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  Directed by
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  Specs
  • Widescreen 2.35:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer (RSDL )
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  Subtitles
    English - Hearing Impaired
  Extras
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Audio commentary - John Frankenheimer
  • Cast/crew biographies
  • Featurette
  • Animated menus
  • Filmographies

Reindeer Games

Miramax/Roadshow Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 120 mins . MA15+ . PAL

  Feature
Contract

“This version that you’re about to see is a combination of the released version and my final director’s cut before we did the first preview of the movie. I feel that the preview process hurt this movie. We had expected that the audience would embrace the movie in the previews more than they did. When the first results came in - which were not bad, but were not what the producers had expected - there became an enormous amount of pressure on me to cut the movie, because the distributors were convinced that the audience was reacting to the fact that the film was too long. In retrospect, I should not have cut the movie. But I did, and I feel that you, the audience, were the people that were eventually cheated by this. I think this version of the movie that you’re about to see really represents the film that I set out to make, which quite honestly is a very edgy, hard movie - and there is no doubt about the fact that the released version lost a lot of its edge, and was much softer than the movie that I had originally directed.” (John Frankenheimer, Reindeer Games DVD commentary track)

If there was ever any doubt that the audience preview process used by Hollywood studios is counterproductive, this DVD should settle the argument. When veteran thriller director John Frankenheimer’s Reindeer Games was released in cinemas last year, it attracted almost universal scorn and derision, reviewers noting the film’s poorly structured script and its uneasy balance between humour and drama. What those reviewers didn’t know at the time was that Reindeer Games, in its cinema form, was not the film that Frankenheimer intended to make. The anonymous preview audiences who saw the original version of the film prior to its release made negative comments about the film, and dutifully, Dimension Films ordered that the movie be re-edited, shortened and drastically altered to please the masses. In the process of having this butchery of another’s art enforced, the studio missed their key Christmas release date on the film, and ultimately, despite all the best efforts of those that thought they knew what was best for the audience, it flopped.

Frankenheimer, though, gets the last laugh with the release of this longer, very different version on DVD, which adds nearly 20 minutes to the running time and extensively alters the tone of the movie through re-editing, restoring some - but not all - of the cuts made at the eleventh hour. While region 1 customers initially got the cinema version of Reindeer Games on DVD only to find the longer version appearing last March, Roadshow in Australia have wisely opted to release only the director’s version, tagging it as such very subtly on the front cover.

Rudy (Ben Affleck) and Nick (James Frain) are sharing a cell in prison, and have a mere two days to go until their release. While Rudy’s determined to give up his habit of stealing cars and make a proper life for himself, Nick has only one goal - to finally meet the woman who he has fallen in love with through the letters they have been exchanging, Ashley (Charlize Theron). But in a violently ironic moment, Nick is killed during a prison fight, and Ashley waits outside the gates alone - until Rudy, unable to resist the temptation to make contact with the woman that Nick has told him so much about, decides on the spur of the moment to pretend to be his former cellmate. Before long, Rudy and Ashley are enjoying a blissfully happy time together - until Ashley’s brother Gabriel appears, with plans of his own for the man that he and his sister think is Nick.

While the plot of Reindeer Games is hardly rocket science, Frankenheimer does some terrific things with Ehren Kruger’s sometimes preposterous script. Aided by some exceptionally stylish widescreen cinematography from Alan Caso and superb performances from the principal cast (especially Theron, who navigates her complicated character with surprising believability), Frankenheimer delivers the script’s many surprises and twists with flair and skill, giving us plenty of time to get to know the characters and not making the mistake of presenting them all in a positive light. There’s some silliness here, sure, but ultimately Reindeer Games is a fun, well-paced heist romp with one eye firmly fixed on the dark side of things. It’s possibly unfortunate for Frankenheimer that he’s directed, in the past, some legendary films - The Manchurian Candidate and Ronin amongst them - because many are going to be harder on him for directing less serious-minded material like this movie than they possibly would if a younger, less experienced director had taken the helm. But Frankenheimer’s extensive experience and skill is there on the screen throughout Reindeer Games, and while it won’t be winning any originality awards any time soon, it’ll provide a perfectly satisfying night’s entertainment for those who like their thrillers with a good dose of action and a generous helping of intrigue.

  Video
Contract

True to recent form, Roadshow’s DVD of Reindeer Games looks terrific, capturing the often-challenging snow-laden imagery perfectly, with a very film-like transfer helping enormously. Presented in the correct aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and 16:9 enhanced, the transfer emphasises the unusual look of the film, which is often very sparsely lit and uses blue and green tones extensively in many of the night sequences.

