Reds (HD DVD)

January 28, 2012 7 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

As the Russian Revolution unfolds, an unlikely man stands in the middle of the chaos, an American named John Reed (Warren Beatty). Reed is a journalist and he never shies away from dangerous stories, instead he is drawn to them. He is also a Communist and an activist, so the Russian situation seems ideal for him, both an adventure and a worthwhile cause. At the same time, a woman named Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton) also happens to be in Russia. She is also a writer and an activist herself, as she is a strong feminist. In an interview with Reed, she listens as he goes on about his political views, social causes, and personal beliefs. She is a married woman, but her husband is bland and as for Reed, he is worldly and passionate. So right from the start, Louise falls for Reed, so love begins to blossom even in the middle of a nation’s revolution. She doesn’t reveal her intentions too soon however, playing up to Reed like she knows he desires. Soon however, Reed is wrapped around her finger thanks to her teases, which were actually power plays. But when a new government is installed and the two look to the future, what will it hold for this couple?

This movie was nominated for a dozen Academy Awards and is called an “epic masterpiece” on the case, so Reds should be an excellent movie, right? On one hand, the film has a distinct vision and never veers from that, but on the other hand, it is slow, often dull and the second half is lackluster. You can tell the project was a very personal one, as entertainment is kicked deep to the back of the priorities list in favor of exposition, indecision, and a sometimes glacial pace. I’ve seen some critics claim this is a superior film to Doctor Zhivago and to me, that is is simply preposterous. While the first half of Reds shows flashes of potential, the second half basically collapses and on the whole, the movie is inconsistent at best. I suppose some could prefer the more in depth political angles, but Reds drops the ball there too, if you ask me. I might have just expected too much, but in the end, this just seemed like liberal, communist propaganda. As if that isn’t bad enough, the movie moves like sap, especially after the halfway point. I don’t mind propaganda, but if you’re going to brutally shove a political or social in the face of the audience, at least do it well. Reds fails to do that and at over three hours, spends too much time on the wrong parts of the story. I can’t really recommend this to anyone, but if you’re already a fan of the flick, then by all means, grab this release.

Video: How does it look?

“Reds” is somewhat of an odd choice to come to HD DVD and Paramount has said that they were curious to see how it looked as well, seeing as how it’s a very visual film. Well, I have to admit that I’ve never seen the movie until its arrival on DVD (HD DVD) and it is pretty impressive. It’s one of those sweeping epochs that does use every inch of the screen. Oddly, though, the movie is shot in 1.85:1 and not a wider scope. Naturally, considering the film’s age it doesn’t look quite as good as newer HD DVD’s, but I compared it to the recent standard DVD that just came out and there is some noticeable improvement. Colors are very rich and in many of the wide shots, it’s clear (no pun intended) to see that the level of detail is significantly improved. There’s no edge enhancement to speak of and while there is a bit of dirt on the print, it’s obviously a result of the one they used for the transfer (the same one used for the new standard DVD as well). All in all “Reds” has certainly never looked better and though an odd choice for an HD DVD release right now, I commend Paramount for their efforts.

Audio: How does it sound?

The Dolby Digital Plus mix is something that took me a bit by surprise. The movie isn’t one that will rank right up there with some of the greats in the audio department, but at times it really made a presence. Dialogue, which this movie has plenty of, sounded very warm and natural and avoided that “hiss” that sometimes dates older movies. For the most part, the sound is housed in the front stage, but at certain times the surrounds do kick in and make their presence known. While not the most active track out there, “Reds” does hold up surprisingly well in the audio department.

Supplements: What are the extras?

The same supplements that are found here are mirrored on the standard DVD release. A collection of brief featurettes combine to offer a decent look at the production, but don’t expect too much, as no one seems to be that open or candid. This release also includes a special new trailer made to promote the film’s 25th anniversary.

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