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Battle in Seattle(2007)
In 1999, five days rocked the world as tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Seattle in protest of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Environmentalists, consumer advocates, labor unions, students, anarchists and pacifists all converged, bringing attention to how the WTO's laws were affecting democracy around the world. Among them are Django, Sam, Lou and Jay. United in their desire to be heard and to make a difference, for these protesters, this is very personal and the stakes are higher than mere politics. A peaceful demonstration to stop the WTO talks quickly escalates into a full-scale riot and an eventual State of Emergency results. The streets are mayhem, the WTO is paralyzed. Caught in the crossfire are Seattle residents, including its beleaguered mayor, a riot cop on the streets and his pregnant wife. The choices they make will change their lives forever and prove, ultimately, that ordinary people can change the world.
For more about Battle in Seattle and the Battle in Seattle Blu-ray release, see Battle in Seattle Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on June 27, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Director: Stuart Townsend
Writer: Stuart Townsend
Starring: André Benjamin, Jennifer Carpenter, Isaach de Bankolé, Woody Harrelson, Martin Henderson, Joshua Jackson
» See full cast & crew
Battle in Seattle Blu-ray Review
Thanks WTO, it's been a riot!
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, June 27, 2009
My wife was living in Seattle back in '99, and she remembers going to see a matinee of Fight Club—appropriately enough—while WTO protestors marched in the streets outside the theater. After the mind-frying film, she stepped out into the dusk to a scene that eerily echoed Fight Club's apocalyptic themes of civil disobedience. Black-clad anarchists had tossed a trashcan though a Starbucks storefront, windows were boarded up with graffiti-strewn plywood, and the latent, acrid smell of teargas hung thinly in the air. Peaceful protest yielded to the whims of more aggressive activists, and what had begun as a jubilant, anti-globalization rally ended with violence, destruction, and brutality. This is the subject of Battle in Seattle, a confident and frenetic docu-drama that's hampered only by some slight character issues.
First, by way of introduction, some history. Seattle bigwigs, eager to show the city as trade- friendly, had petitioned for years to host a WTO conference, finally getting their shot in 1999. The largely liberal populace, however, had some serious beefs with the WTO's agenda, especially concerning environmental, free trade, and health issues. It was thought by many—and still is thought—that the WTO's practices generally place profit over human and ecological interests. The film begins on the eve of the conference, as an unspecified activist group puts the finishing touches on their plan to disrupt the opening ceremony. The group is large, but the film's focus is on four key members. Jay (Martin Henderson) is the movement's leader, though his faith in protest has been shaken by the death of his activist brother. Michelle Rodriguez reprises the same brash tom-girl role she always plays as Lou, a newcomer to the group. Sam (Jennifer Carpenter) is a protestor who's afraid to get arrested, and Django, played with authentic optimism by Outkast's André Benjamin, is a turtle-loving activist whose motto is, "slow and steady wins the race." The film chronicles the three days surrounding the WTO conference, and along with the four protestors, we also follow Dale (Woody Harrelson), a riot police officer, his pregnant wife Ella (Charlize Theron), and troubled mayor Jim Tobin (Ray Liotta). It's important to note here that none of these characters actually existed, and that while Battle in Seattle does hew fairly close to history, debut director Stuart Townsend does take some liberties in the particulars of certain events and people.
The trick with this kind of movie is to do justice to both the actual historical happenings and to the invented characters that are living them out. Townsend and his cinematographer Barry Ackroyd get the former exactly right. Their hand-held camera work captures perfectly the frenzied energy of the time, and the carefully blended archival footage is clever and convincing in making Battle in Seattle look like it had a veritable army of extras. Several shots—the rioter and the riot cop yelling at each other through bullhorns, in particular—have an iconic, symmetrical quality that's clearly inspired by photojournalism, which, at its best, is basically a way of summing up an entire situation in one succinct image. The politics of the event are also fairly well explained for economic newcomers, as the introductory graphics provide a history of the WTO and describe some of the accusations leveled against them.
Like Crash and other multi-threaded stories, however, Battle in Seattle spreads its front lines thin by giving the audience a few too many characters to follow and care about, especially since the focus on the actual protests limits the time the film can spend on developing its characters. Some of the activists are surface-level stereotypes, and I really couldn't buy the relationship that develops between Lou and Jay, a love/hate pendulum that swings a bit too wildly for its own good. I suspect the majority of middle-of-the-road viewers will empathize most with the pregnant Ella and her riot cop husband Dale. The cruel irony that befalls them does provide some interesting character beats, and Woody Harrelson is excellent as a man torn between doing his job and being there for his wife when she needs it most. He's packed into a tough, riot gear exterior, but through the Plexiglas visor of his helmet you can see moral uncertainty and grief welling up in his eyes. The timid understanding that's reached between Dale and Jay—the downtrodden activist—may seem like a stretch, but it does provide the film with some much-needed catharsis and raises some interesting questions about why the two men are forced to fight one another like pawns while the real villain—the WTO—remains untouchable and in figurative control of the world's chess board.
