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Since the dawn of the motion picture age movies have been used to to take those who view them in a time and place different from the one they live in. This could be the not too distant past or the extreme future. Some films are entirely fictional and some are based in history. 

Thirteen Days: Infinifilm Series
Movie
During October of 1962 the world came very close to World War 3. The United States of America learned that their main enemy of the time - the Russians, had managed to sneak medium range weapons into the country of Cuba. By allowing the Russians to do this, the thought was that if the weapons become operational that Russia could start a War on the US. During this two week period citizens in other countries including Canada were bracing themselves for war. In my mom's neighbourhood in suburban Ottawa Canada, an air raid siren was installed outside on the corner. The world was preparing for war. Meanwhile at the White House John F. Kennedy was trying to find a way to remove the missiles from Cuba without triggering a chain reaction that would lead to war.  "Thirteen Days" is a somewhat fictional account of what occurred within the walls of the office of one of the world's most powerful leaders. 

Kenneth O'Donnell (Kevin Costner) is the Special Assistant to President John F. Kennedy (Bruce Greenwood). His basic duties include co-ordinating his appearances, going over guest lists for political gatherings and making sure the president doesn't say or do anything that would hurt his chance for re-election.  One day while going over surveillance photographs from a routine fly over of Cuba. A military officer sees something of concern. Upon closer inspection of the photographs there appears to be a number of medium range missiles. This information is brought to the attention of the president as this is a direct violation of a peace agreement between the United States and Russia. When Kennedy learns what these weapons are capable of. He is forced to decide between numerous options, all of which could eventually lead to war. He could call a targeted air strike followed by a ground assault, a more generalized air strike or he could hope to reach a peaceful agreement through discussions with Russian authorities. Meanwhile as the clock ticks down, pressure from military and other forces continues to grow. Will Kennedy be able to avoid war by diplomatic means or will physical force have to be used.

"Thirteen Days" is an ensemble piece with 3 primary characters. Kevin Costner plays Kenneth O'Donnell a family man with two kids and a wife whose job sometimes keeps him working long hours. Canadian actor Bruce Greenwood (Double Jeopardy) plays JFK one of America's most famous leaders and Steven Culp plays his brother Bobby - the Attorney General. All 3 of the lead actors give strong performances with the strongest of the bunch being from Greenwood. Greenwood, a native Canadian, captures the essence of JFK perfectly. Hopefully this will be the role that makes Hollywood take notice of Bruce's talent. This is another case that proves that big dollars doesn't necessarily get you the best guy for the job. Also contributing to the excellent ensemble cast of "13 Days" are veteran character actors Dylan Baker as secretary of defense Robert McNamara and Kevin Conway as General Curtis LeMay. 

Director Roger Donaldson ("Species", "Dante's Peak") may not be the director you'd expect to helm this sort of project but he does an excellent job in keeping the events moving along nicely during this rather lengthy film. I'll be the first to admit that at nearly 2 and 1/2 hours, political drama isn't usually at the top of my list of things to watch. However Roger made this one work extremely well. Aside from a few odd stylistic choices involving shooting some scenes in black and white and a few scenes that drag on a bit long, he did a great job here. Back when I saw this theatrically I remembered not checking my watch very often throughout the film - a true sign of a good film. I was engaged in the action on-screen so much that I didn't want to pull myself away for one second.  

While this film has its roots in history, it has been criticized in the press for some of its inaccuracies. If you can look past these and its long length, you will see "13 Days" is a masterful character drama set during an important time in history. Highly Recommended!

Thirteen Days: Infinifilm Series
Video
New Line Home Entertainment is usually one of the most reliable studios in terms of consistency in their video transfers. However for the first time in recent history they have disappointed me with a video transfer. It's not that their 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer for "Thirteen Days" is bad because it's not, it's just not at the level of the New Line's better transfers or even some of the recent transfers from Fox and Paramount. 

