Amelia (US - BD RA)
Gabe wants to spoil the ending: She doesn't make it around the world...
Amelia, the story of Amelia Earhart, the pilot that broke sexual barriers and captured the worlds attention, is ripe and proper piece of Oscar bait if I ever saw some. First off – it’s a big name biography piece, and if films like A Beautiful Mind, Ray and Walk the Line can spin prestigious nominations and even wins from utter mediocrity simply because they biographical studies. Then comes the director, perpetual awards bridesmaid Mira Nair, who in grand Oscar bait tradition forgoes her usual style in favour of a classic period look. Co-scripter Ronald Bass fills the role of has-been whose name still perks up a few Academy eyebrows. He wrote Rain Man, and followed it up with a whole collection of well received ‘chick-flicks’. But bio flicks rarely take home the director, screenplay or picture award ( Amadeus and for some reason A Beautiful Mind excepted), the money is in the actor categories, and Amelia features one of the Academy's favourites, Hilary Swank, in the lead role (and the producer’s seat). Swank is supported by another has-been with good will in Richard Gere in a well calculated swing at an under the wire supporting actor nomination (as Earhart’s husband and publicist George Putnam).
Amelia feels like every other bio flick ever, including historically freckled, skip-to-my-loo plotting marking the well treaded factoids, broad, caricature-like acting with lots of accents, and luscious photography that pays almost pornographic attention to period details. Nair even drops in a few pieces of news reel footage to keep things extra predictable. The good news is that things keep moving at a clip, despite being pretty dull dramatically, so the film doesn’t feel like an overwhelming epic. The flying scenes feel pretty good, until the camera cuts back to Swank, and she’s suddenly cut against a very obvious and static green screen for broad reactions. I didn’t expect much from the film in the areas of plot or drama because I’ve grown awfully jaded by the yearly influx of bio flicks, almost none of which I end up liking, but like everyone else I end up watching. Amelia doesn’t come across as a spoof of the genre or anything, but it often feels like Nair and Bass had a checklist of moments they knew they had to cover in just under two hours. Clearly predictability isn’t really a complaint when it comes to a well known biography, but there likely had to be someway to tell this particular story in a little less conventional arena, especially since they don’t have an ending to fall back on.
The real disappointment, and thing that goes against expectations is the acting. Swank plays Earhart as a flimsy cartoon version of a human being. I honestly got more out of Amy Adams’ even more cartoony, Katherine Hepburn on too much caffeine version of Earhart in Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, because Adams at least presented something to react to. Swank’s skills haven’t been in question since Boy’s Don’t Cry, but for some reason she never connects with this role. Gere is no better, playing an equally characterless version of the stalwart generic male companion he’s been coasting on for years. Ewan McGregor isn’t given a lot to work with, but is a warm spot in the mix. At the very least the film doesn’t over-romanticize the facts of Earhart’s life (she participated in cheating on several occasions), even if it over-romanticizes her person and the events we know she had a part in. Unfortunately attempts at romanticizing of her personal life fall very flat, and do begin to approach down right silliness. It’s good that Nair creates the characters out of images more than words (perhaps putting too much faith in her actors), but the occasional storytelling/narration aspect drags the film down into uninspired telling without showing.
Amelia looks a lot like Scorsese’s The Aviator, from film stock, to lighting schemes and colour pallets. It’s a clean, golden look with consistently bright and soft lighting, basically equating a colour equivalent to sepia tone. Nair does devote sections of her compositions to fine details, mostly of the decorative variety, but the film is far from what I’d call Baroque, and often the focus is set quite shallow, so fine details don’t make the difference in this particular HD transfer. The Blu-ray’s 1080p abilities are best utilized in the cleanliness of this particular imagery, which rarely displays more than incredibly fine grain, and occasional digital impurity (a few night shots towards the end of the film are pretty grainy). The whole film creates a sensation of floating and delicacy, likely intended based on the subject matter, and as a result there isn’t a lot of harsh edging or contrasts. When blacks and whites enter the equation they are perfectly pure, but besides the newsreels there isn’t a lot of sharpness for comparison against other HD releases. The brown, yellow, and auburn colours are gorgeous and clean, and the red highlights pop nicely against them with only the slightest bleeding or noise. The sky blue hues are the only elements with occasional dirt issues, but this is not a consistent problem. There are a few outstanding scenes that rail against the predetermined look, like a montage of Earhart selling out her name, and these stick out nicely against the otherwise successful warmth of the transfer.
Amelia comes fitted with a Fox usual DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio soundtrack. The only moments of real aural intrigue revolve around flying, but even these are relatively subdued for a modern release. Airplanes zip and buzz throughout the channels, their engines rumbling the LFE with enough oomph to let you know the volume levels are at the right spot. Storm scenes offer a little more splattering rain and bass bump in the form of thunder, but Amelia isn’t really mixed with expressive 5.1 style in mind. The dialogue is centered and clean, and sounds plenty consistent and realistic. The narration stands out nicely with a higher volume and crisper sound. Music plays an important roll in establishing the period, and the period pieces are worked into the film are placed well into the appropriate speakers. Often things just shoot from the front channels, but on several occasions the rear channels get in on the action, in the form of both delegated score selections, and moving onscreen soundtrack. Overall Gabriel Yared’s score is quiet and melodramatic, so it doesn’t have a heavy LFE presence, but its warmth and clarity are unquestionable.
The special features begin with a run of ten deleted scenes (14:00, HD). These fill in much of the historical record, and some might have added something to Swanks character, but I’d hate to sit through 14 more minutes of this particular film. Mostly the loser here is Virginia Madsen, who gives a good performance as Dorothy Putnam, George Putnam’s first wife. Next up is ‘Making Amelia’ (23:00, HD), a well constructed EPK likely used to promote the film on television. The cast and crew give their most basic opinions on the subjects and characters, intercut with a whole lot of footage from the film, and a few snippits of behind the scenes footage. Most of the focus is placed upon the real characters, the cast, the locations and filming the flying, which was mostly achieved without special effects. ‘The Power of Amelia Earhart’ (10:45, HD) takes a little more time explore the historical relevance of the real Earhart, though in pretty broad strokes, while ‘The Plane Behind the Legend’ (4:30, HD) glances at the historical Electra (Earhart’s final plane), and ‘Reconstructing the Planes of Amelia’ (6:30, HD) takes a look at the production and construction of the planes used in the film. Things end with a collection of eight real Fox Movietone News reels (6:40, SD), and trailers for other Fox releases.
I’m struggling to find something genuinely positive to say about Amelia beyond ‘it’s a very handsome looking film’, but I’m coming up empty. The drama comes off as trite and false, the acting is below standards, and the look is predictable for the director, who has succeeded though utter style in the past. I never felt the excitement of Earhart’s adventures, or the weight of tragic disappearance, which is summed up by a suspense free series of missed radio transmissions. I really just watched the movie in as passive a manner as possible. The Blu-ray release features a very clean and consistent transfer, but doesn’t really earn its uncompressed DTS-HD track.
*Reviewer Note: The images on this page do not represent the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may not be suitable for children
Release Date: 2nd February 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French and Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Making Amelia, The Power of Amelia Earhart, The Plane Behind the Legend, Reconstructing the Planes of Amelia, Trailers, Movietone News, Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Mira Nair
Cast: Hillary Swank, Richard Gere, Ewan McGregor, Christopher Eccleston
Genre: Adventure and Drama
Length: 111 minutes
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