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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Tears of the Sun (2003)

Lt. A.K. Waters: Give me a minute.
Lena Kendricks: A minute?
Lt. A.K. Waters: Yeah that's right. 60 seconds.

- Bruce Willis, Monica Bellucci

Review By: Brian Calhoun   
Published: October 07, 2003

Stars: Bruce Willis, Monica Bellucci
Other Stars: Cole Hauser, Tom Skerritt
Director: Antoine Fuqua

MPAA Rating: R for strong war violence, some brutality, language
Run Time: 02h:00m:48s
Release Date: June 10, 2003
UPC: 043396097513
Genre: action


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B CAA- B+

DVD Review

Perhaps I have been spoiled by the exceptional war films of the past ten years, but I would consider Tears of the Sun a step backwards for the genre. Had it been just another action picture, I might not have been as disappointed. However, the film uses the horrifying real-life ethnic cleansing in Africa as little more than an excuse to create an otherwise fictional action romp. The beginning of the film heightened my awareness of the violent political conflicts on that continent and fueled my desire to know more. Unfortunately, it only continued to bombard me with clichés and uninteresting dialogue.

Bruce Willis stars as Lt. A.K. Waters, a Navy S.E.A.L. whose team is sent into war-torn Africa to rescue Dr. Lena Kendricks, a U.S. citizen working in a mission. Violence has erupted near her camp when a rebel militia group assassinates the Nigerian President and his family, and persists to murder anyone who does not agree with their political beliefs. As the jaded Lt. Waters leads Dr. Kendricks and her patients through the jungle, he is stricken with a newfound conscience. Soon, he finds himself risking his life and disobeying orders from his superiors in order to ensure the safety of the African citizens.

While the film provides quite an accurate representation of S.E.A.L. tactics, Willis' performance is dreadfully uninspired during the first two acts. It is a shame to see him in such a one-dimensional role. His morose facial expressions and outward despondency served the greater purpose of the story in Unbreakable, but here it feels awkward and ultimately laughable. I noticed that he even had trouble keeping a straight face as he spoke his lines in monotone. Yet, who could blame him? Much of the screenplay is riddled with dialogue that has been dumbed down to cater to those who need their entertainment lightly spoonfed to them.

Tears of the Sun is directed by Antoine Fuqua, whose previous film was the overrated Training Day. While Fuqua clearly understands how to create a powerful motion picture, it is the tiny details that undermine this picture. The film contains several impressive action sequences, but they lack the passion of those seen in the most gripping war films. This is partially due to the fact that none of the characters have been given anything interesting to do or say. By the time the story reaches heavy combat, I was more apathetic than sympathetic to their plight. One may actually feel that the extreme fighting near the end is nothing but a Hollywood sell out, but ironically, this third act happens to be the emotional crux of the film. Alas, it is too little, and far too late.

The best war films pummel the viewer with the atrocities of war without glorifying it. Tears of the Sun is by no means a feel good affair, but it ultimately feels like little more than an overt patriotic statement. The topic is potentially fascinating, but it appears to have fallen into the wrong hands. I cannot help but think there is a better film to be made from this subject matter.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.40:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The majority of the 2.40:1 anamorphic image transfer is as good as DVD gets. The level of detail is purely lifelike, displaying wonderful depth in the intricacies of the jungle. The nighttime scenes are quite dim and exhibit extreme black level, yet shadow detail is still beautifully rendered, revealing subtle nuances even in the darkest moments. While edge enhancement is occasionally evident, its presence is considerably minor and never distracting. I noticed one shot where color appeared to shift sporadically, and the image appears somewhat soft on occasion. Nevertheless, the attributes of this transfer are far too superior to justify any complaints.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
English, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: Perhaps the most impressive element of the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack is its subtlety, even during moments of extreme aggression. The surround channels are used impeccably, engulfing the viewer with the sounds of gunfire and jungle noises, but rarely overused to the point of distraction. Bass is consistently deep and powerful, though the low end of Hans Zimmer's score feels a bit overbearing on occasion. Dialogue exhibits a natural tonal quality and is always clean and intelligible. While not quite as impressive as many other recent soundtracks, major kudos should be given to the tasteful sound design of this soundtrack.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French
1 Original Trailer(s)
8 Other Trailer(s) featuring Anger Management, Bad Boys II, Basic, Black Hawk Down, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, Hollywood Homicide, Radio, S.W.A.T.
8 Deleted Scenes
2 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by director Antoine Fuqua; writers Alex Lasker and Patrick Cirillo
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:08m:13s

Extra Extras:
  1. Africa Fact Track
  2. Interactive Map of Africa
Extras Review: The first entry in this tasteful collection of special features is a feature-length commentary by director Antoine Fuqua. This is a very enlightening track, with Fuqua discussing various aspects of the entire production. His pleasant demeanor and professional approach make this a very enjoyable listen.

Next, is a commentary with writers Alex Lasker and Patrick Cirillo. Listed as Writer's Observations, the commentary only lasts for the first 17 minutes of the film, yet it is an excellent discussion that predominately focuses on the creation of the screenplay in 1995 and how it evolved over the years.

Also available is the option to watch the entire film with the Africa Fact Track. This track provides an overwhelming amount of factual information, but I do not understand why the text icons have to be so large, so as to block a sizeable portion of the screen. Simple subtitles near the bottom of the screen would be perfectly suitable, and preferred.

The 15-minute featurette, titled Journey To Safety: Making Tears of the Sun, is pretty standard fare, but packs a good amount of information into the short running time. Unfortunately, the behind-the-scenes footage is limited, and replaced by the usual "talking head" interviews with the cast and crew. Fortunately, the interviews are quite revealing thanks to the enthusiasm of the participants.

The compelling Voices of Africa is a compilation of interviews with native Africans, who briefly discuss living in Africa and the horrors that they had to endure. Though several of the participants are somewhat hard to understand, this is quite an eye-opening feature that reveals the ongoing turmoil on that continent.

The eight deleted scenes are presented in shoddy nonanamorphic widescreen transfers that rival the visual aesthetic of VHS. Nevertheless, all of these scenes would have been excellent additions to the finished film, as they flesh out the characters and story considerably more than what we are given.

Also included is an interactive map of Africa, which features selectable icons for certain locations. When selected, each icon offers one page of text information on the history of that location. This is an interesting feature that adds weight to the impact of the film. One may want to consider viewing this feature before watching Tears of the Sun.

The theatrical trailer is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. It is a deftly edited, exciting trailer, yet, like most trailers these days, it spoils a great deal of the film. Also included are trailers for eight other Columbia TriStar films.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

Tears of the Sun aims for the gritty realism of the best war films, but ends up feeling more like a gung-ho action picture. It succeeds at providing quality entertainment, but I expected more depth from the story. Nevertheless, this DVD is a remarkable achievement thanks to exemplary audio and video transfers and a stylish set of quality special features.

 


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