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Blu Ray review: CHE (Canadian Exclusive Release)

CHE - Canadian Exclusive from E1 Films
by Jason Whyte

Steven Soderberg’s epic, four-hour plus CHE has had a long journey from production to release to this very review you’re looking at. The film did have a slightly successful independent release, playing for nearly a month in my home town of Victoria after enjoying festival runs at Cannes and Toronto in 2008 (and as well infamously being the last film played at Harry Knowles’ Butt-Numb-A-Thon 2008…think about that for a second).

The film presents an unconventional look into the revolutionary which started in the mid 1950’s. Far from the traditional narrative of the also-excellent “The Motorcycle Diaries” from a few years back, the film shows Ernesto Che Guvara’s slow incline to the revolution and his unsuccessful attempt in Bolivia that eventually cost him his life. The film skips all over the time frame and tells the story in a very unconventional manner, which did tend to throw off a few viewers upon its release. I for one was fascinated by Guvara’s character and his plight, and while the film is long, it also allows us time to see his personality and how it changes over the years.

Video: How does it look?

First things first, the two parts of CHE were filmed in alternate aspect ratios. Shot on the RED Digital camera, the HD image is at a 4k resolution in RAW format, which has a much superior image quality to the output of the Panavision Genesis or the Sony F-23. Soderbergh, who also serves as his own cinematographer, clearly knows what he is doing here and has chosen a more Cinemascope angle for the first part of the story and then choosing to go to a standard 1.85 widescreen frame when Che and his gang are feeling the walls closing in. It’s a terrific (and certainly audacious) choice.

From what I can tell, E1 has used the same video transfer as the Criterion version. It is an AVC transfer presented in stunning 1080p resolution. Both parts show such a clean, detailed picture with so much eye-popping detail. From the greens of the forests to the city sequenes, and even to the anamorphic black-and-white segments, this faithfully represents the 35mm prints I viewed back last May in Cinemas.

Transfer notes: Whenever there is a subtitle of two people speaking to one another, the subtitles move over to the far left side of the screen. The subtitles are also below the 2.39:1 aspect ratio on Part one which might upset those with projection and masking displays, but Part 2 fills the screen as that is in the 1.85 ratio.

Audio: How does it sound?

The DTS 5.1 track, which is mastered in full bitrate audio (although my HT system downscales to 1509 kbp/s), is excellent across the board. For the most part, the soundtrack is immersive and full-bodied and sounds quite authentic depending on the scene. An early shootout sequence in Part One had bullets whizzing all over the soundfield, and I was also very much impressed with . Overall the soundtrack is clean, well detailed and a pleasure to listen to. There is also a French dubbed soundtrack in 5.1 surround.

Bonus Features: What’s on the thing?

Now here is where we run into a bit of an interesting snag. E1 Films ported over the master but not the features from the Criterion edition that have won rave reviews on various websites. The commentaries, documentaries and short featurettes are nowhere to be found on this disc. Instead, there are a few interviews on each disc which were taken from what appears to be junket on the media tour. There are also theatrical trailers on each disc, and both are only in 480-interlaced format.

With that said the disc’s price will likely be at a lesser price than to import the Criterion and if you only want the movie then this is still a good deal.

High-Def Digest’s review notes that for the Criterion edition of Part One, you have the option to choose the occasional narration sequences. This can’t be done on the E1 films release, but for what it’s worth I prefer the English narration. It gives the film an interesting additional level of style and intrigue.

Bottom line: This review copy of CHE is the Canadian exclusive release and can be picked up in all B&M stores and online outlets. It appears to be a bit cheaper than the Criterion version which can still be imported from the United States. In my opinion, having a excellent transfer of these great films on Blu Ray disc is the most important thing, and if you can get past a subtitle/narration issue and Criterion’s features, then this is a solid release and highly recommended.

Review copy courtesy of E1 Films. – Jason Whyte,

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originally posted: 01/26/10 06:14:03
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