I rarely get to review a film based on a book I have actually read (because I don't read much besides non-fiction). Moreso, I rarely enjoy the work of an author like John Irving who writes some quirky bestselling novels (I also like 'Hotel New Hampshire').
This is a very faithful adaptation of Irving's novel. In fact it is the sort of accurate novel-to-film that is rare. The director is largely invisible and the cinematography is adequate for what is required. What is important is the story and the acting of cast and support. That is paramount because it's the story of a normal guy in a world of weirdos.
That's basically what this film is - Robin Williams is T.S Garp, 'the bastard son of Jenny Fields' (Glenn Close in her debut). Jenny Fields is an unconventional woman. She is a WWII nurse who holds forthright views on men and feminism. In 1944 a woman cannot have a child without the normal family structure however this does not deter a strong-willed Jenny Fields from falling pregnant in strange circumstances. It involves a terminal 'technical sergeant' under her care who seems to have a constant erection. Garp was brought into the world under strange circumstances but he wants to be normal. He is however accident prone and there are plenty of scenes where he gets into trouble because of his wish to be just like any other kid. Jenny gets a job at a local school which is where much of this film is set. Garp develops a love for wrestling (classic Greek not WWF) and a love for the wrestling coach's daughter.
Garp and his mother are strong writers and they hook up with a publisher when Garp is in his late teens. Garp perhaps writes partly to impress a girl who would only marry a 'real writer'. Garp very much becomes a real writer however his mother becomes a feminist symbol with her book 'Sexual Suspect' (perhaps a take off of Greer's 'The Second Sex'). Both of them become targets of fanatics - Jenny from men who hate her strong feminist message and Garp from a group called the 'Ellen Jamesians'. This group is named after an 11-year-old girl who had her tongue cut out by rapists - so her followers deliberately cut out their tongues in sympathy.
Garp's personal life is also beset with much tragedy, the sort of tragedy that is of the type condemned by his mother; sins of lust and jealousy.
Of note is the role played by John Lithgow. He played Roberta Muldoon who is a transexual friend of Garp and Jenny. He is an ex-footballer and his looks like it. For people used to seeing 'Third Rock from the Sun', it'll be startling. The performances are uniformly excellent; Williams is surprisingly sympathetic with very little of his trademark mugging for the camera. They are helped by an excellent script supervised by Irving as scriptwriter.
The plot defies my poor description. It is funny, absurd and there is nary a dull spot. The long 131 minutes run time is not noticed due to the even pacing, quiet direction and ensemble cast. The film covers the years 1944 to about 1982 so there's a lot of material covered. The support players are also excellent with a funny cameo from Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. The film is very accurate to the book and easily transfers its quirky humour from print to the screen - and then some.
This is another Warners NTSC release. I grow tired of writing about why this isn't acceptable and I'm sure all the staff writers and Australian DVD-buying public would agree. Clearly someone high up has decided that this is ok and the public seems to be accepting it.
This is a very good anamorphic 1.77:1 transfer (that's what it measures out to). The colours are solid and there is a pervasive consistent quality throughout. Colours are solid with an excellent rendition of skin, blacks and shadows. The number of wide angle landscape shots are finely detailed. You can easily see separate strands of hair on the various actors. It is not without certain flaws. Some are relatively minor like 'halo-ing' on dark/light borders. There's also some slight motion artifacts when actors move to a complex or patterned backdrop. They seem 'pasted' onto the background and there's some 'boiling' where they end and the background starts. It's isolated enough to not be too much of a problem. There's some specks and dots every so often.
There are two tracks, a Dolby Surround 2.0 at 192k/s in English and French. What can you expect for a 1982 era soundtrack? There is excellent intelligibility and that is all. The film lacks much audio effects or stereo separation. There isn't much of a score besides the jaunty 'Beatles' title track ('when I'm 64'). This is a heavily scripted film so one can only hope for excellent voicework from all the players and that's what one gets.
Extras are minimal. There's a smartly edited trailer that is done in a style that one might miss these days. There's a short cast biography however I'm guessing most people have a idea what Robin Williams, John Lithgow and Glenn Close have done since 1982. Strangely Lithgow's pictures have him still in drag with a ridicilous wig :-)
Lastly there's an awards menu where Close and Lithgow won various awards for their supporting roles from review bodies such as the NY and LA film critics. Strangely it does not state that they both were nominated for best supporting actors by the Academy. This is quite an award for Close in her debut performance. Williams is in his second major role. Also it might be of some interest that Lithgow was nominated for besy supporting 'actor' in his transexual role!
Will we ever see a native PAL version? At the time being this is as good as it gets. The extras are minimal however this is a very fine disc with a good representation of the film. Perhaps a good match for this is Irving's other book/film 'Hotel New Hampshire' which is just as odd ball as 'Garp'.