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3.8 out of 5 stars38
3.8 out of 5 stars
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on May 21, 2004
A gargantuan version of Tolstoy's national epic, approached as a priority as important as the Soviet space program, War and Peace is surely the biggest production ever put on film, with entire armies filling the screen and covering vast landscapes. The recreation of the Napoleonic era in St. Petersburg and Moscow is a wonderment. Director Sergei Bondarchuk makes the story work even better at the intimate level. The romantic adventures and heartbreaks of the story's central trio, Pierre, Natasha and Andrei lead to at least 4 or 5 devastatingly emotional highpoints.
Previously, there was the 1956 Dino DeLaurentiis version. Except for some awkward casting, it wasn't half bad, but it pales beside the opulence and scope of this colossus. Ruscico's version is both longer and better-presented than previous releases, and Image has packaged it with helpful extras and easily-navigated menus. More on that below.
Savant was excited to see this pricey-but-exceptional DVD release; Ruscico has a reputation for quality releases of hard-to-see Soviet pictures, and War and Peace is certainly the prize title, at least for Western audiences unfamiliar with the majority of Mosfilm's output. I saw the American release when 16 years old, serialized over two weeks in a fancy theater in San Bernardino. I can't say I followed the story well, and mostly remember the grainy, washed out picture and the distracting English dubbing - Natasha's voice squeaked like Minnie Mouse. But the eye-popping visuals stayed burned into my memory, especially a God's eye view, receding into the heavens, of the Austerlitz battlefield spread out below. It looked as if it took in miles of smoke and fighting.
In Russian with subs in a number of languages, the new Ruscico / Image DVD is a completely different viewing experience. The Russian voices are beautiful, and it's easy to catch cultural things we had only read about, such as the St. Petersburg elite opting to speak French for many conversational details. It's not 70mm, but on a big widescreen television, the scope of the visuals can be almost overwhelming.
Ruscico's DVD of War and Peace is handsomely presented on 4 discs in a thankfully easy-to-understand package. The transfer image isn't going to be able to compete with restorations done here, however. War and Peace was shot in a Soviet color system in 70mm, and the colors are a muted set of pastels we aren't used to. Either the age of the elements, or the reduction printing, or bad storage has given many scenes a dupey look, with slightly fluctuating contrast. The image is stable and intact, but there are occasional scratches and slight damage.
Either that one bad shot was an isolated instance, or most of the time we're too caught up in the story to notice such things. I should point out that I viewed the discs on a 65" monitor that magnifies these kinds of flaws, so many viewers will probably be completely unaware of them.
The DVD producers have included a generous allotment of extras, listed below. A fifth disc contains a couple of Soviet docus on Tolstoy and an elaborate commemorative behind-the-scenes piece. It starts with the stars at a Moscow premiere, and then backtracks to show how many scenes were filmed. The cameraman is on roller skates in the ballroom scene, and a trucking scene through the battlefield shows exactly how some of the more amazing shots were captured. The cameramen use portable 70mm cameras of a kind I've never seen, that look every bit as sophisticated as ours.
In one of the interviews, the President of the Mosfilm studio says that after the years of filming, War and Peace wasn't unanimously praised in the Soviet Union. Everybody saw it, but not everyone thought it was a masterpiece. Audiences are audiences, Russian or American, and after those 4 or 5 transcendant moments in the picture, the ending does seem rather downplayed and anti-climactic. But seeing the show now after 35 more years of film history, this enormous epic seems more of an accomplishment than ever.
P.S. To watch the movie preview video clip you can on russianDVD.com website for free.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon January 5, 2006
The Russian version of War and Peace is quite wonderful on CD. Many scenes not available in the old video are here, and the colour, sound and over-all quality of the images is far superior.
The battles are just as terrifying as i recall from seeing it in the Theatre, thirty years ago. Borodino is particularly moving, filmed on the site, at the right time of year, and with the Russian army standing in for the French under Napoleon and for the Russian army. There's a world of difference between seeing hundreds of thousands of real men on a real landscape, and watching a CG battle. No film gives a better sense of what those old battles were really like.
