Standard Operating Procedure Blu-ray Review
PicturePresented in its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1 encoded with the MPEG-4/AVC codec and naturally these days at 1080p Standard Operating Procedure presents a video quality which certainly falls into the mixed bag category.
The main content of the film presents the 'talking heads' just sitting, facing camera presenting their own story for the audience to listen to. These scene are detailed enough with particular attention on the textures of clothing, specifically stitching can easily be identified on the glamorous suits to the denim jacket of Lynddie England. Facial detail is good if at times looking a little too waxy but pore and hair detail is more than apparent. The colours look a little hot, slightly over saturated but still delineated well within their borders. Black levels are good and really only apparent in some participants' hair.
There are some reconstructed scenes and Richardson has employed more artistic license in much the same way as he has done previously with Natural Born Killers or JFK. These scenes are grainy affairs and again the colour is too saturated but no doubt a good representation of what Richardson was trying to achieve. You'll either appreciate this style or just find it irritating.
There are no problems at all though with the encoding with no noise or banding on show, even the dreaded edge enhancement is nowhere to be seen either in the interviews themselves or the flashback scenes. In the end then this is acceptable for what it is but don't be expecting a demo disc as it falls somewhat short of that high stature
SoundThe English audio is a respectable English Dolby TrueHD track, and this is duplicated for Spanish and Italian however the French only have the standard 5.1 variety. As a documentary piece then there's no need for dynamic panning up front or steerage and perfect timing to the rears, what counts is the dialogue and that is perfectly locked in the centre channel clear and distinct. The volume itself I found a little low to begin with and had to crank my amp a couple of dB so it reached a good enough volume for me.
Danny Elfman's score adds some weight to the fronts, widening the stage somewhat and occasionally migrating to the rears to add some ambiance. This ambiance is further enhanced by some Foley effects for cameras or a few flashback scenes, specifically the exploding helicopter scene, where some effects reach your surrounds.
Surprisingly enough there is good use of LFE and again this is mainly from the background score, it's well controlled, tight and at times goes deeper than you would expect for a documentary. It is the dialogue though which is the mainstay of this feature and as such this track certainly succeeds.
- Commentary With Director Errol Morris.
Morris goes solo on this chat track and essentially adds some further detail on the events or the participants in this documentary. He fills in some of the interviewees' histories and remits whilst in Iraq, the responsibilities of different departments, the function of the camp the US used to incarcerate Iraqi insurgents and civilians. He frequently refers back to Sabrina's letters and how much information can be gleaned from them. If you enjoy the film then you'll enjoy this commentary track for the additional information it offers up. Morris is engaging enough, rarely silent and seems to have done his research adequately enough.
- Premier Q&A With Director Error Morris. - 0:10:52 - 1080p/MPEG-2
In this feature, shot in black and white, Morris describes himself as a worker for hire and stands up in front of a preview crowd taking answers from the audience. Questions such as...”How did you get the participants to be interviewed?”, “Who supplied the photographs?” and “Did Sabrina commit a crime?”. He offers up other interesting facts such as how he had wait for Lynndie England to get out of prison to complete the feature, how he was not given access to Charles 'Chuck' Grainer, and how he tried to track down some of the actual detainees.
- Press Conference With Errol Morris and Julie Ahlberg. - 0:31:36 - 408i/MPEG-2
The press conference at the Berlin Film Festival hosted by Ralf Scharek with the questions from the press fielded predominantly to director Morris and secondly to producer Ahlberg. There's some slight repetition with the earlier Q&A session but there is some additional information here and it's a better more informative watch that the earlier feature.
- Diplomacy in the Age of Terror: The Impact of Diminished Rule of Law on International Relations. - 0:45:13 - 480i/MPEG-2
A panel discussion, sponsored by Sony Pictures Classic and inspired by this film hosted by Olivia Schoeller. The panel itself consists of Lionel Barber Editor of The Financial Times, Peter Goldsmith former UK Attorney General, Herta Daubler-Gmelin Chairwoman on the Committee for Human Rights, Dr. Allen Keller Director of the Survivors of Torture Program and finally Wolfgang Kaleck General Secretary from the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights; an illustrious panel indeed. This is pretty much what you would expect from this rather unbalanced panel, with most upholding and strengthening the film's position by having their own input on the Geneva Convention, torture and it's after-effects. This is an interesting enough panel discussion if and only if you happen to agree with the rather one sided view which it puts forward.
- Additional Scenes. - 0:26:00 - 480i/MPEG-2
9 additional scenes with a Play All option. This is more of the same of what we saw in the main feature, some additional people put their heads up above the parapet but in the main it's the same faces we saw earlier. Nothing really new is divulged here however there is a good scene with Sabrina who discusses the jail time she eventually received, the jury which stood at her trial and an interview with the MP who brought these photographs to the attention of his commanding officers.
- Extended Interviews. - 480i/MPEG-2
6 extended interviews however this time there is no Play All function and that always grates with me a little. As the name suggests these are just extensions of original material in the main feature and only not included in there because of time constraints. There is a lot more information in here, (including some 'heads' that were not in the main feature), it's interesting enough and worth a watch.
- Original Trailer. - 1080p/MPEG-2
As the name suggests.
Previews for The International, Felon, Redbelt, Resident evil:Degeneration and the usual Sony BluRay sampler.
After what seems like an eternity to connect you finally manage to get online only to be faced with a few trailers and sneak previews. Nothing much to see here, move along.
VerdictStandard Operating Procedure has its heart in the right place I just don't think it's all that well executed. It is perhaps one of the few films I have had to review where I actually enjoyed the extras much more then the main feature itself. I will return again to these extras, including the commentary, but I am unlikely to return to the film to watch it straight through again. It is those extras that have pulled this disc up from just being OK to something that I actually enjoyed watching.
The video and audio are nothing special and more than adequate for the task in hand, don't be expecting pristine stuff, multi channel whip around sound; really what's the point... none. They do their job well enough.
A purchase, well I don't think so unless of course your DVD/BluRay shelves are full of Michael Moore 'documentaries', Fox News exposes and the complete history of World War I and II. Similarly if you feel that these people just deserved all that was dished out in Abu Ghraib then this disc is not for you. For those of you in the other camp though this is a good enough rental but perhaps not worthy enough of an outright purchase.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £24.99
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- Commentary With Director Errol Morris.