2 Audio commentary - With Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep; With Stephen Daldry and Michael Cunningham
5 Featurette - The Music of The Hours; Three Women; Filmmaker's Introduction; The Mind and Times of Virginia Woolf; The Lives of Mrs. Dalloway
Buena Vista/Buena Vista .
R4 . COLOR . 110 mins .
M . PAL
This man has talent. Stephen Daldry first came to the wider public eye with the release of Billy Elliot, which took the world by storm, both critics and audiences alike. Nominated for 'Best Director' in 2000 for that film, history repeated in 2003 with Daldry receiving the same nomination again, this time for The Hours. Nominated for a stunning nine Academy Awards, The Hours managed to pick up only one, for the deserving Nicole Kidman for 'Best Actress'.
Is this the train to the Academy Awards?
Along with a powerful director is an equally powerful all-star cast led by Nicole Kidman (Virginia Woolf), Julianne Moore (Laura Brown) and Meryl Streep (Clarissa Vaughan). For the 1941 tale of Virginia Woolf, the supporting cast consists of Stephan Dillane and the magnificent Miranda Richardson. In Laura Brown’s 1951 tale, the supporting cast is made up of John C. Reilly, Toni Collette and a moving performance from the youngster Jack Rovello. Lastly, Clarissa Vaughan’s 2001 tale is supported by a cast consisting of the amazing Allison Janney, Jeff Daniels, Ed Harris and Claire Danes. With a cast like this, how can you go wrong? The acting is faultless and sincere, providing such depth to each of the complexly detailed characters, and is edited with such a positive, interwoven and effective manner that it makes crossing between the three times near-seamless and immensely powerful. However, saying this, it isn’t easy cinema to watch as it deals openly with rather serious issues including depression, suicide, AIDS and homosexuality. So many threads tie the three individual lead women together that they can’t all be listed here, nor should they, as the discovery of these threads is part of what makes The Hours so moving and, in some respects, rewarding.
"I don't think two people could have been happier than we've been."
The Hours is the sort of film that unfolds piece by piece on screen, leaving the audience to think and piece together the sequences and relationships. We are quickly introduced to Virginia Woolf in 1941 in England, as she is fighting depression and insanity as she tries to write the great novel Mrs. Dalloway. Then we jump forward to 1951 as we meet Laura Brown in Los Angeles, married to Dan (Reilly) with a young son. While reading Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Laura finds the novel so revolutionary that she contemplates some serious and life-altering actions that could change the outcome of several people’s lives. And finally in 2001 we meet Clarissa Vaughan in New York City, who is throwing a party in recognition of her friend’s life’s work to poetry as he is being awarded the most prestigious poetry prize and it just so happens that this friend, Richard (Harris), is dying of the AIDS virus. And this is just in the opening minutes, with the film then switching between these three women, giving the audience fragments of the story which then are built upon by the other women’s stories. With these multifaceted characters, the audience is given an enormous amount of emotion and information with which to deal, and the constant switching between years keeps the audience filling in the gaps as the film progresses. It’s enough to keep you on your toes, give you something to think about and most importantly give you something to feel inside. To be honest this is must-see cinema, and a fine example of how richly detailed and articulate a piece of filmmaking can be.
Presented in the theatrical aspect of 1.85:1, The Hours is anamorphically enhanced and a short stone’s throw away from being perfect. One notable comment on this transfer is the incredibly dark feel to it, with heavily contrasted tones and solid, defined shadows. Blacks are as deep as the ocean and as solid as a rock, showing no sign of low level noise. Colours are adequately bright without being hideous, and are healthily saturated to the point of fulfilment. Posterisation effects are kept to an absolute minimum with the odd long shot breaking up.
Film artefacts are nearly non-existent, however film grain does heavily drown the image. The grain at times restricts the clarity of the image, but it is not distracting to the dialogue, rather providing a comforting barrier between the actors and the audience. The image definitely isn’t as clear as other releases, but it’s still very easy to watch. Oddly, several jumps in the film occur, resemblant of a loose gate during a theatrical projection. These occur sporadically and while they aren’t terribly distracting they are immensely annoying, especially for a brand new transfer. This is probably a slight glitch in the telecine transfer, and a costly one to re-transfer. While we’re on the topic of telecine issues, let’s look at the aliasing. Pretty much the only noticeable case is in a slow fold back from inside Laura Brown’s kitchen where all the horizontal edges (a table top, bench tops, chair back tops, the fridge and so on) suddenly waver jaggedly as the camera moves backwards during the slow movement. Sadly there is a little bit too much of a sign of digital noise reduction, such as the balustrade in the Woolf house.
