DVD Video - Reviews [American Beauty (Awards Edition)]
ORIGINAL FULL DVD REVIEW
American Beauty (Awards Edition)
Release Date: 10/24/2000
Run Time: 122 minutes
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Scott Bakula, Mena Suvari
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Produced by: Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen
Written by: Alan Ball
Movie Summary: [Drama, Comedy]
First-time director Mendes, migrating from the theatre, has constructed a grand slam of a motion picture. A flawless cast - Bening as the confused mother, Birch as the awkward daughter, Suvari as the symbol of youthful sexuality, Bentley as the drug-dealing outcast neighbor, and especially Cooper as Bentley's militant father - combine to deliver one of the decade's strongest ensemble performances. Ball, whose only previous writing experience was in television, crafts his hysterically dark script with the mark of an assured veteran. 73-year-old Hall's cinematography, as well as Newman's subtle score, combine to make this an outstanding work of entertainment that will surely be remembered as one of 1999's most memorable films.
Widescreen (anamorphic), Dolby Digital 5.1
Audio commentary with director Sam Mendes and scriptwriter Alan Ball / Audio commentary with director Sam Mendes and director of cinematography Conrad Hall (w/storyboard feature) / 22-minute featurette / DVD-ROM
merican beauty is genuine American suburbia - an arrangement of sequences that outlines the brutally honest truth found throughout our lives. Painfully realistic renditions of these familiar life occurrences are delivered one after another garnering our pity, arousing our intrigue, testing our morals, pulling on our emotions, and splitting our sides with as sincere a laughter we can muster. But wherein lies the beauty in witnessing another’s suffering? The ambiguity of the title is purposeful - its intentions left open for interpretation, but we’re given such a terribly twisted look at where our lives can go - we’re allowed the wisdom that beauty can be found just about anywhere ... if we just look closer.
Lester Burnham [Kevin Spacey, Seven, Usual Suspects] is trapped within the confines of his own life and he doesn’t know it. American Beauty uncovers Lester’s transition from his mental and physical state of unconsciousness into a once forgotten lifestyle where he tackles the concepts he learned early in life .... casual fun, relaxation, and self-improvement to name a few. Lester’s personal perception is but only one variable amidst his life formula consisting of alternating factors that wildly impact his surroundings in ways that many of us will find too familiar leaving us cringing in anxiety or laughing our collective asses off. Sam Mendes’ directorial debut is stunning in its sincerity and its style. Utilizing his theater direction experience, he has successfully pulled the actors together resulting in tremendous performances demonstrating a variety of characteristics so drastically varied in their demeanor, we’re enthralled by the exhibition diversity. None of what resulted could have been achieved if not for the stellar script from first time feature-writer Alan Ball.
With an exception here or there, DreamWorks and fine DVD products are synonymous with one another. Their lineup of special edition DVD releases have been simpler in terms of design complexity comparatively speaking with other releases on the market, but their goals accomplished stylistically and effectively. DreamWorks packaging, for one, has a feel of elegance to its design - as much as that might be possible with a DVD. The DVD version of 5 time Academy Award winner American Beauty is no different. If I have any complaint with the packaging here, it would be their choice of words when describing their special features: ‘3 Hours of Bonus Features’. What one may not conceive from this immediately is that two hours of these ‘bonus features’ is comprised of the full length audio commentary. Shady at best, the terminology derived by a DreamWorks marketing employee here seems somewhat misleading. All things aside - there are hunger famines and incurable diseases in the world. I won’t lose sleep over it.
No complaints from me in respect to the video. From dark to light scene settings, it’s sharp with stark clarity reminiscent of previous DreamWorks releases. Spielberg’s stake in DTS keeps the meticulously engineered tracks coming as American Beauty arrives with the standard Dolby Digital 5.1 track and a supplementary DTS addition. I enjoyed the DTS track extensively noting its wide range of frequency use. The center channel offers clear dialogue with the main speakers mostly flourishing throughout Thomas Newman’s [Shawshank Redemption, Green Mile] contemporary score that is chanting, haunting, exuberant and playful. The music is reproduced beautifully. The rear channels add for atmosphere effect and musical reverberation more than anything else.
Headlining the included features is a 22 minutes featurette entitled ’American Beauty: Look Closer...’. The featurette explains the history of the film from script to production, takes a peek behind-the-scenes, offers cast and crew interviews, and extends insight behind the meaning of the film and its intentions and interpretations. Several minutes of the documentary consist of scenes taken from the film. Director Sam Mendes and Writer Alan Ball sit down and discuss the film through their own eyes in the audio commentary. While Ball’s comments are far and few, Mendes elegant and artistic approach dominates the conversation with plenty of insight to share regarding the production processes. A storyboard presentation with Sam Mendes and Director of Photography Conrad Hall takes the viewer through an arrangement of storyboards aligned with their film finish while the pair of commentators explains the genesis of final cuts and how they’re derived from drawings on paper. Quite amusingly, it would seem at times that Mendes knows how to perform Hall’s job more than Hall does himself. This feature alone clocks in at just over an hour. Worth mentioning amongst the DVD-ROM content is the digital screenplay with corresponding film footage and storyboards for those that want to involve themselves in the creative side of post-production. Rounding out the features are the standard cast and crew biographies, filmograpies, a couple theatrical trailers, and production notes (that covers much of what is learned in the featurette). If there were anything else DreamWorks could have done here to improve the features of this disc by leaps and bounds - it would have been to include the deleted scenes that Mendes refers to throughout the audio commentary. These particular deleted scenes changed the opening and ending of the film drastically.
It’s not often that a director produces an instant classic as Mendes has done here. American Beauty is a must for anyone’s collection. DreamWorks takes care to make sure the DVD experience is one of crafted quality.