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3.8 out of 5 stars37
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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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 January 3, 2004
The spring of 1968 was tumultuous to say the least. The Cold War raged between the United States and Soviet Union, even as the American people became bitterly and forever divided over the war in Vietnam. The Tet offensive only months earlier had shaken domestic confidence and college campuses were awash in protest. The President of the United States had suddenly withdrawn as a candidate for re-nomination, and Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in early April while leading a sanitation worker strike in Memphis. Race riots rocked American cities.
Even Brezhnev and his Politburo in charge of the Soviet Union felt threatened by China and Mao in the East and a democratic movement in Czechoslovakia forever known as the Prague Spring. The world was tense and the threat of nuclear war lay within every crisis.
In those days Soviet cultural exchange consisted of sending the Kirov Ballet and some dancing bears to perform on the Ed Sullivan Show and the Americans sending Louis Armstrong to Moscow in exchange.
Yet almost overlooked that spring was the American debut of Sergei Bondarchuk's War and Peace, an eight hour subtitled masterpiece. Offered in two four hour sittings on separate days the film managed to be profoundly patriotic while being quite obviously subversive. This is a war film of such scope and breadth that the lessons of the intrinsic horror of war is delivered time and time again. Napoleon's invading army is a thinly guised Wehrmacht while the bumbling nobility are proxies for the neo-Stalinists in the Kremlin.
Through it all it proclaims a great love of Mother Russia, its land and its people. If you listen carefully you can hear the artistic chains that entrapped producers, directors, and actors begin to break.
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on December 5, 2003
I just finished watching the Image 16 X 9 five-disc box set of WAR AND PEACE. I'll admit up front that I haven't seen the Kultur full frame version, so I can't intelligently compare picture and sound quality. The Kultur version is available only in Russian with English subs, whereas the Image version gives you the choice of Russian, English or French language tracks along with more subtitle options than I've ever seen offered on any DVD.
First off, the film is an epic story and is powerfully cinematic. It's evenly divided between the war and peace sections. No film could really do justice to Tolstoy's great novel -----except perhaps a very long TV mini series------but at seven hours Sergei Bondarchuk had the scope to attempt it. The characters are extremely well drawn: the actress playing Natasha looks very much like Audrey Hepburn; however, the actor playing Pierre looked so much like one of Benny Hill's characters that I had a little trouble getting over it. The interior sets are nothing less than magnificent and the exterior cinematography dynamically sets the mood. The script condenses Tolstoy's masterpiece as well as can be expected for a novel close to twice the length of Gone With the Wind. There are some scenes of tremendous power that you won't soon forget and I've never seen a film make such narrative use of moving clouds. They almost become a character in the film.
As to quality: the sound is quite good. The picture, though, was obviously taken from a dupe negative. The close ups are fine, but the interior long shots are soft and grainy-------but are mercifully kept to a minimum. If you're going to watch it with the English track, turn on the subtitles because many times during the film an English dubbed translation is not available for certain passages, but is given in the subtitles. My guess is------because the print was assembled from several different sources and differs from the shortened version seen in English speaking countries--------that there was no English track for many scenes.
During this era, Russian was considered the language of the peasants. The aristocracy spoke French. On first hearing French, I thought the filmmakers were being historically accurate, but when I heard Russian and there was again no English dubbing, I came to a different conclusion.
The idealistic ending may bother some of the realists out there, but the "forgive your enemies-brotherhood of man" theme was very much a part of Tolstoy's novel.
The fifth (bonus) disc contains documentaries on Tolstoy, Russian history, interviews, etc. This is one of Image's most prestigious releases so far.
Jay F.
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on June 28, 2003
I have recently watched Bondarchuk's 1968 epic of the 1351 page tome by Tolstoy. The film is indeed a great achievment of cinema, but at 403 minutes, the pace could have been quickened. The acting, particularly by Lyudmilla Savlieva as Natasha and Bondarchuk as Pierre, are excellent. The DVD is among the finest I have ever seen. The image, while occasionally flickery, is often gorgeous, and the sound is possibly the most robust and lifelike soundtrack in ages! The 5th disc of extras (added as an afterthought)are mixed. The doucmentary made in the 1960s is quite good, but the interview with the current president of Mosfilm is dull, and it goes way off track. I have not seen the other interviews. It's too bad this wasn't planned as a SE from the start, as a commentary from some of the participants, or even working from the voluminous archives of Soviet press releases, would have been most welcome. Still, this is indeed the best way to see this film (Why did Kultur bother to plop their muddy pan and scan tape onto a disc unchanged?), and so I give it a hearty recommendation.
P.S.: If disturbing music bothers you (it bothers me) skip the credits for Part 3.)
-Jamie Teller
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