Windtalkers appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. I thought the original DVD looked decent but demonstrated some concerns that surprised me due to the age and budget of Windtalkers. The “Director’s Edition” seemed to present virtually identical visuals.
Sharpness varied. Most of the movie came across as acceptably accurate and distinct, but quite a few less than detailed segments occurred. At times the film seemed a little blurry, largely due to the presence of some notable edge enhancement. From the opening credits through too many other parts of the flick, I noticed distinct halos around lettering and objects, and these made the image less crisp than it should. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no obvious concerns, and only a few small print flaws appeared. I saw a little light grain at times, and I also detected a few bits of grit, but most of the movie came across as clean and fresh. However, I did think the presentation seemed a little noisy at times.
Colors offered some of the transfer’s strongest elements. The movie provided a naturalistic palette for the most part, and the tones looked vivid and rich throughout the film. I noticed no signs of bleeding, noise, or other issues and felt the colors appeared lively and vibrant. Black levels also came across as deep and dense, but shadow detail seemed a bit weak at times. Low-light sequences were somewhat thick in general, and these tendencies appeared exacerbated by some problematic “day for night” photography. Those scenes displayed a heavy bluish tint that made them too impenetrable. A lot of Windtalkers actually looked very good, but it felt it showed an excessive number of small problems for a recent flicks, so it earned a “B-“.
One visual improvement over the original disc occurred. The old DVD used ugly player-generated subtitles to translate the Navajo dialogue, but the “Director’s Edition” featured the burned-in text seen during the movie’s theatrical exhibition. These integrated with the image much more smoothly, so I definitely appreciated their presence.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio of the two Windtalkers DVDs also appeared the same, but since the old disc sounded very good, I won’t complain. Though not reference level, the mix offered a pretty solid piece of work. The soundfield maintained an active and engaging affair. During the film’s quieter scenes, the forward channels dominated. They remained somewhat passive at those times, but they still showed good stereo imaging for the score and also offered generally realistic ambience.
Not surprisingly, this war movie kicked to auditory life during its many battle scenes, and those offered excellent use of all five channels. The action tended to fly hot and heavy as bullets, artillery and other military elements zipped all around the soundfield. The elements seemed appropriately located and they blended together nicely, though a few bits seemed slightly speaker-specific. The surrounds added a fair amount of unique information and meshed together neatly. The results didn’t match Saving Private Ryan levels, but they seemed positive.
Audio quality appeared positive. Dialogue came across as natural and warm, as speech showed no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Music seemed bright and vibrant, as the score presented clear highs and tight low-end. Effects packed a serious punch. Those elements appeared distinct and vivid. They lacked problems related to distortion, and they demonstrated deep and rich bass response. Overall, the soundtrack of Windtalkers didn’t match the absolute best of the genre, but it worked very well.
Although the original DVD release offered almost no extras, this “Director’s Edition” of Windtalkers greatly altered that situation as it came packed with scads of supplements. Spread across its three discs, I’ve already discussed one in the body of my review. The movie includes an extra 19 minutes of footage reintegrated into the film proper. I can never quite decide if I should count “director’s cuts” as bonuses or not, but I thought I’d mention it again nonetheless.
You can start Windtalkers with an introduction from director John Woo. He quickly discusses why he wanted to make a director’s cut and what he added. This doesn’t really tell us much, so it fails to embellish the proceedings.
In addition, DVD One features three separate audio commentaries. The first comes from director John Woo and producer Terence Chang, both of whom sit together for their running, screen-specific piece. Woo heavily dominates this track. Chang occasionally relates a tidbit about the flick, and he tells us most of the differences between the original cut and the director’s edition, but this remains Woo’s commentary most of the time.
That’s fine with me, for the director offers a nicely honest and charming appraisal of the film. The range of subjects seems typical, as he covers areas like working with the actors, dealing with effects and stunt concerns, ensuring the reality of the flick, and whatnot. However, Woo brings a different slant to the affair, as he seems to delve into these topics more fully than usual. For example, he gives us a lot of information about Nic Cage’s demeanor on the set, and he presents solid notes about his filmmaking and storytelling techniques, as he chats about his trademark visual elements and why he mostly avoided them here. Woo even makes fun of those tendencies at times. The commentary suffers from a moderate number of empty spaces, but the filmmakers include more than enough useful material to make the track worth a listen.
