Friday, March 23, 2012

The Descendants Blu-ray Review

From director Alexander Payne creator of the Oscar winning Sideways comes one of the Best Pictures of the year, The Descendants, featuring a stunning cast including Best Actor nominee George Clooney (Ides of March) and Shailene Woodley (The Secret Life of the American Teenager) in her Golden Globe nominated and Independent Spirit Award winning role.  Based on the best-selling novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings and set in Hawaii, The Descendants is a sometimes humorous, sometimes tragic journey for Matt King (George Clooney) an indifferent husband and father of two girls, who is forced to re-examine his past and embrace his future when his wife suffers a boating accident off of Waikiki.  The event leads to a rapprochement with his young daughters while Matt wrestles with a decision to sell the family’s land handed down from Hawaiian royalty and missionaries.  Nominated for five Academy Awards and winner for Best Adapted Screenplay, The Descendants is a must-have on Blu-ray and DVD.  

Film (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)

Matt King (George Clooney) seems to have it all - he's rich, and is a successful lawyer, and if that wasn't enough, he also lives in Hawaii. Not that any of that makes a difference to him because he doesn't view Hawaii as the paradise everyone else thinks it is.  Matt knows that his marriage isn't working, his kids are troubled and act out in different ways, and he's also the trustee of a family trust that controls 25,000 acres of undeveloped land that's worth a fortune.  The trust is about to expire in seven years and his family is pushing him to sell to a local businessman named Dan Holitzer.

Everything changes when Matt's wife Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie) is left comatose after a boating accident and Matt suddenly has to be the one to do everything and to have all of the answers.  Even Matt knows his limitations as he refers to himself as the "backup parent."  His ten year old daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) keeps getting in trouble for her inappropriate language to other children.  His older daughter Alex (Shailene Woodley) spends her free time getting wasted on alcohol and drugs.  When Matt finds out that Elizabeth will never wake up from her coma and will be removed from life support per her living will, he knows that he has to get his family back on track.  

He collects his daughters and brings them to see their mother but when he presses Alex on why she fought with her mother before the accident, he learns that Elizabeth had been cheating on him.  In shock, Matt confronts their shared friends to learn that they also knew about the affair and it shakes him to his core.  Matt knew that their relationship had problems, but he never expected that Elizabeth would cheat on him or  leave him, which he he later learns that she had been planning.  Matt learns that the man that Elizabeth was seeing is a real estate agent named Brian Speer (Matthew Lillard) and he's determined to learn everything about the man to discover what Elizabeth saw in him over himself.

That journey ends up a family trip as Matt's daughters join the investigation along with Alex's stoner friend Sid (Nick Krause).  They travel to Kaua'i to where Brian is supposed to be and Matt actually finds him during a morning jog and he follows Brian back to a rented cottage that happens to be owned by Matt's cousin Hugh (Beau Bridges).  Armed with new information, Matt goes to talk to Hugh and he learns that not only was Brian having an affair with his wife, but he is also due to make a fortune off of the family land that's about to be sold by the trust.  That's the final straw for Matt as Brian already took his wife and the idea of him making a fortune off of the sale of his heritage is just too much to bear so he goes to talk to Brian.  What Matt discovers, and how he handles that shows how very different Brian and him are and Matt walks away the bigger man.

As furious as he is about his wife's infidelity, Matt has come to recognize his own failures that may have played a part in her leaving.  He has a hard lesson to learn since now  he has accepted his situation and future after much angst and anger, he now has to forgive and say goodbye to someone who is essentially there but not there at the same time.  He will also need to deal with his in-laws and their issues including Elizabeth's overly protective father Scott (Robert Forster) and his cousins to decide what he will do with the family land.  Whatever Matt decides, this torturous experience has made him become a better man and father which is the best you can ask for when faced with adversity like this.