One way in which this version is superior to either the old American or more modern British versions, is that the actors are Russian, and look Russian. This most Russian of stories really needs to have an authentic cast. The expanded time allows for longer scenes with some of the older actors, veterans of the Moscow Art Theatre. It's a treat to watch them.
The film is skillfully dubbed, with much more attention to lip-sync than the old Video. The new voices match the quality and timbre of the Russian actors' own voices much more closely. Oddly, not all of the film is dubbed. Within a single scene two characters may be speaking together in Russian with clear subtitles in English, but when a third character comes in, they all start speaking English! In some scenes, the language switches several times. Characters speaking in French are neither dubbed into English nor subtitled. This is a little odd at first, but one quickly becomes used to it, and begins to enjoy the sound of the Russian actors' voices.
I am quite delighted with this set, and recommend it highly.
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on October 18, 2002
Ok, it is over six hours long but would you want it any other way. Hollywood tried to bring Tolstoy's epic to the screen in 1956 and produced one of the worst translations from novel to film in history. This is a Russian story as big as the nation itself. Only a Russian as brilliant as Sergei Bondarchuk could understand the complexities of the struggle of the Russian people against a tyrant. We see history unfold through the eyes of a naive Pierre, and as he experiences the torments of war and class struggle, he changes. So will you when you watch this film.
The visuals of battle have never been matched. Private Ryan is as close as an American film has come to depicting the beauty and horror of battle. The music creates the perfect undercurrent of romance and adventure. The acting is both strong and sincere. It is the Russian Gone with the Wind. Buy it and it will absorbed you. This is one of the greatest films ever made. If Kubrick had made Napoleon, it would have looked like this.
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on January 4, 2004
This well presented and attractively packaged boxed set suffers terribly from an insufficient bit rate which results in continuous compression artifacts throughout the entire film.

In plain english, the picture quality is fine in a still shot, but during camera pans and quick movement in a shot there are very noticeable jagged edges to the picture (the picture quality is similar to the bonus material on your average DVD). This problem is very apparent when this film is viewed on a big screen TV.
This defeciency coupled with the subtitles and the length of the film can result in quite a headache for the viewer.
I'm not certain why a dvd produced in 2002 would have this problem. There are 4 disks (3 of which are about 90-100 minutes) so there should be sufficient disk space for a higher quality picture.
The sound (dolby digital 5.1 in Russian, English and French) is quite good. Much better that the usual 5.1 remix of a mono movie. Sometimes the 5.1 mix is a bit overdone (when a actor is speaking from off camera their heavily reverbed disembodied voice is emmited from one of the rear channels) but in general it is apparent a lot of effort was put into the remixing. This is a lot better that the usual mono to 5.1 remix where half of the music cues are processed but 80% of the sound goes solely to the center speaker. It is a real shame that Ruscico didn't put the same effort into the picture quality.
There are some other small technical difficulties with the disk (as mentioned in previous reviews) and the english dubbing is terrible (as it was when the film was theatrically released in North America). However, all of this pales in comparison with the picture quality which ruins the entire effort.
I have decided to write this review to forwarn anyone contemplating shelling out the $100 bucks that I did.
Unfortunately, the only other option is the Kultur pan and scan version. Although, I have not seen the DVD version I have seen it on VHS and can advise that this is a movie that must be seen in widescreen to be fully appreciated.
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on January 4, 2004
This well presented and attractively packaged boxed set suffers terribly from an insufficient bit rate which results in continuous compression artifacts throughout the entire film.

In plain english, the picture quality is fine in a still shot, but during camera pans and quick movement in a shot there are very noticeable jagged edges to the picture (the picture quality is similar to the bonus material on your average DVD). This problem is very apparent when this film is viewed on a big screen TV.
This defeciency coupled with the subtitles and the length of the film can result in quite a headache for the viewer.
I'm not certain why a dvd produced in 2002 would have this problem. There are 4 disks (3 of which are about 90-100 minutes) so there should be sufficient disk space for a higher quality picture.
