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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • English Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • Audio commentary by Cox and screenwriter Rudy Wurlitzer
  • Dispatches from Nicaragua, an original documentary about the filming of Walker
  • On Moviemaking and the Revolution, reminiscences twenty years later from an extra on the film
  • The Immortals: behind-the-scenes photos

Walker


Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Alex Cox
Starring: Ed Harris, Peter Boyle, Marlee Matlin, Sy Richardson, Pedro Armendariz, Richard Edson
1987 | 94 Minutes | Licensor: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Release Information
DVD | MSRP: $ | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #423
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: February 19, 2008
Review Date: July 1, 2008

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SYNOPSIS

A hallucinatory biopic that breaks all cinematic conventions, Walker, from British director Alex Cox (Repo Man, Sid & Nancy), tells the story of nineteenth-century American adventurer William Walker (Ed Harris), who abandoned a series of careers in law, politics, journalism, and medicine to become a soldier of fortune, and for several years dictator of Nicaragua. Made with mad abandon and political acuity-and the support of the Sandinista army and government during the Contra war-the film uses this true tale as a satirical attack on American ultrapatriotism and a freewheeling condemnation of "manifest destiny." Featuring a powerful score by Joe Strummer and a performance of intense, repressed rage by Harris, Walker remains one of Cox's most daring works.

Forum members rate this film 6.8/10

 

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PICTURE

Walker gets its region 1 debut on this dual-layered disc, presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and has been enhanced for widescreen televisions.

As one would expect the transfer looks very good. The print is in excellent shape with some grain present, but considering the film is only 20 years old and comes from a major studio I can’t say I was shocked. But the rest of the digital transfer looks very good. Colours are beautifully saturated and look perfect, reds being the best of the bunch. I didn’t notice any edge-enhancement or any other artifacts to speak of. This film isn’t altogether too well known, even amongst hardcore cinephiles and I will say I was shocked when I heard Criterion was releasing this (I always figured an Anchor Bay release at some point.) But it’s wonderful to see Criterion put a lot of care into this. It looks fantastic.

(Note: While there are optional English subtitles for the deaf or hard of hearing, subtitles that translate Spanish or scenes involving sign language are burned in and cannot be removed.)

8/10

All DVD screen captures are presented in their original size from the source disc. Images have been compressed slightly to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

Walker is presented with its original mono track, presented here in Dolby Digital 1.0 mono. I was a little frustrated with the audio as, for a mono track, it had a lot of potential.

Music and sound effects sound absolutely incredible. With the effects and music there is excellent range, the bass is incredible, and it sounds absolutely crystal clear. Unfortunately the dialogue (other than the narration) doesn’t sound to have been mixed in correctly. At times it sounds okay but overall it’s quiet, almost hollow, sometimes being overpowered by what’s going on in the background. Even when someone is yelling, like Harris, an actor who knows how to yell, it sounds unnatural and quiet. Compared with the rest of the track, which sounds absolutely incredible for a mono track, this aspect of it becomes the most frustrating.

6/10

SUPPLEMENTS

There’s a modest amount of supplements on here, but considering the film, the material it’s based on and the events going on at the time of filming I think I was hoping for more.

Worth listening to is the energetic commentary with director Alex Cox and writer Rudy Wurlitzer. The two were recorded together and touch on all aspects of the production from how the idea of the film came to be, the challenges of filming in Nicaragua, how certain sequences were filmed, and the not-so-hot reception. They discuss the themes behind the movie, comparing the events that take place in the movie not only to contra war but also to the events taking place today in Iraq. They also touch on Walker himself, discuss working with Harris and other actors on the project (and I’m impressed at how Cox seems to recall the name of every actor that appears on screen,) touch on the Peckinpah influences, and share some interesting anecdotes (though never finish one about certain cast members getting food poisoning.) They cover a lot and the track never slows down. I have to also say how impressed I am that Wurlitzer and Cox actually did try to stay true to historical records, despite the surreal touches in the film. And Cox makes a few interesting statements, my favourite probably being a moment where Cox, while discussing possible homosexual themes, mentions he thought 300 needed more “gay stuff.” Definitely worth listening to.

