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Ever get the feeling you know a movie before you see it, based upon theatrical trailers or TV spots? Well, THREE KINGS ($25) is such a movie. After seeing the TV spots, I was expecting THREE KINGS to be something of a comic caper movie, with a feel good twist involving refugees. However, THREE KINGS turned out to be completely unlike my expectations- and a really great film to boot. Believe me when I say that the critical acclaim that the film received is completely justified, making THREE KINGS definitely one of the best films of 1999.

THREE KINGS is set at the end of The Gulf War, with the U.S. forces mopping up and processing the surrendering Iraqi forces. As the film opens, the television media is still buzzing around, looking to pull one last news story out of a war that they covered like no other. Additionally, the U.S. soldiers are celebrating the end of the conflict, like it was the end of W.W.II, despite the fact that many of them never even fired a single round at the enemy. However, during the processing of some Iraqi soldiers a couple of Americans discover a map in the least likely of places. Of course, with the aid of a bit military reconnaissance, our boys in uniform come to believe the map they found shows the location of bunkers where Saddam Husseinís forces have hidden millions in gold bullion looted from Kuwait.

THREE KINGS stars George Clooney as the officer working as a press liaison who learns of the existence of the map and organizes a little trip into the desert to steal the gold back from Saddam forces. Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube and Spike Jonze portray the soldiers who assist in the "liberation" of the Kuwaiti gold. As you might expect, the little detour into the desert doesnít go as planned and our U.S. "heroes" find themselves in a situation where they are forced to become real heroes and help refugees flee from Saddamís army. As you can see, my description of THREE KINGS gives one the same impression of the film, as did the television spots did, which only makes a great motion picture seem like less than it really is. THREE KINGS is a deep and compelling film that tells a very human story about what happened as a result of The Gulf War- when the television camera werenít rolling. To say anymore about the plot of THREE KINGS would do a disservice to anyone who hasnít seen the film.

If you are experiencing the film for the first time, then you shouldnít have any more knowledge about the plot than Iíve given you. Perhaps the marketing people that came up with the TV spots were right. Anyway, writer/director David O. Russell has fashioned a detailed, multi-layered story that is filled with ironic humor. Additionally, in the telling of his story, Russell makes use of highly stylistic photographic techniques to enhance the filmís emotional textures. The lead performances in THREE KINGS are all first rate. I have yet to be disappointed by George Clooney in a movie, even when the script is bad, Clooney manages to rise above it. However, with Russellís solid script, Clooney does some of his best cinematic work. Mark Wahlberg is right on the money with his portrayal of the solider that comes to understand the face of the enemy the hard way. The first rate cast of THREE KINGS also features Nora Dunn, Jamie Kennedy, Mykelti Williamson, Cliff Curtis, SaÔd Taghmaoui, Holt McCallany and Judy Greer.

Warner Home Video has done an amazing job with their DVD edition of THREE KINGS. Prior to the start of the film, the DVD comes with a disclaimer that mentions the different techniques the filmmakers employed to intentionally distort the image and give the film its highly stylized look. While THREE KINGS definitely has an unconventional look, I think that filmmakers should continually push the envelope, so they can tell their stories in the most visually arresting manner possible. The 16:9 enhanced wide screen transfer not only restores the filmís 2.35:1 theatrical framing, but does a fantastic job of rendering the filmís intended look. THREE KINGS is mastered from a virtually flawless film element and the transfer is consistently clean. Sharpness and detail are usually quite good, but there are moments in the movie that donít appear as sharp or detailed as others. Of course, this is the end result of the filmmakerís choices for film stocks and negative processing. Additionally, there is quite a bit of noticeable film grain in the image, but again, THREE KINGS is supposed to look this way. Colors vary between being somewhat muted to being highly saturated, depending on the film stocks and processing techniques deployed for various scenes in the movie. Even at their most intensely saturated moments, colors are reproduced without a trace of noise or bleeding. Blacks are very accurate throughout the presentation, no matter what type of manipulation the filmmakers applied to the picture. Contrast can be quite harsh and it this harshness the sometimes causes the loss of overall detail in the image. However, some of the harshest looking moments are also some of the most visually interesting- go figure. Digital compression artifacts rarely asserted themselves in any appreciable way on this finely authored, dual layer DVD.

Like the image, THREE KINGS comes with a Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack that isnít standard issue. Sure the mix makes aggressive use of all the discrete channels, however the soundtrack has plenty of opportunities to become overblown, yet the filmmakers and sound mixers have practiced a bit of restraint to maintain a semblance of realism. Gunfire does whiz around the soundstage, including through the split surround channels during the more action packed moments, plus the helicopter scene really takes advantage of all that Dolby Digital has to offer. Dialogue is very cleanly reproduced and always remains intelligible, thanks to the fact that none of the other sonic elements are allowed to overwhelm it. The bass channel is low and solid, delivering the goods whenever the movie requires it. Subtitles are provided on the DVD in English and French.

The interactive menus include full motion video and sound, which certainly enhances the DVD experience. Through the menus, one can assess the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the DVDís outstanding array of supplemental materials. THREE KINGS includes two very good audio commentaries, the first with director David O. Russell, and the second with producers Charles Roven and Edward L. McDonnell. Both commentaries give extensive details about the production and completely hold your attention the entire time.

Also included on the DVD are deleted scenes that can be viewed with or without the directorís commentary. Under The Bunker is 20-minute behind-the-scenes look at the production of THREE KINGS. Donít miss the Directorís Video Journal, which is the camcorder-captured record of the filmís production, featuring the kind of behind-the-scenes footage that most folks never get to see. The Tour Of The Iraqi Village Set with production designer Catherine Hardwicke speaks for itself. In the Interview with Director of Photography Newton Thomas Sigel, the cinematographer discusses in detail how the filmís stylized look was achieved. An Intimate Look Inside The Acting Process With Ice Cube is an amusing little short that will tickle fans. Filling out the supplements is a theatrical trailer, a stills gallery, extensive production notes and cast/crew biographies/filmographies. For those who like Easter egg hunts, the DVD includes Hidden Bunkers. But we arenít finished yet, THREE KINGS is also DVD-ROM enabled, with access to Persian Gulf War Web Links, Enhanced Assmap (you have to see the movie), Character Biographies and the complete Original Theatrical Web Site on the DVD.

All in all, THREE KINGS is a marvelous movie that has been given fantastic treatment by the folks at Warner Home Video. You canít go wrong with this DVD. Absolutely recommended.




DVD reviews are Copyright © 2000 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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