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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Spanish DTS-HD 5.1 Surround
  • English subtitles
  • 2 Discs
FEATURES
  • High-definition digital transfers of Che: Part One and Che: Part Two, supervised and approved by director Steven Soderbergh, with DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • Audio commentaries on both films, featuring Jon Lee Anderson, author of Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life
  • Making "Che," a new documentary about the film's production, featuring interviews with Soderbergh, producer Laura Bickford, actor-producer Benicio del Toro, and writers Peter Buchman and Ben van der Veen
  • New interviews with Cuban historians as well as participants in the 1958 Cuban Revolution and Che's 1967 Bolivian campaign
  • Deleted scenes
  • Theatrical trailers
  • More

Che

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Demian Bichir, Julia Ormond, Franka Potente, Lou Diamond Phillips, Matt Damon
| Minutes | Licensor: IFC Films

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $49.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #496
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: January 19, 2010
Review Date: January 14, 2010

Purchase From:
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SYNOPSIS

Far from a conventional biopic, Steven Soderbergh's film about Che Guevara is a fascinating exploration of the revolutionary as icon. Daring in its refusal to make the socialist leader into an easy martyr or hero, Che paints a vivid, naturalistic portrait of the man himself (with a stunning, Cannes-award-winning performance by Benicio del Toro), from his overthrow of the Batista dictatorship to his 1964 United Nations trip to the end of his short life. Originally released in two parts, the first a kaleidoscopic view of the Cuban revolution and the second an all-action dramatization of Che's failed campaign in Bolivia. Che is presented here in its complete form.

Forum members rate this film 8.1/10

 

Discuss the film and Blu-ray here   


PICTURE

Steven Soderbergh’s epic bio-pic Che is given a lavish Blu-ray box set from Criterion, presenting both parts of the film over two dual-layer Blu-ray discs. Part One is presented in the aspect ratio of around 2.39:1 and Part Two is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The transfer is presented in 1080p.

Both parts were shot using the RED One Digital Camera, which films at a resolution of about 4520x2540. The first part also has segments shot using 16mm. The 16mm segments are grainy but the grain looks natural and the image during these segments is very film like. The black and white segments with Che in New York also present excellent gray levels and clean blacks. There were no signs of damage or flaws to the print as well.

The digital segments are something else, though. Seeing films from a digital source on Blu-ray is always wonderful (as long as the transfer has been done right) but I can’t say I have seen a transfer from a digital source as good as this one, and I wonder if it has to do with the use of the RED camera. The first part presents possibly the weaker transfer, though I do feel its flaws are inherent in the source and were picked up while filming. Some dark sequences have some noise in the blacks and it can sometimes look a little blurry on the edges (and that may have to do with it being shot anamorphic.) As a whole, though, the first part presents a consistently sharp and heavily detailed image. Colours are bright and bold, blacks are deep, and skin tones look accurate.

Despite the slight flaws in the source I was absolutely wowed by the first part’s image and was shocked that the second part could impress me even more. The second part is flawless, too flawless at times I’d almost say. The image is smooth and crisp. It was odd to watch the film and have sky sequences with no noise, no delineation, or any sort of artifact. Detail was even better here compared with the first part and I didn’t notice any of the blurring at the edges that I noticed in the first film, and while I felt this one presents a darker colour palette I thought they also looked better here. It looks perfect.

Despite a couple of small flaws (and again I believe they were picked up while filming) this is probably one of the best transfer I’ve come across for the format, impressing me even more than some of Pixar’s titles. It also offers a very significant upgrade over its DVD counterpart. Absolutey fantastic!

10/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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Che: Part One

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Che: Part One

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Che: Part One

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Che: Part One

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Che: Part One

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Che: Part One

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Che: Part One

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Che: Part One

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Che: Part One

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Che: Part Two

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Che: Part Two

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Che: Part Two

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Che: Part Two

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Che: Part Two

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Che: Part Two

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Che: Part Two

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Che: Part Two

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Che: Part Two

AUDIO

Both films present DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks, the first part presenting two different ones, the default track presenting Che’s voiceovers in Spanish with English subtitles, and then the original theatrical track that presented Che’s voiceovers with an English audio translation (the tracks are otherwise the same.) While the “English” track was the one used theatrically, the Blu-ray has the “Spanish” track as the default. Part Two only has the one track.

