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New Line Home Cinema presents
Once Were Warriors (1995)

"Don't cry. It doesn't do any good."
- Beth (Rena Owen)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: April 01, 2004

Stars: Rena Owen, Temuera Morrison, Mamaengarda Kerr-Bell
Director: Lee Tamahori

MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language and strong depiction of domestic abuse, including sexual violence and substance abuse
Run Time: 01h:42m:53s
Release Date: September 02, 2003
UPC: 794043637025
Genre: drama


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

DVD Review

If one were to judge exclusively on this year's Academy Awards telecast, one might think that the Lord of the Rings films were the first and only ones produced in New Zealand. (If one were to judge anything exclusively by that broadcast, one would be very, very bored.) But while domestic production in New Zealand may not have been terrifically prolific over the years, and while the competition for screens, for foreign films in the U.S. especially, is fierce, Once Were Warriors is one of those rare movies from overseas that garnered all kinds of attention, and probably deserved most of it. The trappings of it may be unfamiliar, but the emotions certainly aren't, and it's filled with some scenes of genuine emotion and power.

It's a family saga, more or less, and our matriarch is Beth (Rena Owen), descended from upper cast Maori but now living in a sort of horrible contemporary squalor. Her husband, Jake, likes a rowdy good time, drinking beers and singing with his buddies at the bar, and then bringing them all home to continue the party. He's a bruising hulk of a man, and quickly we realize that he's not just rough around the edges: he doesn't much care for or pay any attention to his own children, and, far worse, he routinely beats up Beth, who's maybe half his weight, dripping wet. (Oh, yeah, he's a real man. Beyond the ripped pecs, he's a monster.) Aside from tending to her own bruises, Beth can see that things are getting out of hand with their kids, too—their son Boog is remanded to the custody of the courts, for petty thievery and violence, and because it's clear that his own parents can't handle him; Nig is casting his lot with a street gang, a group of guys who like to beat the snot out of one another, and cover themselves in as many tattoos as possible; Grace, a delicate flower of a girl, clutches her notebook and dreams of being a writer, but knows that all isn't well at home. There are two younger children, too, and their prospects look just as dim as those of their siblings.

The film is best at providing a candid portrait of these lives of violence and poverty; these aren't the sorts of people that Hollywood puts at the center of movies. After a time, though, you may start to wonder where it's all going; and the answer is, nowhere in particular. Misfortunes great and small befall just about every member of the family; Beth bears the brunt with a certain dignity, but there are moments in the film when it just feels like a very angry family doing a lot of screaming and yelling. As horrible as it sounds, at a certain point, as an audience member, you almost become inured to the horrors of these lives, because they're so unrelenting. There's lots of heat, but not always enough light.

Also, occasionally Beth's dialogue is a little obvious and on the nose: e.g., "I found something better, Jake, and I'm gonna make sure my kids have it all." You can't argue with the sentiment, but, to my ears, anyway, it rings a little hollow. Only toward the end of the film do we get a sharper sense of Beth's Maori pedigree; some of this may be things that a New Zealand audience would understand intuitively or take for granted, and you've got to give the filmmakers credit for respecting our intelligence. Occasionally we as the audience can be a little bit lost, but that's okay, we can handle it. It's not the most satisfying or even the most brutally emotional film you'll ever see, but it does a good job of giving us a view of the universal emotions of these multidimensional characters from a different culture.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The fleshtones look far too orange, and generally the color balance seems to be a bit off in this transfer. Things tend to bleed into one another, though the palette is saturated to the point of bursting.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes
DTSEnglishyes


Audio Transfer Review: All three audio tracks are fairly clean and well balanced; the 5.1 offering sounds especially attractive and atmospheric. Also, if you're unfamiliar with the accents of the New Zealanders, you may have problems discerning some of what they say, and will be grateful for the remote access to English subtitles.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 27 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Ballad of Little Jo, Death and the Maiden, Bitter Moon
2 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Lee Tamahori
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Director Lee Tamahori provides a thorough and engaging commentary track—he seems jacked up for this on a couple of espressos, which is good news for us, and means no dead air for him. He discusses the novel on which the film was based, whether or not the characters are too pretty, and the various aspects of the film's physical production; among other things, he aptly compares Jake to Stanley Kowalski. Tamahori's commentary spills over to the two trailers—he started as a commercial director, and was keenly interested in the promotion of his film—and to a Tattoo Gallery (01m:50s), during which he discusses the symbolic value of the tats, principally with the old school prison tattoos on the one hand, and a resurgent interest in Polynesian culture on the other. Also included is a pretty standard on-set featurette (06m:30s) with the cast and crew.

Extras Grade: B-

 

Final Comments

An affecting portrait of a group of people heretofore unrepresented on the big screen, with a respectful and appropriate package of extras.

 


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