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THIRTEEN DAYS

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Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Kevin Costner, Bruce Greenwood, Steven Culp,. Dylan Baker
Director:  Roger Donaldson
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  New Line Cinema
Features:  See Review
Length:  147 Minutes
Release Date:  July 10, 2001

“If they launch, our warning time will be five minutes.”
“In five minutes, they could kill 80 million Americans!”


Film ***1/2

As the tag line suggests, we came close…perhaps even closer than we realize.

The year was 1962.  The Kennedy White House was in its second full year.  Nikita Khrushchev was manning the Soviet Union.  Fidel Castro was still in power in Cuba, despite our country's botched attempt at an invasion with the Bay of Pigs.  The atomic age was in full swing.

And in October, a reconnaissance mission over the Communist island nation of Cuba brought back photographs confirming our worst fears:  the Soviet Union, despite promises to the contrary, had placed offensive nuclear missiles there, some 90 miles away from American soil.

Thirteen Days is an intelligent, well-crafted political figure that details one of modern history's most anxious two weeks, and how the unthinkable was avoided.  It's also a fascinating and well-crafted look at the political processes in the highest circle of our government:  how voices are heard, how scenarios are constructed, and how decisions are made that could ultimately determine the fate of the entire world.

With the news of the presence of the missiles, the clock begins to tick for president John F. Kennedy (Greenwood), his special assistant Kenneth P. O'Donnell (Costner), and his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy (Culp).  Military advisors estimate, assuming all the facts are indeed known, that the missiles will be operational within two weeks.  The question:   should the US strike first, taking out the missile sites (and undoubtedly killing many Soviet soldiers in the process) before the nukes become hot, probably temporarily solving the immediate problem but possibly escalating a full scale war in the process?  Or should we quarantine the island to prevent further buildup, thus tipping our hand to the Russians that we know about their deceit? 

And the ultimate question:  is thirteen days enough time to negotiate a delicate situation diplomatically while the world holds its breath for fear of nuclear annihilation?

The intricacies of the story are many, with the possibility of events turning dramatically on any one of them.  Though we know the outcome of the events in advance, it doesn't stop the film from being an effective thriller, because the event played out like a poker game with the highest stakes.  There were bluffs, threats, and governments holding their straight faces, while staring into the eyes of their adversary waiting for the proverbial blink.

The long term effects of those anxious days?  Well, we still have Castro some 40 years after the fact.  But we still have ourselves, our families, and our way of life.  So do the former Soviets.  And we still have a planet to inhabit.

All things considered, a fair trade.

Video ****

You expect the best from New Line, and you get it here.  Thirteen Days boasts a flawless video transfer, with perfect coloring and sharp, detailed images throughout.  Even in long or deep focus shots, there is no blurring or loss of detail…every line is crisp, every color in perfect balance.  There are no instances of distortion or compression artifacts, no grain, and no shimmer.  The print itself is quite clean.  All in all, another outstanding job from one of DVD's most reputable studios.

Audio ****

The 5.1 soundtrack is terrific, and encompasses a full range of movie styles within one film.  There's plenty of dialogue oriented scenes to be sure, and they always render with clarity and crispness in the center channel.  Then again, there are scenes of action and intensity, which opens up the dynamic range fully and brings all stages into play.  My favorite moment is the low flight of two surveillance jets over Cuba's missile sites.  This scene is loud, with plenty of crossover action from side to side and front to back, along with extra rumbling from the subwoofer for added effect.  There are other such scenes as well, making this a noteworthy and well-crafted audio mix all around.

Features ****

Where to start?  This disc represents a new series from New Line called Infinifilm, designed to heighten the overall movie watching experience.  How does it work?  Well, for one, you get a commentary track crafted by audio bytes from the actual historical figures of the time:  the Kennedy brothers, Khrushchev, O'Donnell and others, for extra perspective on the events.  Also, if you activate the Infinifilm feature, you get plenty of extras as you watch the film, from historical documents to information about the movie itself, to bits of video and audio interviews with the political participants and the filmmakers…all navigable by bars that appear at the bottom of the screen while you watch…you can pick where you want to go, and afterwards, it will take you right back to the movie.  You can also opt for a Historical Information Track, which uses subtitles to supply you with extra info as you watch.

There is also a 48 minute documentary on the Roots of the Cuban Missile Crisis for historical buffs, a commentary track with director Roger Donaldson, writer David Self, star Kevin Costner (recorded separately) and others, deleted scenes with director's commentary, a multi-angle feature that deconstructs the special effects scenes, filmographies, trailer, a second documentary on Bringing History to the Silver Screen, and some DVD ROM extras.

Overall, this represents one of the most thorough, creative, and informative uses of DVD currently available.

Summary:

New Line's Infinifilm series seems to be one to keep an eye on in the future.  With Thirteen Days, they've packaged a great film with a top quality audio and video transfer and one of the most extensive and excellent uses of features I've yet seen.  This disc is an unqualified must own for any collector.