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November 25, 2007
Black Book - Blu-Ray Movie Review
Cinema Release Blu-Ray Release Distributor Director
5/7/200719/12/2007Sony PicturesPaul Verhoeven
Video Codec Sound Format OFLC Rating Star(s)
AVC MPEG-4Dutch Dolby Digital 5.1 640kbps
Dutch Linear PCM 5.1 4.6Mbps
MA15+Carice van Houten

THE MOVIE
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Carice van Houten as Rachel Stein.
Released as Zwartboek in Holland it's unlikely that many of you would have heard of this movie (it only made about $500,000 in Australia upon release) but Black Book (as it is known in the English speaking world) is a movie well worth checking out - and there is no better format then on Blu-Ray. Paul Verhoeven first came up with the storyline for this movie in the 1980's but was unable to secure funding. Following a stint in Hollywood where he had several hits and a couple of flops he returned to Holland where he picked up the pieces, finally secured funding, and got the film made. The movie isn't actually based on a true story of a person, but rather a combination of events that took place during World War II.

In the darkest days of World War II, Jewish fugitives attempt to escape occupied Holland - only to face a Nazi ambush. Rachel Stein (Carice van Houten) alone survives the attack and joins the Dutch Resistance to avenge her family. She soon confronts the ultimate test: she must infiltrate German headquarters by tempting Captain Ludwig Myntze (Sebastian Hoch). In the heat of passion, he uncovers her duplicity...but keeps her secret. Then Rachel's espionage reveals that a murderous traitor lurks within Resistance ranks. Unable to fully trust anyone, Rachel navigates a minefield of deception and becomes an enemy to both sides.

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Guess who they're hiding from...
It has to be said that Black Book isn't the easiest movie to watch. There are quite a few scenes of depravity, killing and certainly some rather confronting sexuality - but that’s what you expect when Paul Verhoeven is the director. Indeed over the years Paul Verhoeven has created some of the greatest action movies including Total Recall, Robocop, Basic Instinct, Starship Troopers and an earlier Dutch movie Soldier of Orange, and this is right up there with the best of them. I initially thought this would be a very action packed movie however it turned out to be a very tense drama for the most part.

One thing that can't be denied is the beauty and acting abilities of lead actress Carice van Houten. Despite the heavy subject matter whenever Carice appears on screen everything manages to come to life with the smallest emotions evident. When she is singing at the Nazi party and her families’ killer decides to sing with her you can sense the total disliking of him. Carice can also sing and despite being in Dutch the passion, and quality of her voice (it is hers used in the movie too!) is delightful. It's clear that she has plenty of talent - whether or not she ever makes it to any major 'Hollywood' movies remains to be seen.

She's not the only highlight in the acting department though as everyone puts in a stellar performance including Sebastian Hoch as Captain Ludwig Myntze and Halina Reijn as Rachel's friend Ronnie. Also contributing to Black Book's quality is the gorgeous set design, the wonderful costumes and locations used and certainly the direction by Paul Verhoeven. Indeed I would go so far as to say this is one of my favourite movies of 2007.

VIDEO
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Detail in dark scenes remains solid.
Apparently this was the most expensive movie ever made in Holland, and the production values and film quality certainly attest to that. Encoded in AVC MPEG-4 this almost 2 1/2 hour movie looks absolutely stunning with the majority of the film sees the bitrate in the 25-30Mbps range although it does peak much higher then that on occasion. Having only hit cinemas earlier this year we were not surprised to find the quality of the image here as being top notch with gorgeous colours, deep shadows and constantly high levels of detail. Many of the scenes in this movie take place indoors, during night time or in darkened areas but at all times it was easy to make out the smallest details.

But lets look at some of these scenes. The very first scene at 0:00:42-0:01:07 in Israel is the first truly stunning indication of the quality of this disc. The amount of detail in the rocks and cliffs on either side of the road is remarkable and as you pan around to the coastline it's a gorgeous vision. Another wonderful scene takes place between 0:07:15-0:08:11 when the Flying Fortress flies overhead and then drops the bomb on the Farmhouse. The brilliance of the explosion is staggering and the contrast between the red flames and green fields is stunning. There are moments as brilliant as this throughout the entire movie.

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A real Flying Fortress was used to film this scene.
AUDIO
As a Dutch movie I wasn't surprise to find the audio in the native language - and to be honest I wouldn't have watched it any other way. I was a little surprised though to learn that there is no English dub at all for this release, only a Dutch Dolby Digital track at 640kbps, and a Dutch Uncompressed PCM 5.1 track at 4.6Mbps. The movie is quite heavily dialogue driven (and for some brief moments they do speak English), but there are moments when surround sound comes into play, particularly during the gunfights. Music by Anne Dudley is superb and certainly adds to the emotion of the movie.

If there is one slightly negative comment about the audio experience in Black Book it's that the gunfire sounds a little more subdued then expected. Perhaps I have become more in tune with 'Hollywood' styled gunfire then real life but the machine guns don't sound as brutal as one would expect. Still, overall, Black Book provides a superb audio experience.

EXTRAS
For such a small release there are a couple of nice extras on this disc with the highlight certainly being the commentary from director Paul Verhoeven - if you can tolerate his strong accent. Besides that we also get a 25 minute "Making of" documentary.

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There's plenty of tom-foolery in the movie.
Commentary from Director Paul Verhoeven:

    Paul Verhoeven is an interesting character to listen to. It's obvious that he is quite passionate about his movies as one would expect and he imparts quite a bit of information about the movies development, the actors, what happened during filming, what's real (including blowing up the farmhouse at the beginning!) and what's CG. Given the length of the movie, and his strong accent this isn't the easiest commentary to listen to, but you should definitely try.

The Making of Black Book (25:17):

    A little light on detail, and a little heavy on scenes from the movie this documentary is still worth a look as it gives a little insight from many of the cast and crew as to what went into the making. One such detail which I found fascinating was that the female actresses playing the Nazi Whores after liberation had such a hard time having their hair cut off and being labeled 'Nazi Whores' by the crowds. Obviously it's still an emotional issue to many people.

Previews:

    Movie trailers for Perfect Stranger, The Lives of Others, Reign Over Me, Paprika and Coming to Blu-Ray. Each is presented in HD with 640kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 audio.

OVERALL
I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed Black Book as a movie and this Blu-Ray disc is pretty damn impressive in terms of transfer too. If you have a PS3 and don't mind subtitled movies then this is definitely a movie worth adding to your shopping list.

Review By: Dave Warner

THE MOVIE
9/10
THE VIDEO
9/10
THE AUDIO
9/10
THE EXTRAS
5/10
OVERALL
8/10

Note: All images in this article are Copyright© Sony Pictures. They are only indicative of the movie and not sourced from the vastly superior Blu-Ray disc format.