The Siege

The Siege (1998)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Denzel Washington, Annette Bening, Bruce Willis, Tony Shalhoub
Extras: Theatrical Trailer

Director Edward Zwick’s ’The Siege’ takes a hard look at a New York City besieged by Middle Eastern terrorists and the subsequent imposition of martial law that challenges the most basic of American freedoms. Previously issued on DVD by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment in 1999, this new release replaces the previous one. It features an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> transfer and adds a <$DTS,DTS> audio track to the mix.

Denzel Washington stars as FBI agent Anthony Hubbard who becomes the front man in the battle against terrorists in NYC. What starts as a seemingly harmless prank soon escalates into a campaign of terror that brings the city to its knees. The fight quickly becomes a personal one for Hubbard and his Arab-American partner, Frank Haddad (Tony Shalhoub). Thrown into the volatile mix is a CIA operative (Annette Bening) who obviously knows much more about the terrorist activity than she’s willing to let on. It eventually becomes clear that the FBI cannot stop the carnage so the president authorizes the use of military force in an attempt to halt the violence. A seemingly reluctant General William Devereaux (Bruce Willis) is placed in charge and it soon becomes clear that he is willing to sacrifice anyone and anything that gets in his way.

While the previous release featured a fairly solid non-<$16x9,anamorphic> transfer in the film’s original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, this new release of ’The Siege’ is finally <$16x9,anamorphic>ally enhanced. The difference between the two versions is striking and immediately noticeable, as the new <$16x9,anamorphic> transfer has a beautifully detailed quality and sharpness that is breathtaking. The picture is uniformly sharp throughout with not a hint of evidence of edge enhancement. Black levels are absolutely solid and provide great detail in even the darkest scenes. The colors of the film are a tad muted but this appears to have been an artistic decision on the director’s part, especially since the film is deliberately working with intricate color palettes to create mood and atmosphere.

With the shift to an enhanced transfer – spread across two layers on this DVD – an impressive level of detail has been added to the image and all compression artifacts have disappeared. The only fault I could find with the image is that a few imperfections on the source material pop up here and there in the form of white specks and slight scratches – however in the light of the overall quality of the presentation, this is only a minor quibble. All in all, the new transfer offers a noticeable improvement over what was already a very good picture.

For this new release we have a choice of soundtracks with <$DD,Dolby Digital> 2.0, Dolby Digital 5.1, and DTS <$5.1,5.1 mix>es being offered. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track on the previous release was quite good with a wide frequency response and aggressive dynamics, and this trait has been carried over for both of the <$5.1,5.1 mix>es on this release. The soundtrack expands to fill the room, where appropriate, and full directionality is used to great effect. The LFE channel is engaged at regular intervals offer a very good bass extension below 25 Hz without any distortion. Especially during some of the explosive scenes in the film, the audio tracks put enough energy in the presentation to rattle your walls. Dialogue is well-anchored and clear throughout and the musical score flows nicely across all of the speakers.

Other than the DTS track being a few decibels louder, I couldn’t discern any major differences between the two <$5.1,5.1 channel> mixes. Depending on your set-up you may achieve a fuller sound with the DTS presentation but much of this slight edge really stems from the differing mastering levels of the tracks. Regardless of which mix you prefer, ’The Siege’ sounds absolutely great on this DVD.

Unfortunately, the only extra provided on the release is the film’s theatrical trailer. This is particularly puzzling as director Edward Zwick has been quite busy as of late, providing commentaries and other bonus features for his other films on DVD such as ’Courage Under Fire,’ ’Legends of the Fall,’ and the upcoming ’Glory.’

’The Siege’ is one of those films that wants to be an entertaining action/thriller and promote a serious message at the same time. In this particular instance I found that the attempts to explore the deeper issues of racism and personal freedoms were a bit ham-fisted and almost ground the movie to a halt in a few places. While I don’t dispute that what the movie has to say is important, I do feel that much of what the actors deliver in the form of forced monologues is just as clearly communicated by the images on the screen and would have been more compelling if simply left at that. On the plus side, ’The Siege’ is an entertaining thriller with strong performances from the entire cast and fans of the film are sure to appreciate the much-improved video and audio on this new release – although the lack of extras is somewhat disappointing.