Director:  Michael J. Bassett 

Starring:  Jamie Bell, Laurence Fox, Andy Serkis, Hugo Speer

1917. Paranoia and supernatural forces attack British soldiers in the German trenches.

Over the top: British troops from Y Company advance.It’s impossible not to want Deathwatch to be terrific. Just the barest inkling of what’s the film’s about – it’s a horror film set in the World War I trenches – should get your mind racing with the possibilities. (Certainly in was spark enough to inspire a very similar project, Rob Green’s 2001 movie The Bunker). Inevitably, Deathwatch, a low-budget British / German co-production shot in the Czech Republic, isn’t as good as you think it might have been. The film has plenty going for it, including some excellent performances, (most notably a memorable turn from Andy Serkis as a soldier with a taste for killing), and outstanding production design, which effectively conveys the look and feel of trenches, and the poor wretches who fought in them). Although it offers a few effective chills, the film is poorly paced, and never manages to build a sense of building terror. Ultimately, the core plot isn’t strong enough, and isn’t adequately developed. What might have been a great film is merely a pretty good one.

Camouflage: a German soldier, or an embodiment of evil?Pathé Distribution’s UK DVD release is rather special, perhaps because the director’s background includes making EPK material for other people’s movies. The film is presented spread across a DVD-9, with a rather jarring layer change. The film had excellent cinematography, by Hubert Taczanowski (who also shot My Little Eye), which has been expertly transferred to the DVD. The film takes place over several days and nights. The well-lit scenes are fine, but the night scenes are generally very dark (using minimal source lighting) and occasionally rather fuzzy. The transfer seems fine, but it needs to be watched in darkness. The disc shows some signs of edge-enhancement, but it’s only really evident on the relatively small number of shots where objects are silhouetted against the sky. The film was shot on Super35 format, and matted to 2.4:1 ratio for its theatrical release (this is preserved on the DVD, which is 16:9-enhanced). Composition of the shots is generally very appealing. There’s a smidgeon of grain evident, but probably no more than there should be. Naturally the film has a very muted palette, but the colour balance is good, and there are more vivid hues where they’re needed.

The film has an aggressive, expertly designed, Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix (at 448kbps), with plenty of sound being pushed into all speakers (and not simply arbitrarily). It’s sometimes slightly lacking in oomph, and occasionally there’s a smidgeon of distortion on some of the dialogue (the vast majority of which was dubbed on afterwards, because of the almost constant use of rain and wind machines on set). The film is, however, let down badly by it’s feeble, Maurice Jarre-like synthesiser score.

Mad, bad and dangerous to know - Andy Serkis as Quinn.The film is supported by three commentary tracks. One by writer-director Michael J. Bassett, one by Bassett and actors Jamie Bell and Laurence Fox, and one by actor Andy Serkis (currently gaining a cult following, from his role as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films). Bassett’s commentary is informative and engaging. He seems well aware of the film’s strengths and weaknesses, and explains, self-effacingly, how he coped with working with his Czech crew and the constant nagging demands of those holding the purse strings (“I thought the most powerful person on the film was the director, and I was completely wrong”). He also talks about working with a child actor (Billy Elliot’s Jamie Bell – the nominal star of the film - was fifteen when it was made), and how he landed his first directing job (he wouldn’t sell his script unless he could direct it). He also discusses various different endings that were considered, and clarifies the ending they did use, which is otherwise easily misinterpreted. There’s a lot of good-natured teasing, and bitching about the filming conditions on the group commentary, which is very entertaining, but not especially informative. This track is poorly recorded, and quite wearing. If you’ve watched the other supplements, and listened to the other commentaries, Serkis’s sporadic commentary is pretty disposable. He does, though, make a legitimate complaint about how the actors were undermined by the constant script revisions: at any given time they were playing their roles based on the then-current version of the script, but had they known how the story would eventually develop and evolve, they might have given a different performance.

Charlie Shakespeare (Jamie Bell).Other extras include fifteen minutes of on-set interviews with various cast members and the director; a video diary-style Featurette (12m), which includes fun footage of the actors bonding and some deleted model footage; a full-frame trailer (with 5.1 audio); Behind The Scenes b-roll footage (4m); Deleted and Alternate Scenes, with text explanations by Bassett putting the material in context, and explaining the reasons why they weren’t used (16m). These include a more elaborate, gorier version of one of the character’s deaths, with unfinished effects and – contrary to what Bassett says on his commentary track - a lengthy test sequence shot by the director to prove to the film’s backers that he was up to the task, featuring an almost completely different cast (including Craig Fairbrass). The b-roll footage and the deleted scenes are both presented in anamorphic widescreen format, although the latter isn’t polished to the same degree as the completed footage.

The disc also contains trailers for Human Nature, Evelyn, Bulletproof Monk, Resident Evil and Dog Soldiers (all with 5.1 audio). These play when the disc loads, and can be skipped, one by one, but once you get into the discs’s animated menus, there’s no way to access them again without re-starting the disc (or programming them manually).











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