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  Directed by
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • English: Dolby Digital Stereo
  Subtitles
  • None
  Extras
  • 9 Deleted scenes - 'Rants and Raves'
  • 2 Teaser trailer - 'Extreme Promotions'
  • 3 Theatrical trailer - 'Extreme Promotions'
  • Audio commentary - By Daniel Minahan
  • Cast/crew biographies - Features 9 members of the cast and crew
  • Interviews - Q&A with Director/Writer Daniel Minahan
  • Filmographies - John Dowd - an artist

Series 7

Magna/Magna . R4 . COLOR . 85 mins . R . PAL

  Feature
Contract

“We’ve left them on an island, and seen if they could last.
We’ve locked them in a house, and watched what they would do.

And now, we’ve given then weapons.”


This is one of those discs that on trying to track down, one common question will almost always come up. After asking for Series 7, the so-called store assistant will ask “of what?” Well, it’s the 7th series of the hit American TV series The Contenders (duh!). OK, here’s the truth... its just a movie, it isn't real, except it is scary to see how far these reality TV shows could be willing to go.

With a cast of nobodies (not quite true, they all have minor backgrounds) and an incredibly low budget, writer and director Daniel Minahan has taken the new fad of reality TV shows one step further. This film wouldn’t have worked if they were blockbuster actors as they would be too familiar. Like the TV shows, the people are all unfamiliar, making it easier to attach to them. On Survivor we watched them on an island trying to out-survive each other. Series 7 really, in essense, is no different. However, in Survivor they didn’t try to kill each other. The aim of The Contenders is to kill all of the other contenders. Sounds sick? It most certainly is, but really, how far away is this sort of series?

Filmed entirely on hand-held cameras, in the on-field style of Survivor and The Amazing Race, this film is put together as three 30-minute episodes of the show, which features the entire 7th series. Without talking about the content it is scary to see how it has been edited, and it looks, feels and sounds exactly like these shows. Reality TV shows are the “in thing” at the moment, with the second series of Big Brother just starting in Australia now. Sure, this film was released in 2001 in Australia, but it was actually filmed in the late 1990’s. This is the scary part, because this was before Richard Hatch won Survivor, before Big Brother made it to our shores - it was before the hype was there. To believe that Minahan wrote this deeply satirical view on these shows, and then for them to become so popular worldwide is just a scary thought. What if Minahan was one of the producers of these shows? What would the world be like now? OK, that’s taking it a step too far, but in all honesty, the fact that this was written prior to the hype is still a frightening thought. But anyway...

This film has been rated R 18+ by the Office of Film and Literature Classification, and rightly so. The adult themes are not what should be worried about – at an R 18+ rating, adult themes shouldn’t be applicable. But then read on to the "Frequent Violence" warning. Being shot on hand held cameras and with no special effects, some sequences will make you squirm with their outgoing, brutal, bloody carnage that these people inflict on one another. But then there is the humour. To get the most out of this film you need a couple of things:
1. A wickedly dark sense of humour, and
2. A love of reality TV shows.
The humour is just so black and dark that it is funny, and some lines will be funny even for the cleaner humoured people. None the less, the style that this film has been edited with matches the real shows, and exaggeration of certain elements just makes this film so much more humorous and appealing. But definitely don’t let the kids get a hold of this title.

The Contenders is in its 7th series, and Dawn Lagarto is back for her third season, and if she wins this round, she has won her freedom. Five other Contenders are selected at random from their numbers given at birth and are forced to play. Each followed around by their own camera man, the actions of all six contenders are captured, as if it was an episode of Survivor. Sure, there are no alliances here, because back-stabbing would actually occur - literally - but everyone’s point-of-view is expressed and edited to create the dramas that make up the episodes.

Dawn is eight months pregnant and is due to give birth any day. After winning two previous rounds, she is one wild woman, as quoted by one newspaper in the film as a “bloody mamma,” and feels nervous returning to her home town for this third season. Jeffery, a 33-year-old artist has a link to Dawn – but what is it? Connie, the religious nurse – how helpful can she be? Tony, the fit, fighting father of three – how strong can he be? Lindsay, the young 18-year-old student – how smart can she be? Franklin, the oldest member of the team – how eccentric can he be?

