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Chilling and believable – “The Manchurian Candidate”


Denzel Washington stars as Army Major Ben Marco, who tries to get the attention of Vice President candidate Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber). Shaw received the Medal of Honor while a sergeant under Marco when he single-handedly defeated the enemy and rescued all but two men during the Persian Gulf War. An implant is inserted into Shaw’s brain by the Manchurian Global Corp.

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4K Ultra HD & Blu-ray; 2004; R for violence and some profanity


Best extra: The featurette “The Enemy Within: Inside ‘The Manchurian Candidate’”


REMAKING a classic movie is a risky proposition. 


Just ask the folks at Disney with their endless stream of live-action remakes over the last 15 years. It got into high gear with Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” (2010), then followed with “Maleficent” (2014), “Cinderella” (2015), “Beauty and the Beast” (2017), and fast-tracked “Aladdin,” “Lion King” and “Dumbo” in 2019, “Mulan” (2020), “Pinocchio” (2022) and last year’s “The Little Mermaid.”


Since 2000, Hollywood has accelerated its output of recycled movies and many were total disasters: “Rollerball” (2002), “Flatliners” (2017), “The Fog” (2005), “Jacob’s Ladder” (2019), “Swept Away” (2002), “Yours Mine & Ours” (2005), “When a Stranger Calls” (2006), “Get Carter” (2000), “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (2010), “The Women” (2008), “Red Dawn” (2012), “The Mummy” (2017) and ….


The list of successful remakes is quite short including the Coen brothers’ “True Grit” (2010), Martin Scorsese’s Oscar winner “The Departed” (2006), Christopher Nolan’s “Insomnia” (2002), James Marigold’s “3:10 to Yuma” (2007), and Steven Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s Eleven” (2001).

(1-3) Flashback 1991: Captain Ben Marco and Sgt. Raymond Shaw and their men are ambushed during a nighttime mission. The Iraqi Army had set the Kuwait oil fields on fire as they retreated from the country. (4-6) Present day: Major Marco speaks to a local Boy Scout troop about military honors. Veteran Al Melvin played by Jeffery Wright, interrupts the meeting. “Do you ever wish it’d had been you?” Corp. Melvin was in Marco’s platoon when they were ambushed and suffers from mental illness.


But in 2004, Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme (“The Silence of the Lambs”) decided to put a modern spin on John Frankenheimer’s gem of a political thriller, “The Manchurian Candidate” (1962), originally starring Frank Sinatra as Army Major Bennett Marco.


Richard Condon’s 1959 best-seller was adapted by screenwriter George Axelrod (“Breakfast at Tiffany’s”), which followed a U.S. Army platoon ambushed and brainwashed during the Korean War. Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. Raymond Shaw (Lawrence Harvey) is programmed as an assassin and controlled by a mysterious handler. The cast also included Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, Angela Lansbury and Henry Silva.


Demme’s film takes place in the post-Gulf War world of sinister corporations, with Denzel Washington as Major Ben Marco, and Meryl Streep as the villainous Senator Eleanor Shaw. She pulls the political strings so her Medal of Honor son Raymond, played by Liev Schreiber can become vice president, and president after a timely assassination. A chip is implanted in Raymond’s skull to control him during a nighttime mission when the Manchurian Global Corp. kidnaps Marco and his men.


“Manchurian” received high marks from top critics with 82 percent on RT. Still, audiences seemed disappointed rating the film with only 63 percent. Its worldwide box office only hit $96 million against a $100 plus million production/promotion budget.

(1) The lonely Marco retreats to his apartment and eats the same meal every night. (2-4) Villainous Senator Eleanor Prentiss Shaw smothers her son Congressman Raymond Shaw with kisses. She pushes their political party to advance his name as the vice president candidate. (5) Marco watches Shaw’s speech on television.



The 4K disc and Blu-ray includes a commentary with Demme and screenwriter Daniel Pyne, recorded 20 years ago for its first DVD edition, which includes plenty of backstories. The best is the 15-minute featurette “Enemy Within” included on the enclosed Blu-ray. You’ll find Sinatra’s daughter Tina bought the movie rights from United Artists – who co-owned the original with her father – and gave the green light for a remake. “The movie I wanted to make was a paranoid thriller with Denzel Washington’s character unraveling, as he tries to regain his idea of what his sanity is,” Demme says.


Pyne’s script provides some new twists while keeping Condon’s distinct genres within the story: a thriller, a comedy, a political and social satire, and a Greek tragedy. He also felt “corporate totalitarianism was probably the new philosophy that was scariest.” Plus, his version of Eleanor Shaw wouldn't be behind the scenes “pushing her son or her husband to greater glory. But, she was going be a force in her own right.”


Streep’s performance as the senator is commanding, but at times she takes it over the top. The character has hit the glass ceiling, “partially because she’s a woman, and because she knows where so many bodies are buried and so many of them were buried by her,” Pyne says.


 A second carryover featurette “The Cast” includes interviews with Washington who considers his character, “A solider who just ran into some unusual circumstances and a mind-altering experience.” Marco is the driving force in this adaptation and in the original novel. “He’s an extraordinarily decent man…who breaks my heart,” Demme says. Additional comments from Jon Voight, who plays Senator Thomas Jordan, and Streep, who admits she used, “Very specific public personalities in creating this character. Most definitely.” Can you guess who?

(1) Shaw during a campaign gathering. (2) A flashback to Marco’s brainwashing from South African Dr. Atticus Noyle (Simon McBurney) and Manchurian Global. (3) Marco gets into Melvin’s apartment and finds the walls covered with disturbing drawings and newspaper clippings back to the Kuwait mission. (4&5) Marco rides the train from Washington D.C. to New York with Eugenie (Kimberly Elise) and she invites him to stay with her at a friend’s apartment. Maro tries to remove an implant from his back.

Three Versions of “The Manchurian Candidate”

(1) 4K/HDR 2024 (1.85:1) (2) Blu-ray 2024 (1.85:1) (3) Blu-ray 2006 (1.78:1)

The HDR grading produces a more natural color palette - especially with facial toning. Both 1080p discs (2006, 2024) have a reddish push, a common issue with the limited Rec. 709 color space.



Paramount scanned the original 35mm camera negative (1.85:1 aspect ratio) for this 20th Anniversary 4K restoration. Kino Lorber worked with the Dolby Vision grading, improving the expanded contrast levels – highlights to shadows, and natural color toning. The Blu-ray also uses the 4K master, but its color toning pushes to the reddish side, a common issue with its limited Rec. 709 color space.


A good dose of natural film grain is evident throughout on both discs, but the 4K grain is more defined and structured with its much higher video bitrates varying from low 40 Megabits per second to the upper 90s Mbps. The peak HDR10 brightness hits 1744 nits.


The overall onscreen clarity is first-rate from close-ups to wide shots from cinematographer Tak Fujimoto (“The Silence of the Lambs,” “The Sixth Sense”), clearly several notches above the new 1080p disc and even more than the original 2006 Blu-ray.



The 4K and Blu-ray both include the six-channel DTS-HD Master soundtrack, pushing effects to the rear and side speakers during the Kuwait night mission. And, the dialogue never gets lost up front, beside the score from British composer Rachel Portman (“Chocolat,” “Emma”), which has plenty of fidelity. And strong bass during the new version of John Fogerty’s 1969 anti-war song “Fortunate Son” performed by Wyclef Jean, which opens and closes “The Manchurian Candidate.”


Demme’s adaptation is not in the same league as the original masterpiece, but it’s still thought-provoking, and an agreeable addition to your growing 4K library. 

 Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer

Uncovering the Dreams


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