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Without question, director Barry Levinson's WAG THE DOG ($25) is one of the most biting (and coincidentally topical) political satires ever produced. The plot of WAG THE DOG plays as if it were lifted from newspaper headlines, yet the film was produced before a real life political scandal broke at the White House. I guess life really does imitate art...

Two weeks before a Presidential election, it is about to be revealed that the chief executive engaged in a bit of hanky panky in the Oval Office with a female visitor to the White House. Once word of the scandal is leaked to the media, it is certain to set off a non-stop news frenzy that will cost the President the election. However, before the story breaks, Washington spin-doctor Conrad Brean (Robert De Niro) begins damage control. With the aid of Hollywood producer Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman), Brean manufactures a war overseas to divert the media from the scandal involving the President. The screenplay for WAG THE DOG by Hilary Henkin and David Mamet is wickedly witty at picking apart both Washington’s political machine and the insanity that is the American media. WAG THE DOG also calls into question the average man's conception of reality- anything we see on television that is reported by the news media, we automatically assume to be true. In essence, anything that can be manufactured by a Hollywood special effects department could be sold as reality, as long as the trusted "talking heads" on television tells us that it is real. The superb cast of WAG THE DOG also includes Anne Heche, Denis Leary, Willie Nelson, Andrea Martin, Kirsten Dunst, William H. Macy, Craig T. Nelson, Suzie Plakson and Woody Harrelson.

WAG THE DOG comes to DVD as part of New Line Home Video's outstanding Platinum Series. The film is offered in both full screen and 16:9 enhanced wide screen versions on opposite sides of the disc. New Line has done a fantastic job transcribing Robert Richardson's shadowy cinematography to DVD; offering an image full of detail, without incurring any of the problems one sometimes finds with MPEG-2 compression. Black are deep and true and the DVD offers excellent contrast as well as color. Flesh tones are quite natural, while the nicely saturated hues reproduce without a trace of chroma noise or bleeding. As I stated previously, there were no problems with compression artifacts, thanks to a splendid DVD authoring job.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack had one of those surprisingly great "little mixes" full of intricate detail, instead of overwhelming sound effects and explosions. Dialogue reproduction is very realistic, giving an almost "in the same room" quality to the actor's voices. All of the discrete channels are utilized to give the track atmosphere and subtle nuances. Mark Knopfler‘s marvelous sounding music is also well integrated into the track. A French language soundtrack has also been provided, as have English and French subtitles.

The interactive menus contain full motion video and music. Through the menus one can access the DVD's standard scene and language selection features, in addition to the disc's supplements. Foremost is an audio commentary featuring director Barry Levinson and star Dustin Hoffman that fans are sure to find rewarding. Additionally, the is a very entertaining featurette entitled "From Washington To Hollywood and Back" that includes interviews with Barry Levinson, Jane Rosenthal, Tom Brokaw, John Frankenheimer and Dee Dee Myers. Also included is an essay entitled "The Thin Line Between Truth And Fiction" that looks at politics and the media. There is an interview with actor William H. Macy who talks about his close personal friend, screenwriter David Mamet. A theatrical trailer and cast biographies/filmographies fill out the supplements.

WAG THE DOG is a terrific movie and a terrific DVD thanks to New Line Home Video's dedication to producing the highest quality releases. Recommended.




DVD reviews are Copyright 1999 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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