HD DVD: Worth a Look
3 Stars out of 5
Sale Price $4.29
List Price $4.29
Buy Now
3rd Party $0.30
Usually ships in 24 hours
Release Date: October 24th, 2006
Movie Release Year: 2005
Release Country: United States
COLLAPSE INFO -

The Interpreter

Review Date October 25th, 2006 by
Overview - Political intrigue and deception unfold inside the United Nations, where a US Secret Service agent (Penn) is assigned to investigate an interpreter (Kidman) who overhears an assassination plot.
  • Editors Note

    When we first published this review we mistakenly identified it as an VC-1 encoded transfer. It is in fact encoded using AVC MPEG-4, and we have updated the video section of this review accordingly.

OVERALL
Worth a Look
Leave A Comment
  • Editors Note

    When we first published this review we mistakenly identified it as an VC-1 encoded transfer. It is in fact encoded using AVC MPEG-4, and we have updated the video section of this review accordingly.

  • TECH SPECS & RELEASE DETAILS
    Technical Specs: HD DVD,HD-30 Dual-Layer Disc
    Video Resolution/Codec: 1080p/AVC MPEG-4,480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only)
    Length:129
    Release Country:United States
    Aspect Ratio(s):2.35:1
    English Descriptive Audio: English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround,English DTS 5.1 Surround,French Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround,Spanish Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround
    Subtitles/Captions: English SDH,French Subtitles,Spanish Subtitles
    Special Features: Audio Commentary
    4 Featurettes
    Deleted Scenes
    Movie Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
    Release Date: October 24th, 2006

Story Review Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

3.5 Stars out of 5

Sometimes a bad movie can be made good by its stars -- or a good movie can be made great. 'The Interpreter' falls somewhere in-between -- it's a solid thriller, but one made considerably more gripping, exciting and compulsively watchable because of its two leads. And while today's Hollywood A-list may be paid far too much for what they do, it is hard to deny that had it not been for Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn, 'The Interpreter' probably would not have made much of a dent at the box office.

Its stars aside, the 'Interpreter' is a faily routine thriller, albeit one elevated by virtue of the timeliness of its plot. The interpreter of the film's title is American-born, African-raised Silvia Broome (Nicole Kidman), who while working at the United Nations overhears details of a plot to assassinate the unpopular president of a Saharan state. The catch is that the words she overheard were spoken in an extremely rare African regional dialect, and she's one of the only interpreters in the world who can speak it. After Silvia reports the incident to the FBI, federal agent Tobin Keller (Sean Penn) and his partner Dot Woods (Catherine Keener) are assigned to the case, though Keller in particular is not so sure he believes Silvia. As he further investigates the interpreter's shady background, Keller suspects she may have duplicitous motives -- is Silvia a part of a larger plot involving political revolution and terrorism, or just an innocent pawn?

What is so engaging about 'The Interpreter' is that the audience is made to feel real doubt about Kidman's Silvia. We just assume going into any movie starring Nicole Kidman that she is going to be the hero, but the film constantly flip-flops our allegiance between Broome and Keller. This dynamic gives the film a genuine dramatic tension often missing in lesser political thrillers, where we can predict the outcome five steps ahead of the characters. Penn and Kidman are a big help, too, of course. They play expertly against each other -- there is a genuine cinematic intelligence going on behind their eyes, and you can tell they are enjoying every minute of their screen time together. Pollack wisely exploits this, and -- with the exception of scenes with Keener -- does little to distract from the biting, adversarial byplay between his two leads. Pollack may be a somewhat sedate filmmaker these days -- 'The Interpreter' is fast-paced if a bit old-fashioned in terms of plot and structure -- but he ain't stupid.