"13 Days" is a film with a unique approach in how it was shot, including not only color but black and white footage. In addition to this it also contains some archival footage.  For the most part this is a film that takes place indoors in various rooms of the White House; as such this doesn't lend itself to a wide palette of colors. The colors that are used are more of a subdued nature. Detail and sharpness were handled well but the film didn't feel like it had much depth to it at all. I'm not saying that for a transfer to excel the image has to have an amazing depth to it, but with recent releases such as "Wayne's World" from Paramount where it actually felt like the viewer was in a suburban basement, I expected a bit more. 

Since some of the film was made up of archival footage, it can be expected that these segments will not look as crystal clear as the others.  There was the occasional pop, scratch and mark on these shots but overall I felt they looked pretty good. Aside from these problems there wasn't a mark on the film. There was however some edge enhancement presence and the film seemed to have a grainy, almost low budget feel to it. This was definitely not present in the print I saw theatrically and isn't something I'd expect to see on such a new film.

This is not a bad transfer.  It's still a good transfer overall and the problems don't distract the viewer too much. I guess it's just lacking a little something that people have come to expect from a New Line transfer.

Audio
The DVD release of "Thirteen Days" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 audio.  Having seen the film during it's theatrical run and knowing that it was primarily a dialogue driven affair, I wasn't expecting much from the track. What I got was a lot more then I expected I would. 

As I've mentioned time and time again, I try and plan my viewing schedule around the times when no one else is around to interrupt me, so that I can be fully immersed in the movie. More often than not this means I'm watching things in the wee hours of the morning and as such I have to be careful not to awaken the people sleeping elsewhere in the house. This also means I have to plan around which movies I watch and when. So a dialogue driven political drama seemed like a good bet for something that I could watch late at night..

The audio of "Thirteen Days" remains anchored in the front speakers for the most part. Dialogue is placed firmly in the center channel and aside from Costner's bad accident, it sounds natural and clear. Surround use is limited to the Trevor Jones score and the occasional sound effect. Bass use is limited to the few action sequences, remaining tight and controlled. There are a couple cool split surround effects such as a plane flyover from the back of the sound field to the front.  Not the most creative sound mix but for a dialogue driven movie it offers more than most.

Note: the DD 5.1 is the only track on the disc. DTS 5.1 and DD 2.0 did not make it on to the final disc. This is likely to be an issue to do with space, as due to the interactivity of Infinifilm, the special features could not be pushed to a special disc. 

Thirteen Days: Infinifilm Series
Extras
Since jumping on board the DVD bandwagon, New Line Home Entertainment have proven to be one of the most consistent studios in terms of audio quality, video quality and special features. From the earliest platinum series releases of "Austin Powers", "Lost in Space" and "The Mask" they have shown they're a force to be reckoned with in the DVD market. They've never been one to hold back on special features and as more studios began adding more value added material to their discs, New Line continued to push the envelope further, providing even more extras.

In addition to this they have constantly provided some of the best supplemental features in terms of quality. While studio's like Universal pack their discs with content that's fairly promotional in nature, New Line has given the viewer some amazing supplements. On "Magnolia" this came in the form of the "Magnolia Diary", a 40+ minute documentary on the filming of the film, and on "Seven" this came in the form of multiple commentary tracks, production documentaries and an amazing array of audio options. Now with the release of "Thirteen Days" they bring us their latest invention called Infinifilm which promises to take the viewer "Beyond the Movie".

"Thirteen Days" is the first official Infinifilm release ("Little Nicky", a platinum series release has Infinifilm features that can be unlocked through an easter egg). The new series was created as a way of showcasing certain titles and giving the viewer more information regarding the events surrounding the story itself. With "Thirteen Days" a movie with events anchored in history, it seemed to be a natural choice for the line.

For the Infinifilm series of discs New Line has decided to separate the extras into two different sections.  Standard features like those found on a platinum series disc are located in the "All Access Pass" section with the "Beyond the Movie" Infinifilm features found lower down the menu. The remainder of this section of the review will discuss the extras based on these two menu sections.

"All Access Pass"
The main highlight of this section is the commentary track with director Roger Donaldson, writer David Self, producer Armayan Bernstien , actor/producer Kevin Costner, executive producer Michael DeLuca and visual effects supervisor Michael McAlister. As this is a rather large group, separate tracks were recorded in smaller groups with the final product being resulting from the other tracks being edited together.  Throughout the track the history and look of the film is discussed as well as some thoughts regarding early casting. Costner chooses to focus mostly on his thoughts about the film and his portrayal of Kenneth O'Donnell.  A very informative track regarding all aspects of the production of the movie. Definitely worth a listen.

