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MGM Studios DVD presents
Salvador (1986)

"Listen, I think it's going to blow in El Salvador real soon, and I thought if you guys could get me a new press card and two grand, I could get you some really good stuff. What do you say?"
- Richard Boyle (James Woods)

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: July 13, 2001

Stars: James Woods
Other Stars: Jim Belushi, John Savage, Michael Murphy, Elpedia Carrillo
Director: Oliver Stone

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: R for (graphic violence, strong language, and explicit sexual content)
Run Time: 02h:02m:15s
Release Date: June 05, 2001
UPC: 027616862822
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-A-B+ B+

DVD Review

Oliver Stone is perhaps one of the most polarizing filmmakers of all time. His technical skill is always readily apparent (if not always under control), but his narratives are sometimes maddeningly one-sided and his history lessons usually skew towards revisionism. In this reviewer's opinion, his last several films have been quite stylish, but perhaps a bit empty; Stone seems to be a bit too eager to cram his films to the brim with the "Stone worldview," without letting the narratives speak for themselves. Perhaps this is why I found the strikingly stark, emotional, and harrowing Salvador to be one of my favorites from the director.

Photojournalist Richard Boyle (Woods) is at the end of his rope. He's become a strong cynic over the years; through his work he tends to see only the worst of humanity. With his family life going to pieces and his rent falling behind, Boyle sets his sights on war-torn El Salvador. He knows that bloody images of slaughter equate a guaranteed paycheck. He enlists his DJ friend "Dr. Rock" (Belushi), and the two travel overseas, in search of photographic paydirt. They don't have trouble finding it, as they witness the mass slaughter of entire villages, the rape of innocents, and the wrath of a cruel government. However, as the two become more and more involved with the people of the troubled nation, Boyle finds his conscience re-awakening, even as the government of Salvador targets him as a dangerous nuisance.

As is the norm for his body of work, Stone directs his own script (co-written with the real-life Boyle). The plot seems a bit familiar, and the emotional paths to be traversed are, frankly, quite clear from the get-go, but such offenses are excusable, because the journey is relayed so well. Boyle's character is maddening: spiteful and detestable the onset, and worthy of contempt throughout. However, even as we loathe him, by the end of the film he gains our grudging respect. After all, despite his character, he is reacting to a terrible situation, functioning where most could not. Stone is in top form, showing his usual penchant for stylish, yet realistic storytelling.

Much of the film's success lies with the actors—namely, James Woods. Oscar€® - nominated for his work as Boyle, he certainly plays the character to the hilt. It's sometimes a difficult performance to watch, as the man is simply so despicable at times, but Woods is able to infuse some humanity into a cold, bitter man. Jim Belushi is also quite good, in a departure from his usual comedic roles, and actress Elpedia Carrillo plays well the role of the tragic love interest.

I said Stone seemed to be pushing his agenda less with Salvador than is usual with his films; perhaps it is simply the fact that the story tells itself. Not even a master manipulator like Stone can obscure the wrenching emotional core of a situation like this. Many third-world countries exist in a state of perpetual war, and Salvador offers some true insight into the human side of an utterly inhumane situation.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: MGM certainly did a fine job with the image on this release. The new anamorphic master looks wonderful, with excellent color contrast (and an intentionally muted palette). The black level and shadow detail both look very good, and I noticed no visible edge-enhancement or artifacting. The print used for the transfer was also remarkably clean, with only a few scenes showing some wear and a bit of film grain.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: In keeping with their commitment to up-to-date mixes on special edition discs, MGM has granted Salvador a new DD 5.1 audio track. The result is quite pleasing, although it does sound more like an opened-up 2.0 mix. The surrounds offer support for the aggressive score and carry some of the heavier "action" scenes, but for the most part, this is a front-heavy mix. Happily, the front soundstage is quite wide, with good fidelity and some nice directional effects. Dialogue always is clear and understandable, with no obvious ADR.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in Spanish, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
8 Deleted Scenes
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Oliver Stone
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Still Gallery
Extras Review: Earlier this year, Warner released a nice box set of Oliver Stone films, many of which were new special editions. With this release, MGM continues that fine tradition, with a surprisingly comprehensive and insightful batch of extras.

First of all, commentary fans will be delighted to hear that Stone has delivered another audio treat with this track. He shares his thoughts on the real-life basis for the film, along with production anecdotes and some of his trademark social commentary. I've always found his tracks to be interesting, even those on his lesser films, and this one ranks with the best of them.

Next up is the documentary, Into the Valley of Death. This extra, sadly, was not time-coded on the disc, and I must say I was quite surprised when it just kept going. It runs close to an hour, and offers a mix of documentary footage of the "real" El Salvador, along with production information and interviews with Stone, Woods, and the rest of the cast and crew. This is certainly worth a watch, and it presents clear arguments about the El Salvador situation (specifically America's involvement there) that are almost as compelling as those in the film itself.

The eight deleted scenes included run about 25 minutes, and all merit a viewing, if only to see the much more graphic (and, if you can believe it, even more shocking) film Stone originally had in mind. Watch out though—there is some gut-wrenching footage here, both in terms of violence and sexual content.

Rounding out the disc is the effective theatrical trailer and a still gallery with 46 production photos.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

Salvador isn't an easy film to watch, but it is important viewing nonetheless. It is certainly one of Stone's better endeavors, and MGM's DVD rivals most other catalogue titles on the market in terms of quality and supplements.


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