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Life During Wartime
The Criterion Collection

review by Zach B.



Not Rated

Running Time: 97 Minutes

Starring: Shirley Henderson, Ciaran Hinds, Allison Janney, Michael Lerner, Chris Marquette, Rich Pecci, Charlotte Rampling, Paul Reubens, Ally Sheedy, Dylan Riley Snyder, Renée Taylor, Michael Kenneth Williams

Written and Directed by: Todd Solondz


Studio: Criterion

Retail Price: $39.95

Features: Ask Todd, Making "Life During Wartime," Ed Lachman Interviews, Theatrical Trailer

Specs: 1.78:1 Widescreen 1080p High Definition, English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround, English Subtitles, Chapters (19 Chapters)

Released: July 26th, 2011

Life During Wartime is presented in a 1080p High Definition transfer, with the aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The transfer was supervised by cinematographer Ed Lachman, who shot the film digitally on the RED camera system. You might not think of this movie as a demo piece to show off your home theater with, but the movie looks absolutely flawless on Blu-ray. The sharpness of the image quality is stunning: fleshtones are accurate, black levels are strong and the movie looks clean overall — I did not even detect noise, and only saw the slightest shimmering here and there. What makes this transfer a sight to really behold though is the color saturation: everything here is deep, bold and at times overwhelming with the variety of filtered hues. There is no smearing, and detail is pretty amazing too (you can see Allison Janney's pores). The movie's look is brought to full vivid life here, as this is one outstanding transfer. 

Life During Wartime features a English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround track. The film is pretty dialogue driven, so when the actors speak, they all sound crisp and easy to hear. Surround effects are minimal, but when they are used, the rear channels are used fine. Subwoofer use is pretty minimal too, while the music featued in the movie takes the most advantage of the sound stage. Fidelity is pretty high as well. Low-key and suitable overall.

English subtitles are included.


First up is a neat audio feature called Ask Todd. The Criterion Collection fielded questions from viewers via e-mail to pass along to director Todd Solondz, who answers quite a few here. Solondz touches on a wide range of subjects here: the film's relationship to Happiness, how he originally wanted to be a musician, religion, casting, characters, his interest in filmmaking, his use of the RED camera and much more. This is about 45 minutes worth of the filmmaker talking, and those who like Solondz's films will get the most out of this supplement. 

The half-hour Making "Life During Wartime" is an intriguing documentary, with a focus on the actors: Ciaran Hinds, Shirley Henderson, Allison Janney, Michael Lerner, Paul Reubens, Ally Sheedy and Michael Kenneth Williams are interviews. What makes this so interesting are the actors' insights about their characters, and the acknowledgment that they are creating characters that were established by other actors previously. The actors also have anecdotes about working with Solondz — Williams's introduction to the filmmaker is pretty amusing. Clips from the movie are shown, as is footage from the set. 

There is also a section devoted to the movie's director of photography, Ed Lachman. The first piece, which lasts nearly 11 minutes, has the cinematographer discussing Solondz, and working with the filmmaker in finding the movie's visual style. Lachman's thoughts and approach in framing the characters in a "poetic realism" is fascinating; concious and subtle choices were made in the color palette for the sake of the film. Lachman also talks about working with the RED camera. This is exactly the kind of quality interview Criterion fans expect from the company. 

Next, there is a Selected-Scene Commentary from Lachman. Lachman voices his thoughts over six scenes, running 10 minutes. Here, he gets to go into more detail about his approach and what he and Solondz wanted to convey. Finally Lachman answers five questions, where he talks about getting into filmmaking, his mentors, approach, contemporary cinematographers he admires and his film recommendations for those into cinematography.

Also on the disc is the Theatrical Trailer. The booklet has an essay by film critic David Sterritt. 


The work of Todd Solondz is not for everyone, and I am not sure if Life During Wartime will win the filmmaker new fans. But that's okay: I am sure his current followers will appreciate this sequel to Happiness, even with an all new cast playing previously existing characters. Criterion has delivered an excellent edition for this movie: Solondz is heard (but not seen) and offers a lot of nuggets, cinematographer Ed Lachman gives a mini-master class and the actors are featured extensively. The image quality of the transfer is beautiful, and the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is nice too. A must see for those who find Solondz to be their cup of tea, and a must purchase for those who love the filmmaker.