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Fox Lorber presents
Funny Games (1998)

"Be nice! I don't want to hurt you, but behave yourself!"
- Paul (Arno Frisch)

Review By: Dale Dobson   
Published: June 04, 2000

Stars: Susanne Lothar, Ulrich Muhe, Aro Frisch
Other Stars: Frank Giering, Stefan Clapczynski
Director: Michael Haneke

Manufacturer: Rainmaker Digital Pictures
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, non-sexual nudity, general sadistic tone)
Run Time: 01h:48m:26s
Release Date: February 02, 1999
UPC: 720917505527
Genre: offbeat

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A CC+A- D+

DVD Review

Writer/director Michael Haneke's Funny Games is the story of a family of three (Susanne Lothar, Ulrich Muhe and Stefan Clapczynski) whose lakeside vacation is invaded by two polite young men (Arno Frisch and Frank Giering) who have apparently been visiting the home next door. The men engage the unwitting family in their sadistic "games," which escalate from inconvenience and irritation to torture and murder.

The film is presented in its original German, with "burned-in" English subtitles that can't be switched off. Haneke's award-winning direction (from his own script) is nothing short of mesmerizing. He employs no musical score as such, just some pre-recorded classical and thrash metal music in a few spots, and he tells much of his story with long, continuous shots (one emotional scene runs a good ten minutes with no edits or cuts.) He pulls intense, convincing performances from all of his actors, including 9-year-old Stefan Clapczynski, whose fear is palpable in his key scenes. Shot composition is attractive and very well-lit, even in darker scenes where low-budget films often falter. An interesting cinematic device allows the calmly evil Paul (Arno Frisch) to address the camera on occasion, pointing out that this IS a film and even "rewinding" it at one point when the story doesn't go his way. Haneke builds his impact slowly and carefully, with shocks and surprises perfectly timed. This is skilled, fascinating filmmaking, and once the film starts it's impossible to take one's eyes away from the screen.

But it's hard for me to recommend this daring film without a strong word of warning. Funny Games is an extremely disturbing, nihilistic film—it feels like a cross between Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Edward Albee's play The Zoo Story, without the humor or charm of either. Most of the film's actual violence is offscreen, but even in reaction shots the lingering camera provides no escape, There's no relief (comic or otherwise), and Paul's "it's just a movie!" moments only make the film's manipulative, nasty tone more difficult to bear. In many ways, the director seems allied with his villains—every emotional investment the audience makes is repaid with violence and cruelty, and every moment of hope is turned around to favor the "bad guys." I'm not one who insists on "happy endings," and I admire this film's abhorrence of cliché; I recognize that the director may have been trying to comment on society and serial killers, but I saw no satirical subtext in the finished film. Funny Games is dark, psychologically abusive and emotionally draining—I felt genuinely violated by its content.

As a reviewer, Funny Games puts me in a difficult position. I admire this film's audacity, but I can't say I'd recommend it to most people or insist anybody watch it whose friendship I value. I'm giving it high marks for Style but a lower grade for Substance in the hopes that faithful dOc readers will investigate to see why the Style and Substance grades are so disparate.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: C


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Fox Lorber 's release of Funny Games features a 1.85:1 aspect ratio non-anamorphic DVD transfer. The film's muted color palette is preserved, image detail is reasonably solid and I didn't spot any distracting compression artifacts (most of the film is set indoors with flat walls and minimal camera movement, so the compression may not have been challenged much). There's quite a bit of edge enhancement visible in high-contrast scenes, black level is noticeably light in one outdoor sequence, and the source print has more flecking than most films of recent vintage. The transfer is otherwise clean and stable—not brilliant, but not terrible either.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Germanno

Audio Transfer Review: Funny Games is presented in Dolby 2.0 Surround sound, in German with English subtitles (though a few common phrases are spoken in English). Rear surrounds are almost never used (they come to life for brief moments of music), but the front soundstage is broad and active with left/right panning and atmospherics. Dialogue is quite clean with minimal hiss and hum (though I found this track hard to judge because the subtitles can't be disabled.) A few pieces of "thrash metal" music sound distorted, but I think the "overdriven" sound is intentional. Long silences are truly silent, important sound effects are clear, and I heard no "matrixing artifacts" from the 2.0 Surround soundtrack—possibly because it's not often burdened with rear-channel support, it sounds as good as some discrete 3- and 4-channel mixes I've heard.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 8 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Production Credits
Extras Review: There aren't a lot of extras here, and nothing innovative or substantial. The movie plays immediately when the disc starts up, which is a convenience or a curse depending on your viewing habits; the disc features silent, inanimate menus and only 8 chapter stops over its 1-3/4 hour running time. Brief filmographies and "awards" lists are included for cast members Susanne Lothar, Ulrich Muhe, Aro Frisch, and Frank Giering and writer/director Michael Haneke—these are simple chronological lists, with no biographical information. A "Production Credits" selection provides the film's major credits in English, and the theatrical Trailer is included in a grainy 1.66:1 transfer with clumsily overlaid subtitles. These are better than nothing, but some insight into the production's origins and intent would have been appreciated.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

Fox Lorber's Funny Games is a very well-crafted, intense film, with a decent DVD transfer, though supplements are seriously lacking. But consider a purchase or even a rental carefully—there's nothing "funny" or escapist about this movie, and many people will find it distasteful and difficult to watch. Young children should NOT see this film under any circumstances. If you brace yourself and make it through, Funny Games is an unforgettable film—but be forewarned.


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