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Roland Joffé
Sam Waterston, Haing S. Ngor, John Malkovich, Julian Sands, Craig T. Nelson, Spalding Gray
Writing Credits:
Bruce Robinson

Every so often, there is a film that is destined to be talked about and remembered for years to come.

A photographer is trapped in Cambodia during tyrant Pol Pot's bloody "Year Zero" cleansing campaign, which claimed the lives of two million "undesirable" civilians.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$32.181 thousand 1 screen.
Domestic Gross
$34.609 million.

Rated R

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA Stereo
Latin Spanish Dolby Digital Stereo
Latin Spanish
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 142 min.
Price: $27.98
Release Date: 1/7/2014

• Audio Commentary with Director Roland Joffe
• Trailer
• Hardcover Book


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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The Killing Fields [Blu-Ray Book] (1984)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 31, 2013)

Unlike most films of its genre, 1984’s The Killing Fields focuses on a 1970s Asian conflict that took place somewhere other than Vietnam – though it does connect to that location. When the war there spills over to neutral Cambodia in 1973, American journalist Sydney Schanberg (Sam Waterston) covers these events. To assist him, fellow journalist Dith Pran (Dr. Haing S. Ngor) acts as his guide and interpreter.

We follow their actions during the conflict in Cambodia and beyond. Even after most Americans leave in 1975 – and Pran sends away his family – the two friends remain to cover events. Eventually the insurgent Khmer Rouge detains them and the foreign journalists must leave Cambodia. While Schanberg goes, Pran stays, and we observe the American’s attempts to rescue his friend.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I like movies that examine major historical events through a small personal prism. I find it easier to engage myself in these tales when they come to us via this character-centered scope and I think the drama of the situations evolves better in those situations.

This means I should find myself pleased with Fields, as it gives us a look at the conflict in Cambodia through the eyes of Schanberg and Pran, and it attempts to maintain our attention through their bond. As the film progresses, it relies more and more on their personal connection than on the telling of historical events.

Surprisingly, this becomes a flaw at times, as the movie simply doesn’t develop its two leads in a particularly compelling manner – at least in its initial hour or so. Actually, during its second half, it does better, mainly because it separates the two and puts them in starkly different circumstances; the roles display more obvious differences during those scenes, so they can more obviously progress.

I suspect those sequences are what earned Ngor his Best Supporting Actor Oscar. In truth, it was inaccurate to classify him in that category, for he’s as much a primary actor – and probably more – than Waterston, who got nominated as Best Lead Actor. Ngor’s work during the first half lacks much breadth, but as the film demands more from him, he proves himself up to the task and handles his scenes as a prisoner with depth and aplomb.

This allows the movie’s second half to become notably more dramatic and involving than the first, but unfortunately, it feels like this growth occurs a little too late, as the mediocrity of the first half leaves us a bit distant from the characters. Truthfully, the long section in which Schanberg and Pran work together probably could/should have been substantially shortened. We don’t need to see as much as we do; all we need to observe is some of the threat to the journalists and some of the bond between the leads and we’d be fine.

If the movie used the segments with Pran and Schanberg together to strongly develop the characters, I wouldn’t feel this way, but I don’t think they do much more than give us a loose sketch. We see that they care about each other but the film doesn’t really demonstrate why; we’re told they’re close pals but not shown this in an adequate manner, so their tight bond becomes theoretical more than obvious.

Given the weakness of the opening half, I think the film would’ve benefited from the trimming I mentioned. Fields only comes to life when it focuses on Pran’s ordeal; make that the primary focus of the movie and it becomes a consistent winner. Schanberg makes more sense as the supporting character he becomes in the second half; only when we concentrate on Pran does the story soar.

Unfortunately, we get too much of the lackluster Schanberg material along the way, and those sequences inflict some damage on the film. This doesn’t become fatal, especially given how often the movie leaves him as it progresses. However, the film still suffers from a tendency to take us away from the useful action with Pran to remind us of Schanberg, and that doesn’t work.

These complaints aside, I do find merit in Fields, almost wholly from the successful second half. As I watched the film’s first hour, I expected to largely pan it, but it develops well enough as it goes to do a lot to redeem it. This remains a flawed movie, but it’s one that gets better as it goes.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B/ Audio B/ Bonus C+

The Killing Fields appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The movie sported a good but not great image.

One positive came from the image's sharpness, which seemed fairly solid throughout the movie. Only slight instances of softness occurred, and these remained minor. The majority of the film was reasonably detailed and distinctive. I saw no jagged edges or shimmering, and edge enhancement remained absent. Source flaws were a non-factor, as the movie lacked any obvious defects.

Colors tended to be fairly subdued, but they looked natural enough and suited the material. This was a pretty tan and/or green presentation that seemed appropriate for the film. Black levels appeared fairly dark, and shadow detail seemed acceptable; some shots were a bit dense, but most offered good delineation. The movie seemed like a product of its era and offered a “B” image.

As for the film’s DTS-HD MA Stereo soundtrack, it demonstrated more kick than I expected given its age. I heard reasonably good stereo separation and imaging for the music, and effects also spread across the forward channels to a positive degree. At times those elements came across as somewhat speaker-specific, but they usually blended together in a fairly pleasing manner, and effects moved cleanly across them.

Audio quality was good. Dialogue occasionally displayed some edginess, but speech usually seemed reasonably natural and distinct, and I heard no concerns related to intelligibility. Music was fairly full and rich as well.

Effects also demonstrated periodic bouts of minor distortion; explosions and gunfire provided the most obvious examples of these concerns. Otherwise, those elements sounded acceptably clean and accurate, and they had some good low-end response. This was a pretty nice mix for a movie from 1984.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we get an audio commentary from director Roland Joffe. He offers a running, screen-specific look at how he came onto the film, story/character areas and the history involved in the tale, cast and performances, sets and locations, period details, music and sound design, camerawork, and a mix of other topics.

Throughout the film’s semi-long running time, Joffe delivers an excellent look at Fields. He delves into a good variety of subjects with candor and verve, as he tells us much of what we’d want to know. This turns into a terrific chat.

The package also brings us ahardcover book. It includes a mix of historical facts, production notes, cast/crew bios, and a variety of photos. The book adds a few nice elements.

The Killing Fields lacks much to engage the viewer for its first half, but it does improve as it goes. The second half doesn’t completely negate memories of the mediocre material that precedes it, but it allows the story to become much more dynamic and engaging. The Blu-ray offers pretty good picture and audio along with a fine audio commentary. While I find myself lukewarm toward parts of the film itself, the Blu-ray brings it home well.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.8 Stars Number of Votes: 5
0 3:
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