The Descendants is a very human and relatable movie as pretty much everyone has dealt with death and the loss of something important to them whether it's a friend, a job, a spouse, or even a divorce.  Like life itself, this movie is a mix of both heartbreaking drama inter-cut with love and humor too.  This is primarily a drama and a rather sad one at that, but it also has moments of humor to ease the pain.  George Clooney gives one of his best performances here (and was nominated for an Academy Award for it) because he makes Matt feel real no matter what's happening.  Clooney has to run the gamut of emotions for this movie as his character's life is an emotional rollercoaster with everything going on but Clooney sells it completely.  It's a subtle and character driven performance that's anchors the film.  The rest of the cast is also good in their various roles and it was nice to see Beau Bridges and Robert Forster in small but essential roles. This movie is a nice snapshot of life with all of its ups and downs and it reminds us that how we face those challenges is what makes us who we are and how those choices can determine our future happiness.

Video (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)

This 1080p (2.40:1) transfer looks amazing with its beautiful colors and attention to detail that shines in high definition.  The colors look fantastic and pop off the screen and Hawaii's greenery is captured well.  Detail is also excellent and you can see every whisker in Clooney's scruffy unshaven face as well as every texture in the outfits. Flesh tones look natural, tanned, and consistent throughout the movie and make you wish that you could enjoy the warm weather there too.  Black levels are nice and dark and contrast is also excellent and not overdone. The movie was filmed on 35mm film and it does have grain present which gives it a cinematic look and feel but not at the expense of the picture quality which wasn't subjected to any overuse of DNR.  

Audio (4 out of 5 stars)

The Descendant's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is a strong one but it doesn't quite live up to the standard set by it's picture quality.  As the movie is primarily a dialogue driven movie, this mix really doesn't need to do a whole lot but it never reaches the level of immersiveness that I would have liked.  Dialogue is clear and intelligible as delivered by the front channels, but the rear speakers don't really engage as much as they should have.  There are some atmospheric effects heard but they are far too subtle for my liking.  The Hawaiian music that runs through the movie sounds good and doesn't overwhelm the dialogue.  I didn't hear any kind of defects such as hissing or scratches as this is a very clean mix but it could have been stronger. 

Extras (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

There's some decent extras here but for some reason no commentary tracks which would have been nice to hear.  All of the extras are in high definition.
  • Deleted Scenes with Director Introductions - There's two deleted scenes that are presented along with a text reason on why they were cut.
  • Everybody Loves George - A short featurette to tell us what we already know - everyone loves George Clooney! 
  • Working with Alexander - Director Alexander Payne also gets his praise from his cast who seem to be happy working for him.
  • The Real Descendants - A talk with John Morgan who is the president of the Kualoa Ranch who talks about the real family that owns the large tract of Hawaiian land.
  • Hawaiian Style - The cast and crew talk about filming in Hawaii and its customs.
  • Casting - Alexander Payne talks about how he cast the movie and how many people he went through to get the cast he wanted.
  • Working with Water - 1A look at the difficult of working on the water and the steps they took to pull it off.
  • Music Videos - A look at three music videos: "Will I Ever See You Again," "Postcards from Paradise," and "Honolulu's Whisper."
  • Waiting for the Light - A very short behind the scenes look at the cast and crew preparing to film.
  • The World Parade - Hawaii - A nice look back into Hawaii's past.
  • A Conversation with George Clooney and Alexander Payne - At almost twelve minutes long, this was my favorite extra because you get to hear from the two main people and since there's no commentary, this is the best you will get.  The conversation isn't limited to this movie as both men talk about past work too.
  • Theatrical Trailer 

Summary (4 out of 5 stars)

It's never fun to see bad things happen to good people, but it's nice sometimes to see a family pull together and get past unforeseen hardships.  The cast is excellent and it's easy to see why the movie received five Academy Award nominations and won the Best Adapted Screenplay award.  If you haven't seen the film, you should check it out which is even more enticing by this well put together Blu-ray that offers excellent picture and audio quality along with some nice extras. 

Order your copy today! 

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