For the second track, we hear from actors Nicolas Cage and Christian Slater, both of whom were taped together for their running, screen-specific chat. Along with Patricia Arquette, Slater participated in one of the all-time worst commentaries I’ve ever heard. The Slater/Cage track definitely offers a step up from that catastrophe, but it still features a lot of weaknesses. On the positive side, the pair interact nicely and show a lively chemistry. At the start, Cage indicates a generally reluctance to do commentaries as he doesn’t like to give away all his secrets. Despite that disclaimer, Cage proves to be fairly open and chatty. He goes over some elements of his performance, reveals different influences and choices, and gets into character elements. Slater does a little of the same, but he doesn’t seem as thoughtful or insightful, so his remarks stay more on the surface.
In one fun element of the track, the actors often just shoot the breeze. They discuss other films they’ve made and different parts of their lives. The pair show a nice rapport and provide a light and funny track.
Unfortunately, the actors’ commentary suffers from two concerns. For one, they praise each other and the film way too frequently. This gets tired quickly, as the piece becomes too much of a mutual love fest. In addition, the track displays a lot of very long empty spots. Plenty of the movie passes without any information. When they speak, they generally seem fun and engaging, but the piece remains awfully erratic.
Lastly, we get a discussion with actor Roger Willie and Navajo consultant Albert Smith, both of whom also were taped together for their running, screen-specific track. The commentary focuses on a number of different issues. We learn about Navajo culture in general, and real-life code talker Smith goes over some of his war experiences. Willie talks about his life as an inexperienced actor and tells us quite a few good details from the set. Those elements offer the commentary’s best moments. Willie’s perspective as a neophyte actor puts him in an unusual position, and he tells us some nice examples of his reactions to being on the set.
Unfortunately, Smith’s remarks seem less compelling. He tells us only a little about what he did in the war. Instead, he tends to relate general Navajo information, and those elements are very inconsistent. While he and Willie help give us a better feel for the culture, Smith often rambles and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Those moments as well as a lot of dead air drag down this commentary. Usually when Willie speaks, it works well and offers an interesting perspective, but much of the rest of it seems dull and slow moving. Chalk it up as a mediocre track overall.
DVD One finishes with some trailers. We get both the theatrical and “teaser” clips for Windtalkers as well as ads for the DVD releases of Die Another Day, the Dances With Wolves special edition, and Hannibal. The disc also tosses in general promos called “MGM Means Great Movies” and “More Great MGM Releases”. Bizarrely, the Windtalkers theatrical trailer dubs Peter Stormare; I guess they thought they needed someone less... guttural.
DVD Two opens with The Code Talkers – A Secret Code of Honor, a 23-minute and 12-second documentary. It mixes movie snippets, a little footage from the set and archival materials, and interviews. We hear from director John Woo, actors Adam Beach, Nicolas Cage, Christian Slater and Roger Willie, producers Terence Chang, Tracie Graham and Alison Rosenzweig, Navajo code talkers Roy Hawthorne, Keith Little, Thomas H. Begay, Albert Smith, and Sam Billison, Department of Defense rep Captain Matthew Morgan, Navajo code talker daughter Zonnie Gorman, former Marines Bill Pate and Barney Davis, and Senator Jeff Bingaman.
A disappointingly mediocre program, “Honor” feels more like an attempt to promote the movie than a look at the real-life inspirations for the flick. It included far too many film clips and too few glimpses of the real participants. We find some decent information about the program and the experiences of the soldiers, but these appear generally insubstantial and rudimentary. “Honor” does little to educate the viewer about the history behind the film.
The nine-minute American Heroes – A Tribute to Navajo Code Talkers is more of a list of credits than a featurette. It shows photos of the various code talkers, lists the post-war accomplishments of some, and runs a roll of all those who served. It’s a decent little tribute, I guess, but it feels somewhat weak. I think more testimonials from the code talkers about their experiences would allow us to honor and respect them more than a simple list of names.
