The Manchurian Candidate appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. For a major motion picture from 2004, the picture looked surprisingly bland.
Sharpness was erratic. For the most part, the movie remained appropriately distinctive and well-defined. However, a few too many exceptions occurred that rendered scenes somewhat soft. I noticed no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, but some mild edge enhancement cropped up through the movie. The flick seemed a bit grainier than expected, and sporadic instances of specks and grit appeared during the film. It wasn’t a terribly dirty print, but it showed more defects than usual.
Candidate featured a subdued palette with occasional examples of stylized hues. For instance, the early shots in Kuwait looked heavily reddish-tan. Mostly the colors stayed on the drab side of natural. I thought the tones lacked much life, but I felt this largely resulted from cinematographic choices. A weird jump in color timing occurred around 12:43, though, as the image went with a slightly different shading for two quick moments. Blacks were appropriately dense and firm, and shadows looked reasonably visible and clear. The picture did enough right to merit a “B-“, but it came as a lackluster image.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Manchurian Candidate was also a bit inconsistent, but it achieved most of its goals. For the most part, the soundscape didn’t attempt a lot of action. The main exceptions came during the Kuwait battle sequence and the nightmares. Those opened up the surrounds well to become involving and active. Otherwise, the track mostly stayed with general ambience. Music presented good stereo imaging, and the other elements came across as accurately placed and reasonably well-integrated.
Audio quality was fine. Speech consistently appeared natural and crisp, with no signs of edginess or problems with intelligibility. Music was concise and distinctive, as the score sounded clear and bright. Effects also came across as accurate and firm. Low-end response wasn’t anything special, though the bass seemed adequate. Most of the mix was pretty average, but the occasional showy sequences were good enough to bring my grade up to a “B+”.
When we look at the DVD’s extras, we begin with an audio commentary from director Jonathan Demme and co-writer Daniel Pyne. Both of them sit together for this running, screen-specific discussion. The pair mostly stick with story issues. They chat about pacing and development, cuts and changes from the original script, and comparisons with the source material. We also get notes about casting and a few subjects like visual choices, but the focus stays on story. This makes the commentary fairly engaging. We get a good examination of the choices made to tell the tale and find out the changes made along the way.
Next we find a featurette entitled The Enemy Within: Inside The Manchurian Candidate. This 14-minute and five-second piece includes the standard assortment of movie clips, behind the scenes shots, and interviews. We get notes from Demme, Pyne, producer Tina Sinatra, and actors Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep and Liev Schreiber. They discuss the decision to make a new version of the story, updating it for the 21st century, changes from the old flick, research, Demme’s approach to the tale, its visual presentation, and elements of the climax. Some of the information repeats from the commentary, but a lot of new material pops up here. I worried this would be little more than fluff, but we actually get a nicely detailed program – or at least as detailed as one can expect for its length.
After this comes The Cast of The Manchurian Candidate. This featurette runs 11 minutes and 54 seconds as it presents notes from Demme, Sinatra, Washington, Pyne, Streep, Schreiber, and actors Jon Voight and Roger Corman. They discuss the characters and choices made for the roles. Occasionally some interesting insights appear, but I think the show lacks a lot of distinctiveness. Though a few tidbits prove illuminating, largely we just get praise for the participants.
When we look at the five Deleted/Extended Scenes, we see they fill nine minutes, 34 seconds. Most of these seem fairly ordinary, though I think the first one – in which we see interactions between Marco and Raymond in Kuwait – should have stayed in the film. We can watch these with or without commentary from Demme and Pyne. As usual, they cover a few production basics and let us know why they cut the sequences.
We also see two minutes and 34 seconds of Outtakes. Both present snippets of interviews conducted with Eleanor. Neither seems particularly interesting. These come with optional commentary from Demme and Pyne. They toss out a few more notes and provide slight insights into why the bits didn’t make the movie, but they don’t make this a scintillating discussion.
A fun extra, we find Liev Schreiber’s Screen Test. It goes for two minutes, 49 seconds and shows a chat between Raymond and his mother from fairly late in the movie. Usually screen tests are crude affairs, but this one looks like it could have been used in the final film. Schreiber interacts with Streep in this alternate version of the scene in question. It’s a cool addition to the set.
At 10 minutes, Political Pundits offers a montage of opinions. We see portions of this in the film as a background element. It’s a discussion about politics that’s really fairly dull to watch on its own. We can check out this segment with or without commentary from Demme. It’s incorrect for Paramount to title this a commentary, actually, as it’s really just an introduction. At the start, Demme tells us who we’ll see and doesn’t speak again.
No trailer for Candidate appears, but the disc opens with some previews. This includes ads for The Stepford Wives, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Without a Paddle, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, and Team America: World Police. These also can be accessed via the Previews option in the “Special Features” menu. One other note: most of the extras provide English, Spanish and French subtitles.
Why would someone try to remake a classic like The Manchurian Candidate? I don’t know, but they did. The new version fails to bring much useful to the table and it pales in comparison with its predecessor. The DVD presents fairly mediocre picture with positive audio and a moderately useful set of supplements. I can’t recommend this pointless remake.