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» Big Picture Big Sound Blu-ray Review - Smart People

by Brandon A. DuHamel, published on August 21, 2008 16:37:12
Overall Rating: 2 out of 4

The Film

In Director Noam Murro's first time feature film, the official Sundance Selection Smart People, Dennis Quaid plays the pompous, arrogant, and self-absorbed Lawrence Wetherhold, a middle-aged widower and Carnegie Mellon University literary professor whose life has fallen into a rut. His daughter Vanessa, played by a pre-Juno Ellen Page, who has inherited his high IQ and bent towards overachievement, has become a surrogate housewife of sorts in the absence of her mother who has been dead for seven years.

Into Lawrence's life come two people who will stir the pot and change his dull existence. His ne'er-do-well adoptive brother Chuck, played with a relaxed comedic sense by Thomas Hayden Church, who moves in uninvited disrupting the household and befriending his daughter, who has troubles relating to people her own age. Then there is Dr. Janet Hartigan, a former student of the old misanthropic professor, who secretly harbored a crush on him. Lawrence and Janet become intimately involved, forcing him to come to grips with his own inability to relate to people, be they his students, a newfound love interest, or his own family.

On the surface, Smart People is about exactly what the title implies, smart people. But, what this film is intended to do is to examine the dysfunctional lives of "smart" people who may be intellectually savvy, but are not smart enough to see their way out of their own problems or to learn how to relate to people on any real, emotional level.

As a comedy, Smart People is mildly successful through its use of many sharp witticisms scattered throughout, but as an examination of the human condition, it fails. None of the tertiary characters supporting the main protagonist were ever fully explored well enough to understand their motivations. The relationship between Quaid and Parker's characters never quite feels anything more than shallow and the character of Chuck, though well played by Church, feels like all of a typical character device. Altogether, Smart People comes across like a film written by smart people for smart people that tries far too hard to be taken seriously.

The Picture

Smart People appears on this Blu-ray Disc release in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 in a high definition 1080p/24 video transfer from Buena Vista/Miramax. Colors are vibrant, flesh tones are accurate, and black levels, though not quite as deep as they could have been, are well set showing an excellent amount of shadow detail. The fine level of film grain captured on this transfer puts forth a pleasantly film-like appearance. From the cool tones of the Carnegie Mellon campus to the drab wintry setting of suburban Pittsburgh, the transfer captures colors and details superbly, drawing the viewer into the film. There are no compression artifacts visible making this a rare near-reference quality small-budget release, even if it doesn't have the pizazz of some bigger budget titles.

The Sound

Offering English uncompressed PCM 5.1 (48kHz/24-bit) and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio options, Smart People's audio mix bears all the markings of a dialogue-driven, indie film. The PCM soundtrack , though clear, intelligible, and well balanced, is very much front heavy, with all important sounds staying mainly across the front three channels. Dialogue is solidly weighted to the center channel and negligible amounts of ambient effects populate the surrounds. Low frequencies are subdued, so the subwoofer does not get much of a workout from this mix. In all, it's a non-adventurous mix, but it is well suited to the material.

The Extras

Hardly a windfall of bonus materials, the extras offered on this release of Smart People are light, brief, and offer little replay value. The audio commentary by director Noam Murro and writer Mark Jude Poirier offers the most information, but easily fits into the category of most other audio commentaries in its dry and meticulous style.

Extras offered on this release are:

  • The Smartest People (4:3/windowboxed/standard definition) -- In interviews with the producers, cast and crew, the motivations behind the characters in the film are discussed on an analytical level.
  • Not So Smart (4:3/windowboxed/standard definition) -- A brief collection of outtakes and bloopers from the filming of Smart People.
  • Deleted Scenes (4:3/windowboxed/standard definition) -- A collection of nine deleted scenes from Smart People. Watching these brief scenes, it's easy to see why they were removed from the final cut of the film as most of them are out of place in the story and add nothing to move the plot forward.

Final Thoughts

Smart People as a film will give viewers the chance to experience Dennis Quaid's wonderful acting skills put to use in a manner not typical for the actor, and also to see the burgeoning young star Ellen Page in her pre-Juno role. Unfortunately, outside of some occasional laughs, Smart People mostly falls flat of its goal at exploring dysfunctional human relationships. As a Blu-ray Disc release, however, the exceptional film-like picture quality and the clarity of the uncompressed PCM soundtrack should please everyone.

Product Details

  • Actors: Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Thomas Haden Church, Ellen Page, Ashton Holmes
  • Director: Noam Murro
  • Format: AC-3, Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Audio/Language: English uncompressed PCM 5.1 (48kHz/24-bit), English Dolby Digital 5.1
  • Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
  • Region: A
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rating: R
  • Studio: Miramax
  • Blu-ray Disc Release Date: August 12, 2008
  • Run Time: 95 minutes
  • List Price: $34.99
  • Extras: Deleted Scenes, The Smartest People - Interviews with Filmmakers and Cast, Not So Smart - Bloopers/Outtakes, Feature Commentary by Filmmaker Noam Murro and Writer Mark Jude Poirier


Overall: 2 out of 4
Video: 3,5 out of 4
Audio: 2,5 out of 4
Movie: 2 out of 4
Extras: 1 out of 4

Source: www.bigpicturebigsound.com

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