The next supplement is an odd one, though interesting none the less. This feature, entitled “On Movie Making and The Revolution” is an 11-minute audio clip from an extra reminiscing on the making of the film. He sounds a little upset about the film’s reception, as it does seem he was hoping this film would make it “big” (which it of course didn’t.) The presentation of this clip is a little questionable. It’s obvious he is watching the film as he keeps pointing himself out and talking about action that he’s seeing on screen, but Criterion has chosen to play this clip over a menu with no video. Video of the sequences he is describing would have been a decent idea. At any rate he seems to want to hurry through but he does have some good things to say and speaks quite frankly, not holding anything back whether it’s good or bad. He talks about the country and the violence going on there, and even points out someone that may have worked with the C.I.A. and was spying on the production. I was also amused as to how he keeps calling Ed Harris “The Colonel.” I enjoyed this supplement but it’s incredibly brief and the presentation seems to suggest this supplement was rushed onto the disc.

”Dispatches from Nicaragua” is a just-shy-of 51-minutes documentary on the making of the film by Terry Schwartz. He was invited by Cox (who in 1987 was sporting a moustache that can only be described as “awesome”) to do some filming on video to chronicle the filming of the movie. The material was recently put together for this DVD release. I have to first say I was impressed with the quality of the footage considering it was shot on video and has been sitting in a garage for the last 20 years; it looks pretty good. As for the doc itself it is a pretty interesting doc if not completely thorough. It offers plenty of footage of the shoot, and a variety of interviews with members of the cast and crew, getting more time with Harris than others (it’s actually a shame Criterion didn’t get Harris to participate in the commentary.) It contains some information about the real William Walker and there’s some footage taken of events following the murder of Benjamin Linder, an American killed by the Contra rebels, as well as footage from a local school where children tell the camera what they know about William Walker, whose history is taught in Nicaraguan schools but is almost unheard of in the U.S. It concludes with a brief mention of its release. It’s a pretty good documentary but I guess I was hoping for a little more. It’s presented in 1.33:1 standard and, while it doesn’t list any chapter stops on the menu, there are 11 chapters.

In a section called “The Immortals” we get a collection of photos divided into two sections. The first one labeled “Behind-the-Scenes” presents a decent collection of photos and a drawing. “Polaroids” presents a collection Polaroid photos, which look like test shots of the actors in costume. There’s quite a few here. You’ll also find some of these photos in the booklet.

Looking on the back of the package it lists a feature where Cox goes over the film’s reviews. For whatever reason they have put this on the disc as an “Easter Egg” that I only found by accident. From the main menu select “On Movie Making and the Revolution” and then click the down arrow on your remote again, selecting the “A” in “Walker”. This feature runs over 6-minutes and in it Cox goes through the film’s reviews. This is a great feature and worth watching, as Cox is good-spirited and funny about how the film was ripped apart, sharing some of his favourite trashings and even the few good reviews it received. It’s presented in anamorphic widescreen.

The back packaging also lists a “Theatrical Trailer” but I couldn’t locate this. I don’t know if this is another Easter Egg or a flub on Criterion’s part. I went through the disc and couldn’t find it, but I’m not very good at finding Easter Eggs, usually only coming across them by accident. If I actually have to look for them then I usually don’t find them.

Closing off this release is a rather thick booklet inserted into the keep case running about 38-pages. First is an essay on the film by Graham Fuller, which covers the pre-production briefly and then the film itself, even going over the Peckinpah influences. You’ll also find notes by actor/writer Linda Sandoval, who recounts a day while working on the film. Finally there’s a collection of notes by Rudy Wurlitzer on William Walker, the film, and Nicaragua, including excerpts from the script. Thrown in the booklet as well are a small collection of photos, most with text descriptions. These photos are also found in the stills gallery on the disc.

And that’s it. The supplements are all pretty good but I guess I was expecting more. I was disappointed with the presentation of the one audio excerpt and was also annoyed at the use of Easter Eggs. Still, an informative package.

7/10

CLOSING

For a film that seemed destined to be forgotten, Criterion has put some love into this release. The audio misses the mark, and I would have appreciated more in the supplements, but the supplements are at least of good quality and the image transfer is excellent. For fans of the film this is an easy recommendation.


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