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Click above to purchase "Snow Falling On Cedars" at amazon.com

 

Snow Falling On Cedars

review by Zach B.

Rated PG-13

Studio: Universal

Running Time: 128 minutes

Starring Ethan Hawke, James Cromwell, Richard Jenkins, Youki Kudoh, Sam Shepard, James Rebhorn, Rick Yune and Max Von Sydow

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: Weblink

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 the goods.

(4/5 - NOT included in final score)

(4.5/5)

(4.5/5)

(3/5)

(4/5, NOT an average)

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