Filled with a cast of interesting characters, who appear so lifelike with their own problems and emotions, Series 7 is a film that takes the concept of reality TV one step further.

  Video
Contract

As with The Blair Witch Project, another Magna Pacific title, it is best to judge the video and audio qualities by their intended quality. The Blair Witch Project was not meant to be sharp throughout with no grain, and Series 7, whilst not quite as extreme as the Witch, is also meant to look amateurish with a television style. Without these elements, these films just wouldn’t work. So now that that is out of the way...

The video is presented in an aspect of 1.85:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. This is a PAL transfer, except some of the colours appear as if they are from an NTSC format, which they are, except they are still superbly mastered, with no colour bleeding whatsoever.

The colours are very bright and vibrant, with some solid, vivid reds and golden yellow tones that complement the style of the film. The colours throughout are richly saturated which gives a bright, nearly oil-painting feel to the film. The blood is sometimes a little red though... Skin tones are very realistic, yet slightly pale due to the temperature of the setting of the film.

Some of the black scenes are very black, with solidity and little low level noise. Shadow detail is generally very good, but this is limited by the quality of the camera equipment that it is filmed with. Now where are those night-vision scenes from Survivor?

Throughout the picture there are some very slight cases of aliasing, but nothing that is overly distracting. Just a road line here or there, or some Venetian blinds. But definitely not as bad as some other discs.

Surprisingly, the image is incredibly sharp and detailed throughout the feature, with only one or two softer scenes, but this is all there for the style of the film. Whilst on a close-up of a person, the camera goes out of focus to adjust to a new zooming level, or change of lighting conditions, but these all add to the effect Minahan is trying to convey.

There is no layer change on this single-sided, single-layered disc.

  Audio
Contract

There are three audio tracks on this disc – a Dolby Digital 5.1 English track, a Dolby Digital 2.0 English track and a director’s commentary.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is the ideal track for watching the film with its proper dialogue. The front of the soundstage is incredibly busy, and it just sounds great. Primarily, the dialogue comes from the centre channel, and the left and right channels are used for effects. What makes this track sound better than the rest is that the left and right channels are used for discrete sounds, so rather than the same effects pumping from both speakers, they work independently of each other to create certain effects. This sounds really good and is a great way of grabbing the audience's attention. The dialogue is clear and audible throughout, with no audio sync problems. The surround channels are not used a great deal, and mainly carry an echo of the front of the soundstage. Mind you, this does create a very enveloping soundstage and, again, makes it sound great. Especially given the tone of the film, the surrounds shouldn’t and aren’t being used to carry ricocheting bullets and other such effects, but rather the music and a slight echo of the dialogue. The subwoofer kicks in every now and then, and offers a rich bass for the soundtrack.

The Dolby Digital 2.0 track sounds, in comparison, very flat and hollow. It lacks the rich bass of the 5.1 track, and the enveloping sound. Sure, it still boasts great stereo effects and dialogue levels, but it is nothing compared to the 5.1 track.

The director’s commentary is the third track, and is Dolby Digital 2.0. More about that later.

  Extras
Contract

This disc has a heap of features that fill in details and answer questions on the film and the specifics behind it.

The videos in the Extra Features all suffer from a small problem, a problem that the ‘zoom’ button fixes. It is hard to describe, but picture this. The screen is 16x9 enhanced. The video is too, except the image that you are watching is a widescreen image within the 16x9 enhancement. The actual image is not distorted, but it features black bars either side of the image. If you are lucky enough to have a ‘zoom’ button on your remote, push it and the image looks normal. A small problem, but nothing too annoying. The features are still there, so why complain? All of the videos have Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.

Scene Selections: These are your stock standard scene selections (who wouldda thunk it?) They are not animated and do not have any audio.

Cast & Crew: These are, again, stock standard cast and crew information sheets on the following people (the number in the brackets is the number of pages): Dawn (6), Connie (4), Jeff (4), Tony (3), Franklin (5), Lindsay (5), Sheila (5), Doria (4) and Daniel Minahan (3). They do offer interesting information about the small cast and crew, and give some background insights into where else you can see these people.

