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A view from the Blu (-ray) on DVDBeaver by Leonard Norwitz

 

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Smart People [Blu-ray]

 

(Noam Murro, 2008)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Miramax Films & Groundswell Productions

Blu-ray: Buena Vista Home Entertainment

 

Disc:

Region: A

Runtime: 94 min

Chapters: 16

Size: 50 GB

Case: Locking Amaray Blu-ray case

Release date: August 12, 2008

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 2.40:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: AVC

 

Audio:

English 5.1 Uncompressed (48 kHz/24-bit); English DD 5.1 Surround

 

Subtitles:

English SDH, French, Spanish

 

Extras:

• Feature Commentary by Director Noam Murro and Writer Jude Poirier

• Featurette: The Smartest People: Interviews with Filmmakers & Cast (16:34)

• Not So Smart: Bloopers/Outakes (2:02)

• Deleted Scenes (9:51)

• Theatrical Trailers

• Free Movie Ticket for

 

 

The Film: 6
A movie with a title like Smart People has the potential of leading to some pretty nasty barbs from critics who either didn't like it or didn't understand it. After all, not a great deal happens for most of its 95 minutes. While there's plenty of room for improvement for the five main characters, they don't undergo transformations of galactic proportions.

Dennis Quaid, deliberately grossified behind a stooping posture and a difficult beard, plays Lawrence Wetherhold, a professor of English at Carnegie Mellon, specializing in Victorian Literature. He is miserable, unpleasant, and narcissistic. It's not just that his wife died some years earlier, leaving him a single dad to difficult (read: smart) children, but there's something about him that suggests more profound personality issues. His son, James (Ashton Holmes) finds his father's manner oppressive, and spends as much time as possible in his dorm room rather than at the family dinner table.

Front and nearly center is Wetherhold's daughter, Vanessa, played by Ellen Page channeling her characterization as Juno through the filter of Young Republican fascism. Perhaps Juno was already well on her way, for it doesn't appear to be much of a reach for Ms. Page. On the fringes, and in his way, smarter and saner than the rest of the family, is Lawrence's adopted, adoptive brother, Chuck, who is more or less a 21st century hippy. Slacker Chuck is played by Thomas Hayden Church, who pretty much steals every scene he's in, probably because he's the only one on the family that is alive.

Enter Janet, i.e., Dr, Janet Hartigan, whom Lawrence meets in the ER at the wrong end of a hypodermic. Janet, for her part, hasn't been all that successful in the dating game either. Vanessa and Chuck are encouraging and demeaning by turns of a potential relationship between the professor and the doctor, with Vanessa behaving like the brat she is – or that she has learned to be at the feet of her father.

Obviously the title is meant to be ironic, as everyone speaks in phrases that are designed to show how smart they are – sort of like how Aaron Sorkin presented the White House staff on The West Wing where everyone speaks in a kind of shorthand that clearly identifies their credentials. The difference between the two scripts is that I actually gave a damn about what happened to the characters on The West Wing, but as for these morose, cynical, and very smart folks, I really couldn't work up much of a sweat (except maybe for Chuck).

Image: 6/7
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray DVDs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVDs, including SD 480i.

These are not people whose lives are in sharp focus, whether they see themselves that way or not. Tobey Irwin's photography supports this view with a soft image, sluggish shutter speeds and often a shallow depth of field. The result is not what we think of as a HD demo disc, though it doubtless reflects the intent of the filmmakers. Strong blacks, a tendency to reddish-brown flesh tones, shadow information lacking, contrast remains high. It's not a particularly engaging image.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 6/7
A movie about smart people, people who allude to all sorts of literary trivia in a perpetual oneupsmanship had best have the benefit of a clear dialogue track, or else the whole thing turns to mush. Well, I guess it's enough that I didn't have to engage the subtitle track to make out what was being said, which probably indicates that I've read a book or two in my time or simply that the front-loaded uncompressed audio mix saved the day. (It really is clearer, with much less muddy bass for the music track than the 5.1 DD also provided.) Former Extreme guitarist Nuno Bettencourt wrote and plays a series of not particularly original, yet somehow endearing affectations that lends further support to all this.

Operations: 8
Walt Disney Studios Blu-ray discs tend to have more previews and promos than most. Not so here: This one has only five before we get to the Main Menu. I rather liked the graphics for the menu as long as I didn't think of them as relating much to thwe tone of the movie. Exceedingly easy to understand functionality, and, as in some other recent Blu-rays the length of the various segments along with a brief description was easily included and readable.

 

Extras: 7
I don't really see this film as requiring more than it received in the way of bonus features. There's a pleasant, if not a touch too self-effacing, running commentary by the writer and director, and a sixteen minute featurette where director Murro, writer Poirier and the rest of the cast discuss the creation what they see as an "authentic" campus film and the choice of Carnegie Mellon. This segment also delves deeper into the workings (or non-) of this idiosyncratic family. There's about ten minutes worth of scenes that didn't make the final cut, and a very brief segment titled "not so smart" showing that even smart people make misteaks. As an extra extra bonus, there's a free ticket for the new movie "Blindness" – good until Halloween, 2008. One of the trailers featured on this blu-ray just happens to be for Blindness. Clever, huh!

 

 

Bottom line: 6
There are more than traces of intelligence and wit in this film. And though I found the characters familiar, I felt their outlines forced. I imagine the Blu-ray transfer represents what's on the master print, though it's remarkably unremarkable. I suggest a rental, first.

Leonard Norwitz
August 14, 2008

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





 

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