I also love political thrillers about smart, sexy people, because let's face it -- it gives us a chance to experience all the excitement and dangers of an imagined political life, without all those pesky irritants like policy details and fundraising. 'The Interpreter' is always a classy affair: good-looking, slick, superior Hollywood entertainment. Unfortunately, it does run a little long, and as reported at the time of the film's theatrical release, it suffered last-minute reshoots in order to make the ending more satisfying. So even if 'The Interpreter' isn't really a political thriller on the level of such classics of the genre as 'All the President's Men,' 'Marathon Man' or 'The Parallax View,' it is certainly one of the better adult thrillers Hollywood has churned out in recent memory.

  • TECH SPECS & RELEASE DETAILS
    Technical Specs:
    HD DVD,HD-30 Dual-Layer Disc
    Video Resolution/Codec:
    1080p/AVC MPEG-4,480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only)
    Length:129
    Release Country:United States
    Aspect Ratio(s):
    2.35:1
    Audio Formats:
    English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround,English DTS 5.1 Surround,French Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround,Spanish Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround
    Subtitles/Captions:
    English SDH,French Subtitles,Spanish Subtitles
    Special Features:
    Audio Commentary
    4 Featurettes
    Deleted Scenes
    Movie Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
    Release Date: October 24th, 2006

Video Review

3.5 Stars out of 5

When I originally sat down to review the video quality of 'The Interpreter,' I expected another 1080p/VC-1 encoded transfer. There would be little reason to think otherwise -- every Universal HD DVD title so far has been VC-1, and according to the studio's recent statements, so will all those in the foreseeable future. In fact, I watched the whole film and wrote down my initial impressions without even realizing that, in fact, 'The Interpreter' is Universal's first (and so far only) title encoded in AVC MPEG-4. So it is telling that my original review of the transfer quality was not all that positive -- something seemed "off," and I now know what was likely the significant contributing factor. I can't unequivically critique a codec based on one review, but my original thoughts on this transfer still stand -- it is hardly up there with the best I've seen on HD DVD.

The most appropriate word I can use to describe the look of the film is "hot" -- though that's not necessarily a compliment. 'The Interpreter' suffers from what I call tweak-itis, a recent Hollywood trend where a film's visual look is so pumped up, colorized and overblown that it looks like a music video. While perhaps 'The Interpreter' is not the most acute sufferer of this disease, it is still irritating to watch what is more or less a believable, character-driven thriller and be continually distracted by clothes that seem to be dripping red dye and eyeballs that glow blue. It's all pretty artificial looking, and such post-production trickery adds enough unwanted artifacts into the image that it keeps 'The Interpreter' from hitting the high-def bulls-eye.

Colors leap off the screen, but also suffer from some obvious chroma noise. Whites tend to bloom, with even darker interior scenes exhibiting a glow on the high end of the grayscale. The source material is in good shape, though, with no major blemishes or dirt apparent. Blacks, too, are solid. There is grain throughout, however, and a surprising bit of noise mixed in for good measure. Detail holds up rather well in spite of these drawbacks, with some shots quite striking. The opening prologue sequence that sets the film's thriller plot in motion has a very bright, three-dimensional look to it, and there is another close-up shot early on of a UN official's mouth that reveals even the most minute pores on his chin. Yet other scenes are a bit blurry and overbaked by comparison. 'The Interpreter' is one of the more troublesome HD DVD transfers I've seen in a while, and if it is certainly watchable and sometimes even superior, I still give this one mixed marks.

Audio Review

4 Stars out of 5

Unlike the video, 'The Interpreter's audio rises to the occasion. Universal offers up Dolby Digital-Plus and DTS 5.1 options, though the Dolby Digital is clearly superior (its robust 1.5mbps bitrate certainly helps matters). I'm not sure why, but I just wasn't expecting a great aural experience from 'The Interpreter' -- I was wrong. The film's sound design is really quite spiffy, with a healthy surround presence and plenty of clever discrete effects.

