HD DVD
Recommended
4 stars
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Overall Grade
4 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
4 Stars
HD Video Quality
4 Stars
HD Audio Quality
3.5 Stars
Supplements
2.5 Stars
High-Def Extras
3.5 Stars
Bottom Line
Recommended

The Kingdom (2007)

Street Date:
December 23rd, 2007
Reviewed by:
High-Def Digest staff
Review Date: 1
December 31st, 2007
Movie Release Year:
2007
Studio:
Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Length:
110 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Rated R
Release Country
United States

Editor's Notes

Non-format specific portions of this review also appear in our Blu-ray review of 'The Kingdom.'

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

2007 hasn't exactly been a winning year for war-themed films at the box office. Across genre lines -- from 'Lions for Lambs' to 'Rendition' to 'A Mighty Heart' -- it seemed audiences just weren't in the mood. Even an actioner like 'The Kingdom' couldn't break $50 million. It's a shame too, because 'The Kingdom' turns out to be a carefully plotted procedural that deserved far more attention than it received.

When two separate terrorist attacks kill dozens of Americans at a housing compound in Saudi Arabia, FBI Special Agent Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx) assembles a group of experts to investigate the bombings. His well-rounded MIF team includes demolitions whiz Grant Sykes (Chris Cooper), forensics expert Janet Mayes (Jennifer Garner), intelligence specialist Adam Leavitt (Jason Bateman), and an invaluable Saudi Arabian colonel named Faris Al Ghazi (Ashraf Barhom). With only five days to unravel the mystery, Fleury and his crew will have to navigate dangerous political waters before they wear out their already tenuous welcome.

I'm really surprised 'The Kingdom' didn't draw more of an audience during its theatrical run this past fall. Director Peter Berg ('Friday Night Lights,' 'The Rundown') concocts a potent mixed drink of "CSI" and "24" in which a Jack Bauer stand-in takes Grissom's crime-lab crew to Saudi Arabia. He wrangled a talented ensemble cast, threw in plenty of 'splosions for the masses, and created a trailer that should have single-handedly packed theaters across the country. But somewhere between CNN and MSNBC, it appears Americans have grown tired of the conflict in the Middle East. No offense to a fun flick like 'Live Free or Die Hard,' but it seems people would rather watch a mindless extravaganza about cyber-terrorists than a legitimate thriller than requires some thought and reflection on the current state of global affairs.

Make no mistake, 'The Kingdom' isn't a stocky drama or preachy parable -- it's a fiery hybrid of military action and political intrigue that pounds along to a climactic end. Playing fast and loose with politics, wartime regulations, and procedural methodology, Berg and screenwriter Matthew Carnahan ('Lions for Lambs') may sacrifice a hint of realism to amp up the film's entertainment value, but each scene is always more tense than the last. More importantly, Berg and Carnahan don't continually beat their audience over the head with a convoluted agenda -- they simply tell a good story. I didn't buy into the film whole hog, but it was certainly entertaining enough to keep me hooked.

Foxx and Cooper deliver standout performances that offer wit and grit at every turn. Foxx continues to prove his ability to anchor the dramatic weight of a film, while Cooper somehow manages to infuse a cliché like "Demolitions Expert" with the multi-layered talent of a master actor. Did I mention Jason Bateman? His character may simply exist for comic relief, but he still delivers a surprisingly authentic performance. Jennifer Garner is the only member of the cast who doesn't quite pull her own weight. To be fair, it's not entirely Garner's fault -- her character appears to have no other purpose other than to provide a few unwelcome emotional outbursts to a movie that would otherwise be dominated by its tough-as-nails attitude.

Garner's character aside, the only other disappointment in 'The Kingdom' is its paper-thin portrayal of the Saudi Arabians in the film. Ashraf Barhom does an excellent job as a helpful colonel, but it's clear that his character is meant to function as a balance to the terrorists, political elitists, and military officials that block the "good intentions" of the film's investigators. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate this balance -- I just wish there was more. 'The Kingdom' comes dangerously close to painting all Saudi Arabians with a single brush, salvaging the descent only with clumsy pardons and twists that have clearly been inserted to alleviate any potential accusations of bigotry.

All in all, 'The Kingdom' is an engaging thriller that kept me entertained. It's certainly not going to show up on many year-end Top Ten lists, but it has tense action, compelling performances, and a tight story. Fans of "24" and "CSI" should definitely check it out.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

'The Kingdom' arrives on HD DVD with a technically impressive 1080p/VC-1 transfer that should easily please fans of the film. While Berg tends to favor a post-processed monochromatic color scheme, the picture remains strong and stable throughout. Explosions bathe the screen with warm oranges and bright yellows that make it seem as if the flames could pour off the screen. The entire image has a striking three-dimensional quality that makes foreground objects pop in nearly every scene. Best of all, detail is exceptionally sharp and revealing -- textures are crisp and it's possible to count every pore, hair follicle, and stitch on the screen. Tiny scraps of shrapnel and debris constantly caught my eye and I was extremely happy with the transfer's clarity.

Unfortunately, Berg's stark style makes this transfer something less of a showcase for all of the wonders high-def. Contrast is intentionally cranked up, whites are overblown, and fleshtones appear as if the director of photography was trying to give the actors a sunburn. The transfer is also occasionally plagued by smatterings of digital noise, mild artifacting, and inconsistent grain fields. Thankfully, these source issues are infrequent and don't detract much from an otherwise proficient transfer.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

Universal originally announced that 'The Kingdom' would arrive on HD DVD with a Dolby TrueHD audio mix, but the final retail release only includes a standard Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 surround track (1.5 Mbps). At first, I wasn't too concerned about the omission, as I've reviewed plenty of "ordinary" tracks that are actually quite remarkable. Unfortunately this mix isn't one of them.

