Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Cider House Rules Blu-ray Review

A powerful and emotional film based on John Irving’s best-selling American classic, The Cider House Rules tells the story of Homer Wells (Maguire), an orphan who is eager to leave the confines of St. Cloud’s Orphanage to explore the world. A favorite of the orphanage director, Homer has been groomed to be successor to Dr. Larch (Caine), a doctor who provides safe, albeit illegal abortions.  After meeting Wally (Paul Rudd) and Candy (Theron), the doctor performs the procedure on the pregnant Candy, and Homer leaves with them to work on Wally’s apple farm.  Drawn in by her beauty, Homer falls in love with Candy, and learns powerful lessons about love, life and home.  Starring Golden Globe nominee Tobey Maguire (Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama, Brothers 2010) and Oscar winner Charlize Theron (Best Actress in a Leading Role, Monster, 2003), the film also features Oscar winner Michael Caine in the role that won him his second statuette. The Miramax film was directed by three-time Oscar nominee Lasse Hallström.

Film (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

Dr. Wilbur Larch (Michael Caine) runs an orphanage in a remote part of New England that accepts unwanted children and he also performs illegal abortions when needed.  Out of the many children that arrive at the orphanage, one of the boys named Homer Wells catches his eye after the two attempts to place him with adoptive parents end in failure.  Despite his general policy of being kind to the children but keeping them at an emotional distance to make it easier for them to transition to new parents, Wilbur ends up loving Homer and raises him like a son.  As Homer (Tobey Maguire) grows older, he assists Wilbur with his medical procedures and has learned pretty much everything that Wilbur can teach him.  The only lessons Homer is missing is actual life lessons since he’s never been outside of the orphanage’s walls.
When a young couple named Wally (Paul Rudd) and Candy (Charlize Theron) arrive to seek Wilbur’s help to abort their child, Homer is very interested in them and the life that they represent.  While Homer disapproves of Wilbur doing abortions, he is fascinated by the two young people and their freedom and helps them through the process.  When they leave the orphanage, he impulsively asks if he can leave with them.  Homer doesn’t even care where they are going since all he cares about is the opportunity to leave his inherited responsibilities and cares behind him to see the world.  Wilbur is very against it and tells him that life outside of the orphanage is a lot rougher than it is there and that Homer will regret it.
Wally gets Homer a job picking apples at his family farm and then gets sent off to war.  Soon enough, the attraction between Homer and Candy draws them together and they begin an illicit affair that everyone is aware of.  Homer’s fellow apple pickers are migrant workers who travel from farm to farm to make a living.  The crew leader is Mr. Rose (Delroy Lindo) who has a daughter named Rose Rose (Erykah Badu) and several others who travel together on an old truck.  Mr. Rose is very friendly to Homer and generously trains him on what to do, but before long Homer and Candy discover a dark secret that he’s been hiding…Mr. Rose has impregnated his own daughter Rose.
Immediately offering to help, Homer instinctively goes into doctor mode and tells Rose about the orphanage where she can get an abortion despite being morally against it.  Rose refuses to go since she doesn’t believe her father will ever let her go anywhere.  Homer is forced to make a moral choice between helping Rose out of a terrible situation by going against his personal beliefs or refusing to help her and letting her have her father’s child.  Homer also has to deal with the news that Wally’s plane was shot down and was subsequently paralyzed from the waist down.  Candy has to choose between Homer and Wally and she loves both of them but keeps telling Homer to wait and see since she doesn’t want to make the decision herself.  Back at the orphanage, Wilbur is unwittingly pushing Homer on the path Wilbur always wanted for him by his addiction to ether.  By the end of the movie, all of these threads will entangle and Homer will have to make a lot of tough choices.
Despite being a very slow moving film, it was well acted and beautiful to look at.  The novel’s writer John Irving had to change the story quite a bit to make it work for a film’s length stating that he made this decision because he would rather have omitted subplots and characters than write an adaptation that could not really do justice to them.  Michael Caine does some amazing work here and it’s no surprise that he won an Oscar for it but the rest of the cast is equally good.  Future Spiderman star Tobey Maguire offers another great period performance that many modern actors can’t do.  The same could be said for Paul Rudd is always good in anything he does.  Charlize Theron gives a nice performance as the conflicted Candy whose choices we may not agree with but who can still generates some sympathy.  Another character that doesn’t deserve any sympathy is Mr. Rose, but Delroy Lindo is such a fine actor that he almost pulls it off anyway.  While I think the movie could have been edited more to keep the pace moving, it was still a good film even if it all of the events don’t seem to add up to much in the long run.

Video (4 out of 5 stars) 

This 1080p (2.35:1) transfer is lovely to see with nicely rendered detail and New England colors.  We get to see the changing seasons from the snowy winter to the warmth of the summer in this gorgeous transfer.  Colors look extremely good and accurate with a nice level of grain that keeps the picture looking warm and cinematic.  Flesh tones look natural and accurate and there’s also some excellent contrast.  Black levels are suitably inky and not washed out in the slightest.  There is some slight edge enhancement present but other than that, this is a fantastic transfer.

Audio (4 out of 5 stars) 

The Cider House Rules offers a lossless DTS-HS Master Audio 5.0 mix that suits the film.  With a focus on dialogue (which makes sense for such a dialogue heavy film), it’s all clear and intelligible and comes across great from the front speakers.  Rear activity gets some action but it’s more subtle than anything.  Composer Rachel Portman’s score sounds great and is well balanced with the rest of the film.  All in all this is a good mix even if it doesn’t knock your socks off, it does the job nicely.

Special Features (3 out of 5 stars) 

There isn’t a whole lot to the extras especially since it was nominated for seven Oscars and won two, but it’s better than nothing but unfortunately they are in standard definition.
  • Audio Commentary with Director Lasse Hallström, Screenwriter John Irving and Producer Richard N. Gladstein - This was an interesting track to listen to since you hear about all of the work it took to get it to the big screen.  Multiple drafts were done before Irving took over the script himself.  We also hear their thoughts about the actors, how the movie is different from the book, and the choices they made in the translation to the screen.
  • The Cider House Rules: The Making of an American Classic – A talk with the cast and the director and writer about making the movie and how it changed from the novel to the movie.  For some reason, Stephen King joins in and talks about how it was good that Irving cut his own material instead of having others do it instead.
  • Deleted Scenes – Some deleted scenes that weren’t anything special and wouldn’t really have changed much.
  • Theatrical Trailer

Summary (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

This is a fine movie but a slow one that doesn’t really amount to much when you think about it.  Everything kind of seems pre-destined so that takes a lot of the drama and interest that the movie could have used otherwise.  The movie does offer some very good performances from Caine, Maguire, Rudd, and Theron and they make it worth seeing.  This Blu-ray looks great so if you are fan of the movie, I recommend picking this one up!
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