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A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze


American Beauty [Blu-ray]


(Sam Mendes, 1999)



Review by Gary Tooze



Theatrical: DreamWorks SKG

Video: Dreamworks / Paramount



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

Runtime: 2:01:39.959

Disc Size: 38,389,385,475 bytes

Feature Size: 31,680,319,488 bytes

Video Bitrate: 27.98 Mbps

Chapters: 28

Case: Standard Blu-ray case inside cardboard slipcase

Release date: September 21st, 2010



Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video



DTS-HD Master Audio English 2505 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 2505 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)
Dolby Digital Audio French 640 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps / DN -4dB
Dolby Digital Audio Portuguese 640 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps / DN -4dB
Dolby Digital Audio Spanish 640 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps / DN -4dB
Dolby Digital Audio English 224 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 224 kbps / DN -1dB



English (SDH), English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, none



• Commentary by director Sam Mendes and screenwriter Alan Ball

'American Beauty Look Closer...' (21:52 - SD)

• Storyboard Presentation with director Alan Ball and DoP Conrad L. Hall (1:01:20 - SD)

• Theatrical Trailer 1 (3:00 in HD!), Theatrical Trailer 2 (1:22 in HD!)





Description: Noted theater director Sam Mendes, who was responsible for the acclaimed 1998 revival of Cabaret and Nicole Kidman's turn in The Blue Room, made his motion picture debut with this film about the dark side of an American family, and about the nature and price of beauty in a culture obsessed with outward appearances. Kevin Spacey plays Lester Burnham, a man in his mid-40s going through an intense midlife crisis; he's grown cynical and is convinced that he has no reason to go on. Lester's relationship with his wife Carolyn (Annette Bening) is not a warm one; while on the surface Carolyn strives to present the image that she's in full control of her life, inside she feels empty and desperate. Their teenage daughter Jane (Thora Birch) is constantly depressed, lacking in self-esteem, and convinced that she's unattractive. Her problems aren't helped by her best friend Angela (Mena Suvari), an aspiring model who is quite beautiful and believes that that alone makes her a worthwhile person. Jane isn't the only one who has noticed that Angela is attractive: Lester has fallen into uncontrollable lust for her, and she becomes part of his drastic plan to change his body and change his life. Meanwhile, next door, Colonel Fitts (Chris Cooper) has spent a lifetime in the Marine Corps and can understand and tolerate no other way of life, which makes life difficult for his son Ricky (Wes Bentley), an aspiring filmmaker and part-time drug dealer who is obsessed with beauty, wherever and whatever it may be. American Beauty was also the screen debut for screenwriter Alan Ball.



The Film:

Lester Burnham, played with heavenly finesse by Kevin Spacey in his wittiest and most agile screen performance yet, is a buttoned-down 42-year-old who desperately needs to stop and smell the roses. But he won't get much joy from the ones in his suburban yard. These fussed-over specimens are the handiwork of Lester's wife, Carolyn (Annette Bening), whom Lester introduces at the start of ''American Beauty'' with the same devilish acuity that keeps the rest of this satire so scalding. ''See the way the handle on those pruning shears matches her gardening clogs? That's not an accident,'' Lester remarks.

That Lester happens to be dead when he says this contributes significantly to the film's darker side. ''American Beauty,'' directed with terrific visual flair by the English stage director Sam Mendes (''Cabaret'') and replete with the kinds of delicate, eroticized power-playing vignettes found in his production of ''The Blue Room,'' strikes an unusually successful balance between the mordant and bright. Its vision of curdled suburbia, where Lester's marriage is ''a commercial for how normal we are when we're anything but,'' is also somehow embraced with unlikely affection. And it manages to end on a note of acceptance, even in the wake of its forced yet brilliantly staged, devastating climax.