"Bringing History to the Screen" is an 11 minute featurette dealing with the real life history of the events that transpire in the film.  Writer David Self who also appears on the commentary, discusses looking through newspapers, audio tapes and other sources to piece together the events that make up the screenplay. While the public of the time knew about the possible outcome, they wouldn't have known about all the events that lead up to the final outcome. Also featured is a look at the construction of the sets to make it look like the movie was actually filmed in the White House. The latter half of the featurette takes a look at the other locations used in the filming. An interesting look in what it took to bring "13 Days" to life.

The menu option labelled
"Visual Effects" is a multi-angle deconstruction of the major flight sequence from the movie.

9 deleted scenes are available in 2.0 non-anamorphic widescreen with optional commentary from director Roger Donaldson. While some of these scenes were interesting, at nearly 2 and 1/2 hours I felt the film was already a good length and these scenes didn't really add much to advance the story along. Still it's interesting to see what didn't make the cut.

Rounding out the "All Access Pass" section of the disc we have the standard cast/crew biographies as well as the theatrical trailer in 1.85:1 widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1

"Beyond the Movie" 
In this section we have a collection of features which New Line has designed to give the viewer more information surrounding the events depicted in the film. In the case of "13 Days" this would be the Cuban Missile Crisis. An event that happened a long time before I was born.  One of the things I like to do when I see a movie that takes place in a time unfamiliar to me is learn more about the time period depicted.  So it was with great interest that I took a look at this section of the disc.

The second commentary on the disc can be found in this section of the disc and is a bit different from your standard audio commentary track. The "Historical Figures" commentary track is compiled and edited from interviews with John F. Kennedy then president of the US, his assistant Kenneth O'Donnell, Press Secretary Pierre Salinger, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara,  Sergei Khruschev and author and historians Ernest R. May and Phillip D. Zelikow.  While obviously not directly related to the on-screen action, as some of the people involved are no longer with us, I found this commentary to be very interesting giving the viewer a first hand account of the times. This track isn't for everyone but history buffs should definitely take the time to listen.

Next up we have what I felt was the crown jewel on the disc a 48 minute documentary entitled "The Roots Of The Cuban Missile Crisis". This very informative documentary contains archival footage, rare newscast footage and interviews with people either involved or familiar with the events that transpired. After watching this I felt I had a greater knowledge of the events that transpired and why for those "13 days" the world was at risk. If this feature is any indicator of what we can expect on future Infinifilm discs then by all means keep them coming. This piece is much better than any historical documentary I saw in my high school years and should be shown to classes studying the event. It's truly a top notch piece. 

Now a feature that has caused some controversy amongst various groups of DVD enthusiasts. This would be the Infinifilm "Information Track". When selected this track, it provides the viewer with a blue bar with two options at the start of each chapter. In the blue bar the viewer is presented with two options which allow the viewer to access alternate information - such as interviews, deleted scenes etc. Now the reason for the controversy is that it's rumoured that the inclusion of this feature causes an English subtitle track to be dropped. It's an interesting feature to have and provides easy access to the information during the movie but I for one find it much easier to access the special features from a menu. It's a cool novelty thing the first few times but I felt it wore off pretty fast.  However having said that not all of the information that can be accessed through the track is selectable elsewhere from a menu.  Overall I'm torn about this feature since it's cool to have the information available at the touch of a button during the film but on the other hand it can be distracting.

Rounding out this section of the disc we have the historical figures biographies section. An interesting twist on the standard cast/crew sections as it features video clips from people who knew them.

"13 Days" opened to critical acclaim but it's resulting box office take was less than impressive. New Line has given it its due on DVD with a good video transfer, nice audio track and an abundance of extras that are sure to interest the movie fan and history fan alike.  A great movie on a great disc for a excellent price. Don't hesitate to pick up "13 Days".


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