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May 27, 2007
Windtalkers - Blu-Ray Movie Review
Cinema Release Blu-Ray Release Distributor Director
1/8/200230/5/2007FoxJohn Woo
Video Codec Sound Format OFLC Rating Star(s)

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Nic Cage puts in a decent performance.
Windtalkers was supposed to be a massive 'tentpole' movie for MGM in 2002. With a reported production budget of around $US115 million it was one of the biggest war movies of all time, and action director John Woo was expected to deliver in a big way. He delivered, that's for sure. He delivered massive battle scenes with more explosions and gunfights then most movies before, but failed to include an engaging and emotional storyline. What it amounted to was a movie that bombed at the box office with a worldwide take of only $US77 million.

The story is one that should have been quite interesting if only because it is based on real events during World War II. On December 8, 1941, the United States declared war on Japan. For the next several years, U.S. forces were fully engaged in battle throughout the Pacific, taking over islands one by one in a slow progression towards mainland Japan. During this brutal campaign, the Japanese were continually able to break coded military transmissions, dramatically slowing U.S. progress.

In 1942, several hundred Navajo Americans were recruited as Marines and trained to use their language as code. In John Woo's Windtalkers, written by John Rice & Joe Batteer, Marine Joe Enders (Nicolas Cage) is assigned to protect Ben Yahzee (Adam Beach) - a Navajo Code Talker, the Marines' new secret weapon. Enders' orders are to protect his code talker, but if Yahzee should fall into enemy hands, he's to "protect the code at all costs." Against the backdrop of the horrific Battle of Saipan, when capture is imminent, Enders is forced to make a decision: if he can't protect his fellow Marine, can he bring himself to kill him to protect the code? The Navajo code was the only one never broken by the Japanese, and is considered to have been key in winning the war.

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Roger Willie as Private Charlie Whitehorse.
So what do I think of the movie? Well, as a fan of action movies, and particularly war based ones such as Saving Private Ryan, Where Eagles Dare, Platoon and Dirty Dozen. I did enjoy this movie, but it's not one I would put among my favourites in terms of storyline. There simply isn't enough passion and emotion in the movie to engage you. Having said that, the battle scenes are certainly among some of the best we have ever seen on film, and while there is plenty of bloody flying around, it it never excessive or unrealistic. Ultimately this movie serves one purpose; to inform millions of people around the world about the role the Navajo did play in the war - something which I wasn't even aware of until I saw this movie in cinemas some years ago.

When this movie first started I was concerned. The MGM logo has some telecine wobble, and opening credits around Monument Valley appear a bit soft and the video just didn't seem to have much life to it. Indeed when I checked the bitrate it was generally around 12-15Mbps for the opening couple of minutes. Fortunately these issues are soon resolved - as soon as the Navajo get on the busses to join the war at around 2:45 the bitrate jumps up significantly to over 20Mbps and the transfer becomes vastly superior.

Actually it soon becomes quite apparent just how brilliant John Woo is as an action director, and as a person with an eye for detail. Certainly the most impressive aspect of this MPEG-2 encoded transfer is the battle scenes. Rather then the quick-cut, shaky-cam which so many directors use these days John Woo takes the camera way back from the action so you can see the entire battlefield - it's brilliant. There are so many scenes when the lush greens of the jungle are broken with the brilliant reds of an explosion or flame thrower providing a start contrast between the two.

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Colours are brilliant, be it greens or reds.
Audio on this Blu-Ray disc is provided through a rousing English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Lossless Audio which, at this stage, means we can only extract the 'core' track - and in this movies case it is a 768kbps audio track with todays receivers. It's a sensational audio experience despite the slightly lower then optimal audio experience. While the quieter dialogue moments aren't much to write home about, when the movie enters the battle phases the speakers will come to life with a fidelity and aggressiveness rarely heard. I would put this audio experience, in the battles at least, up there with DTS tracks such as Saving Private Ryan on DVD. One can only hope that Sony get the passing of DTS-HD audio through the HDMI cable working sooner rather then later so we can experience Windtalkers in its full glory.

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The battle scenes are intense.
What has disappointed me about this Blu-Ray release is that the disc only includes the theatrical version which runs for 134 minutes, and have failed to include the extended version which was released on DVD some time ago and ran for 153 minutes. It could be argued that the extended version didn't add much to the movie, but it would have been a nice inclusion - even if it would have see the disc bumped form a single layer 25GB to dual layered 50GB disc.

Even more depressing then the fact the extended version isn't here, is the fact that the Extended Edition DVD included plenty of great extras such as an introduction to the film by John Woo, and some great audio commentaries including one with John Woo and producer Terence Chang, and a second with Nicolas Cage and Christian Slater and a third with actor Roger Willie and Navajo consultant Albert Smith. Surely they could have squeezed these onto the Blu-Ray disc! The standard DVD release even included a couple of video extras as well. As stated, all are missing from this Blu-Ray release.

Despite good intentions Windtalkers really does come off rather poorly. As a fan of action movies and certainly that of John Woo I simply expected so much more from this movie. The battle scenes look stunning, but surprisingly it's possibly a lack of detail as to how widespread and how important the Navajo were to the allied war efforts that got to me. Essentially this movie boils down to focus on Nic Cage's character when it probably shouldn't have. Technically though this transfer is quite polished and is a great example of the Blu-Ray formats capabilities.

Review By: Dave Warner


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