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PINK FLOYD THE WALL

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Bob Geldof
Director:  Alan Parker
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Widescreen 2.35:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Studio:  Columbia Tri Star
Features:  See Review
Length:  99 Minutes
Release Date:  December 2, 1999

Film **

Pink Floyd The Wall is many things to many different people.  If you’re not a fan of the group, there’s probably nothing about the picture that would interest you.  If you are a fan, chances are you’ll find something you like about it.  You might even embrace it as a masterful, surrealistic, musical journey.  I’ve watched the picture several times myself, and unfortunately, the more I do, the less I see in it.

Some have called the movie a feature length music video.  For me, it’s even less than that…more like a feature length storyboard.  Shot after shot, it looks like one drawing after another.  And there’s nothing wrong with such meticulous preparation…as long as it’s remembered that the storyboard is supposed to guide the course of the film, not dominate it.

Don’t get me wrong…I love Pink Floyd, and I love the album this film sprang from.  So much so, in fact, that I wish I could talk about the album instead, which is an amazing concept piece, filled with psychological clues and non-linear storytelling.  It simply didn’t translate to the screen as well as I would have hoped.  The movie just seems like a jumbled, fractured mess, plowing through image after image, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Bob Geldof of The Boomtown Rats and Band Aid fame plays Pink, who represents partially each of Pink Floyd’s lead men, Roger Waters and Syd Barrett.  As Waters’ often strange, mournful, and powerful music plays along, the film gives clues to Pink’s past and present.  We see images of him growing up, haunted by the death of his father in the war, troubled by an oppressive school system, his failed marriage.  Most of this is played out in short, broken segments, with far-from-subtle visual imagery, such as Pink in a Christ like pose in his swimming pool as the water turns to blood, or the best non-animated sequence, the maze-like factory representing the schools, where kids march along on conveyor belts, lose their faces, and end up in a big meat grinder.

Presently, Pink is a burned out rock star who, presumably after too many drugs, sits alone in a hotel room, only to be artificially revived for his next show, which turns into a nightmarish Fascist rally of anger and bigotry.  All of this accumulates in the famous trial sequence at the end, whereby a not-too-sane Pink sits helplessly as those who have oppressed him have one last go at him.  What happens to him after that?  Your guess is as good as mine.  Even Roger Waters confesses he doesn’t have a clue.

I like the idea of the picture, and there are some strong and memorable visuals in it.  The animated sequences, supervised by Gerald Scarfe, are still amongst the best I’ve ever seen (and a good reason to own the film on DVD, so you examine his work frame by frame).  The main problem seems to be the lack of any semblance of coherent structure.  Not even the music is able to provide any sense of direction.  It’s almost like the chef who gets his first crack at the spice rack, and wants to use a little of everything.  Each one is tasty, but mix too many together, and what you have is no longer palatable. 

And the songs, which are great, seem to actually hurt the film’s momentum at certain places.  They tend to dictate how long or short certain pieces are, and as a result, sometimes the film gets into stretches where it looks like pure padding.  And the editing decisions didn’t help much, with too many repetitious instances.  If a scene needed to be a little longer, sometimes bits of film already seen were just cut back into it.

After watching the supplemental material on this disc, I get the feeling that what hurt the picture the most was the presence of three talented but headstrong artists vying for control.  There was Waters, the mastermind behind the album and writer of the film, Scarfe, who was employed to oversee the design of the picture, and Alan Parker, the director, who wanted to make the film less fantastic and more cinematic.  I’m not sure any of the three were on the same page when they made the film, and it certainly would explain why the end results are a little muddled.

Naturally, the entire theme of The Wall is the way people can build up too many protective barriers around them, to the point where they become imprisoned by them.  Pink’s world has become such a nightmare of complete isolation and alienation.  Perhaps it’s only appropriate that the movie presents itself in such a way that it’s hard to really like or identify with it.  Maybe the style itself is meant to be just another brick in that wall.

Video ***1/2

The anamorphic transfer is quite good, too, with the film boasting a mix of color schemes, lighting techniques, and other visual degrees.  One or two darker sequences are a bit murky and show some grain, but then again, given the nature of the scenes in relation to Pink’s state of mind, seem appropriate enough.  A quick comparison of the feature with the clips from the trailer and documentary demonstrate the attention to quality CST paid to this transfer.  Plus, this was the first time I’d ever seen the movie in a widescreen presentation—much, much better.

Audio ****

This disc really begins and ends with the audio…incredible.  Never has Pink Floyd’s music sounded so alive, so dynamic, and this spectacular 5.1 audio mix captures it beautifully.  The movie will linger quietly for moments, with great detail and depth to the light sounds, then BOOM!  The music will explode unexpectedly from your speakers.  What a rush!  As with Yellow Submarine, this DVD takes a batch of well known songs and demonstrates how much superior DVD audio is to the CD. 

Features ****

Just the commentary track with Roger Waters and designer Gerald Scarfe would have been outstanding, but this disc is loaded to the gills.  Also included are the original documentary “The Other Side of the Wall” along with a brand new 45 minute retrospective, featuring interviews with Waters, Scarfe, and Parker.  There’s a trailer, the often heard of but rarely seen deleted “Hey You” segment, the music video for “Another Brick in the Wall Part II”, song lyrics, production stills, and excellent animated menus with sound.  As a bonus, on each menu screen that shows a picture from the movie in one of the corners, push ‘9’ on your remote control for an extra little surprise.  In short, this extras package is a Pink Floyd fan’s dream come true.

Summary:

Pink Floyd The Wall is an incredible DVD—I’m just not as enthusiastic about the film itself.  For fans of the movie, it’s not even a question whether or not to buy this disc—it’s a must-own.  Given the terrific soundtrack and plentiful, fun features, I’d wager only those who don’t like Pink Floyd at all would find nothing here to their liking.