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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
The Experiment (2001)

"The next two weeks will be a new experience for you. You'll undergo and exert pressure. Some of you will have no civil rights for two weeks. Do not underestimate that."
- Dr. Thon (Edgar Selge)

Review By: Jesse Shanks   
Published: October 16, 2003

Stars: Moritz Bleibtreu, Maren Eggert, Justus von Dohnanyi, Nicki von Tempelhoff, Timo Dierkes
Other Stars: Edgar Selge, Andrea Sawatzki, Andre Jung
Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence, Disturbing Situations, Language, Sexuality and Nudity
Run Time: 01h:58m:53s
Release Date: July 01, 2003
UPC: 043396009646
Genre: sci-fi

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B BB+A- D+

DVD Review

The Experiment is very loosely based on the premise of the "Stanford Prison Experiment" conducted in 1971, which purported to be a "classic demonstration of the power of social situations to distort personal identities and long cherished values and morality as students internalized situated identities in their roles as prisoners and guards." This film takes place in Germany, and we see a representaion of how a modernistic prison is set up in a research lab, complete with cells, bars, and surveillance cameras. Twenty male participants are selected and hired to play prisoners and guards using psychological profiling. These 'prisoners' are locked up and have to follow seemingly mild rules, although warned that they lose their civil rights, and the 'guards' are told simply to retain order without using physical violence.

Not very much science, but a lot of science fiction with the emphasis on fiction is the result of The Experiment, and there is nothing "docudrama" about the film. This is one of the reasons that Stanford University lawyers asked the German studio to remove all references to the original study. The studio complied, but 200 copies of the movie had already been distributed in Europe with an opening reference—the statement that it was "inspired by incidents that occurred in a psychological experiment at Stanford University, Palo Alto, U.S.A."

The film probably carries much heavier overtones in Germany than in the States, due to the experiences with the reality of the Holocaust that are still a part of German culture. There are overtones of Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange as well, both stylistically and in the substance of the character study. Sadly, a reporter is the main protagonist rather than a "real" person, and this reporter, since he has been paid to observe the proceedings, should not be promoting a viewpoint or provoking action. Run Lola Run actor Moritz Bleibtreu plays Tarek Fahd, the washed-up journalist who now drives a cab in Cologne, Germany.

Although it is a fictional dramatization, the story starts slowly as we meet the prospective inmates and guards, but when they get their assignments and descend to the prison, things seem to progress too quickly. With great alacrity, the viewer is taken out of reality and sent into a science fiction story with little connection to the real world. Justus von Dohnanyi, who plays Berus, is recognizable to American audiences from his portrayal of Captain Nikolai in The World is Not Enough. He quickly becomes the Alpha guard and his personal conflict with Fahd is a driving force of the chaos that ensues.

There are some disturbing scenes in The Experiment and, although some of the setup and the mishandled device of the reporter damages the verisimilitude of the story, the film remained intriguing through the psychological aspects and into the more physical scenes that dominate the end. Films that attempt to analyze the direction that science is heading have somewhat lost favor in our fantasy-driven new millenium. A film like this can turn us inward and give us something to think about, while still providing an absorbing drama. There is an indie feel to The Experiment that, at best, lends a freshness to the proceedings and, at worst, casts an amateurish quality.

Still, overall, it is a unique film and, if one can get past the subtitling, The Experiment would be a good rental or a unique addition to a science fiction collection that includes films like Blade Runner and A Clockwork Orange.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: There are some eerie camera shots in The Experiment reminiscent of some of the clinically-styled camera work of Stanley Kubrick. The anamorphic, widescreen video transfer is very decent quality and enhances the colorful cinematography work that adds much to the atmosphere of the film. The film looked very good and I noticed very little distorion and enhancments.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The sound is one of the best aspects of this disc. The Dolby 5.1 is very good and the surround conveys the containment of the prison very well. There is consistent directional sound separation that attempted to capture the feeling of being locked in a prison. The sound track added an edge to the film and the audio used it in the mix well. Turn this one up.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary, Cowboy Rebop: The Movie, Run Lola Run
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: I hate when packaging claims that there are "Bonus Trailers," like they are doing me some favor by advertising their other films. Now, I am not opposed to the inclusion of trailers. It can be useful in identifying films of the same genre or style, but just don't tell me these are "extras." In other words, don't pour water down my back and tell me it is raining.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

The Experiment is an often disturbing depiction film that fictionalizes the story of men who are paid to be prisoners and prison guards in a study of human behavior. As might be expected, things quickly go terribly wrong. Worth a rental for the sci-fan.


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