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

Cocoon [Blu-ray]

 

(Ron Howard, 1985)

 

 

 

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Zanuck/Brown

Blu-ray: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

 

Disc:

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

Runtime: 1:57:10.064

Disc Size: 23,912,795,557 bytes

Feature Size: 22,265,493,504 bytes

Video Bitrate: 18.840 Mbps

Chapters: 16

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: April 6th, 2010

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

 

Audio:

DTS-HD Master Audio English 3331 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 3331 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)
Dolby Digital Audio English 224 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 224 kbps
Dolby Digital Audio French 224 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 224 kbps
Dolby Digital Audio Spanish 224 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 224 kbps

 

Subtitles:

English (SDH), French, Spanish, none

 

Extras:

• Audio Commentary with Director Ron Howard

• Behind the Scenes – in SD (6:55)

• Ron Howard Profile – in SD (2:30)

• Underwater Training – in SD (3:30)

• Actors – in SD (2:50)

• Creating Antareans – in SD (3:55)

• TV Spots

• Trailers

 

 

The Film: 7
I have never been able to forgive Henry Koster for substituting an ice skating ringer for Cary Grant in The Bishop's Wife. In another warmhearted, but less wonderful movie, I feel the same about Ron Howard's use of a 19-year old break dancer to pinch hit for Don Ameche in Cocoon. But whereas The Bishop's Wife is consistently charming and whimsical throughout except for the moment Koster carelessly snatched me out of his fable, no such consistency is at play in Cocoon, which alternates scenes of intense, sometimes exquisite emotional complexity with juvenile silliness. In its final moments, there is some rare out-and-out directorial clumsiness and a screenplay that defies common sense, not least: the inexplicable decision Guttenberg makes at the end.

The story follows two groups of characters: four couples at a Florida Retirement Community and a quartet of aliens dressed in human skins who have returned to Earth to resuscitate friends left here in cocoons 10,000 years ago. The common point between the two groups is the indoor swimming pool at a house a short walk away from the retirement home where three of their residents (Wilfred Brimley, Hume Cronyn and Don Ameche) sneak in for a swim every now and then. The aliens (among them: Brian Dennehy and two adult children of more famous actors: Tahnee Welch and Tyrone Power Jr.) rent the house for a month to make use of the pool that Dennehy infuses with life energy so as to be able to wake up his friends. One day Brimley and cohorts come to the pool and find the cocoons resting on the bottom, but decide to enjoy the pool anyway. They find themselves rejuvenated and return for more of the same. Once they see the aliens for who they are, there is some brief panic but eventually they come to terms as long as the humans agree not to disturb the cocoons. One thing we can agree that the aliens have in common with humans: naiveté leavened with good intentions.

At the time of its release some 25 years ago, there was a public hue and cry about “cheating nature” – that it was against the rules for humans to “live forever”. I always thought the movie was about something else: the willingness to consider opportunities no matter how alien to one’s understanding of the order of the universe. If all you do is shuffleboard through life, you will miss some exciting adventures. Some of the film’s best and most intense dramatic moments come when Jack Gilford argues for the status quo against those that argue for a revival of health and longevity. These discussions, whose ripples play out amongst most of the important characters all the way down to Brimley's tweenaged grandson, sincerely felt and compellingly argued on both sides, are balanced if not extensive.


Image: 7/8
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.

Fox’s transfer looks pretty good. Its modest bit rate might play a role in the overall lack of punch, but the result is not inconsistent with the fantasy. Blacks are usually solid but some scenes are a little crushed, especially toward the end when a lunar eclipse threatens a darker night than usual. Edge enhancement can be observed if you look hard, but it is of no particular concern. Sharpness and resolution are only fair, but we don't feel their lack. Colors are good, if not a little thin. Contrast is all over the map, but that seems to be mostly a product of the original shoot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 6/7
I always say: a little James Horner goes a long way. His score for Cocoon seems to confirm that belief. His music is so portentous it often feels like a promotional for the movie. That said, it is the music that receives most of the benefit of the upgrade to an uncompressed audio mix. It is robust, with plenty of deep bass. There are also moments where the effects bring the surrounds into play, though at times they strike me as somewhat artificial in context (the various warnings shouted from boats and copters in the finale). But the most frustrating thing about the audio is unlikely to have anything to do with the transfer: It is called "wow" – the subtle changes in speed as the audio passes over the tape heads. The better your playback system the more acute the problem.

 

Operations: 5
Fox must not have thought very highly of their bonus features for they not upgraded or massaged in any way for their appearance on Blu-ray.
Despite their brevity (5 featurettes totaling about 20 minutes) there is no Play All option.

 

Extras: 2
The titles for the extra features are promising but fail to deliver both in terms of content and picture quality. No effort has been made to upgrade the extras ported over from the 2004 DVD. They remain in 4:3 with thin, remarkably weak images. There is no Play All function for what amounts to a brief series of promotional featurettes. It is a telling experience that demonstrates how far we've come in the years since these features were produced. They are, funnily enough, of historical significance. Ron Howard's commentary is a candid reminiscence about one of his early feature film directorial efforts (his third at age 31) as he watches his movie after several years. There are many silences.

 

 

Bottom line: 7
What Cocoon has going for it are the numerous performances by actors well into their years (the eight major players ranged from 51-77, mostly nearer to 77 than younger), which is to be expected. Don Ameche, who possesses one of the richest speaking voices of any white actor, won a Best Supporting Oscar. In addition to those mentioned, there are their women: Maureen Stapleton, Jessica Tandy, Gwen Verdon and Herta Ware – all wonderful. Unfortunately, that level of excellence is not balanced by any of the younger actors, two of whom are more or less inexplicably mute. Guttenberg is enormous fun, but I feel his energy really belongs to a different movie. (That it works as well as it does is a credit to Howard). Guttenberg's silliness is infectious and even the redoubtable Dennehy looks a little foolish when having to deal with Guttenberg’s antics.

Cocoon is one of those movies that makes for a much more enjoyable experience than its various parts and contradictions would predict. I rate the movie on the low side, but I like it nonetheless. The movie has rewatchable power as well, making a purchase attractive. The image is satisfactory, the audio clear and occasionally dynamic. The extra features suck, but I recommend the Blu-ray nonetheless.

Leonard Norwitz
April 14th, 2010

 

 

 

 

 

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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