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Roddy has a camera implanted in his brain. He is then hired by a television producer to film a documentary of terminally ill Katherine...
For more about Death Watch and the Death Watch Blu-ray release, see Death Watch Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on August 22, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Romy Schneider, Harvey Keitel, Harry Dean Stanton, Max von Sydow, Thérèse Liotard
Director: Bertrand Tavernier
» See full cast & crew
Death Watch Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, August 22, 2012
French director Bertrand Tavernier's "La mort en direct" a.k.a "Death Watch" (1980) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Shout Factory. The only supplemental feature on the disc is a gallery of stills. In English, without optional English subtitles for the main feature. Region-A "locked".
Harvey Keitel is Roddy, an ambitious man who has agreed to have a small camera implanted into his brain. He is then hired by the producer (Harry Dean Stanton, Paris, Texas, Escape from New York) of the reality show Death Watch and asked to befriend Katherine (Romy Schneider, The Swimming Pool, The Trial), a young and beautiful woman who is dying from an unknown disease. Katherine is unaware that everything Roddy sees is taped and opens up her soul to him - only to eventually realize that he isn't the man she thought he was.
The film is divided into two parts. The first focuses on Katherine's slow transformation. After she is told by her doctor that she has little time left to live, Katherine begins to see the world around her differently. She also thinks about the past, the people she loved and the dreams she had. Eventually, she is openly approached by the producer of Death Watch who asks her to sign an exclusive contract with the company he represents. At this point the producer and his men already know everything there is to know about Katherine. She is no longer an individual but an object with a price tag.
The second part chronicles Roddy's collapse after he comes to realize that under different circumstances he could have had a beautiful life with Katherine. Here the two spend plenty of time together discussing their triumphs and failures, their ideals and dreams. During a violent protest, Roddy is arrested and thrown in jail for a night. After he is released, he begins to reevaluate his involvement with Death Watch and ultimately the way he has lived his life.
The film, which is based on David Compton's novel "The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe, or The Unsleeping Eye", is slow and moody, at times also notably depressing. Most of the places Katherine and Roddy visit are industrial parks and ugly neighborhoods where life seems to have stopped. Eventually, they move from the city to the countryside, but the heavy silence there is even more disturbing. The few people they meet are also either angry about something or obsessed with Death Watch. It is here where Roddy first realizes that he is contributing to something enormously evil.
The film does feel a bit preachy at times but it is impossible not to agree with its observations about the power of media and morality. Considering how far reality shows have gone in recent years to either retain or expand their audience base, the predatory nature of the media market in the film actually feels quite normal. There is one specific sequence where the producer of Death Watch and Katherine meet and discuss the business side of their future partnership which is meant to be shocking but is probably a routine practice nowadays.
Death Watch was French director Bertrand Tavernier's (Coup de Torchon, A Sunday in the Country) first English language film, which he dedicated to the great Jacques Tourneur. The film was shot in and around Glasgow, Scotland. The industrial parks and many of the old buildings seen in it no longer exist.
Two years after Death Watch was completed, Schneider was found dead in her apartment in Paris.
Note: In 1980, Death Watch was nominated for the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival. The film was also nominated for five Cesar Awards, including Best Cinematography (Pierre-William Glenn) and Best Screenplay, Original or Adaptation (Bertrand Tavernier and David Rayfiel).
Death Watch Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Bertrand Tavernier's Death Watch arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Shout Factory.
The basics are solid. Most close-ups convey decent depth and pleasing definition (see screencaptures #1 and 4). The large panoramic shots also boast pleasing fluidity. Color reproduction is good, though there are some fluctuations, especially during sequences where light is restricted. Some extremely light noise corrections have been applied. As a result, some softness sneaks in here and there and affects definition (see screencaptures #3 and 10). In motion, however, the effect is quite difficult to spot. Colors are lush and stable. There are no traces of sharpening corrections. The high-definition transfer is also free of serious banding and aliasing patterns. Finally, there are no serious stability issues to report in this review. To sum it all up, there is certainly some room for improvement, but this is the best presentation of Death Watch that I have ever seen. The disc is definitely worth picking up. (Note: This is a Region-A "locked" Blu-ray disc. Therefore, you must have a native Region-A or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
Death Watch Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There is only one audio track on this Blu-ray disc: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. For the record, Shout Factory have not provided optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature.
Death Watch has a fairly modest sound design. There are sequences where Antoine Duhamel's score comes alive (listen to the strings), but the dynamic movement is indeed limited. The dialog is stable and clean but not always easy to follow because some of the European actors have rather thick accents. Naturally, optional English subtitles should have been included. There are no serious pops, distortions, or audio dropouts to report in this review.
Death Watch Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Death Watch Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I have been very pleased with Shout Factory's recent acquisitions and releases. After Abel Ferrara's Fear City, the studio has now given us Bertrand Tavernier's Death Watch, a thought-provoking and very atmospheric film from the early '80s. Also on the way are Jane Campion's The Portrait of a Lady, Ridley Scott's The Duellists, and John Carpenter's They Live. I am looking forward to all of them. RECOMMENDED.
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