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Snow Falling On Cedars
review by Zach B.
Running Time: 128 minutes
Starring Ethan Hawke, James Cromwell, Richard Jenkins,
Youki Kudoh, Sam Shepard, James Rebhorn, Rick Yune and Max
Screenplay by Ron Bass and Scott Hicks
Based on the Novel by David Guterson
Directed by McG (Joseph McGinity Nichol)
Retail Price: $24.99
Features: Commentary With Director Scott Hicks,
Deleted Scenes, Spotlight On Location, Manzanar, Production
Notes, Cast and Crew Bios, Theatrical Trailer, "Rocky And
Bullwinkle" Teaser Trailer, Recommendations, DVD-ROM:
Specs: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby
Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround, English Subtitles,
Chapter Search (20 Chapters)
After much anticipation, David Guterson's best selling
novel finally hit the silver screen in December 1999.
Besides "Man On The Moon", Universal pushed the movie for
multiple Oscar®s. Though the film got mixed press from
critics alike, it got a Best Cinematography nod, but I felt
it was snubbed in various technical catagories. But many
wonder that can magnificant camera work make up for good yet
murky storytelling? Read on.
It's the early 1950s. On a small island town mixed with
Japanese Americans and Americans, a Japanese American man
stands accused of murder. As heavy snowfall sets in, the
trial gets underway. As the man, witnesses and so forth tell
their tales in flashbacks, a man watching the trial has a
story of his own. The man is Ishmael Chambers (Hawke), a
journalist who recounts his past as a young boy who fell
deeply in love with the Japanese American Hatsue (Kudoh),
the wife of the man who is being prosecuted for murder.
A majority of the film is flashbacks, and for the most
part they are interesting and intriguing. Sometimes however,
I felt they were stretched out and a bit boring. The
flashbacks deal with Pearl Harbor being bombed, Japanese
Americans getting sent off to camps, Ishamel and Hatsue's
love, and other things. Very few scenes even take place in
the courtroom, and a even fewer out of the courtroom
(besides in flashbacks). Occasionally, I did find what was
going inside the courtroom confusing. I wish there were more
courtroom scenes, and scenes out of the courtroom which were
in the present. Yet the film really lost it for me with the
horrible climax and conclusion. It seriously is very weak
and makes you feel fed up, like the movie really did not end
properly. Nothenless, the film touches good points on
racism, love and race relations.
Now, here is where the movie really shines. The main
attraction to this film is the wonderful setting, genius
editing and the splendid camerawork. The setting is gorgeous
and really comes alive like out of a picturebook. The
forests, the trees, the snow, just everything is perfect and
is wonderful eye candy. Lots of detail here. But it gets
better, with the great photoplay of Robert Richardson who
really takes great shots with the film which you notice and
enjoy highly. What else I enjoyed about the film was the
top-notch editing, which you should take notice of. The
editing of this film by Hank Corwin is jaw dropping in a
sense, it's really well done. It is some of the best editing
I've seen in a long time, you really feel like you're in the
town, the editing transports you. Still, the one responsible
for all of it coming together is Scott Hicks, who does a
tremendous job. He really weaves the film together nicely.
What I also enjoyed about the film is the haunting but
beautiful musical score from James Newton Howard. It really
fits the film quite well.
On another positive note, this movie has some good
acting. There really isn't a star lead, it seems everyone
has a good equal amount of screen time. All the actors did a
terrific job, even though Ethan Hawke has the staring lead,
he hardly spoke at all. But what he does is good, and there
is an excellent stand out performance from Max Von Sydow.
So the acting is nice, the story does have a few problems
and a weak ending but generally good and the technicality of
the film is amazing. If you enjoyed the book (I certainly
did, though the movie doesn't capture quite everything),
looking for a two hour drama or have an interest in the
movie, check out "Snow Falling On Cedars". It is flawed, but
still a good movie.
I was really looking foward to this DVD transfer after
seeing the movie in theaters, because it has so many amazing
shots as I described above. Universal is also known for
their top notch transfer, and this transfer does not
disappoint. "Snow Falling On Cedars" is in 2.35:1 anamorphic
widescreen, and it's just jaw dropping. It's a very crisp
and beautiful transfer. Hues are incredibly accurate and
truly represent the scenes. From the blank, cold white snow
to the dead trees. To the browns of the courthouse and bleak
colors of the flashbacks. Black level and detail is very
strong. Now and then there's a piece of dirt and grain, but
nothing too distracting. A mesmerizing transfer for such a
beautifully shot film. It's a nice show piece and I'm very
glad that it really shows the film in all it's glory.
Equally impressive is the Dolby Digital 5.1 track. James
Newton Howard's haunting yet moving score is brought to life
with all the channels, it's quite moody and errie, you
become drawn into the film. The loud sounds at sea, the
seagulls chirping, parts of boats moving. Just little, great
sounds. Especially during the flashbacks and during the
nature scenes. There are plenty of surrounds and they sound
excellent. This is a very interesting mix and it succeeds.
There's so much to capture in this track. Again, it'll
really take you into the film. Also included is a French
Dolby Surround and English captions.
There are some great features on the disc, but it boggles
my mind why Universal didn't label it a "Collector's
Edition". Some of their discs have less features and they
get a gold packaging. But "Snow"... nope. I'm guessing due
to the lukewarm reviews and lack of box office. Still,
there's some great stuff...
First off is a Commentary with Scott Hicks. Hicks,
responsible for the movie "Shine", is such a fantastic
director and shows his skills in this movie, he really
creates such an atmosphere to behold. He also co-wrote the
screenplay, adapting from the book. I was very interested in
Hicks' comments, and he did not disappoint. He hardly
pauses, and he has a very nice, soothing accent. Hicks is
insightful, interesting and has some very good stories about
the production. He really admires his cast. This is a great
track and I really enjoyed Hicks' comments, and if you liked
the movie, you must listen to this.
Deleted Scenes have some cut scenes and some
alternative scenes, all in non-anamorphic widescreen and two
channel sound. The movie runs long as it is, and as I said,
can get boring, but some of these scenes I felt should have
been kept in. There are some deep scenes that do add to the
film. In total, there are eight deleted scenes, and a lot of
them add to Sydow's character.
Spotlight On Location is Universal's usual
making-of featurette. Clips from the film are included, as
well as interviews from the cast and crew, as well as the
book's author, David Guterson. It also focuses a bit on the
book's adapation. Promoish, yes, but still very interesting.
Manazar is a fantastic text based feature, giving
a lot of depth and background on Japanese-Americans during
World War II. If you like history, this is an excellent text
supplement to read. You'll gain a lot.
Rounding out the disc are Cast and Crew Bios that
go into nice detail, also in nice detail are Production
Notes, plus Recommendations (stupid cheap plugs
for other Universal movies), the Universal Showcase
that has the "The Adventures Of Rocky And Bullwinkle"
teaser trailer in non-anamorphic widescreen and 5.1, a
Universal Web Link and finally, the Theatrical
Trailer for "Snow Falling On Cedars" in non-anamorphic
widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1. It's a fantastic trailer
that I do admit to viewing many times.
An amazing presentation of a well executed movie. There
are some great features too. If you liked the book or had an
interest in the movie, don't miss this DVD. It's a wonderful
showpiece. Though a "standard" edition, Universal delivers
(4/5 - NOT included in
NOT an average)