrilling even for those of us who are familiar with the 1962 version. A lot of it has to do with the cast as well as Denzel Washington and Liev Schreiber make for some powerful characters with emotional depth and dimension.

As part of their first wave of high definition releases, Paramount Home Entertainment decided to include this film in their HD-DVD release line-up, which we took to the review here. That Paramount didn't skimp on this release is immediately evident when looking at the packaging, as the studio has included all the extras form the previous DVD release and even provides the movie's trailer in high defintion.

"The Manchurian Candidate" is a fairly new film so expectations are high, of course to see this film come to HD-DVD in all its glory and viewers won't be disappointed. The 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio of the movie is perfectly reproduced here and the print is absolutely clean, clear and free of grain. The image reveals an incredibly high level of detail throughout, making it a wonderful experience to watch. Everything from the close-up shots of the actors to the wide shots is reveling in detail. Textures are perfectly reproduced and the transfer has an impeccable sharpness that is never artificially exaggerated. The result is a presentation that looks very natural and film-like. Occasional sequences that appear a bit soft in the transfer are usually deliberately designed to be that way and not a shortcoming of the HD-DVD transfer. In general, with high definition transfers we see a lot more transfers that are representative of the way the actual film print looked, which is not always as super-sharp as one would expect, because filters, lenses, optical effects and of course the focus itself are what determine a film's sharpness and level of detail. And if it's not in the original film print, it cant be in the video transfer either, no matter how high the resolution of that transfer. I just wanted to point this out because I feel it is important for people to understand that the quality of a high definition transfer needs to be measure be more than its overall sharpness and impressive level of detail.

The audio on the release comes as a 5.1 channel Dolby Digital Plus track, as well as a dts track and 5.1Dolby Digital Plus tracks in Spanish and French. It appears as if this constellation is becoming the staple of Paramount's releases, and it is a configuration we certainly won't criticize as it offers high quality audio across the board. Here, of course, we have a less intrusive mix that is focused strongly on dialogues and the front speakers, but nonetheless during action moments, the track becomes very active in the surrounds.
It is a modern mix with a very wide frequency response that features a deep bass extension that adds body to the overall presentation. The high ends are crystal clear and without distortion and overall the tracks have a wonderful clarity and transparence that makes them very enjoyable.

As mentioned before the extras from the DVD version have been brought over to this HD-DVD release. The movie's theatrical trailer is once again presented in 1080p high definition, while the rest of the bonus materials comes in a 480p standard definition format.

A commentary track by Jonathan Demme and co-writer Daniel Pyne is included on the release, offering valuable insight into the making of the movie as well as some of the political notions of the overall story.

Five deleted scenes with optional commentary are also provided as well as a two outtakes, again with optional commentary by the director and the co-writer.

Liev Schreiber's screen test footage is also included but the real meat of the release comes in the form of a number of featurettes, such as "The Enemy Within Inside," "The Cast Of Manchurian Candidate" and "Political Pundits" Overall it is a good mix of interesting and informative extras that nicely round out the package.

"The Manchurian Candidate" is not a bad remake, actually. It is suspenseful and well paced, with a lot of political commentary that should make people think. While it may not be a true classic like the 1962 original, but it still holds viewers attention very well and make for some thrilling 2-hours of entertainment. The HD-DVD version we have here is a rock-solid package with a great feature film presentation that is without flaws and bonus materials that nicely accommodate it.