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American Sniper

Dune part 2 and American Sniper: two 4k films worth owning

By Jim Bray
May 16, 2024

Warner Brothers has released two excellent examples of the 4K disc medium and both are so good they're really "must own" discs if you're a movie buff and/or collector. One is brand new, and the other is celebrating its 10th anniversary.

But you may be surprised to find out which one this die-hard sci-fi fan thinks is the better of the two – although I suppose I just gave that away.

Yes, I had planned on focusing more on Denis Villeneuve's Dune Part 2, yet after having seen Clint Eastwood's American Sniper I found myself so taken, so moved by this masterpiece that I decided to focus more on it because it's not only a better film overall, but a more important one as well.

Not that Dune Part 2 is a slouch. I'm not sure it's better than Part One, though that seems to be the consensus of reviewers, but it's still a darn fine sci-fi epic and the fact that it did its best to stay faithful to Frank Herbert's classic novel is a big bonus.

Yet where did the Mentats go? These human computers played a large role in the book, yet I don't remember seeing them in Part Two at all (and don't remember seeing them in Part One, though it was more than five minutes ago that I saw it).

Anyway, back to American Sniper, though of course I'll return to Dune before this piece is done.

Taking pot shots at war…

I haven't seen nearly all of Clint Eastwood's films, either as actor or director, but I've seen my respect for the man growing over the past several years. I first noticed his skills behind the camera with Unforgiven, the early 1990's film that won him all kinds of accolades, including some important Oscars (back when the Oscars were important!).

I really only wanted to see Unforgiven because most of it was shot within an hour or so of Chateau Bray, and I'd heard Eastwood and his cinematographer had made my little part of the world look as gorgeous on film as it is in real life.  As a bonus, it turned out to be a darn fine film.

American Sniper is better and it deserved to have won all the awards that Unforgiven did. But it didn't.

The film is a biopic of an American hero named Chris Kyle, who ended up being the most successful (which means deadly) sniper in U.S. military history. But that's only one small part of the story, and one even smaller part of American Sniper.

Kyle (in an Oscar-worthy – or at least "important acting award-worthy" – performance from Bradley Cooper) signed up as a Navy Seal because he'd heard they were the best of the best and that's a level of performance to which he'd always aspired, apparently. But it was peacetime then, until the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States put the nation onto a war footing and he knew he was going to be going overseas, leaving his new wife Taya (played beautifully by Sienna Miller).

He ends up deploying to Iraq four times before he's had enough and decides it's time to come home. But how do you do that – how do you return to a normal life – after all you've seen and all you've done?

That's the joy of American Sniper, if you can call it joy. It isn't a war movie as such, it's more a character study of one person who goes to war and the effect the experience has on himself and those around him. Despite the fact that he is more than capable of picking off a young kid or two along the way – if the situation warranted – Kyle is not your stereotypical "baby killer" that the moronic voices on left might want you to believe.

No, this is a thinking and compassionate man who performs a really dirty but necessary job (the job is necessary even if the particular conflict may not be, a point I'm not going to argue at this time), which is basically to save his compatriots from an enemy that hides behind women and children in order to take their cheap, but often deadly, shots at the American infidels.

As a sniper, he isn't just there to off folks, he's actually there to help prevent collateral damage where in the past they'd have to destroy an entire building (and any civilians – or whomever – who might be there as well, since these baddies have no problem sacrificing innocents to move along their agenda), whereas with a skilled person like Kyle, they can take out the military problem and spare the civilians and the real estate.

That's the plan, or the rationale, anyway. And Kyle is the best there ever was; the folks around him in Iraq have even given him the nickname "the Legend," which doesn't particularly please him.

The movie deals just as much with life at home, with how Kyle tries to balance what he's seen and done with his "real" life at home with his wife and kids. He suffers from PTSD and feels like a fish out of water because his raison d'etre has been to save his compatriots and he can't do that at home.

Until he finds out that he can, which gives him a new lease on life but which tragically also leads to his eventual end.

This really doesn't do this alternately exciting, moving and heartbreaking (and even heart warming) movie justice, but I don't want to give so much away that there's no point in you watching it – because you really should watch it if you haven't already.

Clint Eastwood is no stranger to war movies. Besides the ones he's starred in over the years, he also directed Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima, which looked at both sides of the Marine assault on the South Pacific island (as well as bringing somewhat to life the old Johnny Cash classic "the Ballad of Ira Hayes"). Both of those were excellent films ("Flags" was the better of the two, though of course your mileage may vary), but American Sniper is better.

Sure, the action scenes are remarkable and staged/shot beautifully, but it's Chris Kyle's humanity that is the real focus. Eastwood manages to balance the man, his service to his nation, and his own personal journey with his typical moviemaking skill, and Kyle comes off as a good and decent man as opposed to the caricature or "baby killer" that weaker war films might prefer.

And that's what makes this movie so remarkable and important. These heroes may kill people, but they're not doing it for glory or to prove how macho they are, though there may be some of that in real life or other movies. In American Sniper, they're doing it to keep those around them and by extension those at home safe. 

I hadn't really known much about Bradley Cooper before I watched American Sniper. I knew him as the guy who starred in and made the last "A Star is Born" and I loved him as the voice of Rocket the genetically-mangled racoon in the first two Guardians of the Galaxy films (he was also Rocket in the third, but the movie sucked).

Here, he turns in a tour de force performance that really knocked off my socks – or would have if I'd been wearing any when I watched American Sniper. He doesn't chew the scenery and rarely, if ever, even raises his voice. His Chris Kyle (and apparently the real Chris Kyle, if you believe the excellent supplements on the 4K disc) is a quiet but strong man, dedicated to his nation, his family, and his fellow travellers (but in which order?).

