Steven Soderbergh's inspired epic, "CHE," is now available on blu-ray from CRITERION. Continuing the company's long acknowledged presentation of high quality releases of acclaimed films, it's hard to imagine any other company doing a better job than what's been achieved with this release.
While "MOTORCYCLE DIARIES" and other films have offered various perspectives of the revolutionary, "CHE" puts forth, arguably, the most realistic, complex analysis of the man, de-mythologizing him, while offering both the virtuous and deplorable qualities of him in the process.
Originally released in theaters as two separate releases, in chronological order, both parts are available here. Critics tended to view the 2nd part as a muddled, disappointing bookend, however, it's actually quite good, just very different in tone than the first part.
"Che: The Argentine," focuses on Ernesto Guevara's initial rise as a leader, intercut around his UN speeches, early contributions to the revolution, and eventual emergence as a true leader. The cutting isn't in a linear narrative fashion, but the director never loses his grip on the actual drama, making it accessible rather than confusing. While many will find Guevara to be, at best, misguided, and at worst, a fanatical murderer of any disagreeing with his ideology, Soderbergh fairly presents an objective vision of the man, making it hard to suggest Che's passion was for anything other than for the betterment of an oppressed people. Still, there are those that would argue that for Hitler, or other notorious personalities.
"Che: The Guerilla," begins with a summary of facts up to Che's seemingly sudden absence from Cuba, followed by the reading of a letter which he wrote to Castro, in front of the Cuban Communist Party. The letter is quite telling of the differences between the two leaders and Che's motivation and new commitment to spread his vision of freedom to other oppressed people. Guevara ends up in Bolivia, masking himself as a OAS employee, in order to take off into the jungle and organize a rebel unit with the help of the Bolivian Communist Party. The events, internal conflicts between the two factions and more, are explored in a palpably impactful way, different in tone from "Che: The Argentine," but no less compelling. The rest of what follows is better left without remark, for those unaware of the events that followed.
CRITERION has provided the correct 2.35:1 and 1.78:1 aspect ratios for these films, with these AVC MPEG-4 1080p blu-rays. The information explained within the CRITERION booklet pertaining to the source material for the image of the two films, is actually too technical for this reviewer to make sense of. While it suggests the reasoning for the films having differing aspect ratios, the varying presentations don't feel impacted in any negative way, other than its raising questions as to the difference.
Detail is consistently impressive for both presentations, and often astounding. Colors vary in tone between vibrant and a softer, natural dimension. Contrast is perfect, preventing any of the fine detail achieved from becoming lost to shadow in the darker environment of night scenes in the dense jungle. While source material changes "a lot" at times, due to the call for a documentary look called for around scenes, such as recreated interviews, etc., the variations never diminish the overall quality of the presentation.
Both films are presented in a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. "CHE: THE ARGENTINE" also offers the unusual option of either Spanish/English voiceovers. English Subtitles are also provided as an option for both films.
Other than in Soderbergh's "OCEANs" trilogy, mixes for his films, while impressive, have never been as aggressive. However, both of these films offer equally outstanding, immersive sound environments. Surrounds are used in a way thoroughly complimenting the drama unfolding, particularly in the jungle scenes. Dialogue, effects, and a great score are perfectly balanced throughout, even more stunning within the military action scenes.
As with most Criterion releases(they set the bar high for other studios to follow, with their standard offering of great supplementary material with their initial laserdisc and dvd releases) there are some great extras here.
The first film offers a captivating(never dull)commentary with Jon Lee Anderson, a "Che" historian and consultant to the film. His insight adds rather than duplicates information already offered within the films. It also offers bold comment concerning those moments in the film differing from fact.
A documentary, "MAKING CHE," runs nearly an hour(1080p), offering interviews with Soderbergh, Del Toro, a producer and the film's writers.
Deleted scenes(1080p) are presented with an optional commentary from Soderbergh.
A trailer(1080p) is also included.
"CHE: THE GUERILLA," doesn't offer a commentary, but includes more deleted scenes(1080p)with optional commentary by Soderbergh, a compelling documentary from 1968 about producer Brian Moser's ill-fated attempt to contact Che, falling short due to the leaders capture and execution.
A documentary(1080p) also explores Soderbergh's fascination of the "RED"
camera, utilized for the film.