3 Featurette - Anatomy of a Scene, The Making of Far From Heaven, The Filmmaker's Experience
Far From Heaven
Warner Bros./Warner Home Video .
R4 . COLOR . 103 mins .
M . PAL
Far From Heaven is Todd Haynes’ latest film, the acclaimed director of Velvet Goldmine, and it has a uniquely stylistic ’50s touch to it. Right from the opening pastel-coloured credits, to the costumes, to the delicately set scenery to the actor-like score, you know you’re in for a trip down memory lane.
However, Haynes’ film sadly just tries to tackle too many complex and confronting themes for one film. Focusing in on racism in a very racist American 1950s as well as homosexuality in a very homophobic area of the country, Far From Heaven bites off more than it can chew, as it tries to tackle two heavy topics in the space of 100 minutes, a mean task even for one heavy theme. Dealing with the naïve and simple minds of the 1950s middle American population, the film quickly immerses the audience within the themes of sexuality and race, and tries to deal with these two issues in detail, but it just makes it too much for the audience to deal with. On one hand we have the story between Cathy and the black Raymond, and then on the other the story between Cathy and her questionable husband Frank. These two plots could easily be cut into two films covering different themes in depth, rather than skimming over them simply in a single attempt, not quite evoking any real emotions. Now remember, this is just one opinion, and at times Far From Heaven seems to meander around the two themes rather than getting to the point. It illustrates the discrimination in this small town, and the narrow-mindedness of the population at this era, and how one woman’s struggle to over come these social nasties will really show how far from heaven the real world really is.
"I've learned my lesson about mixing in other worlds. I've seen the sparks fly. All kinds."
Adopting the stylistic look of the 1950s
Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore) is a good housewife in Connecticut, happily married to Frank (Dennis Quaid) with two young kids. Cathy is the sort of person who is able to love each and every person, and is outside of the prejudiced views of the other people in this town. So when Raymond (Dennis Haysbert, an African-American gardener, comes along, she obviously shows compassion towards him and his family, getting looks and whispers from all around the town. Now Frank is a successful sales executive, but has some difficulty knowing where he stands, and starts experimenting with his own sexuality. But Frank’s secret is discovered after Cathy does the good-wife thing and delivers some food to her husband who is working late, and finds Frank in the arms of another man. What follows is an emotional melodrama where Cathy is faced with holding together the family, her life and her friendships as she is forced to follow her own desires, which conflict with those ideals set by the restrictive society that she lives in.
This gorgeous video is presented in its original widescreen aspect of 1.85:1, and is anamorphically enhanced. Simply put, this transfer is amazing, with very niggly issues stopping it from being absolutely perfect.
A stinker about to happen in the bathroom...
The rich colours are like a vivid Technicolor picture reborn in the 21st century. The sumptuousness of the colours just leaps off of the screen for the entire duration, showing a richly-detailed palette with blood-like reds, blues as deep as the richest sapphires and greens that make the botanic gardens look dead. Haynes’ use of colour really captures the essence of the Technicolor ’50s-style films, and looks fantastic filmed with modern techniques including coloured-filters, high-tech cameras and stock, as well as improved lighting and physical directions. The black levels are solidly spot-on, and provide a fantastic backing for some of the key sequences of the film such as the darkly-blue-lit interior scenes.
The detail of the image is exquisite, with a surprisingly high bitrate capturing the minute and delicate photography with not so much as a falter. Aliasing is nearly non-existent, and compression-related artefacts are nowhere to be seen. The delicate nature of the sun pouring through the leafless trees is perfectly rendered on this disc and is an absolute joy to watch. Film artefacts are few and far between, and a slight wash of grain covers the image but is by no means annoying. Moments occur where sharpness lapses, but these generally tend to shoot through unnoticed.
The biggest bummer occurs at the 73 minute mark where a clumsy layer change is right in the middle of a scene and is quite disruptive to the flow. No subtitles have been included.
Two film soundtracks have been included on the Region 4 package, both Dolby Digital with one 5.1 effort, and another in stereo. The 5.1 is clearly the way to go if your hardware can support it, and is a fine example of a broad soundstage, but not a fantastic use of 5.1 effects. Just keep in mind the genre of the film too.
You mean I'm pregnant?
Dialogue comes predominantly from the centre channel, with effects and the score filling up the soundstage from the remaining speakers. The subwoofer has very little to do for this soundtrack, with only the very odd effect supporting the lower end of the soundstage. The score is fitting to the style of the film, and has been composed with precision by Elmer Bernstein. This Academy Award-nominated score brings melodrama, emotion and suspense, creating a stylistically positive mood that just adds so much to the style and period of the film.
The 16:9 enhanced menus load up when you stick this baby in, and compliment the intended tone of the film, with subtle animation and pieces of Bernstein’s beautiful score floating over the top.
Far From Heaven
First up are three featurettes, The Anatomy of a Scene (27:28), The Making of Far From Heaven (11:31) and The Filmmaker’s Experience: Q&A with Todd Haynes and Julianne Moore (4:54). These three featurettes are all fairly interesting and informative to listen to and provide a detailed analysis of the party sequence, a usual promo-style making-of and a “how good are we?” question and answers featurette. For a film of this genre, these are fantastic features, even if they are a little self-obsessed.
Next, a 1:08 theatrical trailer accompanies the collection, and is a very well-made and traditional type trailer that really advertises the film well.
Completing the list of quality extras is a fantastic audio commentary from director Todd Haynes. This commentary shows off Haynes’ passion for precise filmmaking, but does get boring listening to one man’s love of his own work.
Eight aesthetically fantastic pages of production notes come next which are informative, but hey you still have to read. Topping off the collection are cast and crew biographies for Julianne Moore (five pages), Dennis Quaid (five pages), Dennis Haysbert (four pages), Patricia Clarkson (four pages) and Todd Haynes (five pages).
Oh golly gee we’re at the end of the review already. Far From Heaven reinvents ’50s style cinema in all aspects, but just tries to tackle too much, making it a fairly busy film that doesn’t quite delve into either of the two themes deeply enough as too much time is spent switching between them. It’s close, but not quite there. The video transfer is incredibly detailed, really showing off the intended artistic views, and the audio and extras package accompanies the film but doesn’t offer anything remarkable or memorable. So for the fans, this is one neat package, but if you’re after a night’s easy entertainment, this may not be a good choice as it does require you to think and take in a bit, and may not be everyone’s cup of tea. It's well worth the ride, but not suitable for all.