The sound (dolby digital 5.1 in Russian, English and French) is quite good. Much better that the usual 5.1 remix of a mono movie. Sometimes the 5.1 mix is a bit overdone (when a actor is speaking from off camera their heavily reverbed disembodied voice is emmited from one of the rear channels) but in general it is apparent a lot of effort was put into the remixing. This is a lot better that the usual mono to 5.1 remix where half of the music cues are processed but 80% of the sound goes solely to the center speaker. It is a real shame that Ruscico didn't put the same effort into the picture quality.
There are some other small technical difficulties with the disk (as mentioned in previous reviews) and the english dubbing is terrible (as it was when the film was theatrically released in North America). However, all of this pales in comparison with the picture quality which ruins the entire effort.
I have decided to write this review to forwarn anyone contemplating shelling out the $100 bucks that I did.
Unfortunately, the only other option is the Kultur pan and scan version. Although, I have not seen the DVD version I have seen it on VHS and can advise that this is a movie that must be seen in widescreen to be fully appreciated.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon January 10, 2015
I bought this version of War and Peace based on the good reviews that I read about it. A big mistake. This is possibly the worst movie we have ever watched. If we hadn't known of the basic story written by Tolstoy on the this time period in Europe and Russia, we would have been lost in the story line most of the time. The acting was either rigid or over-emotional. The sound was terrible - too loud or too low - and the music itself was nerve-wracking at times. With the dialogue in Russian the producers dubbed in the voices and used subtitles. It might have worked, but the dubbing and the subtitles were different, which made it very confusing to understand what was really being said. The story itself seemed to be even more morose and depressing than the BBC version that was filmed a few years after this one. We endured 3/4 of this series before we finally said, "That's enough". Don't waste your money.
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on January 4, 2004
This well presented and attractively packaged boxed set suffers terribly from an insufficient bit rate which results in continuous compression artifacts throughout the entire film.

In plain english, the picture quality is fine in a still shot, but during camera pans and quick movement in a shot there are very noticeable jagged edges to the picture (the picture quality is similar to the bonus material on your average DVD). This problem is very apparent when this film is viewed on a big screen TV.
This defeciency coupled with the subtitles and the length of the film can result in quite a headache for the viewer.
I'm not certain why a dvd produced in 2002 would have this problem. There are 4 disks (3 of which are about 90-100 minutes) so there should be sufficient disk space for a higher quality picture.
The sound (dolby digital 5.1 in Russian, English and French) is quite good. Much better that the usual 5.1 remix of a mono movie. Sometimes the 5.1 mix is a bit overdone (when a actor is speaking from off camera their heavily reverbed disembodied voice is emmited from one of the rear channels) but in general it is apparent a lot of effort was put into the remixing. This is a lot better that the usual mono to 5.1 remix where half of the music cues are processed but 80% of the sound goes solely to the center speaker. It is a real shame that Ruscico didn't put the same effort into the picture quality.
There are some other small technical difficulties with the disk (as mentioned in previous reviews) and the english dubbing is terrible (as it was when the film was theatrically released in North America). However, all of this pales in comparison with the picture quality which ruins the entire effort.
I have decided to write this review to forwarn anyone contemplating shelling out the $100 bucks that I did.
Unfortunately, the only other option is the Kultur pan and scan version. Although, I have not seen the DVD version I have seen it on VHS and can advise that this is a movie that must be seen in widescreen to be fully appreciated.
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on January 2, 2004
I just finished watching the 4-disk DVD version of this film. I had seen it long ago, at a theater in Boston where they did it right: they took a break in the middle and everyone filed into the lobby for champagne and finger foods. It holds up.
Much was made of the opening battle scenes in "Saving Private Ryan," but this film conveyed the confusion and horror of war quite as effectively, many years before. Fans of "shaky cam" cinematography should note its effective use here.
Once again I was spellbound by Natasha, and her transformation from child to mature woman; I doubt there will ever be another movie in which the actors actually grow, along with their characters, over its span.
This is one film in which the DVD presentation of separate "scenes" mirrors the actual structure. Many of the scenes are separate compositions in their own right, with their own music and tone. Natasha's first ball, with its sweeping waltz music and swirling camerawork, is one example.