To be blunt, 'The Kingdom' features a surprisingly flat audio mix that seems to prioritize volume over legitimate weight and resonance. Dynamics are decent, but they fail to produce the crisp highs and solid lows of better tracks on HD DVD. Explosions are bound up in the front channels, gunfire sounds a tad shrill, and revving engines are too throaty to match the on-screen tension. To make matters worse, the surrounds aren't as aggressive as I expected and the soundscape seems sparse for a film with so many crowded environments. If I had to guess, I'd say a more substantial TrueHD track was pulled at the last second, leaving 'The Kingdom' at the mercy of a lesser track that was never intended to be more than a secondary audio mix.

Still, for a standard audio mix, this track is just fine. Dialogue is nicely balanced in the center speaker, pans are transparent, and a suitable amount of attention has been paid to interior acoustics and exterior ambiance. The best audio moments bookend the film and the track does finally pull itself together in the last twenty minutes to deliver a bombastic and climactic endgame. All in all, this one certainly isn't a complete failure -- it just doesn't live up to my expectations of how a recent war film should sound on a high definition release.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

The HD DVD edition of 'The Kingdom' includes all of the special features that appear on the concurrently-released standard DVD, upgrading a couple to full high definition. Universal has also blessed this release with a great collection of exclusive content for this HD DVD release, which I'll discuss in the next section.

  • Audio Commentary -- This is a rather ordinary shot-by-shot commentary with director Peter Berg that fails to provide much insight into the film's genesis or the public's reaction to its release. Instead, Berg sticks to on-set anecdotes, technical summaries of the production, comments about the story, and facts about the history of the region. Annoyingly, there are large gaps of silence where the director either runs out of things to say or becomes too engrossed in his own film.
  • Creating The Kingdom (SD, 35 minutes) -- This eight-part documentary is a great feature for fans of the film. It includes candid interviews with the cast and crew, behind-the-scenes footage, and plenty of information that covers every aspect of the production.
  • Constructing the Freeway Sequence (SD, 18 minutes) -- This is an engaging featurette covering the preparation and implementation of the complicated freeway attack.
  • Deleted Scenes (HD, 11 minutes) -- Only one of the scenes featured here has been completely omitted from the film. The other scenes in this section are mere extensions that add a few compelling pieces of information to the story and characters. This is one of the few times I've wished there was an optional commentary for the deleted scenes. The reasoning behind such cuts are usually obvious, but in this case I struggled to understand the logic behind them.
  • History of the Kingdom Timeline -- This interactive feature covers the strained relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States over the last century. It combines text, recorded dialogue, graphics, and video clips together in a well organized menu for quick access.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

In addition to the supplements ported over from the standard DVD, this HD DVD edition of 'The Kingdom' boasts a series of exclusive supplements that combine to serve as an excellent showcase for the format's next-gen capablitities.

  • Picture In Picture Track -- Much like the PiP tracks that grace Universal's HD DVD 'Bourne' releases, this video commentary includes an onslaught of cast interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and other substantial information spread over the course of the film.
  • The Mission Dossier (HD) -- This is another PiP feature that provides pertinent factoids about the Middle East, its religion, its deep seeded culture clashes, and the Saudi Arabian government. It's a gripping way to learn about the region and you'll absorb more details than you'd expect.
  • The Mission Dossier: Surveillance (HD) -- This U-Control feature allows you to select one of several action sequences, each of which lead to an animatic that breakdown the characters and their locations.
  • Character by Character: The Apartment Shootout -- While a similar feature appears on the standard DVD, this incarnation uses Universal's U-Control technology to make the experience more interactive. Hopping between four characters and four unique perspectives, this bonus allows you to explore the complexity of a shot from start to finish. I had a great time exploring the countless ways the scene could have been edited together to achieve a multitude of effects. I dug this one a lot.
  • Web Enabled Content -- As I write this, the online area only has a handful of trailers and opinion polls for fans of the film. Hopefully more content will be added in the coming months. (Note that you'll need to be connected to internet and registered with Universal's online portal in order to access these features.)
  • MyScenes -- Universal's now-standard custom bookmarking function allows you to save your favorite scenes for playback even after you eject the disc.

Final Thoughts

'The Kingdom' is a gripping thriller that will certainly pick up new fans that missed its theatrical run. This HD DVD edition features a sharp and faithful transfer, a decent but disappointing Dolby Digital Plus audio mix, and an impressive array of standard and exclusive supplemental features. While this release doesn't get everything perfect, it is another impressive offering from Universal that will satisfy anyone who enjoyed the film.

Technical Specs

  • HD DVD/DVD
  • HD-30 Dual-Layer/DVD-9 Dual-Layer
  • U-Control Enhanced

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/VC-1

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 2.35:1

Audio Formats

  • English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround (1.5 Mbps)
  • French Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround (768 kbps)

Subtitles/Captions

  • English SDH
  • French Subtitles

Supplements

  • Audio Commentary
  • Documentary
  • Featurettes
  • Deleted Scenes

Exclusive HD Content

  • Picture-in-Picture Commentary
  • PiP Featurettes
  • Web-Enabled Content

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