Blu-ray
Highly Recommended
4 stars
Overall Grade
4 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
3.5 Stars
HD Video Quality
5 Stars
HD Audio Quality
4.5 Stars
Supplements
3 Stars
High-Def Extras
0 Stars
Bottom Line
Highly Recommended

Waltz with Bashir

Street Date:
June 23rd, 2009
Reviewed by:
Drew Taylor
Review Date: 1
July 13th, 2009
Movie Release Year:
2008
Studio:
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Length:
90 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Rated R
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

I'm still not sure I completely understand what 'Waltz with Bashir' is exactly.

Keep in mind that I've seen the film several times now, including my first viewing at a New York Film Festival press screening, where director Ari Folman spoke to us afterwards.

Here's the deal - the movie was widely marketed as an "animated documentary" about the director's experiences in (and after) the First Lebanon War. Okay, I can get behind that. And the concept of an animated documentary makes sense given the advancements in roto-scoping technology ('A Scanner Darkly' 'Beowulf'). And what better to bring to life the hallucinatory, nightmarish nature of combat and its after effects?

But then I heard there was a script. And the process went down as such: Folman interviewed people about their experiences in the conflict. Then he wrote a script. Then he went back to the people that he talked to initially and asked them to read his script, which was cobbled together from those first interviews. If the person refused, then he hired an actor to read the stories. And he staged everything - if the conversation really took place on a park bench, and Folman wanted a little more dynamism, then that was transplanted to a car, etc.

So, that doesn't really sound like a documentary to me.

Basically, I have a problem with the classification that the filmmakers and PR folks have set for the film. Why couldn't it just have been an amazing, fictionalized account of one man's journey through war and his own memory? Obviously it would have been autobiographical, but it wouldn't have been saddled with this phony distinction. You could still put that manipulative, documentary footage at the end of the movie (something I didn't like in the slightest), because there are no real rules, and everyone could just sit back and enjoy it.

Okay. Rant over.

So what is 'Waltz with Bashir'? Well, it's beautiful, for one. The visuals are absolutely breathtaking. While not as extreme as the animated films of Richard Linklater ('A Scanner Darkly' and 'Waking Life'), there's an amazing fluidity to the images on screen - sometimes dreamlike, sometimes nightmarish, sometimes both. It's also very powerful. The emotions are there, ditto the horrors of war, and Folman is skilled at making a sort of uber-personal detective story - the quest of one man investigating himself.

No matter what you think of 'Waltz with Bashir's' core conceit, its filmmaking is undeniably masterful. While my confusion has kept me from falling head over heels for the movie, it's still a worthwhile film for any adventurous viewer.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

'Waltz with Bashir's' direct-from-the-digital source MPEG-4 AVC 1080 p transfer is more or less perfect. The movie's hallucinogenic fluidity is perfectly captured, and while there are some instances of digital noise, I believe that was an intentional artistic decision, meant to mimic the look of newsreel footage.

Colors look great - from the opening sequence with the snarling, yellow-eyed dogs, to the even more surreal blues and purples of a nighttime dream sequence, to the relative drabness of an interior dialogue scene - everything is rendered splendidly.

While the image doesn't pop with the ferocity of certain animated Blu-ray releases (Pixar, we're looking in your direction) and there isn't the abundance of textures or details that define most high def animated experiences, this is still a strong, standout transfer of a truly worthwhile film.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

The lossless Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 mix is just as impressive as the video (you can listen to it in either its original Hebrew or a newly created English dub, a la the 'Persepolis' Blu-ray. I strongly urge you stick with the Hebrew). The movie has an interesting mixture of interviews, more surreal elements, and hard-edged battle sequences, and everything comes off really well.

Dialogue is crisp and clear, low channels are well utilized, ambience is present throughout, and everything is well prioritized and not overbearing - there aren't abrupt oscillations in volume or range. Those quiet scenes are given as much attention as some of the larger surreal sequences or the battle stuff, with everything crisp and clear as day. It's nice to listen to a mix that favors surround ambience throughout, instead of only sparingly.

Overall, the 'Waltz with Bashir' audio mix is just as great as the video side of things - very impressive.

In addition to the Hebrew and English audio options, there are optional English and English SDH subtitles but, oddly enough, that's it. It's kind of surprising that a movie that would appeal to international audiences would have so few audio options.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

Dear Sony, please stop putting stupid things about "the power of Blu-ray" at the beginning of your Blu-ray discs. Also - "previews" of other Sony product aren't a special feature, even if it is in HD. And - this disc is BD-Live enabled. I know, you must be tingling with excitement.

  • Audio Commentary with Ari Folman Folman is a passionate and brilliant dude, and this commentary is very interesting. From the get-go, when he talks about combining the growls of "jungle animals" to create the ravenous dream-dogs he's always engaged and interested in telling as much as he can about the unique process of making this film. He's at turns humble and egotistical, and overall the track is well worth your time if you're interested in delving deeper into 'Waltz with Bashir's' singular world, as well as getting some political context too.
  • Q&A with Ari Folman (SD, 9:19) This is redundant if you plan on listening to the commentary, but if not it's interesting enough. His take on war is nice.
  • Surreal Soldiers: Making of 'Waltz with Bashir' (SD, 12:03) This is a brief making of piece about the film that and shows bits of the process of turning live action interviews into expansive animated interpretations.
  • Building the Scenes - Animatics This shows some of the sequences in their rawest forms - dialogue over crude sketches. Seeing the process is kind of nice, and we get to take a look at the following scenes - "Beirut Street Battle with Ron Ben-Yishai," "The Fighting Arts with Shmuel Frenkel," "Tank Patrol with Dror Harazi," and "Attacked in the Orange Grove." This is really only for those animation diehards out there or those extremely curious about "the process."
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:05) This trailer impresses that the movie is a very important event indeed.

Final Thoughts

I may have found 'Waltz with Bashir' a bit impenetrable as a viewer, but I'm sure there are loads of adventurous film fans out there that are looking for something a little different, and are sure to love this film. With superb audio and video, and a nice (if small) collection of extras, this easily gets a Highly Recommended stamp.

Technical Specs

  • Blu-ray

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/AVC MPEG-4

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 1.78:1

Audio Formats

  • English: Dolby TrueHD 5.1
  • Hebrew: Dolby TrueHD 5.1
  • English: Dolby TrueHD 5.1
  • Hebrew: Dolby TrueHD 5.1

Subtitles/Captions

  • English SDH
  • English

Supplements

  • Commentary with Ari Folman
  • Surreal Soldiers: The Making of 'Waltz with Bashir'
  • Q&A with Ari Folman
  • Building the Scenes
  • Theatrical Trailer

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