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War and Peace

review by Zach B.

 

 

MPAA Rated: PG (For Violence)

Running Time: 208 minutes

Starring: Audrey Hepburn, Henry Fonda, Mel Ferrer, Vittorio Gassman, Herbert Lom, Oscar Homolka, Anita Ekberg and John Mills

Adaptation by: Bridget Boland, Mario Camerini, Ennio De Concini, Ivo Perilli, King Vidor, Robert Westerby
Based on the novel by: Leo Tolstoy

Directed by: King Vidor

 

Studio: Paramount

Retail Price: $24.99

Features: Theatrical Trailer, Re-Release Theatrical Trailer

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Mono,English Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (27 Scenes)

Released: December 3rd, 2002

 

 

Gee, who knows what I can really say about this one. Most of us are aware that Leo Tolstoy's literary epic is something that can't exactly be challenged in the literary world, as it has gone down as one of the world's most popular and widely known literary works. I have no idea what Paramount was going for when they released this one in the mid-1950s. Did they set out to create the ultimate historical epic? Were they competing against "Ben-Hur"? What about making something in the vein of "Cleopatra"? Besides, "Lawrence Of Arabia" was still a good five years away. Whatever the filmmakers were trying to do, it obviously didn't work and still doesn't hold up. Despite the popularity of the text, "War and Peace" is a film people don't usually associate with the most famous film epics.

I guess the biggest problem with "War and Peace" is what any major literary adapation has: condensing the book into a few hours. This is certainly easier said than done, but some books have an easier road ahead when it comes to be adapated because of their size and context. But given Tolstoy's political and social commentary, not to mention the characters and the events, I'd imagine writing a screenplay based on the novel was pretty tough (it probably was, since it is credited to six writers). I am not one to judge the screenplay since I've never read the book, but I felt the story that was being told here was a bit haphazard and even a bit confusing at times. The characters didn't stick out as well as they probably should have, the dialogue isn't exactly spectacular and in all, it felt like some mess that worked decent at times but at other times, it was a bit lopsided. Like I said, to adapt something like this book must have been hard, especially in condensing it in just a certain time period, so I'm sure there's something - probably a good deal - lost in the transistion. I didn't get a good feel of the messages the story was offering, something I probably should have.

Basically, the film's story follows the Rostov family (mainly member Natasha, played by Audrey Hepburn) against the backdrop of Napoelon's invasion of Russia. This of course leads to love, action and everything an epic should have (too bad it's just not executed so well). The film comes in at nearly three and a half hours, so if you can't sit long, then this isn't the movie for you - especially since a lot of it is rather dry and dull. Even when seen in chunks, it does move a bit slowly and won't do much for you either. Maybe it would all be easier to swallow if the screenplay was much better and there was something more to connect with here.

Still, the film does a lot of good. King Vidor, in his second to last film, does a decent job of directing this smorgasboard (he was also one of the film's writers). True, his pacing is often, but what he does with the more epic scenes is a bit impressive. The film is well edited and certainly well shot, with some damn pretty cinematography. And while some will probably disagree, most of the perfomances here did work for me. Audrey Hepburn brings her usual grace and gives a fine performance (though not one of her best), Henry Fonda is particuarly strong while Mel Ferrer is decent. John Mills, Oscar Homolka and Anita Ekberg also do good work as well. In all, "War and Peace" has strong production values, but given its prime talent and when it was made, it still is nothing that special.

 

Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, the glorious VistaVision nature of "War and Peace" is preserved here. This transfer has some blemishes and dirt pieces throughout, as well as a strong showcasing of shimmering. Noise and edge halos run rampant throughout the transfer too, but the film is pretty to look at and the transfer does a good job appeasing that. Fleshtones look rather nice, color saturation is splendid and rather strong while detail is pretty spot-on. There's no edge enhancment either, which is nice. Despite its flaws, this transfer looks good after 46 years.

 

Presented only in a Dolby English mono track, this is pretty disappointing as you'd expect. Despite all the grandness, I guess it's obvious that nothing was in good shape to create a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix. So what will you find here? The elements come together decently and dialogue is clear, but the dynamics are painfully limited and fidelity is rather low. Even worse, the audio drops down and goes up again from time to time. It's not in a constant fashion or anything, but when it happens, it's not smooth and is a bit annoying. In all, it doesn't bring much life to the film and is as standard as they come... but for what it is, it works. Also included are English closed captions and English subtitles.

 

Despite this being an "epic film classic," you only get two trailers here. The Theatrical Trailer is interesting in that it gives a nifty (if short) behind-the-scenes propaganda look (this is in full frame), while the Re-release Theatrical Trailer is more standard (and gives a good plot summary - this is 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen).

 

"War and Peace" is certainly not one of those "must-see" Hollywood epics from the golden age, and I can't even tell you if it's a good substitue for the book. But in case you're a big fan of this particular adaptation, you'll probably be disappoined. The transfer is good, the extras aren't much and the mono sound is nothing special. If you're interested in seeing it despite what I said then it could make a good rental, otherwise, die-hard Tolstoy followers/fans of the movie only need to purchase this.