Q&A with director/writer Daniel Minahan: This consists of 21 pages of text with seven questions. This would have been great in a video interview, rather than text. Still very informative though.

Rants & Raves: Or in other words, deleted scenes. These all suffer from slight aliasing, and are unmastered video. Nine deleted scenes have been included, and all are good cuts except the first and last of the scenes. First, we have Dawn’s Family Reunion which runs for 2:32 and is a longer and ruder (it features the ‘c’ word) version of the one in the film, and adds a different tone to Dawn’s family. There is one slight MPEG artefact in this scene. Franklin’s Speech runs for 1:02 and has rough audio and is just a long-winded version of his speech at the mall. Inside Franklin’s Trailer runs for 1:05 and is just about the lead lining in his trailer. Whoop-di-doo. Franklin In The Mirror runs for :47 and is about the end of society. Connie’s Priest Confesses runs for :30 and has a silouhette of Connie’s priest asking her to come forward and come clean before meeting up with God. Vox Pops runs for :43 and is the only video that doesn’t suffer from the bizarre framing. It talks about Jeff and Dawn (see the movie to understand what I mean!) and it can easily be seen why it was removed. It does demonstrate the mentality of the people in the “film’s world”, where they accept this violent, murderous game. The Movie Trailer is an alternate ending for the film and runs for 1:25, but adds a harsh, sour tone to the film and isn’t as satisfying as the actual ending. Laura and Baby runs for :56 and is unnecessary babble about the baby that Dawn gives birth to. Finally, Check Yourself runs for :25 and is pretty much an ad for men to learn how to check themselves. I won’t say anymore... it gives too much away, but it would have been funny to add halfway through the credits.

Extreme Promotions: These are the promotional files for the film which includes four trailers and one... umm, documentary. The brackets indicate the length of the footage. The trailers are named ‘Trailer’ (:30), ‘‘Red’ Trailer’ (1:35) which is the Restricted trailer, ‘‘Green’ Trailer’ (1:22) which is the All Ages trailer and ‘Promo 1’ (1:41). ‘Promo 2’ (2:02) is a small documentary about how the film was marketed and different techniques that director Daniel Minahan and Brooke Smith (Dawn) used to get people into the cinemas.

John Dowd Filmography: This is one of the weirdest extra features, and runs for 2:21 showing a picture of a house from inside Jeff’s house with audio over the top explaining how the images were painted. This is accompanied by John Dowd Filmography 2 which runs for 1:31 and shows more of the house images.

Director’s Commentary: This is by writer/director Daniel Minahan and offers an interesting trivial insight into the making of the film with ideas about concepts and editing. Very informative, like The Blair Witch Project. This is one film that benefits greatly from a good commentary.

The menus are static, with the main menu featuring audio. They are simple to navigate through and easy to read.

  Overall  
Contract

This is one of those cult films that will remain a cult film forever. The popularity of these reality TV shows just makes it all the more enjoyable and adds to the black humour applied to the script. The video is superb, given the original sources and the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is superb. Simply a tob job from Magna Pacific. The extra features are lacking slightly, but still offer a great insight into the making of the film through the director’s commentary and Q&A session. Overall, if you love the reality TV shows and can handle some violence, this is a must have disc. But be warned, “due to the graphic nature of the following program, viewer discretion is advised.”


  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=1424
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  •  DVD NET Gold Review List 
      And I quote...
    "Series 7 is a dark, satirically funny look into the latest fad of reality TV shows. The scary thing is that this was written in 1997, BEFORE these shows..."
    - Martin Friedel
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Nowa DS-8318
    • TV:
          TEAC 68cm CTV
    • Speakers:
          Teac PLS-60 Home Theatre System
    • Centre Speaker:
          Teac PLS-60 Home Theatre System
    • Surrounds:
          Teac PLS-60 Home Theatre System
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          standard s-video
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    "This Craic is as unfunny as a plumber’s butt crack, with a transfer that’s just as pretty too..."

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