Both are a step up from the DVD’s Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. I was actually surprised by the activity within the film(s). It’s fairly quiet through a majority of Che but there are some nice action set pieces and these sequences make great use of your surround system. Sound quality is sharp and crystal clear, and splits are easily noticeable and sound very natural. Bass is strong but not at all over the top, and there is great amount of range. Voices are clear and natural, and the music, which is subtle, can fill out the environment nicely. Quite pleasing for both films.

8/10

SUPPLEMENTS

The 2-disc Blu-ray set has everything that’s also available on the 3-disc DVD edition. Where the DVD edition places the films on their own respective discs and then the supplements on a separate third disc, the Blu-ray has the two films on their own discs but then spreads the supplements over both of them.

The first disc, which presents Che: Part One, has a few supplements, starting with an audio commentary by John Lee Anderson, author of Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life. While it’s apparent Anderson is watching the film he doesn’t necessarily always follow it. In fact he’s more interested in giving a history of Che, Cuba, and other members of the Cuban revolution, including Fidel Castro. He doesn’t seem completely pleased with the film, expressing disappointment that it skips certain areas of Che’s life and the lead up to the revolution, and fills in these areas for us. He expands on certain aspects of the film, getting into more detail with the U.S.’s concerns and Cuba’s relationship with the USSR, and also works to paint a more detailed picture of Che. What’s incredible about it is that the track has very little dead space, Anderson managing to keep going throughout the entire length of the film, amazingly never repeating himself and keeping it interesting. I’m not completely sure what he feels about the film as a whole, with me getting the idea he might be somewhat cold to it, but it’s actually a great and intriguing track that probably paints a better and more accurate picture of Che.

The first disc also presents a making-of entitled Making Che, which runs about 50-minutes and is surprisingly presented in 1080p. It’s a talking heads piece featuring Soderbergh, Benecio Del Toro, producer Laura Bickford, and writers Peter Buchman and Benjamin van der Veen. I was a little surprised that this has been a project that’s been trying to get off the ground for more than a decade (well, I guess that’s not too surprising) and I was also surprised that Bickford, who didn’t know much about Che, initially only wanted to make Che because she thought he looked like Benecio Del Toro (as a reason to make a movie I’m not too sure on that.) Soderbergh was brought in a bit later and was on and off of the project, and director Terrence Malick at one point was considered as director. At times it sounds like it was a rather scattershot production with many changes even as filming had already begun. It was initially supposed to be only about Che in Bolivia (which is the second part of the film) but Soderbergh wanted to start with the Cuban Revolution. When he felt a 160-180 minute film wouldn’t be good enough, it was decided to make two films. He then wanted to use the RED camera, which was still a prototype, and that offered another assortment of issues, though did make some aspects of the tight 78-day shoot a little easier. There’s discussion about the script process, Soderbergh explains why the film’s are framed differently, and then it concludes with some discussion on the Roadshow edition and the issues with finding a distributor (it was ready to be distributed just as many independent distributors were shutting down.) Mixed in with some behind-the-scenes material it’s a rather fascinating making-of, made more interesting by the fact it sounds like the production was going to collapse at any second.

Next are 10 deleted scenes running 15-minutes specific only to the first part of the film. Soderbergh offers an optional commentary and the footage is presented in 1080p. It’s easy to see why some scenes were cut, either coming off repetitive or adding very little, but there are some good scenes in here, including the trial of Sardińa and a bit about people who impersonated the rebels. Soderbergh explains why the scenes were cut and points out the ones that were the more difficult ones to exclude. It also sounds like there was still a lot of material cut that’s not presented here.

The first disc then concludes with the theatrical trailer for the Roadshow edition.

Disc two presents the second film and then another assortment of supplements.

We get yet another audio commentary by author John Lee Anderson who delivers a commentary similar to the one he gave for the first part. He talks a bit about Che’s life during the time period between the two films, revealing a nastier side to Che than what’s presented in either film, and then talks about specifics involving Bolivia at the time, including the abuse of the miners. He also touches on Tania and the suspicions of an affair between her and Che (which he doubts is true and offers his reasons as to why that is) and also offers up explanations as to why the Bolivian campaign didn’t work whereas the Cuban one did. It’s similar to the first track, with Anderson managing to fill out the entire length of it with very little dead space and keeping it interesting.

