49 of 52 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
This movie is much more than a prurient peek at repressed pubescent male sexuality, which is what you might expect from other reviews. If that's all you're looking for and you're determined to find it here, you may find enough to satisfy, but you'll be missing the point. This isn't soft-core kiddie porn disguised as social commentary. The Devils' Playground is a very serious, warm-hearted, generous and very beautiful work of art.
It's astonishingly beautiful, an economically and beautifully executed movie, full of well-developed, richly varied, entirely believable characters, a fascinating, deeply satisfying story that is never tedious or boring and yet never exploitative, melodramatic or cheap, and photography and music that are so extraordinarily perfect and beautiful that each frame could hang in a major museum. That this was any director's first full-length movie is nearly incredible--it would be a major accomplishment for any director even at the peak of his career.
Before I bought this DVD, I'd only seen it on an old VHS tape from the library, where it was cropped to fit a 4:3 TV screen and the sound was so poor I couldn't understand about half the dialog. I loved it anyway, but it was hard to watch. In fact, much of my reluctance to buy the DVD was fear that it might just be that old taped version transferred to disc. When I saw that there were two DVD versions available, but neither one with subtitles (which I was convinced it needed), I didn't know which one to order, so I just picked the newer one almost arbitrarily. Boy, am I glad I did. This one is a treasure.
The case notes don't make any claims about being newly remastered or anything like that, but they could. The video looks brand new, with rich, subtle, gorgeous color, perfect contrast, not a scratch or a spot anywhere, and in the original 16:9 aspect ratio. I can now see that this may be the most beautifully photographed movie I've ever seen. It's a low-budget movie, but it sure doesn't look like it. (I know I'm using the word "beautiful" an awful lot, but believe me, that's because it's the right word.)
The sound is as clear as a bell now, so I can understand every word even without subtitles, and I hadn't even noticed the music before because I couldn't really hear it, much less the many wonderful scenes when the "music" is just the background sound. That's all been fixed perfectly in this DVD.
But that's not all. Not only has this long-overlooked treasure of a movie been perfectly restored and preserved on DVD, but a very generous collection of newly recorded additional material has been added, and none of it is the cheesy promotional junk studios usually cram onto DVDs (there's not a single trailer or celebrity-hype "making of" feature).
There is an excellent audio commentary track by the director Fred Schepisi, plus two long video interviews with him and others involved in making the movie (and not one of them looks like George Clooney, thank God.) All of it is intelligent, informative and very interesting. To be honest, I'd never heard of Fred Schepisi before this, and I've never seen any of his later and more successful movies, but I'm a fan now.
I cannot recommend the older DVD version of this movie, still available through Amazon sellers, with a salacious and completely misleading cover photo of a priest leering at a cowering naked boy. Amazon describes that DVD as 1.33:1 [4:3] aspect ratio, so it may well be the same as the awful VHS. But I would recommend this new DVD enthusiastically to anybody with the slightest interest in this movie, or in intelligent, beautiful movies of any kind.
Just in case Amazon at some point combines reviews of the two DVD versions into one, I'm going to belabor the point: the version worth having is copyright 2008 and distributed by Industrial Entertainment, its ASIN is B001EAWMPG, and the UPC on my copy is 858334001381. The cover photo has a large profile of a boy, with an apparently naked adult man sitting in the background (the photos are from two completely separate scenes, by the way). I advise you to get it while you can.