There are a few unusual things, though, that cause some concern throughout the film. Every so often there appears to be some very subtle repeated frames - almost as if the video stream gets “stuck” for a fraction of a second. It’s extremely quick and most won’t notice, but this does occur several times throughout the movie. It’s likely, however, that this is due to the film having been re-edited into a longer form for the director’s cut, with many scenes extended or reworked from the theatrical version. Supporting that theory is a scene where Rudy talks with Dennis Farina’s casino boss - during one shot of Farina the keen viewer can easily see the actual tone of the image change suddenly, becoming noticeably darker and with slightly different colour balance; this is a scene that Frankenheimer points out was extensively re-edited. It’s not unlikely that the re-editing work for this version of the film was done on video, with the transfer of the theatrical cut used as a base; though this reviewer has been unable to confirm that theory, any information that comes to hand after this review is published will be added here.

Overall, though, this is a very good transfer, and the MPEG encoding is nearly flawless save for the occasional spot of minor aliasing, a regular occurrence in higher-resolution transfers on interlaced TV screens.

  Audio
Contract

The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is the sole sound mix available on this disc, and fortunately for those listening in stereo or Pro-Logic, it downmixes to two channels extremely well. A very active, directional sound mix that makes the most of both the myriad audio effects and Alan Silvestri’s superb score (of which a music-only track would have been very welcome), it is only let down slightly by the use of dynamic range compression, which tends to take some of the edge off the more spectacular parts of the movie. Still, this is a very good modern audio track, and those with 5.1 systems should enjoy themselves immensely.

  Extras
Contract

When it comes to extra features, something seems to be amiss, going by what Frankenheimer says early in his commentary track:

“At the end of this DVD you will be able to see the scenes that were cut from the released version…”

There are, of course, no deleted scenes available in the Special Features section of this disc, and there doesn’t appear to be any on the US version of the disc either. Possibly plans to include some were shelved after the commentary was recorded; certainly there’s plenty of free space on the disc, so that couldn’t have been the reason for their non-appearance. At any rate, the few extras that are here are generally good:

Audio Commentary: In which John Frankenheimer, as you probably guessed from the opening quote, makes absolutely no apology for sounding very, very annoyed at the producers of his film for forcing him to recut it after the previews. In fact, this quietly, slowly spoken man spends most of this commentary track detailing where scenes have changed, been added to or been shortened, pausing along the way to point out how he was right all along and that he shouldn’t have gone along with the studio’s wishes. It’s actually a fascinating commentary - particularly for those interested in the politics of Hollywood filmmaking - and does much to explain the differences between the two versions for those who didn’t catch the film in the cinema.

Set Pass: More or less your standard studio-issue featurette with interview snippets and on-set footage, and though there is some interesting stuff here, a full-length documentary would have been far more worthwhile, especially one that chronicled what must have been some interesting conversations between studio brass and film director. This featurette is 16:9 enhanced and presented at a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.

Trailer: The theatrical trailer for the film, presented at 1.78:1 and 16:9 enhanced.

Biographies: Brief bios and filmographies for the principals (Sinise, Affleck and Theron) and director Frankenheimer. Not as comprehensive as some, but not bad; it’s just a shame there’s only the four there, as of course it’s the lesser-known cast members that we really want to find out about.

Scene Selection Menus: While not technically a “special feature”, these scene selection menus are very special, because once again Roadshow have given them to us with both full-motion thumbnail images for each chapter AND the corresponding movie audio for each one. This, as always, is very nice indeed - and it’s actually useful, too, not just a gee-whiz gimmick.

Main Menu Animation: Also worth mentioning as a bit of work’s obviously gone into it. Roadshow’s customary copyright and classification screens appear as they always do - but this time, it suddenly starts snowing all over the classification screen, which fades into the beautifully rendered and snow-covered 3D menu, complete with music from the score. Very nice indeed.

Dolby Digital Rain Trailer: Not this reviewer’s personal favourite, but at least it’s not the City trailer…!

  Overall  
Contract

While it may not be everyone’s idea of how a prison-suspense-romance-heist-mystery-action-thriller should be done (and let’s face it, they’re not done very often!), Reindeer Games is a very entertaining and well-paced genre movie that doesn’t try to take itself too seriously. With a skilled director at the helm and a terrific cast who are obviously enjoying themselves immensely, it’s solid entertainment for those who have no problem suspending disbelief for a couple of hours (and by the way, keep your eyes peeled for a quick appearance by Isaac “Chef” Hayes in an early prison scene!) And of course, Roadshow’s decision to give region 4 DVD customers Frankenheimer’s preferred (and extended) version of the film is good news indeed.


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      And I quote...
    "Roadshow’s decision to give region 4 DVD customers Frankenheimer’s preferred (and extended) version of the film is good news indeed."
    - Anthony Horan
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Rom:
          Pioneer 103(s)
    • MPEG Card:
          Creative Encore DXR2
    • TV:
          Panasonic - The One
    • Receiver:
          Sony STR-AV1020
    • Speakers:
          Klipsch Tangent 500
    • Surrounds:
          Jamo
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Monster s-video
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