Consistently, the rear channels are engaged throughout 'The Interpreter.' Right from the opening sequence, which isn't even a big action setpiece, effects are directed across the entire soundfield, in particular James Newton Howard's percussive, suspenseful score. Atmosphere is quite effective, with lots of minor ambient sounds filling up the surrounds even during quieter moments. Dynamics are also superior, with a surprisingly wide tonal range and deep low bass. Perhaps this one won't trigger an earthquake in your house, but the .1 LFE is far stronger than I expected. Even if 'The Interpreter' lacks a ton of sonic fireworks, I was very impressed with how effective this mix is in conveying the film's intended mood of paranoia and dread.

Special Features

2.5 Stars out of 5

'The Interpreter' on HD DVD comes packed with the same extras as the standard-def DVD release, which was a nice, solid package. Nothing here is extraordinary, but at least a couple of the more periphery extras add a bit of weight and relevance to the more standard making-of fare.

Director Sydney Pollack offers up a nice solo audio commentary, and I've always enjoyed listening to him. The articulate actor-turned-filmmaker is always smart, if a bit slow-going at times. He's also surprising modest, admitting that he rarely makes a film that he doesn't feel will be "embarrassing" and unreleasable. This from the man who made such classics as 'The Way We Were,' 'Tootsie' and the Oscar-winning 'Out of Africa!' As for 'The Interpreter,' he's pretty good at giving us most of the important details, from the story to the cast to being granted permission to shoot in the U.N. Not a must-listen, but if you're into the film or Pollack, give it a shot.

Actually a bit better at delving into the production are the four making-of featurettes. "From Concept to Cutting Room" is a straightforward affair, though its interesting that both Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn signed on to do the film without a completed screenplay, which was obviously a show of affection for Pollack. But the best of the bunch are "The Ultimate Movie Set: The United Nations" and "A Day in the Life of Real Interpreters." Pollack and the film's producers speak to the broader goals of the movie, which were in part to highlight the often underappreciated work of the agency, as well as pay tribute to the unsung interpreters that informed the Kidman character. If you are going to watch any of the extras on the disc, make it these two. And sure to bring a bit of warmth to the hearts of videophiles everywhere is "Interpreting Pan & Scan Versus Widescreen," where Pollack explains how a filmmaker goes about choosing an aspect ratio, and why pan & scan is inherently evil.

Rounding out the set are three Deleted Scenes and an Alternate Ending. Unfortunately, the excised scenes are meager (only a bit between Kidman and Penn in a car adds anything interesting to the film), while the alternate finale is really just a bit of tacked-on narration. These are pretty skippable.

Final Thoughts

'The Interpreter' is a tight, well-plotted thriller bolstered by an A-list cast. Perhaps the film's third act is a bit weak, but it is nice to be able to recommend a smart, adult thriller in this day and age of mindless action blockbusters dumbed-down for the lowest common denominator. Unfortunately, this HD DVD is a mixed bag. As Univeral's first (and so far only) title with an AVC MPEG-4 transfer, it is not an auspicious debut -- I thought the image was too overdone for my taste and rather noisy, though the soundtrack excels and there are some solid extras. Worth a look, but by no means is this a slam dunk, thumbs up recommendation.

Sale Price $4.29
List Price $4.29
Buy Now
3rd Party $0.30
Usually ships in 24 hours
See what people are saying about this story or others
See Comments in Forum
  • Editors Note

    Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.

  • TECH SPECS & RELEASE DETAILS
    Technical Specs:
    HD DVD,HD-30 Dual-Layer Disc
    Video Resolution/Codec:
    1080p/AVC MPEG-4,480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only)
    Length:129
    Release Country:United States
    Aspect Ratio(s):
    2.35:1
    Audio Formats:
    English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround,English DTS 5.1 Surround,French Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround,Spanish Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround
    Subtitles/Captions:
    English SDH,French Subtitles,Spanish Subtitles
    Special Features:
    Audio Commentary
    4 Featurettes
    Deleted Scenes
    Movie Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
    Release Date: October 24th, 2006