Cover Art and Menu: 7/10
A nice slip cover with embossed lettering is a classy touch, but I can’t quite figure out what the purpose of those are quite yet. Maybe someday I will be enlightened by a DVD box collector who explains in great detail how the condition of the plastic on each and every DVD ever made is in direct relation to it’s after market value and if there’s a scratch, crack, bump, dent, or other imperfection it lowers what some schmuck will pay for it on Ebay….um, ok.

The cover art is very typically flavored with the action of the movie in mind. Two swordspersons facing an army of soldiers all punctuated by the media quotes and a reminder that Quinten Tarantino is responsible for the movie making it to our DVD players. I would like to see more artistic efforts for these imported movies, but I guess they think we American’s have a certain sensibility and require the same old same old covers to catch our eye at the store.

Let’s just say the cover does not do this film justice and leave it at that. The main menu has video clips from the movie, not much more to report on the topic of menus.

Extras & Features: 7/10

  • Inside the action a conversation with Quentin Tarantino & Jet Li – Hosted by Mr. T and Mr. Li, this is a fair extra, but nothing too special. They talk about the movie, the cast, and some of Li’s other films. It’s not very long but you get a glimpse at Tarantino’s appreciation for Li and for the films he has made. There are behind the scenes bits and pieces and several movie clips from other Chinese martial arts movies so if you have not seen any others you can maybe spot a few more you want to check out.
  • Hero Defined Featurette – This is a cool extra, but to short, as always. It’s a documentary type feature that takes you from the beginnings of HERO and it’s writer/director’s struggle to get it made, to finding the right cast and crew to pull it off. It has interviews with the cast members and explains more about the themes and visual design of the film. I love more information about almost any film, but I just want them to be longer, longer, longer…come on guys, give us at least an hour in the featurette department, I’ll be forever greatful!
  • Storyboards – This is a very visually stimulating movie and you can see from the storyboards that someone had a singular vision before it ever hit the camera. Even the most complicated scenes have sketches that are very close to the way the scenes ended up in the movie, which seems like quite a feat considering how much of this movie relies on wire work, special effects, and other tricks of the eye.

The Movie: 8/10:
First I’ll address the colors. If you have seen HERO you know what I’m talking about. If you have not let me briefly explain. Sections of the story are distinctly defined by the colors of the costumes, sets and filters used to give each shot a stunning artistic feel. The colors represent emotions and themes that are running through each part of this epic tale. From a fiery red fight scene meant to be filled with fury and anger to a cool blue scene that visually crystallizes the calm confidence of a man with a mission, colors make this movie jump off the screen, grab you and don’t let go.

That being said, the story is about loyalty, honor, power, and underlined by a strong theme of sacrifice for the greater good. These are not lightly taken subjects, but throughout the film you get a lot of humor woven in at just the right moments. With a story that basically tells of a man who sacrifices himself for the good of his land, his countrymen, there’s not a lot of comedy to be had, but there is room between the overtures of heroism for a chuckle here and there.

The look of the film is overwhelmingly beautiful. Unfortunately the transfer is not too good. We watched it on a 51 inch widescreen TV so any imperfections do stand out quite a bit. There is a lot of grain and some scenes that do not do justice to the brilliant colors that are supposed to be on the screen, so it’s a distraction if you let it bother you too much. I just overlooked the slight blur now and then and the scenes that looked like they had been run through a projector a few too many times. I didn’t want that to overshadow the beauty of the film itself.

There are scenes that just make you take a deep breath. The emotions, the character’s choices and the performances from every person in the film keep you riveted from one scene to another. I love the conviction of characters in Martial Arts films to their causes, to their beliefs, their ideals. There is no middle ground with this crowd. They take on issues like giving their lives for the good of their people, saving their entire country from a tyrant, and saving the tyrant from himself…whew, that is intense compared to a lot of softer western stories.

I can’t neglect to mention some of the best and most interesting use of special effects I’ve seen in a movie in a long time. When I say the arrow scene is amazing, I’m not just saying that to be dramatic. It’s a true pleasure to watch along with so many other artistic visual choices by the Yimou, the director. There are times when the scenes look more like a painting than like a shot from a movie, which I am a sucker for every time. There are lots of fight scenes, but not hardly any blood. There is one subtle use of blood, and the rest is all handled with actions and reactions of characters rather than the shock and awe of blood dripping all over the place. This is an action packed film without having to resort to blood, or what we consider violence. It’s all done with elegance, not with bravado and cruelty.

The title of the movie is HERO, and most of the time you think you know who the hero is supposed to be, but the more you think about it, the more you realize that it’s about more than one man. Our leading man is not necessarily THE only hero in the story, but does any story have to have just one? Or is the title a hint that there are no real heroes in this tale at all? I love that stuff. The questions, the bigger than life emotions that run through these characters very deeply, it’s all intriguing. In a time and place where being convicted to anything other than which presidential candidate you will vote for or which team you want to win the World Series, there is a need for someone to pull back the microscope and let us see the bigger picture.

Stories like HERO take in the concept that we are all connected and the choices made for the greater good might not be the best for us individually, at least not now. Seeing past our own selfish view of the world and understanding that we play a bigger role that just watching from the sidelines sounds like a pretty lofty thing to ask of people…but Yimou’s telling of this story that does not shy away from it or twist it around to be a common Hollywood happily ever after waste of celluloid. I appreciate that.

Value: 8/10
Definitely give this movie a watch. You can watch with subtitles or with English dubbing. I choose subtitles because I love to hear other languages, but that’s just me. It’s easily one of my favorite DVD releases this year…honestly. It’s different, exciting, beautiful, a fantastic story, well acted and directed..what else is there to say?

I’m glad Miramax brought this DVD to America, I just wish they had taken the time to make a few more extras. For just under $20.00 I say this is for collectors to buy and curious folks to rent.

Overall Score 8/10