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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Into the Abyss

April 23rd, 2012

Into the Abyss - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

Werner Herzog is a filmmaker that can handle documentaries and narrative films with equal skill. (That's not to mention the occasional acting role.) While he's only earned one Oscar nomination, his documentaries are always near the best the year has to offer. Does his latest film, Into the Abyss, maintain his career average? Should it have been nominated, or at the very least put on the shortlist? And is the DVD / Blu-ray worth picking up?

The Movie

Into the Abyss deals with death row, specifically one death row inmate, Michael Perry, who was convicted of killing a 50-year old nurse, Sandra Stotler, and later her son, Adam Stotler, and his friend, Jeremy Richardson, in 2001 when he and his co-defendant, Jason Burkett, were just teenagers. After a short prologue with the chaplain, who administers the last rights, we learn about the crime, from interviews with one of the police investigators, Damon Hall, while we also see plenty of actual police photos, videos, and from affidavits from witnesses. Werner Herzog also interviews a huge number of people associated with the crime, including both defendants, members the victims' family, several other people associated with both the victims and the perpetrators, witnesses, and even those who are part of the actual execution process.

This film gives a compelling look at the case, but one that is rather depressing. As they point out in the film, three people died so that Michael Perry and Jason Burkett could steal a red Camaro, which they had for just 72 hours. There's something ultimately sad about two people who would do this, but we also get a look at the world they grew up in, which includes poverty, illiteracy and casual violence. We hear from a number of people who were touched by violence, including an acquaintance of the two convicted murderers, who was shot at by Michael Perry and only by sheer luck did the gun not go off. He explains the events as if they are just a normal part of growing up where he lives. The bartender where Michael and Jason were bragging about their new car says that there have been so many close calls that she no longer thinks about them. Obviously this doesn't excuse what these two people did, but it certainly puts it into context. If you grow up where this violence is normal, it's only a matter of time before you become a victim or a killer.

Werner Herzog makes a powerful case that while as pointless as these three murders were, there is something wrong with the world they grew up in, and a state sponsored execution won't make the victim's death's any less pointless. It's not a passionate condemnation of capital punishment, more of a somber question, "Why?"

The Extras

There are no real extras on the DVD or the Blu-ray, just the trailer. This is a shame, as I wanted to hear more about the movie from Werner Herzog, including how he got interested in the subject in general and this case in particular. The video and audio quality is good, but like most documentaries, it is not great. The interviews shot for this movie are sharp and have excellent detail levels and colors, but archival footage is obviously much weaker. The audio is clear, but very uncomplicated. Finally, we get to the price. The Blu-ray's list price is just 20% more than the DVD's list price, but the DVD has a much deeper discount on Because of this, the Blu-ray costs 60% more than the DVD does on that site. That is too much to ask for this type of release.

The Verdict

Into the Abyss is an excellent movie and deserves to be seen by more. Unfortunately, the DVD and Blu-ray have no extras, which limits its value. It's worth checking out if you are a fan of documentaries in general and worth picking up if you are interested in the capital punishment question or a fan of Werner Herzog's previous work.

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Filed under: Video Review, Into the Abyss