The Quiet American appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A rather stylized flick, most of American looked pretty solid.
Sharpness generally appeared fine. More than a few wider shots came across as moderately soft, but those sequences failed to create substantial problems. Jagged edges and moiré effects caused no concerns, and only a smidgen of edge enhancement seemed apparent. As for print flaws, the image appeared free from defects, though some moderate grain showed up at times.
The toughest elements to grade related to colors. American presented a generally subdued palette, as the hues often looked faded and pale. This seemed to result from design choices, but the colors appeared slightly unsatisfactory at times anyway. The ashen look made the movie seem a little less well defined than I’d like, though it often displayed tones that were nicely distinct and rich. Black levels also varied. Mostly they seemed respectably dense and deep, but they occasionally came across as somewhat inky and flat. Shadow detail was adequate but lacked terrific definition. Some shots – like the nighttime ones of Pyle and Fowler on the road – looked rather dark and a little too opaque. Ultimately, most of The Quiet American presented a fairly good image, but it never became anything exceptional.
Despite the movie’s generally chatty nature, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Quiet American proved to be surprisingly active. Much of that resulted from the occasional war segments. Those offered a great sense of place and atmosphere. The sounds of battle popped up in the appropriate places and transitioned smoothly from channel to channel. These segments made fine use of the surrounds and created a nicely involving environment. Other scenes also worked well. The movie featured good stereo music that blended well with the rears, and quieter sections featured nice atmospheric elements. The soundfield seemed convincing and accurate.
Audio quality also was positive. Some of the dialogue wasn’t looped terribly well, but the lines remained reasonably natural and distinct throughout the movie. I detected no issues connected to intelligibility or edginess. Music sounded rich and vibrant, as the score was clear and smooth. Effects lacked any concerns related to distortion and were vivid and dynamic. Bass response played an active role only sporadically, but low-end elements seemed tight and appropriately powerful. Overall, the audio of The Quiet American was very positive for this material.
A few supplements pop up on The Quiet American. We start with an audio commentary from director Phillip Noyce, actors Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser, and Tzi Ma, executive producer Sydney Pollack, producers Staffan Ahrenberg and William Horberg, co-writer Christopher Hampton, and interpreter and advisor to Phillip Noyce, Tran An Hua. All the participants were recorded separately for this edited track.
Overall, the commentary offered a good look at the movie. The speakers told us about their personal reflections on Vietnam, the path the flick took to the screen, elements of the production, and quite a lot of other things. All of the participants seemed interesting, but I probably liked Caine’s remarks most of all, as he provided some good insight into his work. The track provided an intriguing and useful examination of the film.
From the Sundance Channel, Anatomy of a Scene examines the segment in which a bomb explodes in Saigon. It runs 22 minutes and three seconds and mixes movie clips, shots from the set, and interviews with director Noyce, actors Caine and Fraser, editor John Scott, co-screenwriter Hampton, executive producer Pollack, producer Horberg, cinematographer Christopher Doyle, and composer Craig Armstrong. While “Anatomy” includes some general notes about the film, it mostly concentrates on the scene in question. It gives us a myriad of details about the sequence; from cinematography to acting to location to audio, the program gets into the scene in detail. It’s a solid piece that offers some interesting material.
Less compelling, the Original Featurette lasts five minutes and 18 seconds. It combines lots of movie snippets, a few behind the scenes images, and sound bites from Noyce, Hampton, Caine, Fraser, Pollack and Horberg. The piece essentially just tells us about the story and characters and tosses out some fluffy praise for all involved. You’ll learn nothing during this bland promotional segment that you won’t find elsewhere.
For historical details, we go to the Vietnam Timeline. This starts back in the 2nd century BC and progresses through the end of the war in 1975. Unsurprisingly, it seems superficial, but it gives us a quick and decent run through the history of the conflict.
Another text feature, we get Original Book Reviews of The Quiet American. Three of these appear: one each from The New Republic, The Commonwealth, and The Saturday Review. The first one seems like the most intriguing, but all three offer good looks at the text. Note that all of them also include many story spoilers, so you should probably wait until you’ve seen the film to read them.
Though the disc fails to include the trailer for American, we get a few other ads in the Sneak Peeks area. There we locate promos for Chicago, Frida, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Gangs of New York plus a general ad for the “Miramax New Golden Age”.
Finally, we get some DVD-ROM Features, but don’t expect much. We just find a slightly spiffier – and also slower-moving – “Vietnam Timeline” plus some weblinks.
Though not totally satisfying, The Quiet American provides a nicely understated and generally interesting piece. The movie benefits from its subdued nature and some solid performances. The DVD presents acceptable but unexceptional picture quality along with surprisingly robust audio and a fairly good selection of supplements. For fans of historical drama, The Quiet American merits a look.