Written and Directed by: Neil Jordan
Starring: Liam Neeson, Aidan Quinn, Stephen Rea, Alan Rickman, Julia Roberts, Ian Hart, Brendan Gleeson, Stuart Graham, Sean McGinley, Gerard McSorley, Jonathan Rhys-Myers, Charles Dance
In Michael Collins, Liam Neeson gives an honest and inspiring performance as the title character, the man credited with helping to bring about Ireland's independence (and inventing the techniques of modern street warfare in the process). According to director Neil Jordan, he spent nearly ten years in bringing this controversial story to the big screen. Because of the importance of the subject matter, Jordan says that he "will never make a more important film" than Michael Collins, and he didn't want to begin it unless he could do the story justice. He has succeeded, and what we are given in Michael Collins is a fascinating, intellectual, historical tale from beginning to end. If you are interested in the general subject matter at hand - be it historical dramas or just things Irish - then you will benefit from the film. If, however, you are more interested in films of the Daylight variety, then your experience with Michael Collins will no doubt be much less rewarding.
Michael Collins begins in 1916 as Irish rebels are fighting for independence from England, just at the end of the ill-fated Easter rebellion. We watch as the rebels surrender, their leaders are executed by firing squad, and the rest packed off to prison. This is a grim start to a rather grim and violent (but mostly historically-accurate) movie. Because of the harsh actions of the police in this matter, the rebellion gains much public support and a full-fledged war against the British tyranny is declared before long - the ultimate goal of this drastic measure being the establishment of an Irish Free State (as in "free from interference by the British government"). Eamon De Valera, the leader of the independence movement, is played with a fiery intensity by Alan Rickman. Aidan Quinn is also outstanding as Harry Boland, Collins' and De Valeras' right-hand man. The remainder of the cast also turn in excellent performances, especially Stephen Rea's portrayal of Ned Broy, a double agent working on the police force. The only low point in the movie is the uniformly-dreadful Julia Roberts as Kitty Kiernan, Boland's and Collins' love interest. Roberts' absolutely wooden performance and her "now-you-hear-it-now-you don't" Irish accent strikes a jarring note in this otherwise excellent movie.
Michael Collins was released on DVD by Warner Home Video, and contains a widescreen-only version of the film plus a documentary and a few other odds and ends. Because of the total combined length of the movie and the documentary, Michael Collins is split over two sides of the disc. Michael Collins was filmed in a non-anamorphic, matted process and projected theatrically at a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and the DVD transfer appears dead-on with the same aspect ratio. In a word, the picture transfer is outstanding throughout. The image itself is sharply detailed, and the colors and fleshtones look fantastic. Neil Jordan's film are always complex from a lighting standpoint, and the same is true of Michael Collins, but the DVD handles all the various looks, tones, shifts and color schemes without a hitch. In comparison to the recently released laserdisc version, the images are fairly close, but the DVD has a slight edge over the laserdisc in terms of sharpness and handling of color.
The English 6-channel Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is extremely good and is a fine accompaniment to the film itself. This especially noticeable during the several fighting sequences, and especially the opening sequence, with bullets and cannon fire blowing away things left and right. Aside from these fighting sequences, however, the surround channels aren't used very much - remember, this is a drama, not an action film. The DVD also contains a 2-channel French language Dolby Surround Stereo track; although this French track is just fine, the English Dolby Digital 5.1 track obviously has a wider range and sounds better. The English and French soundtrack can be changed with your remote or though the menu options.
The DVD has also been encoded with the English, French and Spanish subtitles, in additional to a standard English closed-captioning track. The three subtitle tracks can be changed through your remote or the menu options, while the closed-captioning requires the use of a decoder.
Due to the programming material, Michael Collins' interactive menu functions are different depending upon which side of the disc you happen to be watching. On Side A, you can "Jump to a Scene," whereby you are given 9 chapters to select by picture or description, plus an option to start the movie. The "Cast" selection presents you with biographies and film highlights for stars Liam Neeson (4 pages), Aidan Quinn (3 pages), Stephen Rea (2 pages), Alan Rickman (2 pages), Julia Roberts (3 pages) and writer/director Neil Jordan (3 pages). The 7-page "Production Notes" section presents "Neil Jordan's Statement" regarding Michael Collins, both with regard to the making of the film and the general subject matter. The "Film Flash" section recommends a selection of other historical dramas to watch (All the President's Men, JFK: The Director's Cut, Rob Roy or Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) if you happened to enjoy Michael Collins. Finally, there are selections that allow you to change the "Languages" and "Subtitles."
The interactive menu for Side B is generally the same as Side A, with a couple notable exceptions. The "Cast," "Production Notes," "Film Flash," "Languages" and "Subtitle" sections are identical. While the "Jump to a Scene" section also allows you to jump to 9 chapters, these are obviously different chapters than those on Side A (and it also includes an option to go to the end credits). The two major additions here is a selection for a "Documentary" and a "Theatrical Trailer." This 53m15s documentary was directed by Tony Knox, and was originally broadcast on England's BBC television station for The South Bank Show. The documentary mostly covers the life and times of the real Michael Collins, and contains quite a bit of historical footage of Ireland at the early part of the century and of Michael Collins. Extensive interviews with Neil Jordan and various cast and crew members are also present, as well as numerous behind-the-scene footage from the film, again attempting to cover the real story in relationship to the film's production. Aside from The South Bank Show opening segment which is presented full-screen, the actual documentary is shown letterboxed at an approximate 1.59:1 aspect ratio. The documentary looks great overall, but this is dependent upon what is showing at the time - obviously, the historical footage from 1917 looks much worse that recent video footage taken of Jordan's interviews. The documentary is presented with a surround stereo track (mostly for music), and contains neither subtitle tracks nor closed-caption encoding. The entire documentary is unfortunately presented under a single chapter marker, and definitely could have used quite a few...it takes several minutes to scan from the beginning of the documentary to the end, and is an annoyance if you are trying to find a specific segment. Additionally, the first time we watched the documentary, the disc locked up at around 40m41s and refused to play any further. After about 10m of coaxing, we found we could finally get past this spot by selecting the x8 speed search on our Toshiba SD-3006 player - it would sit there stuck for several seconds, and then suddenly jump forward. Looking at the documentary again prior to writing this review, the problem seems to have vanished completely... As for the "Theatrical Trailer" selection, a 1m45s full-frame original trailer is shown; it is in excellent shape and contains a surround stereo soundtrack.
Michael Collins is encoded for Region 1 players only (U.S., U.S. Territories, Canada), and is packaged in Warner's standard plastic and cardboard "keep case." The inside flap contains a listing of all 49 chapters. Also included is a two-sided insert featuring "DVD Care Tips" and a worldwide regional coding map.
Review by Paula Krispow
Original Review: 06/02/97
Last Updated: 08/22/97