This disc only presents 4 deleted scenes running 5 and a half minutes. A couple of the scenes are interesting but I’d recommend just watching them with Soderbergh’s optional commentary track where he again explains why he cut these scenes, this time it sounding like he just couldn’t find an appropriate place for them. But again it does sound like there’s even more deleted material for the second film that is not shown here.

End of a Revolution is a 25-minute documentary from 1968 made by Brian Moser right after Che’s execution in Bolivia. It begins with footage of Che’s body and then moves on to the conditions of the peasants’ lives in Bolivia, paying special attention to the country’s miners, and then the trial of Regis Debray, an associate of “Che” Guevara’s who was sentenced to 30 years in prison for that association (he would eventually be released in 1970.) There’s even footage of the American military who were in Bolivia to train the army in fighting the resistance and possibly capturing Che. It’s an excellent inclusion for this set, the sort of supplement I’d expect Criterion to include, offering more context for the film.

Interviews From Cuba offers interviews with a couple of historians and various people who were involved in either the Cuban Revolution and Che’s campaign in Bolivia. Divided into two sections the first part, called “Participants” has interviews (conducted by Del Toro and Bickford) with those who knew Che, including brothers Enrique and Rogelio Alevedo, Richard Alarcon, Leonardo Tamayo Nuńez, and Harry Villegas. Between them they talk about Che, first meeting him and their impressions of him, recall stories from battles, the hierarchy of the rebels, and even touch on the Cuban media at the time. Nuńez recalls when Che disguised himself to head to Bolivia (portrayed somewhat in the film, though they skipped one of the more painful aspects) and there’s a bit about the fighting in Bolivia. The second part found under “Historians” has historians Mario Mencía and Herberto N. Acosta talk a bit about the lead up to the Cuban Revolution and offers more details about Che and Fidel’s planning and their friendship. Together the interviews (running 25-minutes and 12-minutes respectively) help place the film in a better context and offer some decent firsthand accounts from those involved.

Che and the Digital Cinema Revolution is a rather good documentary about the RED Camera, the use of digital photography, and its advantages in filmmaking. Soderbergh talks about his insistence at using the camera and despite some of the early flaws he was determined to make it work. The key advantage is that it could take a high-res image yet was incredibly compact compared to conventional film equipment. He had had a desire to film in 65mm but the equipment would have been too much for the condition of the shoot (and instead of lugging around film cans they only had to carry a few harddrives, laptops, and 237 8GB flash cards.) This was also a test run for the camera and employees from RED were either there on the shoot or on call back home in the case that something went wrong (at first the camera would indicate it was overheating and eventually it was discovered the heat censor was in the wrong place.) Many advantages on top of portability are pointed out, specifically editing, which could be done on a laptop on the drive to location or back to the hotel. Security was also improved upon. It’s a very technical doc but quite fascinating only hampered by graphics constantly being thrown across the screen coming off more “MTV” in style at times. I’m guessing this was Criterion’s attempt at lifting the doc above their typical talking-heads presentation.

Like the DVD, this Blu-ray edition comes with a booklet containing an essay by Amy Taubin, You also get a poster for Che replicating the DVD cover art.

While I thought Anderson’s commentary was a great inclusion I must confess a certain disappointment that Soderbergh or even Del Toro didn’t provide a track of their own. But this might be best explained by the two documentaries on here where Soderbergh, admittedly excited about the new technology he used for the film, seems a little jaded about filmmaking; there’s a lot of mention about the short attention spans of audiences (Del Toro calling this the “iPhone era”) and how that is affecting the distribution and funding of films which I think leads him to question the relevance of cinema today. While the supplements as a whole are great and cover their subject matter and the film so well, I have to admit coming away from this set on a little bit of a down note.

8/10

CLOSING

Criterion’s release of Steven Soderbergh’s Che is an impressive one and a strong release for the beginning of the year, featuring a solid, pretty much perfect looking image, and a strong selection of supplements that help one put the film in its proper context and also show us some fascinating material on digital photography, the RED Camera, and its place in the industry. A high recommendation.


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