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.
'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 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.
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.
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.