The final component of DVD Two, The Music of Windtalkers runs four minutes, 31 seconds; it adds a 30-second soundtrack ad at the end as well. It may be the shortest piece on this disc, but it’s the most informative. We hear from composer James Horner and watch him work. He offers some rich comments about the way he creates his material and gives us good insight about the tasks and his score for Windtalkers. The brevity of the program restricts its usefulness simply because we don’t have enough time to get much material from Horner, but it adds a bit to the package.
As we move on to DVD Three, we look behind the scenes of Windtalkers. The Battle Sequence Multi-View offers various takes for four different scenes. “Saipan Landing” (131 seconds), “Barbed Wire” (79 seconds), “Radio the Coordinates” (116 seconds), and “Road Ambush” (70 seconds). Each of these provides three options: the clip from the finished feature, behind the scenes footage, and storyboards. The selected view takes up roughly the top two-thirds of the screen, and you can see the other two options in the remaining space at the bottom. Nothing terribly fascinating appears here, but the format seems cool.
Fly-On-the-Set Action Diaries gives us a glimpse at the creation of four different scenes. We watch the making of “Marine March on Saipan” (eight minutes, 54 seconds), “Bazooka” (four minutes, 33 seconds), “Friendly Fire” (six minutes, 40 seconds) and “Village Ambush” (three minutes, 29 seconds). (Note that you can choose an option to play the movie scenes in question at the end of the “Diaries”; that would extend each one’s running time.)
Mostly these segments show the filming with production sound, though we periodically get comments from director Woo and actors Cage, Slater and Willie. They add a little depth to the proceedings, though they mostly praise each other. The clips focus on effects for the most part. We get some notes about creative collaborations, but usually we see cinematic mayhem. The pieces offer some nice material at times but don’t stand out as anything particularly special.
The Actors’ Boot Camp runs 15 minutes and five seconds as we see footage of this training. As the video material runs, we also hear some comments from performers Mark Ruffalo, Brian Van Holt, Adam Beach, Martin Henderson, Peter Stormare, Roger Willie, Christian Slater, and Noah Emmerich. Comparable to a similar piece on the Pearl Harbor four-DVD set, this one seems much less entertaining. The Harbor training appeared more rigorous, and much of the fun derived from the negative reactions of the actors – or at least Ben Affleck, who looked cheesed the whole time. For the Windtalkers camp, it all feels like a weekend warrior thing. The guys and instructors smile all the time and there’s no sense of stress. And where’s Nic Cage, anyway?
Behind-the-Scenes Photo Gallery presents a simple stillframe collection of 35 pictures from the set. Nothing too exciting appears there. Finally, the John Woo Biography gives us a brief but reasonably informative text discussion of the director’s life and career.
Given that all three include three or more audio commentaries and two full discs of supplements, I naturally felt compelled to compare the “Director’s Edition” of Windtalkers with the aforementioned multi-DVD sets for Pearl Harbor and The Fellowship of the Ring. Without a doubt, Windtalkers falls radically short of those other packages.
I thought Windtalkers would easily earn an “A” for extras and I figured it might just make it to “A+” territory. It did get an “A-“, but that occurred mainly because it included three erratic but generally interesting audio commentaries. The other components were good but somewhat insubstantial, and the set definitely didn’t offer a definitive look at the movie. Frankly, I have no idea why they spread it to three DVDs; if my math’s correct, discs two and three only included a total of about 100 minutes of footage, and that easily could have fit on one DVD.
Despite my disappointment that the three-disc Windtalkers didn’t provide a terribly noteworthy release, it still included some nice pieces, and it clearly improved upon the prior package. Though it featured extra footage, the director’s cut of the film remained insubstantial and oddly flat; I didn’t think the new version enhanced the theatrical one. As for the DVD set, picture and sound seemed the same as the original, but it packed many more extras than the old “bare-bones” version.
I didn’t recommend the prior DVD to new viewers simply because I didn’t think Windtalkers was a good film, and that issue remains the same. Already established fans of the movie will want to check out the new one only if they like supplements. I don’t think the presentation of the film itself does anything to really entice partisans, but the extras add enough to the package to merit their attention. The “Director’s Edition” of Windtalkers remains a less than stellar release, but it provides the strongest version of the movie on the market.