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Paramount Studios presents
The Four Feathers (2002)

"I wouldn't have gone to war for anything or anyone."
- Harry Feversham (Heath Ledger)

Review By: Brian Calhoun   
Published: February 17, 2003

Stars: Heath Ledger, Wes Bentley, Kate Hudson
Other Stars: Djimon Hounsou, Michael Sheen
Director: Shekhar Kapur

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense battle sequences, disturbing images, violence, and some sensuality
Run Time: 02h:10m:15s
Release Date: February 18, 2003
UPC: 097363372349
Genre: drama

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

DVD Review

Shekhar Kapur's The Four Feathers marks the sixth time that A.E.W. Mason's 1902 adventure novel has been adapted into a motion picture. I am not certain why on earth anyone would think a book needs to be filmed six different times, especially when there are so many new ideas to be explored. Was the highly praised treatment by director Zoltan Korda in 1939 not enough? Nevertheless, as a standalone film, this 2002 version is enjoyable and entertaining. The story has been admirably adapted to more closely parallel the issues and conditions of our current era. Those viewers who are unfamiliar with previous incarnations of this tale will most likely find great entertainment in this lavish screen epic.

The year is 1884, when the British Empire is in the height of its power and gleefully conquering as many unsuspecting nations as possible. Leftenant Harry Feversham (Heath Ledger) is a young soldier with a promising future in the British army, a devoted best friend in fellow soldier Jack (Wes Bentley), and a beautiful fiancée, Ethne (Kate Hudson), but he is plagued with fearful thoughts of going to war. When Harry learns that the British army is shipping off to battle in the Sudan, he resigns from his regiment. For his seemingly unexplained behavior, Harry receives four white feathers from his friends and Ethne as symbols of his cowardice. Abandoned by his friends and disowned by his family, Harry is left empty and disillusioned. Stripped of his honor, Harry soon sets off on an odyssey of self-realization when he travels unaccompanied to the Sudan to fight with his regiment and regain his integrity, proving undying strength and courage every step of the way.

Director Shekhar Kapur, who directed the critically-acclaimed Elizabeth, has a keen eye for this material. The film frequently consists of beautiful sweeping shots of the Sudanese landscapes. Oscar®-winning cinematographer Robert Richardson brings a masterful touch of elegance to these compositions, often conveying the harsh reality of the sprawling desert. Though primarily a dialogue-driven drama, the film occasionally erupts with violent war sequences. This action is shrewdly choreographed, simultaneously proving both chaotic and controlled. Kapur finds a wonderful balance between these spectacular battles and moments of serene drama, neither proving to be more or less powerful than the other.

The subject matter of The Four Feathers is particularly striking in these troubled times, as the shadow of war looms over us. I believe there are very few soldiers who have not approached the anticipation of battle with the same feelings of fear and doubt as Harry. Heath Ledger delivers a wholly fantastic performance, but most notable is the way in which he draws the audience into understanding his reservations of sacrificing himself to a war that might later be considered futile. Wes Bentley and Kate Hudson also offer surprisingly fantastic performances. Though I found it odd that no British actors were cast in the leading roles, Bentley and Hudson completely immerse themselves in their characters and seamlessly blend into the story with impressive British accents.

While entertaining, The Four Feathers is far from perfect. Occasionally, I find that the use of slow motion can actually increase the impact of a movie, but The Four Feathers is certainly not one of them. Not only is the slow motion dreadfully hokey, but it is also blatantly overdone, diminishing the impact of the film rather than contributing to it. Near the end, I found myself wondering how many minutes could have been shaved off the running time with the omission of this irritating gimmick. Even though the story is captivating from start to finish, the film lacks a significant sense of focus. Whether a love story, an action extravaganza, or a war epic, all of the elements are convoluted and torn between one another. The film never quite settles on what it truly wants to be, and, as a result, the outcome feels disjointed. However, it succeeded in keeping me entertained, and that is undoubtedly the filmmakers' noblest intention. Fans of Korda's film, readers of Mason's book, and historical experts will quite possibly dismiss this treatment as pure rubbish, but I enjoyed the grand sense of passion and adventure that the 2002 version has to offer.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The Four Feathers would look utterly fantastic if it were a 10-year-old film and the DVD format was in its infancy. However, this is not the case, and the image transfer is somewhat of a disappointment. I did not see the film theatrically, but I am willing to bet that much of what may be considered transfer-related problems are actually part of the intended visual style. Film grain is strong, predominately in the background, but also surrounding the actors' faces at times. This gritty aesthetic adds to the film-like quality of the transfer, and appears to be a deliberate contribution from the filmmakers. However, many of the anomalies are video-based and rather distracting. Video artifacts are often evident in the soldiers' uniforms as well as background structures. Edge enhancement, though not dreadful, frequently hampers the cleanliness of the image. Overall, the picture appears very dingy and compressed, and is a step back from what the format has to offer.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is a fantastic complement to the compelling story. Dynamic range is excellent, ranging from quiescent moments of dialogue to the full-scale carnage of the battlefield. Dialogue consistently remains clean and clear, and I was greatly impressed with the warm tonal quality produced through my center speaker. Surround use is judicious, and highly effective when utilized; I found myself fully immersed by the sounds of desert winds and whizzing bullets on many occasions. Bass is strong and deep, though somewhat overblown at times. Aside from the slightly boomy low end, fidelity excels on this exciting soundtrack.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 19 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Core
2 Documentaries
6 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Shekhar Kapur
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:56m:20s

Extras Review: While not exactly packed to the brim with extras, The Four Feathers features a fine collection of special features that serve as a wonderful accompaniment to the film. First, is the feature-length commentary by director Shekhar Kapur. Kapur delivers a fascinating analysis of his film, covering a wide array of interesting topics. His comments are profound, sincere, and genuinely insightful. This is one of the better audio commentaries I have heard in quite a while.

Two worthwhile documentaries are also included. The first is A Journey From Within, which is mistakenly listed as a "making-of," but in reality is far more interesting than a typical behind-the-scenes piece. Along with clips from the film, Shekhar Kapur and writer Michael Schiffer deliver strong statements and opinions on the subject matter of the novel, and discuss how they adapted the story to be more relevant to our modern era. The second documentary is titled A Historical Perspective. This 17-minute piece features interviews with historians who discuss the period elements of the film, including the weapons, costumes, and characters. Each documentary is an interesting lesson that enhances the impact of the film.

Also included are 6 featurettes, each focusing on a specific portion of the production. Several of the topics include the music, the battle sequences, and the themes of self-discovery. All of the featurettes are hosted by Shekhar Kapur, who again offers a wealth of information pertaining to each topic.

The theatrical trailer is presented in nonanamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen with 5.1 sound. It is a good trailer, but perhaps too good, as it gives the illusion that the film is slightly more impressive than it truly is. Also included in this section is a trailer for The Core.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

Is the sixth silver screen representation of The Four Feathers finally the definitive version? No, but the film succeeds as both a compelling drama and an engaging action epic. Graced with a riveting audio track and an interesting set of special features, the only drawback that prevents me from recommending this title is a disappointing image transfer.


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