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  Directed by
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • English: Dolby Digital Stereo
  Subtitles
    English - Hearing Impaired
  Extras
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Audio commentary - by writer/director Gary Ross
  • Cast/crew biographies
  • Music video - Fiona Apple - 'Across the Universe'
  • Documentaries - The Art of Pleasantville

Pleasantville

Roadshow Entertainment/Roadshow Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 120 mins . M15+ . PAL

  Feature
Contract

Sometimes you sit down to watch a film expecting a fluffy piece of entertainment, something to while away the time while picking the cheese from between your toes, and find something else entirely. Sometimes a film flies underneath the studio (and public) radar and hits you right between the eyes with a simple, powerful message of hope.

The premise is simple enough, though coated in a deceptive layer of fluff. David (Tobey Maguire) is a boy under siege - at school, his lessons are depressing - war, famine, AIDS, death. At home, his single mother is failing to provide the stability he needs. He longs for the safe, secure nuclear family of his favourite 50s TV show, 'Pleasantville'.

Soon enough, he gets his chance, and the remote control given to him by a weird TV repairer sucks him and his sister Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) into the black-and-white world of Pleasantville. At first the film runs through the obvious satirisation of 50s sitcoms: overly cheerful parents, an absence of toilets, firemen that only rescue cats from trees, but it soon becomes apparent that the comfortable existence of the people comes at a terrible price. The inhabitants of this world are locked into routine, without true will or individual thought.

David and Jennifer are the catalyst for change, and people begin to question their world; David's boss at the soda shop (Jeff Daniels) takes up painting, and the kids at school learn about sex after Jennifer jumps a boy at Lover's Lane. As these changes occur, parts of Pleasantville change into colour.

This is where the film really starts tackling issues and displaying the darker aspects of world history, as the black-and-white inhabitants of the town, desperate to maintain their status quo, begin practicing segregation, and worse.

It is unusual for a film to layer 'art' onto popular entertainment (Three Kings is the only other recent example that comes to mind), but Pleasantville pulls it off superbly. Who would have thought such a feat possible from the writer of Big?

  Video
Contract

The very nature of the film required around 1700 computer-assisted shots and 7000 gigabytes of storage, yet I'd defy anybody to pick it. The video is glorious, with beautifully rendered colours against eye-popping black-and-white. This was achieved by shooting on colour stock, but lighting certain areas for black-and-white and desaturating the image in post-production. Cinematographer John Lindley and his team did a marvelous job, as black-and-white photography needs completely different lighting to colour photography, otherwise it looks flat and lifeless. Often, coloured characters and black-and-white characters share the same frame, requiring different lighting setups as they move around.

The clarity of the image is impeccible, with the 16:9 enhancement further improving detail. In post-production, the image was electronically processed to deepen blacks and boost contrast, which makes for fantastic shadows and crisp highlights. This is a terrific looking film from start to finish.

The US release has an introductory section that helps you adjust your television to get correct fleshtones. That's missing on our version (despite a mention in the chapter listing), but anybody with a good test/setup disc should be in the ballpark already.

  Audio
Contract

No pun intended, this soundtrack is pleasant. You won't be using it for demo purposes, but it serves the film very well. Dialogue generally sounds smooth and natural, with only very mild distortion in a couple of scenes. The sound wraps around you gently rather than making the rear speakers obvious, and in fact it allows you to fall into the story more effectively than a more aggressive mix would.

The most obvious difference between the R1 and R4 versions is the lack of the isolated score with commentary by Randy Newman in the local release. This is a shame, as the score is memorable and effective.

  Extras
Contract

A good film demands a strong package of extras, and this disc makes a reasonable effort.

  • Writer/Director's Commentary - Gary Ross is obviously a man well-versed in film history. His commentary begins with him discussing his youth, living with a father who wrote for the old Hollywood studio system (in fact, his father wrote the schlock classic Creature From The Black Lagoon) and makes reference to Truffaut and his classic examination of childhood, The 400 Blows. He explains, 'There are two ways to deal with modern society. Many reminisce for 'the good old days', which is avoiding the situation, as is becoming cynical and laughing at it. The only solution is to confront it and work to improve it.'
  • The Art of Pleasantville - an examination of the unique visual style of the film, including the special effects work, the lighting methods, the development of the film stock and an interview with Frank Romero, creator of the mural that Jeff Daniel's character paints in protest against the city council. It sounds like a lot to get through, but actually doesn't take up much time, which is a great shame.
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Music Video - Fiona Apple takes on the Beatle's Across the Universe and fails both to mutilate it or to add anything of value. The video clip is of course in black-and-white.
  • Cast/Crew Bios - Strangely, these seem to be frozen in time in 1998. No effort has been made to include work that had been done after Pleasantville.

  Overall  
Contract

Apparently, during the test screenings, there were some walkouts when the film switched to black and white, because the audience members weren't prepared to accept the loss of colour. Ironically, it is just this kind of rigid thinking that the film is condemning, and these people were the ones that would have most benefitted!

See this film. It may just make you re-evaluate your outlook on life.


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