Subtitles are nearly word-for-word perfect, but are highly obtrusive as they cover, at times, over a third of the screen with a rather bulky typeface. Given the length of the film and the rather high bitrate, a layer change is in place somewhere during the feature, but it is so perfectly placed that it is able to skim through unnoticed.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 English track is an absolute ripper, and is a fantastic example of how a dramatic film can be mixed to be as active, involving and enveloping as the latest noisy blockbusters. Also included is an Italian 5.1 track as well as a 2.0 English descriptive track which is suitable for the visually impaired, but quite disruptive for those who do not need visual assistance.
Isn't this the same facial expression from Far From Heaven?
Dialogue is of paramount importance, and every word is enunciated with poise, direction and clarity. This comes firmly from the centre channel and provides a solid base for the remainder of the soundtrack. Perhaps surprisingly, surround channels have plenty to do, providing heavy support for the score as well as an encompassing array of enveloping effects and ambience. Even the subwoofer gets some of the action, providing adequate depth to the score as well as the odd “thud” or two.
Now while we’re on about the score, let’s talk about Philip Glass. Glass provides another character to the film with his challenging and meticulous score featuring strings over the top of a powerful leading acoustic piano. With credits such as Koyaanisqatsi and Kundun to name two repetitively touching scores, Glass gives The Hours a truly remarkable score that should be in any film buff’s CD collection providing power and evoking emotions, once again expressing the immense power of a film’s score.
"Always the years..."
Opening up from the creatively animated 16:9 menus is a swarm of extra features that will keep you occupied for hours. Now not only do we have numerous extra features, but also quality features, providing much detailed information and a solid background to the film.
Audio Commentary: Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep
The first audio commentary features each of the leading ladies commenting on their own sequences only, with each commentary recorded separately and then meshed together for a feature-length track. This is a highly descriptive and detailed track throwing much relevant information to the audience and is one of the better feature-length efforts.
Audio Commentary: Director Stephen Daldry and author Michael Cunningham
The second audio commentary features director Stephen Daldry and author Michael Cunningham providing a feature-length discussion on the film. This track is equally as informative, but from a wholly different point of view providing more technical information on how shots were formed rather than actor-specific information.
The Music of The Hours (7:09)
Now this is the sort of featurette that more DVDs should include – what about all those powerful scores from great composers such as Hans Zimmer (The Thin Red Line, Gladiator) and Danny Elfman (Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow) – not to mention the up-and-coming Klaus Badelt (Ned Kelly, Pirates of the Caribbean). And yes, I do realise that some of these films, such as Gladiator and Sleepy Hollow, feature segments on the scoring on the DVDs, but anyway... The featurette focuses on the fantastic score by Philip Glass, and how the scoring process for the film turned out to be much more complex than planned.
Three Women (15:57)
This featurette shows segments of the three leading ladies with behind-the-scenes footage and interview snippets, featuring comments from the ladies themselves as well as the director. This acts as a solid introduction to the ladies and the characters that they brilliantly portray.
Filmmaker’s Introduction (2:05)
This brief introduction features director Stephen Daldry commenting on the benefits of the DVD medium for films, especially those as detailed as The Hours, as well as the benefits of repeat viewings. And believe me, this film warrants and requires repeat viewings.
The Mind and Times of Virginia Woolf (24:37)
This detailed and deep featurette provides an amazing background to the troubled author Virginia Woolf. As a support piece for the film it holds up brilliantly, providing extended information for those wishing to learn more about the author herself.
The Lives of Mrs. Dalloway (9:43)
Stephen Daldry, Michael Cunningham and David Hare are featured in interviews expressing their relationship to Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway and how it affected them in one way or another. This featurette provides some insight into particular aspects of why certain things are done in the film, and is a suitable addition.
Theatrical Trailer (2:25), DD 5.1 Audio
As a trailer for a film, this is a very strange concoction with an overall mixed tone to the feel of the film. If you listen to the dialogue you can pick up the essence of the film, but if you listen to the music, especially the final piece, you may get a sense of a suspense thriller. This tug-of-war with the audience’s emotions about the film is a little confusing and odd, however it still is a truly remarkable trailer showcasing the film’s star-studded cast and ultimately is a superb advertising ploy.
This is must-see and must-have cinema, it’s as simple as that. Words really cannot express the immense power of this film. This isn’t exactly “light and fluffy” cinema, so make sure you’re awake, sober and alert to get the most out of this stunning piece of filmmaking. Buena Vista’s transfer is beautiful, if not quite perfect, and the extra features are a perfect example of how informative such things can be.