Sienna Miller is equally impressive as Taya, the wife who loves him but barely sees him between deployments, and is forced to watch his internal battles as he struggles to leave the battlefield (and the bonds with his fellow combatants) behind, while she balances the duties of wife and mother. She turns in a very credible performance.

The 4K picture is clean and sharp and colourful – where the colour is needed. The shots set in Iraq have a grittier, more washed out look than the Stateside shots, but the video quality never falters. Likewise, the audio is also fine and the battle scenes especially make excellent use of all of your home theatre's multiple channels.

Then there are the extras, which for the most part are excellent and quite important for the background they give you into who the Navy SEALS are and what they do.

They consist of: One Soldier's Story: the Journey behind American Sniper; Chris Kyle: the man behind the legend; Navy SEALS: In War and Peace; Guardian; and Bringing the War Home: The Cost of Heroism. These look at various aspects of the themes of the movie as they relate to real life, and they're very powerful.

Not as powerful is The Making of American Sniper, which is more promotional than it is a behind the scenes look. But that's partially made up for by Clint Eastwood: A Cinematic Legacy, a short but very interesting look at the legendary actor/director's career.

I was moved to tears watching American Sniper, something I'm reluctant to admit but which was true. Heck, I teared up during some of the extras, too, so I guess my macho image (assuming I had one!) is in tatters.

Regardless: I'll be watching this again, soon.

Dune part 2

Meanwhile, the climax of the Dune movie(s) brings Frank Herbert's epic novel to the big screen better than any of the other attempts I've seen, especially the David Lynch/Dino DeLaurentiis version from 1984. There was also a BBC miniseries that was pretty good.

Villeneuve's Dune, however, takes advantage of today's movie making technology – and a reverence to the source material – to bring the epic to the screen quite faithfully. And he succeeded.

I've been a fan of Dune since I read the book on my honeymoon in 1973. It took about 200 pages before the pieces fell together in my head and from that point on, I couldn't put it down. And I remember dragging my two business partners of the time to the theatre to see the Lynch version, promising them an experience like they'd never seen before because it was based on one of the best books I'd read.

I don't think they've believed a thing I've told them since.

Anyway, Dune Part two picks up pretty well where the first part left off, as it should. Paul Atreides and his mother Jessica have escaped with their lives after the Padishah emperor helped Dune's previous overlords, the Harkonnens, destroy the Atreides family and scatter its remnants to the winds.

Ah, but Paul is destined for bigger things than just being a refugee, and he forms an alliance with the native Fremen people. While this goes on, his mother undergoes a trial by poison that morphs her into a Reverend Mother, the psychological/religious Yin to Paul (later Muad'Dib) and his military/strategic Yang.

The Fremen are naturally suspicious of Paul, but he pays his dues and wins them over, allowing him to meld them into the formidable fighting force he had thought they could be. He does all this with his sights set firmly on the emperor and those who'd done him and his family wrong, setting up a climactic battle that completely upends the Padishah Empire's status quo and sets up the rest of the series' books (none of which were fit to shine the shoes of the first book, though the subsequent two had their moments).

It's an epic story and Denis Villeneuve has done it justice. My only real quibble, as with the first part, was with casting decisions. I love Rebecca Ferguson, but don't think she has the regal bearing that Lady Jessica the Bene Gessirit should have. Likewise, I didn't believe Christopher Walken – a fine actor – as the emperor Shaddam for a second. It needed an actor of Alec Guiness' stature. Still, the Emperor isn't much more than a couple of cameos.

The film looks great, the 4K picture being razor sharp, colourful as all get out, and with exquisite black levels. This is a demo-quality disc.

Ditto for the sound! I've often complained about excessive bass with Warner discs, but this Dolby Atmos soundtrack (backward compatible to Dolby TrueHD 7.1) blew me away. It's loud (I had to turn it down a couple of notches from my usual default setting), and it's enveloping and it makes really great use of all your home theatre's channels. Quite the aural revelation!

Extras are okay but I'd have loved to see a whole disc with interesting behind the scenes stuff. The Premium Digital version gives you a lot more, but the 4K disc only has a few shorts, of varying interest to me.

"Chakobsa Training" looks at the fake language spoken by the Fremen and how hard they worked to make it believable. That's all well and good, but I'd rather movie makers eschew fake languages (I'm talking about you, too, Klingon and Elvish, etc.) and just do English (or whatever other language they're dubbing it into). Why? Because when they're speaking their fake languages, they put subtitles on the screen and that takes your eyes away from the story and forces you to read the scene, rather than experience it. Heck, they're only fake, made-up languages anyway!

"Creating the Fremen World" is a neat look at, well, creating the Fremen world. "Finding the worlds of Dune" is a broader look at the other worlds in the story, from other planets, etc. and it's pretty interesting as well. "Buzz around the new Thopter" looks at, surprisingly, the new ornithopters they created for this film – larger and even cooler than the ones in part one.

"Worm Riding" is pretty self explanatory and I enjoyed it quite a bit, and "Becoming Feyd" was an interesting look at how they turned actor Austin Butler from the King of Rock and Roll (he played Elvis) to a vicious and vile creature who really needed to die.

"A New Set of Threads" looks at the multitude of costumes required for the movie, while "Deeper into the Desert" looks at the sounds, including the awful ones composed by Hans Zimmer that made up the movie's score.

In all it's an excellent take on the Frank Herbert novel and I'm grateful for Warner Brothers and Denis Villeneuve for taking the time (all five or so hours of it!) and effort to do the tale justice.

But if you're only going to watch one of them, watch American Sniper!

Copyright 2024 Jim Bray

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