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  Directed by
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 1.78:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer ( 48:10)
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  Subtitles
  • None
  Extras
  • Theatrical trailer
  • 2 Audio commentary - 1.Director 2. Editor
  • Featurette - Making of

The Conversation

Universal/Universal . R4 . COLOR . 109 mins . M15+ . PAL

  Feature
Contract

The Conversation is a film that probably set minds racing back in 1974, and no doubt compounded many peoples’ “Big Brother” paranoia with its storyline about personal surveillance and eavesdropping. However, in 2003, when hi-tech surveillance is something you can pick up at Dick Smith's when you go grocery shopping on a Saturday morning, it actually fails to raise any real emotions at all.

Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) and his surveillance team are using all the latest gadgetry to keep tabs on a mysterious couple who seem to enjoy walking around San Francisco’s Union Square. Using the best equipment available they manage to snap many photographs of the couple and record endless hours of audio tapes of their conversations, though much of the audio recorded is distorted, buzzes, and suffers from interference and drop out.

He attempts to deliver the tapes and photos to his ‘client’, but insists on doing so personally. When the ‘client’ refuses to meet him and asks that the ‘evidence’ be turned over to his assistant, Cawl reneges and flees with the photos and tapes.

Just why he was following this couple he is not sure, but he knows that a good investigator doesn’t get involved. This changes when, through filtration and other trickery, he manages to decipher one vital piece of the conversation, and hears the words, “He'd kill us if he got the chance.”

Fearing he has stumbled onto a murder plot, he does the unthinkable and gets involved, only to wish he hadn’t.

What a boring film. Sorry Coppola fans, but after 108 minutes, the only interesting scene comes in the finale, and as it would mean nothing in isolation, I could not recommend anyone sit through this just for that one, final scene. It is a very slow paced film that relies on the ‘wow’ factor a little too often. As Coppolla himself admits, it was designed to give people a glimpse at what surveillance techniques were available in 1974. The trouble is that by 2003 standards, everything you see is extremely old hat.

The only character that you learn anything about is Caul, and even then he is not that interesting, and neither is his increasing mental anguish. Not even the mysterious couple in the square can raise any interest, and neither can the guy who hired Caul, Caul’s assistant, or even Caul’s problems relating to his girlfriend. They are given little to no dialogue, and no chance to establish themselves as interesting characters. When you consider they are all part of the affair leading Caul to his breakdown, you might expect to learn a little more about them.

There is no tension, no real surprises, no thrills, certainly no action scenes, and only one miserly plot twist to provide any interest in the less than satisfying ending. There are frequent and long sequences of nothing that drag the film to a halt from which it never manages to recover. You know when you’re in trouble when you are watching the DVD player’s time counter, willing it to go faster, and you’re only at Chapter Three...

  Video
Contract

Surprisingly, this a fine looking transfer, in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and 16:9 enhanced. It has quite a sharp image with good definition, but it still has that ‘70s look, no doubt compounded by the fashions and hairstyles. Colours are never bold or bright, and the print itself seems to be in good nick. Colours are a consistent and solid, with just a hint of colour filtration in many scenes, but there are no problems with bleeding or noise. There is virtually no grain and almost no dirt to be seen, however.

Black levels are quite good and solid throughout, but shadow detail at times is greatly reduced. There are a small number of white specks that appear mostly in the last chapter or two, but these are very minor and infrequent. If you have managed to stay awake up to this point, you won’t notice them. If you are still awake at this stage, they might actually provide welcome relief. You can play “Spot the Dot” or something.

There are no issues with shimmer either, and the layer change is almost undetectable at 48:10. If it hadn’t been for the audio pausing for a fraction of a second, it would have gone by unnoticed.

  Audio
Contract

OK so there is a Dolby Digital 5.1, but really you won’t even notice such is the infrequent response from the surrounds. Almost all the sound comes from the three front speakers with some separation and panning. The rears do kick in occasionally for the minimal piano-based score, and one or two ambient scenes, but are completely silent in other similar scenes. In fact they are so silent in the first half of the film, that when they kick in for the first time with any gusto, you’ll likely jump, as I did. At least something about this film got a reaction!

The sound range is rather static with no low-level sounds and therefore nothing from the subwoofer. Treble sounds are likewise dull, but there are no problems with hearing the dialogue or with synchronisation. In all, this is quite a dull, flat, 5.1 audio track that is adequate, but hardly impressive.

  Extras
Contract

With the addition of not one, but two, audio commentaries, I cannot imagine anyone other than yours truly who will manage to sit through both of them. The first, from director Francis Ford Coppola, is surprisingly interesting and manages to make the film a little more engrossing, though that was hardly a challenge. Coppola spends much of his time addressing the meaning behind the film, the idea behind many of the scenes, and some anecdotal records of making the film. He also talks about the inspiration for the film, which he wrote, and the ideas that formed the guts of the story, plus some information about the creation of the characters. There are also some tips, hints and technical information for budding directors. To his credit though, he maintains the commentary right the way through with few gaps.

The second commentary is from the film editor and sound mixer, Walter Murch. Being a film making great use of eavesdropping and surveillance techniques, he is a logical choice; though I wish for the sake of my sanity he had recorded his thoughts with Coppola into one commentary. There is, naturally, some repetition, though Murch does go into more of the technical requirements of filming. There are more gaps in this commentary that increase in length as it progresses.

A nice try in the extras is a short behind the scenes look at the film in Close-up on The Conversation, but at eight and a half minutes it turns out to be almost as lifeless as the film, only shorter. Again you might find yourself clock watching, or more likely evicting the DVD from the house entirely.

There is also the obligatory theatrical trailer that tries valiantly to convince viewers that The Conversation is some kind of thrill-a-minute psycho-suspense thriller. Bzzzz – wrong! It is also in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, in mono, and is a very soft, dark, and dirty print.

Credits are also included, continuing the ‘boring’ theme by being two screens of text listing who we can blame, and for what.

  Overall  
Contract

This just may be the most tedious film I have ever sat through. I know that many will disagree, but honestly, I recommend leaving this one alone. The acting is fine, there are a few opportunities to play ‘Spot the Future Star’ in such actors as Harrison Ford, Cindy Williams and Teri Garr, but as a film it fails to even raise interest, let alone maintain it. This is like watching a David Lynch film with the arty bits removed.


  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=2394
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      And I quote...
    "Considered by many to be one of Coppola’s best films. I don’t know why, this is even more boring than Big Brother itself…"
    - Terry Kemp
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Akai
    • TV:
          TEAC CT-F803 80cm Super Flat Screen
    • Receiver:
          Pioneer VSX-D409
    • Speakers:
          Wellings
    • Centre Speaker:
          Wellings
    • Surrounds:
          Wellings
    • Subwoofer:
          Sherwood SP 210W
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          standard s-video
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