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USA Home Video presents
Waking the Dead (1999)

Sarah: It is so infuriating loving you sometimes.
Fielding: The feeling's mutual.

Review By: Robert Mandel   
Published: January 10, 2001

Stars: Billy Crudup, Jennifer Connelly
Other Stars: Hal Holbrook, Molly McParker, Janet McTeer, Sandrah Ho, Paul Hipp, Ed Harris
Director: Keith Gordon

MPAA Rating: R for (sexuality and language)
Run Time: 01h:45m:00s
Release Date: September 26, 2000
UPC: 696306009924
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ AA-A- A

DVD Review

Waking the Dead may very well be my favorite film of the year, and has—at the very last moment indeed—made it to the second spot atop my list of DVDs this year behind Fight Club. You can take your Ultimate Toy Story Box; I'll take Jennifer Connelly and this quietly powerful film, breathed not only a new life on this unmarked special edition DVD from the folks at USA, but a parallel one as well with its 40+ minutes of deleted scenes.

Waking the Dead is a haunting tale of two lovers, Fielding and Sarah (Billy Crudup and Connelly), who fall in love despite having nearly nothing but their love in common, told by toggling back and forth between the current (1980s) and past (1970s) via flashback. True Love is an unbreakable bond, and not this pair's religious, ethical or political differences can stand in the way of their love—not even Sarah's untimely death in a retaliatory attack by the Chilean government after Sarah helps two activist Chilean nationals escape the new military regime there. While Fielding is successfully moving toward his lifelong goal by quickly working his way up the Chicago political machine, in the greed ridden 1980s, he is beginning to lose his sense of self and begins to sense Sarah all around him. Everywhere he goes he sees images of her, hears her voice echoing in the falling snow. Despite taking his mentor's (Hal Holbrook) niece for his new girlfriend, their relationship is shallow and meaningless, and when he makes love to her he envisions Sarah instead. His current congressional campaign, a race that becomes tight as he loses focus with his world and falls into his world with Sarah, in turn causes him to question his lifelong ambition. As the pressure mounts so does his haunting, until he can see, hear, feel Sarah all around him, making it impossible any longer for him to make sense of which world is real.

Keith Gordon, director (A Midnight Clear, Mother Night) and uncredited writer (you'll have to listen to the commentary for that story), does a masterful job of creating layer upon layer within the constructs of Fielding's two worlds. There are technical directors (Michael Bay, Steven Spielberg) and then there are artists (Hitchcock, Kazan, Welles, Aronofsky), and Gordon falls in with the latter. He controls the screen space adeptly, filling Fielding's current life with sharp edges and washing it with grays and blues, a vast open space of nothingness bred from the stench of his rotting political morality. In contrast, the past is awash in earthy hues and yellows, reds and oranges; the brightness shines through like a light from the holy spirit even as his relationship with Sarah spirals downward, around the time of her Chilean adventure. While the two scenes that best exemplify both Fielding's real loss of control and his utter coldness and lack of humanity were cut for the sake of time (and to prevent apparent confusion discovered during test screening feedback), Gordon is able to portray Fielding's fallen life in abridged fashion, although some of the deleted scenes beg to be put back into a director's cut.

Crudup and Connelly are not only individually sensational in this film, they are so perfectly comfortable together that this relationship seems surrealistically real. Their scene on the El train after Sarah has lambasted one of Fielding's new political allies is eerie in its truthfulness (much of it was improvised), and their sex scenes seem as real as the Cruises' in Eyes Wide Shut.

Really, this film cannot be watched only once, there is too much to absorb the first time. I also suggest watching the second time with the English subtitles on - I often find it helps illuminate the richness of the language too often lost when one concentrates on the imagery.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen transfer is one of the best I've seen from this studio. The black levels and shadow delineation are very good, and very necessary to hold much of the imagery together. Some aliasing and scanlines are evident on my 4:3 TV, but I'm sure this problem would be reduced on a widescreen television, particularly one attached to a progressive scan player. The flashbacks take on a reddish tone and the current scenes are bluish, but this is intentional. Otherwise, colors are well saturated without significant bleeding. Minor edge enhancement is noticeable if you look hard enough.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: For the most part, this is a center-channel heavy mix, but with every flashback or conjuring of Sarah, the full surround stage is utilized for atmospherics, sonicly immersing the viewer into the psycho-somatic buzzing inside Fielding's head. The musical score also utilizes the full sound stage, particularly Peter Gabriel's Mercy Street. More atmospherics than I ever expected. Nicely done.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 23 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English for the hearing impaired, Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
13 Deleted Scenes
1 Featurette(s)
Feature/Episode commentaries by Director Keith Gordon
Packaging: other
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: USA really should have labeled this disc a special edition, because it truly is. The fact that they haven't is as much a credit to them as is their inclusion of some fine, fine supplemental features.


The film's theatrical trailer is presented in 1.85:1 non-anamorphic widescreen.

Cast and Director Bios/Filmographies
Short bios for Connelly, Crudup and Gordon, and full filmographies.

Director's Commentary
Keith Gordon provides interesting and sometimes humorous insight into the film, his writing and the thought process behind it all. Most of the commentary is screen specific, but not all. A lot is revealed about the process, whereby extensive rehearsals and discussions enable the actors to adroitly improvise in character. If it means anything (and it does to me!), this is the first commentary Kathy has sat through in its entirety. If there is a complaint, while COMPLETELY understandable, it is Gordon's awkward doting over Connelly. It would have been nice to get Crudup and Connelly together or separate from Gordon as well. A solid presentation.

Deleted Scenes
The hands down, undeniable star of this disc are the deleted scenes. Amazingly, some of the finest acting by Crudup and Connelly (and Ed Harris as well) lay on the editing room floor, but lucky for us more than 45 minutes of finished deleted scenes (some as long as 7 minutes) are included. Some of these should remain deleted because they either do little to move or elevate the story, or because they give too much away, or provide an undesirable spin. The majority, however, seem almost sinful in their exposition of the characters—as if watching someone else's private home videos without permission. I cannot say enough about the inclusion of these scenes, wisely presented with AND without commentary by Gordon. This is THE BEST collection of deleted scenes I have seen on DVD to date. Period.

Extras Grade: A


Final Comments

What's with some critics? Waking the Dead was described by one goofball as "Ghost for Adults." Ebert was disappointed by the lack of payoff. I could not disagree more. Director Gordon will garner an Oscar® sometime soon, and his choice (made very clear in one particular deleted scene commentary) was the right one. I am sick and tired of stupid Hollywood films that get dumbed down by test audiences, and those that have potential for greatness denied by either their ending or by having to hold every audience member's hand.

Watch this film. Rewatch this film. Crudup and Connelly are phenomenal. And USA packs a wallop with this DVD to boot.

It's been a week since I watched it last but it still haunts me, but this is NOT a ghost story, this is a love story. Perhaps the most powerful film about love since THE Love Story. I'll explain it to you later, Roger.


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