In Short:Goofy, dopey 1995 Paramount sci-fi thriller gets goregous transfer with excellent 5.1 sound to top it off.
I'm still unsure what the intent was with this silly adaptation of the Michael Crichton novel. There are moments where it tries for standard action fare, but the film turns around and begins to spill out bad comedy left and right.
The film stars Laura Linney(who went on to "The Truman Show") as Dr. Karen Ross, working for a huge communications company looking for a perfect diamond to power their latest tool. She runs into Peter Elliot(Dylan Walsh), a doctor who's also brought along a female gorilla he's been teaching named Amy. They meet up with a guide named Monroe Kelly(the film's only good performance by Ernie Hudson) and Herkimer Holmoka(a lame Tim Curry).
They drop into the jungle, each with their own seperate reasons for wanting to be there. Ross is looking for her lost husband, who was the first one to look for the diamond. Elliot is looking to return Amy to the wilds and Holmoka is looking for the Lost City of Zinj, said to contain untold riches in diamonds.
And so they wander the jungle, running into hippos, apes and other such creatures before finally finding themselves in the lost city. Once there, they run into the city's "guards" and try to make it out alive. It's just another Crichton adaptation, nowhere near as successful as "Jurassic Park" and not even as interesting as "Sphere". Maybe if this film had cut out the silly, jokey undercurrent it would be more successful, but somehow I doubt it. There's nothing terribly exciting or scary here in the "bad guys", which are the Gorillas(guys in obvious suits) that attack later in the picture. Up until that, it's pretty scenery that dominates the picture.
"Congo" reminds me slightly of "The Ghost and The Darkness", the picture that involved Michael Douglas and Val Kilmer hunting down two deadly and legendary lions. That picture involved just the right bit of edgy humor from Douglas's character without sinking the picture. The majority of "Congo" on the other hand, simply seems dopey and absurd in a film that doesn't seem to know what it wants to be: silly Saturday Matinee movie or technology minded sci-fi thriller. As it is, it falls right in the middle, making for a sloppy film.
The DVD VIDEO: As bad as the film is, Paramount delivers their best work here. I haven't seen every Paramount release since they went with anamorphic transfers, but their previous best work I've seen is with Sam Raimi's wintery thriller "A Simple Plan". "Congo" is a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and it looks breathtaking. Colors, such as the reds of the tents in the jungle camp, are incredibly vibrant. All of the range of greens and browns of the jungle scenes are rendered perfectly as well- I've never seen the greens of a jungle look so natural and rich. There's even a sunset or two that look wonderful. Colors are well-saturated throughout.
Images contain wonderful detail as well: as the camera passes through the jungle, the image clearly shows every leaf of every tree and all the twigs and sticks on the ground. Even at night, images remain clear and well-defined. Images in general are very smooth and "film-like", containing no edge enhancement.
Artifacts are non-existent: no pixelization or shimmering and there's no problems with the print itself such as scratches or grain. Overall, this is a really clean, beautiful image and there are various scenes throughout that are some of the most stunning I've seen on DVD this year.
Contrast is excellent throughout and flesh tones are accurate as well. Paramount is only getting more and more impressive with each release and if this is any indication of the work that they're going to do in the future, DVD fans should be very excited. Their work on "A Simple Plan" was great, their work here on "Congo" is nothing short of outstanding.
SOUND: There is a local zoo that has an exhibit where you walk through on a path above gorillas below and birds above. It also rains every so often. "Congo" recreated the experience of standing in that exhibit nicely(well, except for the rain). Once the film finally gets to the jungle, there is an almost constant ddetail to the surrounding environment, with birds flying around and chirping to insect sounds. There are other details that the surrounds define as well, such as the sound of the engines during a rather action-packed plane flight.
This is really one of those sound mixes where you feel that the filmmakers set out to really create the most realistic environment possible, and they have definitely succeeded. The supervising sound editor on this film was Gregg Baxter, who also supervised sound work for "True Lies" and "Outbreak". The other supervising sound editor, Wylie Stateman, was responsible for such sound mixes as "Godzilla", "The Relic" and "Mighty Joe Young".
Surrounds are used often and effectively, always having a point to their use for creating a well-defined environment or to capture the action during the film's action. Dialogue is clear and clean and unfortunately, so is Jerry Goldsmith's annoying score. There's definitely plenty of bass throughout, as well- especially during the film's final sequence.
MENUS: Very basic film-themed menus. Too bad, because there could have been some cool animated menus to introduce a film like this.
EXTRAS: 2 trailers.
Final thoughts: The film is a goofy, occasionally entertaining romp and if you enjoyed it, you'll certainly love this DVD. Paramount has done outstanding work on both sound and especially the image quality. If only they could have included some extras this would be a really terrific disc.
The Film: 70/C- = (350/500 possible points)
Video: 95/A = (380/400 possible points)
Audio: 96/A = (384/400 possible points)
Extras: 69/D = (207/300 possible points)
Menus: 68/D = (136/200 possible points)
Value: 80/B- = (240/300 possible points)
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Congo Paramount Home Video
1.85:1/ Dolby Digital 5.1/2.0(and French 2.0)