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3 Days of the Condor (French Import) (HD DVD)
Studio Canal / 1975 / 117 Minutes / Rated R
Street Date: August 20, 2007
List Price: $39.95
Reviewed by High-Def Digest Staff
Wednesday, April 02, 2008
This is a review of the French HD DVD release of '3 Days of the Condor.' This movie has not been announced for release on either high-def disc format in the United States, although domestic home entertainment rights are owned by Paramount. (For more information about importing HD DVD discs, visit the HD DVD imports thread in our forums area.)
The 1980s is widely cited by critics as the decade that gave rise to the "fast cut," MTV aesthetic of film editing, but apparently they never saw '3 Days of the Condor.' At the time of its release in 1975, this thriller from director Sydney Pollack held the record for the highest number of cuts-per-minute of any mainstream film ever produced -- approximately 1,172 edits in a 113-minute (for an average shot duration of 5.8 seconds).
A useless piece of Wikipedia trivia, you say? Perhaps. But I mention it to underscore two points: 1.) that the '80s wasn't responsible for every ill to befall cinema; and 2.) to prove that editing your movie to shreds doesn't mean it's going to be exciting. '3 Days of the Condor' is one of the best-known of the "paranoia thrillers" so popular in the Watergate-era '70s, yet however intelligent and well-crafted it may be, it's surprisingly clunky and ultimately quite dull. Despite boasting enough frenetic cuts to rival a Jason Bourne movie, 'Condor' just didn't get my pulse quickening.
Adapted from the best-selling novel "Six Days of the Condor" by James Grady, Robert Redford stars as Joe Turner (code-named "Condor"), a CIA analyst assigned to scouring books to uncover Cold War secrets and other conspiracies. Then one day he sure finds one -- "another CIA, inside the CIA," a covert shadow organization who may not have America's best interests at heart. He returns to find his entire office murdered, and immediately sets out on the run, kidnapping Kathy Hale (Faye Dunaway) on the way and hiding out in her apartment as he plots his next move.
Needless to say, this doppelganger agency is hot on Turner's trail, and quickly dispatches a European hitman, Joubert (a wonderfully oily Max von Sydow) to finish the job he started at Turners office. Meanwhile, the "real" CIA assigns Director Higgins (Cliff Robertson) to reign Turner back in. Yet unbeknownst to everyone, there is another figure, the mysterious Leonard Atwood (Addison Powell), who is orchestrating further internal affairs, with an ambiguous agenda.
'3 Days of the Condor' is a film flush with potent political ideas, a quality which is its greatest asset. It's quite scary how, over three decades later, a film could remain so relevant. The justification that the intelligence community in the film uses for its deeds -- that of national security -- is the same that continues to be invoked today when it comes to the refusal of due process for non-citizens, and the stripping of basic civil rights. Such parallels to today's political landscape initially give 'Condor' a high interest level, and makes us want to keep watching, even as the action falls flat.
Unfortunately, '3 Days of the Condor' makes a mistake common to adaptations of literary spy thrillers -- it sacrifices characterization for byzantine plotting. The narrative is often so convoluted it's hard to follow, but because Joe Turner doesn't have any real human dimension, we stop caring. Pollack is certainly no hack, and he's got an ace cast in his pocket, but 'Condor' quickly descends into paint-by-numbers spy filmmaking.
At least the film has star power. Redford is always a charismatic lead (even if Turner is nothing but a cipher), and back in Dunaway's heyday, few actresses could rival her for a smart, multi-layered line reading. In 'Condor,' they generate considerable heat together, and their witty, flirtatious sparring gives the film it's only palpable tension. (Kathy: "I don't think I want to know you very well. I don't think you're gonna live much longer." Joe: "Well, I may surprise you.") Unfortunately, the romance is largely sidelined by the film's end, and like so many female characters in mainstream '70s films, Kathy is merely an ornament for the leading man.
Is '3 Days of the Condor' still worth seeing? If you're a fan of conspiracy thrillers (or just Redford and Dunaway), then probably. It is a film with interesting ideas, and one that remains surprisingly (and scarily) relevant over 30 years on, but with an over-stuffed plot, a stilted romance and lack of gangbusters action, it lacks the kind of compelling, memorable characters to truly involve us. '3 Days of the Condor' certainly lives up to its reputation as a prime slab of '70s paranoia, but it ultimately left me feeling rather cold.
'3 Days of the Condor' comes to HD DVD in a 1080p/VC-1 encode, framed at its 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The film was recently remastered for a domestic standard-def DVD release, and though I'm not intimately familiar with that version, this Studio Canal release certainly looks to be from a rehabbed source. It's a nice presentation of still somewhat dated elements.
I wasn't particularly pleased during the opening credits. Quite frankly, the movie looked poor, with lots of grain, some dirt, and flat, washed-out colors. Luckily, things pick up, and aside from a few composite shots, the source is quite clean. Blacks are superior for a '70s catalog release, though contrast never pops anywhere near the level of a new release. The film's color palette veers towards browns, with splashes of muted primaries. Saturation is pretty good, though, and thankfully, the image is not pumped up to overcompensate, making for natural fleshtones. Detail and depth are still a bit flat, and the image is on the soft side, but again, that's appropriate to the material. This is also a smooth VC-1 encode, and I noticed no major artifacts.
Studio Canal offers up an English DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround track, but I wonder why they bothered. Listening to this soundtrack is about as exciting as watching paint dry. (Note: The English track features fixed French or German subtitle options, and it's an annoyance that they can't be switched off.)
Though billed as "surround" I seriously heard not a single sound emanate from the rear channels. Heck, by the half-way point, I was begging for the sound of a single cricket. At least there is fairly good stereo separation of effects and music across the front. Dialogue is also fairly well-balanced in the mix. However, dynamic range is pretty weak, with muffled bass typical of '70s source material and some of the flattest highs you're likely to hear outside of a Madonna concert. Perhaps the best thing I can say about this DTS-MA track is that at least the source elements are in clean shape, but otherwise this is a wholly unremarkable presentation.
Standard for a Studio Canal release, there is not a single supplement.
There are no high-def exclusives.
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'3 Days of the Condor' is one of the most well-known of the "paranoid conspiracy" thrillers so popular in the '70s, but it left me disappointed. I was just expecting another classic on the order of an 'All the President's Men,' 'Marathon Man' or 'Klute,' but 'Condor' is awfully dull. This HD DVD is likewise flat. The video is pretty nice, but the audio a disappointment and there's not a single extra. I would suggest that fans of the film wait for a domestic high-def version of 'Three Days of the Condor,' or just stick to your standard-def version.
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