Battle in Seattle Blu-ray, Video Quality
Battle in Seattle was shot mostly with 16mm cameras, and while the smaller format has it's benefits—size, portability, and cost, among them—the film's 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer only amplifies the medium's flaws. Since 16mm is roughly half the size of 35mm film, the amount of noticeable grain is effectively doubled, and Battle in Seattle often suffers under a thick and oppressive patina of analog noise. In some senses, this works for the film. It's gritty, raw, and certainly fits the overall docu-drama vibe. The grain also allows the film to slip in and out of archival footage without being too jarring between cuts. Can you imagine going from a pristine HD source to a battered and blurry Hi-8 tape from the late '90's? It would be like having 20/20 vision and then being suddenly forced to wear Coke-bottle glasses. So, on one hand, the decision to use 16mm gave director Stuart Townsend the ability to cut almost seamlessly between the old and new. On the other hand, however, Battle in Seattle is riddled with 16mm foibles. Besides being occasionally distracting, the heavy grain robs the film of subtle texture, decreasing the overall clarity and sharpness. In terms of color, the film veers toward grayish-green—appropriate for Seattle's near-constant cloud cover—and I had no qualms with the skin tones or color cast. Black levels, however, are much too dark at times, and shadow delineation proves to be a real problem during some key scenes. I also noticed some aliasing in the lettering and diagonal lines of the opening graphics. As many of Battle in Seattle's visual letdowns are source related, though, it's hard to be harsh on the transfer. Still, be aware that the jump from 16mm to high def isn't necessarily the most graceful.
Battle in Seattle Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Battle in Seattle rages with concussive clarity thanks to a well-designed DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround track. As many sections of the film are shot with a hand-held, documentary style, it's important for the sound to be immersive and involving. Thankfully then, Battle in Seattle drops you in the middle of the action. Rubber bullets pop and whiz, tear gas canisters hiss menacingly, and the screams of billy-clubbed protestors emerge from all corners of the audio field. Rear speakers are active throughout most of the film, with sirens that peel across channels and ambient effects—door slams, footsteps, radio squawks, etc.—that are realistic and appropriately placed. Voices are also clear and reflect their environments accurately. Outdoor tones sound flatter and carry less, while the mayor's voice, when speaking at the Key Arena, is laden with delayed reverb. During a few of the more raucous crowd scenes, some voices that we're supposed to make out do get lost in the mix, although this does lend to the film's docu- drama realism. I also noticed that many of the slogans chanted by the protestors don't really match up with what we see on screen, lip movement-wise. Since so many of the crowd scenes are shot wide, though, this really isn't apparent until you look for it. Finally, the score by Massive Attack is somber and complementary, accentuating the violence onscreen with pounding bass and searing synth pads. For a film with such a meager budget, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of thought that went into Battle in Seattle's sound design.
Battle in Seattle Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Commentary with Director Stuart Townsend and Editor Fernando Villena
Stuart and Fernando offer up a subdued but informative track that's surprisingly light on social commentary, focusing instead on the practical aspects of creating the film, especially the "tricks of the trade" that often go unnoticed by audiences. Townsend does spend some time, however, discussing the real vs. fiction elements of the plot and characters. It's a quiet track, for sure, but I generally enjoyed hearing the two talk about motivations, sound design, and the minutiae of the editing process.
Theatrical Trailer (1080p, 2:54)
Battle in Seattle Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
As a former Seattleite, I thought Battle in Seattle captured well the distinctly Pacific northwest blend of political activism and rampant commerce. And while other Emerald City inhabitants may notice some laughable anachronisms—Qwest field shows up briefly—the film does feel ripped straight from the pages of time. I do have some hesitations though about whole- heartedly recommending the film. Those looking for an intense, character-driven drama will likely feel short-changed, and PQ buffs will grimace through the soft 'n grainy image on display. Anyone interested in political activism or the WTO, however, will find much to like, as Battle in Seattle effectively puts you in the middle of the chaos and delivers a final, pointed message about the continuing unfairness and disregard for anything but profit that's inherent in the WTO's practices.
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Battle in Seattle Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Extras Revealed for Battle in Seattle - January 30, 2009
Universal Studios Home Entertainment has revealed the special features for the upcoming Blu-ray of 'Battle in Seattle', which is due to hit store shelves on March 10th, day-and-date with the DVD release. Video will be presented in 1.85:1 1080p VC-1 accompanied ...
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