Tuesday, October 25, 2011

O Brother, Where Art Thou? Blu-ray Review

Fed up with crushing rocks on a prison farm in Mississippi, the dapper, silver-tongued Ulysses Everett McGill (Clooney) busts loose…except that he’s still shackled to two misfits from his chain gang: bad tempered Pete (Turturro) and sweet, dimwitted Delmar (Tim Blake Nelsen).  With nothing to lose and buried loot to regain, the three embark on a riotous odyssey filled with chases, close calls, near misses and betrayal.  Experience every unpredictable moment as it plays out in the crystal-clear sound and breathtaking picture quality of Blu-ray.  Populated with strange characters, including a blind prophet, sexy sirens and a one-eyed Bible salesman (John Goodman), O Brother, Where Art Thou is a very original and funny movie that you’ve got to see!

Film (5 out of 5 stars)

The Coen brothers have described this movie as The Three Stooges meet Ma and Pa Kettle and also as the Lawrence of Arabia of hayseed movies.  Any way you look at it, this retelling of Homer’s Odyssey, is a very original and very funny movie that is filled with some fantastic actors and one of my favorite George Clooney performances that he’s done.  Coen brother regulars John Turturro and John Goodman also return to have some fun.  This is the least violent movie that Coens have done but it still contains the trademark humor that worked to great effect in The Big Lebowski.  If anything, this is the silliest movie they’ve done and I don’t mean that in a disparaging way at all.  It is simply as fun to watch as it probably was to make it.

George Clooney is Ulysses Everett McGill, a convict that spends a good portion of his day worrying about his hair.  He is a supporter of the Dapper Dan hair pomade and hairnets.  Ulysses is chained to the ill-tempered Pete (John Turturro) and the not too bright Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson) and they work to pound rocks with hammers as part of a chain gang.  Ulysses convinces Pete and Delmar to make a run for it so they can recover some stolen money that Ulysses says he buried.

Their initial attempt to escape involves jumping on a moving train which is hilarious due to the three of them being chained together.  In one of  funniest parts of the film, when one goes they all go which kills me every time I see it.  The three men eventually make it to Pet’s cousin’s farm but the law soon catches up with them as Pete’s cousin turns them in for the reward money.  They are saved by Pete’s nephew and they are soon back on the run where they navigate through modern day sirens, a bible salesman who looks like a cyclops, the Ku Klux Klan,  a boy who sold his sold to the devil, and the law which is never too far behind them as they are following the scent of Ulysses’ Dapper Dan hair gel.

I really wish that the Coen brothers would make more films like this one as they have a deft touch for comedy.  They are helped quite a bit by this amazing cast that were perfect for their roles.  At this point, not a lot of people could have imagined George Clooney for this type of role, but I can’t imagine anyone else doing it as well as he did.  I honestly think he should have earned an Oscar nomination for it since he’s so good as the fast talking man with the gift of gab who is both smart and dumb all at the same time.  John Turturro does another memorable role for the Coens complete with some fake teeth and a bad attitude that’s very funny to see.  Tim Blake Nelson is so good as the dimwitted Delmar that the role probably still haunts him today.  The film’s supporting cast is just as good with Charles Durning as a desperate politician, Holly Hunter as Ulysses’ long suffering wife, and the great John Goodman is  very funny as a slick bible salesman.  This is an extremely fun movie filled with great music by T-Bone Burnett and I highly recommend it if you’ve never seen it!

Video (5 out of 5 stars)

This 1080p (2.35:1) transfer looks amazingly detailed and surpasses the video quality of my previous DVD release by quite a bit.  The picture is sharp enough that you can see the individual hairs in Clooney’s mustache and the texture from their prison uniforms.  Some people might complain that the picture looks washed out but I disagree since the Coens were deliberately going for a specific sepia tinted depression-era look.  As cinematographer Roger Deakins said, “Ethan and Joel favored a dry, dusty Delta look with golden sunsets. They wanted it to look like an old hand-tinted picture, with the intensity of colors dictated by the scene and natural skin tones that were all shades of the rainbow.”  In fact, the film opens and ends in black and white with the rest of the movie in color.  Black levels are superb, with a rich darkness that looks fantastic.  Flesh tones look realistic and remain even throughout the movie.  This is an impressive transfer that makes upgrading to Blu-ray a compelling choice.

Audio (4 1/2 out 5 stars)

The film’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is also very good which is important since music plays such a large role in the film.  The songs supplied by T-Bone Burnett play throughout most of the movie’s running time and they all sound great.  The soundtrack for this movie was a massive hit as it was certified eight times platinum and won two Grammy Awards for Album of the Year and Best Country Collaboration with Vocals.  The biggest hit was the song, “A Man of Constant Sorrow” which plays an integral part in the movie with the vocals being done supplied by Dan Tyminski.  The dialogue is clear and while this is a front channel centric mix, there are some instances like the mass baptism scene that uses the rest of the channels which makes it more immersive.

Special Features (2 out of 5 stars)

I would have liked more special features because this is pretty disappointing as these are short and lacking in depth extras.  What makes it even worse is that they are all in standard definition.
  • Exclusive Behind The Scenes Featurette – A Traditional EPK featurette that includes comments from the cast and crew which is better than nothing but I would have liked to have a more in depth look at the making of the film.
  • Two Storyboard to Scene Comparison – An option to see two sequences which are “The Flood” and “The Klan” which allows you to compare the finished product with the original storyboards.
  • “I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow” Music Video – A music video for the hit song featuring footage from the movie.
  • Theatrical Trailer

Final Thoughts (4 out of 5 stars)

If you are looking for a fun movie filled with great music and an original premise, this is the movie for you.  The movie sports an amazing cast and toe tapping songs from T-Bone Burnett and it’s never looked or sounded better than this Blu-ray release.  If you have the DVD already, the upgrade in both the video and audio quality makes it well worth getting the Blu-ray even though it’s just a shame that the final score was lowered because of the weak extras.  This is highly recommended!

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