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  Directed by
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 2:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer ( 77:10)
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • English: DTS 5.1 Surround
  • English: Dolby Digital Stereo
  Subtitles
    English - Hearing Impaired
  Extras
  • Deleted scenes - With commentary
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Audio commentary
  • Cast/crew biographies
  • Production notes
  • 2 Documentaries
  • DTS trailer

Life As a House

Roadshow Entertainment/Roadshow Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 120 mins . MA15+ . PAL

  Feature
Contract

It would be easy to dismiss this film as just another piece of Hollywood schmaltz that gets churned out at will these days, much like that other market-flooded genre, the romantic comedy. And the title doesn't actually really inspire much interest either, Life As A House? I mean, what sort of title is that? With low expectations (hammered even harder by the cover that just reeks "chick-flick"), I slipped the disc in and sat back and prepared myself to be bludgeoned with cliched dialogue, predictable storylines, and more syrupy mush than you could poke a stick at. Thankfully, I was proved wrong (mostly) and I enjoyed this film more than I would normally allow myself.

George Monroe (Kevin Kline) is dying, but before he pegs out he has re-set himself a small task he originally set twenty years ago; to tear down his existing beach house and build a house that he can be proud of. In the process, he hopes to make peace with his ex-wife, Robin (Kristin Scott Thomas), who has since remarried, regain the love of his wayward and self-destructive son, Sam (Hayden "Anakin Skywalker" Christensen), and to rid himself of the mantle of inferiority that his father left him when he died. Piece of cake, really.

After being sacked from his job, something he ultimately gives thanks for, and being diagnosed with inoperable cancer (it’s always inoperable cancer in Movieland), he grabs life by the horns and decides the important things in his life need a shake up. Keeping his secret to himself for most of the film should frustrate the viewer a little, but George is determined not to win over his dysfunctional family through sympathy.

"The truth doesn't set us free."

As the house nears completion, and relationships mend, fracture, split, and re-align, the main players learn the awful truth, and begin to reassess their own lives (as you do in Movieland).

The main strength of this film, and what helps it rise above the ordinary, lies in the performances of the leads, and the frequent and apparently inconsequential moments of silliness and certain moments when people do not behave the way you expect them to. It's all too easy for directors to go the obvious route with this type of film, where all the relationships move predictably towards consummation. However, the couples in this film are not like that, and just when you are about to groan about how easy it is for all of these people to find true and perfect love, something 'real' happens to restore your belief.

This film will not change your life, and merely confirms Hollywood's ability to churn out deliberately weepy, love stories. It will, however, do enough for you to enjoy it, even if just a few of the main characters occasionally act predictably. It is not all bad news though, and even the few predictable moments are at least well acted. Kevin Kline displays his versatility, Irwin Winkler manages to evoke some fine performances from all the supporting cast, and to top it off, there are some beautiful Californian sunset backdrops that ought to impress.

There is still a certain level of familiarity about the film, but at least it is mixed with liberal dashes of reality and not everyone's life changes for the better in a matter of two hours, which is all too typical of human dramas. This film probably won't be on many people's list of favourites, but neither will it appear on any 'avoid at all cost lists' either.

  Video
Contract

Life As A House is presented in a somewhat uncommon aspect ratio of 2.05:1 (ignore the cover that says 2.35:1 - it isn't) and is 16x9 enhanced. There is unusual lighting in this film, and it seems that it was shot in the winter even though it is set in summer, so many of the shots have that late afternoon glow to them that can be quite attractive, especially in the sunset shots. Colours at other times are quite bold and slightly oversaturated. Skin tones are generally good, and the image is always very sharp and well defined. There is no evidence of film noise and only a very few instances of edge enhancement that are quite insignificant.

Black levels are very good and shadow detail will cause no concern. This is also a very clean transfer and there are no instances of dirt or marks of any kind. There is some very brief and unintrusive aliasing, but not enough to cause concern.

The layer change is fairly well placed between scenes at 77.10.

  Audio
Contract

Being set on the edge of a cliff, the surround sound of the waves gently crashing throughout the film has a very calming and enveloping effect and is quite a joy. There are three options being a DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0, all of which have something in their favour. The DTS 5.1 sounds great with a wide sound range. Low-level frequency sounds are sufficiently deep enough, and the trebles are all very clear. Dialogue is mostly clear and easy to hear, apart from one or two lines that are hard to catch due to accents.

The surround speakers are used extensively for ambient sounds such as the ocean, wind, rain, and birds, but it is never aggressive or overused. Dialogue is almost exclusively in the centre speaker and synchronisation is good. There is also some use made of panning for vehicles and the like, and these occasionally sound a little unreal, but this should not deter anybody from the film.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 is strikingly similar to the DTS 5.1, but the Dolby Digital 2.0 appears to be have slightly richer low-level frequency sound reproduction, but without the ambient sounds of a 5.1 mix, is not the audio of choice.

  Extras
Contract

This slightly better than average film is made more worthy by the inclusion of a number of interesting extras that are generally informative. The audio commentary for example, from producer/director Irwin Winkler, producer Rob Cowan, and writer Mark Andrus, is actually quite good. Not being a fan of commentaries generally, this one is generously full of information pertaining to character creation and development, set design, camera techniques and angles, imagery, and studio trickery amongst other things. The three commentators work hard at keeping the commentary flowing and well paced.

Also included is the obligatory Theatrical Trailer that runs 2:17 minutes, and is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 which is rather uncommon, and in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. This trailer doesn't really do the film justice, and makes the film out to be more love story schlock than it really is.

Theatrical Press Kit contains three sections, About the Production, About the Cast, and About the Crew. Each is a series of text screens that go into quite some detail in some cases (25 pages of production notes for example), and includes bios for eight cast and nine crew, although some of these are very brief.

Deleted Scenes is almost ten minutes devoted to just three scenes, but these are more interesting when viewed with the commentary that accompanies them (if selected). For mine, these scenes are more valuable when it is explained why they were deleted.

Of varying interest is Documentaries, which is a little misleading as they are not really documentaries as such. The first is Character Building - Inside Life As A House which is a 23-minute "Making of" special that's typical ‘pat on the back’ stuff, including some input from cast and crew and a behind the scenes look at rehearsals and filming. This is augmented by the second 'documentary', From the Ground Up, which appears to be ten or so minutes of film left out of the previous featurette. It focuses solely on the location shooting, the building of the various sets, and the ultimate construction of the house that is the focal and metaphoric heart of the film. This is quite interesting and shows what goes into creating the illusion of film worlds.

  Overall  
Contract

I have to say that I enjoyed this film more than I thought I would, and given the rather sappy sounding title Life As A House I was expecting quite a schmaltz-fest.

Fortunately, this didn't really turn out to be the case, and the characters in the film are well developed by the cast and have the flaws that real people have. Life is not one big happy love-fest where everyone finds true love and happiness in the space of two hours. Sure, there is some predictability in the end of the film, but this can be forgiven as the inevitable ending is made quite clear early in the film, and is largely acceptable though a tad soppy.

The good audio and video, and the extras, should be enough to sway the undecided.


  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=2234
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      And I quote...
    "What would you do if told you had just a few months to live? Why, you’d tear down your old house and build a new one, obviously! "
    - Terry Kemp
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Akai
    • TV:
          TEAC CT-F803 80cm Super Flat Screen
    • Receiver:
          Pioneer VSX-D409
    • Speakers:
          Wellings
    • Centre Speaker:
          Wellings
    • Surrounds:
          Wellings
    • Subwoofer:
          Sherwood SP 210W
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          standard s-video
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