I will have to borrow my son's projection video unit to screen this again: even on a fairly large SONY Wega screen, you simply can't appreciate the scope and detail.
Aside from assorted glitches and awkward moments (and a certain understandable Russian jingoism), as other reviewers have noted there is one major flaw: the use of cinematic gimmicks that were never very effective and now seem dated as well. Some of the techniques, such as the shaky cam, the crane shots, the endless sweeping pans with choreographed action at multiple levels, are very effective. But generally the acting and directing was sufficient; it was unnecessary to glitz it up with multiple images, blue-screen tricks and so on. In fact, now that computer-generated effects are so much more sophisticated, the power of this movie lies in the scenes that AREN'T done by special effects. Some day, when I have a computer large enough to stuff this whole production into it, maybe I'll try producing a version with the more egregious gimmicks excised. I bet it would be even more stunning.
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on March 28, 2003
I was fortunate enough to obtain an advance copy of the Ruscico 5-disc box set of WAR AND PEACE recently. Image Entertainment has acquired U.S. distribution rights for it; after some delay, it is scheduled to street in June. The amount of care put into this particular version is obvious. The widescreen anamorphic transfer looks as good as can be expected, considering the condition in which the film has been preserved and the poor quality Soviet stock on which the film was originally shot. The kind of extensive clean-up and digital restoration we are used to from companies like Criterion would have been prohibitively expensive for such a long and poorly preserved film like this. If you keep that in mind while watching the DVD, you'll be satisfied indeed. The sound has also been meticulously restored. If that weren't enough, the set is full of all sorts of interesting supplemental features, including an interview with Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov, the film's composer. An appropriately massive DVD set for the most massive film of all.
On the other hand, Kultur's currently available DVD of Bondarchuk's WAR AND PEACE is a big disappointment. While it also contains the full-length, 403-minute version, it's the same old pan & scan transfer that they used for the VHS over a decade ago. Not only are the sides of the film's original widescreen image lopped off, the top and bottom of the image are slightly cropped too--as a result, the DVD displays only about 50% of the image that we are intended to see, effectively ruining the film's striking visual compositions. The 5-disc set produced by Ruscico and to be released by Image Entertainment is substantially more expensive, but it's the only way to go if you want to see this film properly.
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on November 19, 2002
I had the opportunity to peruse this Kultur DVD edition of "War and Peace" enough to evaluate its presentation. Firstly, it's not letterboxed, but full-frame. The opening title sequence only is letterboxed to some extent so as not to cut off all the titles, and this looks as though the original aspect ratio is not particularly wide to begin with. So while not a great deal of picture is cut off from the sides, there is some missing. The print is a good one, and the beauty and power of the film come through, but it does not appear to have been restored to any great extent. This means that the color intensity, contrast, and brightness of the image fluctuates from scene to scene, and sometimes even within one scene (reel changes, perhaps?). The image throughout is a bit soft-focus, and it benefits greatly if you turn up the sharpness control on your monitor. There does not seem to be a great deal of blemishes, dirt, or damage, though.
The English subtitles are printed on the film itself, and therefore not removable. In the scenes where French is spoken, there is a voice superimposed on the soundtrack translating what is being said into Russian, which is of no interest to the English-speaking viewers who will be watching this DVD. In these cases, you have an actor speaking French, an additional voice speaking Russian, and an English subtitle simultaneously, which is distracting to say the least. It's hard to imagine why a print with this feature was chosen, unless it was the absolute best-looking print available.
That brings up the subject of the alternate issue of this film due at the end of December from the Russian Cinema Council (Ruscico). Judging from past Ruscico DVD releases, it may well be a restored, archive-quality print (hopefully letterboxed). Ruscico releases appear at a very slow rate, but when the do they are worth waiting for, which is what you may want to do.
The film still makes a stunning impact, even in this less than perfect presentation. If you prefer full-frame presentation, you may even prefer this one. It seems to me, however, that most cinemaphiles whose interests are arcane enough to extend to this film would want it presented in its original aspect ratio, in an edition as close to the source material as possible. Those people may well prefer to see what Ruscico offers.
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