As written crisply by Alan Ball (who, like Mr. Mendes, makes a most attention-getting film debut), ''American Beauty'' takes aim at targets that are none too fresh. His Lester is not the first super-bland suburban paragon to drop out with a vengeance, nor does Carolyn amount to a new take on the ambitious, frigid wife. But as in bourgeoisie-barbecuing movies from ''The Graduate'' to ''Election,'' it's the little things that turn the stereotype into something memorable, from the sugary sound of ''Bali H'ai'' at an otherwise glum Burnham family dinner to the father-daughter give-and-take between Lester and teen-age Jane (Thora Birch, in a veritable Christina Ricci role). ''So Janie, how was school?'' he asks, to which the sarcastic reply is: ''It was spectacular, Dad.''

Excerpt from Janet Maslin at the NY Times located HERE


Image :    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

American Beauty looks pretty darn impressive on Blu-ray from Dreamworks.  I didn't scrutinize too closely - I just watched on my system - but can't see any major flaws or digital tinkering. It's simply a great looking film set to a dual-layered Blu-ray with a healthy bitrate. Colors - notably the reds - are magnificent - detail trounces the SD-DVD transfer and contrast is top shelf. There is a fine sheen of grain giving the rendering a textured film-like appearance. The depth can also be impressive and overall I have no major complaints but there is a smattering of noise in some of the darker scenes - that's it. This Blu-ray probably looks just like the film American Beauty and it advances dramatically beyond the DVD editions in several key areas - notably detail and colors.

















Audio :

American Beauty is often remembered for the varied music - John Lennon and Paul McCartney's "Because" (performed by Elliott Smith), Bob Dylan, The Guess Who, Annie Lennox to Bobby Darin - along with Thomas Newman's haunting little piano-based theme. The DTS-HD Master 5.1 at 2505 kbps handles the film's audio extremely well. It doesn't get a chance for much punch but the music becomes such a huge part of the film experience - especially in lossless - it's just beautiful to hear it and I wish they had an isolated score feature to access it. Range and depth seemed capable but the film is mostly dialogue - with a couple of sharp surprises. There are optional subtitles and my Momitsu has identified it as being a region FREE disc playable on Blu-ray machines worldwide.



Extras :

The bad news is there is nothing new in the way of supplements - but the good news is - for those who recall the 2000 DVD - the commentary by director Sam Mendes and screenwriter Alan Ball plus the hour-long 'Storyboard Presentation' with Ball and DoP Conrad L. Hall where two of the best DVD extras of that year. Both still hold very strong value and it is appreciated the level of involvement Mendes and Ball gave the DVD production. The 20-minute featurette 'American Beauty Look Closer...' was kind of standard fare - not divulging anything new and there are also two trailers in HD. Those keen should take the opportunity to listen to the commentary and the storyboard analysis is just as appealing - a fabulous inclusion.



American Beauty shows it can hold it's lauded status even after more than a decade since release. It is filled with impressive performances, and a story hinting at much of the 'lost' American dream. Lester has his revelation in rejecting the rat race - but this attitude seems inherent in the youth surrounding him. They have seen its (our?) personal horrors and can only abandon the system that thrives on materialistic and shallow virtues - embracing it can only produce... pain, dissatisfaction, and loneliness. Obviously this is more universal than we all fear and it gives American Beauty its truthful, generational-conflict, themes. We work so hard to establish our own little worlds and then get enraged when we are forced to actually live inside them. The Blu-ray is a great one - supporting a film that I'll continue to revisit throughout my life - with dynamic a/v and tremendous, although repeated, extra features. Strongly recommended! 

Gary Tooze

September 18th, 2010


About the Reviewer: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 9500 DVDs and have reviewed over 3500 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.

Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction. So be it, but film will always be my first love and I list my favorites on the old YMdb site now accessible HERE.  

Gary's Home Theatre:

60-Inch Class (59.58” Diagonal) 1080p Pioneer KURO Plasma Flat Panel HDTV PDP6020-FD

Oppo Digital BDP-83 Universal Region FREE Blu-ray/SACD Player
Momitsu - BDP-899 Region FREE Blu-ray player
Marantz SA8001 Super Audio CD Player
Marantz SR7002 THX Select2 Surround Receiver
Tannoy DC6-T (fronts) + Energy (centre, rear, subwoofer) speakers (5.1)

APC AV 1.5 kVA H Type Power Conditioner 120V

Gary W. Tooze








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