The Killing Fields is a romanticized adaptation of an eyewitness magazine story by New York Times correspondent Sidney Schanberg. Covering the U.S. pullout from Vietnam in 1975, Schanberg (Sam Waterston) relies on his Cambodian friend and translator Dith Pran (Haing S. Ngor) for inside information. Schanberg has an opportunity to rescue Dith Pran when the U.S. army evacuates all Cambodian citizens; instead, the reporter coerces his friend to remain behind to continue sending him news flashes. Although his family is helicoptered out of Saigon (a recreation of the famous TV news clip), Dith Pran stays with Schanberg on the ground. Racked with guilt, Schanberg does his best to arrange for Dith Pran's escape, but the Cambodian is captured by the dreaded Khmer Rouge. Accepting his Pulitzer Prize on behalf of Dith Pran, Schanberg vows to do right by his friend and extricate him from Cambodia. The rest of the film details Dith Pran's harrowing experiences at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, and his attempt to escape on his own. The Killing Fields won Academy Awards for Hang S. Ngor (a Cambodian doctor who lived through many of the horrific events depicted herein), cinematographer Chris Menges, and editor Jim Clark; an Oscar nomination went to Roland Joffe, who made his directorial debut with this film. Spalding Gray, who played a small role in the film, later elaborated on this experiences in his one-man stage presentation Swimming to Cambodia.~Hal Erickson
Feature-length audio commentary by director Roland Joffé
A well made film about a great tragedy inflicted on the Cambodian people , a sad story but true and one which still resonates. For those old enough to remember this it is a painful reminder - not unlike the holocaust or the "long march." An ironic sadness is that Hang Noor was gunned down in L.A. by a Chinese gang less than a dozen years after this film was made.
I can remember seeing the Killing Fields in theaters in high school and it made a lasting impression on me. The soundtrack is exceptional and the acting is first-rate. The movie is a moving portrait of an enduring friendship and bond between two men despite the scourge of war looming as the back-drop.
I highly recommend this true story to anyone seeking a greater knowledge of the aftermath of the Vietnam War in the volatile region in and around Cambodia.
Based on actual events and experiences of those who survived the Khmer Rouge’s house of horrors, Roland Joffé’s The Killing Fields continues to be a visceral and haunting tale. As it was in 1984, much of the film’s emotional impact rests on the shoulders of first-time actor Ngor, who depicts Pran simply, but bravely, as he draws on his own nightmarish fight to survive the Khmer Rouge regime.
Viewers should be delighted by the healthy grain levels, solid blacks, and uncompromised contrast. Color is also deep and nicely saturated, looking particularly exceptional during the iconic sunset shot and various views of the jungle. Detail also holds up nicely, resolving fine patterns in skin and fabrics in close ups and maintaining overall definition in wide shots.
The soundstage is also impressively wide for a two-channel track, most notable during an early scene involving military helicopters as well with various combat sequences.
Warner Home Video turns in a faithful and pleasing presentation for the harrowing tale of The Killing Fields, starring Sam Waterston and the late Haing Ngor. The special features are a bit meager, but the strength of the feature and Ngor’s performance in particular make the title one worthy of collection.