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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

Orphan [Blu-ray]

 

(Jaume Collet-Serra, 2009)

 

 

 

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Dark Castle & Appian Way

Blu-ray: Warner Home Video

 

Disc:

Region: FREE! (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 2:02:55.993

Disc Size: 25,904,639,605 bytes

Feature Size: 23,565,361,152 bytes

Video Bitrate: 19.43 Mbps

Chapters: 31

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: October 27, 2009

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Video codec: VC-1 1080p / 23.976 fps

 

Bitrate:

 

 

Audio:

Dolby TrueHD Audio English 1435 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1435 kbps / 16-bit (AC3 Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps)
Dolby Digital Audio French 640 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps
Dolby Digital Audio Portuguese 640 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps
Dolby Digital Audio Spanish 640 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps

 

Subtitles:

English SDH, Spanish, Portuguese, French and none

 

Extras:

• Mama's Little Devils: Bad Seeds & Evil Children – in HD (15 min.)

• Deleted Scenes – in SD (4 min.)

• Alternate Ending

• Digital Copy Disc

• BD-Live 2.0

 

 

The Film:

It would be a big mistake to lead with your most intense scene in almost any genre of film, and so it was with some trepidation that I followed the events that unfolded after the opening nightmare – a grisly and grisly sight not meant for the faint of heart - or pregnant women. As it happens, Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra (the 2005 House of Wax) has merely set us up for the horrific nightmare that takes up most of the next two hours.

I don't quite know why people refer to Orphan as having a "twist ending." A twist, as I see it, is a plot turn that is unexpected and upends expectations. But in this case, from the moment we see Esther painting at the orphanage or, if not then, certainly when playing Tchaikovsky on the piano with a remarkable facility, we have to be unconscious not to be asking how she can do that. From then on, Esther manifests other behaviors and insights that beg the same question. So when we finally learn the answer (one that should not really surprise and one of the few that makes the slightest bit of sense), we should be gratified that Orphan has at least some of its wits about it.

A gifted cast heads this roller coaster of a horrorshow in slow motion. First there's Vera Farmiga, I thought misplaced in Scorsese's The Departed, is painfully believable as Kate, the mother of two, tormented with a houseful of guilt because of a recent miscarriage and her fragile recovery from alcohol abuse. Her husband, John, is played by Peter Sarsgaard (always the competent supporting actor) is so transparently condescending to his wife that we suspect he is setting things up to leave her. And then there are the children: 13 year old veteran actor Jimmy Bennett (scarcely recognizable as the same kid who played the brash young James T. Kirk in the new Star Trek movie) is Dennis, at first nasty to his new adopted sister, but soon to pay for his mistake; and Aryana Engineer, the youngest actor in this melodrama, hearing impaired since birth, plays Max, who sees all, feels everything and understands even more.

Which leads us to the title character in this bizarre little tale: Esther, a nine-ish orphan who charms and insinuates her way into way into this unsuspecting family, but who has designs that would embarrass even Edgar Allan. Esther is played by a relatively unknown chameleon from Washington D.C. (how appropriate!) named Isabelle Fuhrman, who brings to this "bad seed" a gender-role bending slant undreamed of by Rhonda Penmark. Esther is the character who grabs our attention, and Ms. Fuhrman gives an awesome performance, matching Farmiga at every step, keeping her public face cool and collected, while mom disintegrates in the face of such an unexpected force. The duel between them, set up by dad's attentions to Esther from the outset, is skin crawling stuff. Still, I have to tip my hat to little Miss Aryana, whose completely natural performance, if a performance is what it is, keeps this movie grounded – and makes all that happens that much scarier.
 


 

Image: 9/9   NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were ripped directly from the Blu-ray disc.
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

From the outset, Orphan is a densely constructed image with little if any trace of distressing artifacts, enhancements or DNR. In some scenes a modest grain is evident, and in the darkest moments, the faintest whisper of noise. But generally the image is excellent, filling 23.5 GB of its single layered disc, saturated and muted by turns, with excellent detail, fine control of contrast and natural skin tones consistent with the lighting.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 8/7
Unlike many horror movies, the sound effects are not pumped up – neither bass nor treble is given that extra punch that usually comes with this territory. Instead, the audio is naturally set, often relatively quiet – until the final confrontation between mother and child. Whether the sound of screeching tires, the crackle of fire, the whack of a paintball or the crunch of snow, the audio mix is given its due, but no more. My one problem was the final duel where knife attacks arrived with such force in the audio mix that surely someone would be dead twice over – and we can hardly tell who is doing what to whom. I'm sure this is the intention, but it didn't work for me.
 

Operations: 7
The disc loads quickly enough, as is typical of Warner Blu-rays, and the menu design, bland but easy to use, with chapter thumbnails that easily identifies the point you want to enter the film.
 

Extras: 2
The deleted scenes are not worth the trouble – probably that's why they were deleted, if they even got that far. The featurette, "Mama's Little Devils" should have remained with the subject: a history of bad seed kids on film. It does that for a brief stretch and then devolves into a kind of making of Orphan with more clips form the feature than it had any cause to use.
 

Bottom line: 7
Likely to become one of my personal guilty pleasures, Orphan certainly stretches believability to the breaking point, but the movie got under my skin all the same, not because I thought there was any cautionary message about crazy children, or that husbands should pay more attention to their wives, or that therapists don't know a nut job from a bag of elbows. It's trash, to be sure, and takes us places we might be better off not exploring, but Collet-Serra found my nerve all right, and Warner's high-def transfer did a bloody good job of it.

Leonard Norwitz
November 7th, 2009

 

 

 

 


 

About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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