Beaver, The (US - BD RA)
Gabe types his review of Jodi Foster's film with tiny surrogate finger puppets...
Walter Black (Mel Gibson) is the severely depressed executive heir to a popular toy company. As his depression spirals out of control his company faulters, and more tragically his family suffers. His wife Meredith (Jodi Foster), a rollercoaster designer, eventually finds the strength to boot Walter from the house. Walter checks himself into a hotel and attempts to hang himself from a shower rod with his neck tie. A beaver puppet he rediscovered while throwing out artefacts of his past remains affixed to his hand. The rod breaks, and in his drunken stupor Walter knocks himself unconscious when a television set falls onto his head. When he awakens the puppet has taken on a life of its own, and Walter successfully uses it to communicate with the people around him, rekindling his romance with Meredith, reconnecting with his youngest son, and pulling his company out of turmoil. Meanwhile, Walter’s oldest son, Porter (Anton Yelchin), who wants nothing more than to be nothing like his father, takes money in exchange for writing academic papers for his schoolmates. One day popular and pretty valedictorian Norah (Jennifer Lawrence) comes to him for assistance with her graduation speech, leading the pair to forge an unlikely bond.
The Beaver is one of those films that will be forever ruled by the publicity that surrounded it. By now we all know the sordid, depressing, infuriating tale of Mel Gibson’s belly flop out of the general public’s good graces. I don’t think I need to discuss it, or the fact that The Beaver was done in at the box office due in large part to this controversy. However, I feel that the producers and director Jodi Foster missed a chance at making back their modest budget had they embraced the circus, rather than quietly releasing the film in an effort to avoid the lime light. When word came down that the film had been held back to avoid association with Gibson’s meltdown, only a brief description, and entirely bizarre photo still accompanied most of the news items. The picture and description implied something subversive, even interesting. Most intriguing was the fact that it appeared that there might be some autobiographical pieces to this puzzle, as Gibson likely was suffering some pretty severe mental anguish, and perhaps could use a little hand-puppet therapy. Had the film seen release that week I probably would’ve paid to see it out of sheer curiosity, but there was a nearly five month wait for its limited run, and in the interim the news and reviews verified the worst case scenario – The Beaver was pretty darn mainstream. Now I’ve seen the film, and the real truth is even more tragic – The Beaver is a precious, faux-quirky exercise that ends in a series of life lessons.
This isn’t to say The Beaver is a waste, or even bad. Kyle Killen’s script, though never particularly distinguished, features a unique hook. Foster’s direction, though never spectacular, is appealing and colourful. The performances, including Gibson’s, are at least good, and occasionally even great. It’s even quite funny at times, and touches upon the subversive silliness I was hoping for from the concept. My problems with the film have very little to do with the concept, or Gibson’s portrayal, they have everything to do with the stuff going on around him. The really dark stuff that opens the film, specifically Gibson struggling to commit suicide, is the strongest, and any scene featuring him interacting with himself sits well, but disappears for long stretches of film. Clearly Killen was afraid of diving too deeply such a murky pool, and probably didn’t fill out a feature length screenplay, so he developed an incredibly boring B-plot that wastes the ample talents of Anton Yelchin (who really needs to start staying away from this kind of ostentatious, angst ridden, coming-of-age stuff) and Jennifer Lawrence. For every uplifting, occasionally challenging Beaver sequence there is a dull, pokey sequence where Yelchin and Lawrence awkwardly feel sorry for themselves. Minus this unneeded, emotionally false rubble, and with a bit of punch up on the third act, which takes things to delightfully absurd places, The Beaver could be genuinely great.
The Beaver looks so great on this 1080p transfer I assumed it was shot digital HD, but I see that Foster and cinematographer Hagen Bogdanski utilized good, old fashion 35mm. There is very, very little grain on the print, save some of the corners of the darkest night shots. This lack of grain, coupled with a slightly odd smoothness to some of the sharper details, leads me to believe that there was quite a bit of digital hullabaloo behind the scenes. It looks nice though, and there’s plenty of texture to enjoy, specifically Gibson’s chiseled facade, and the Beaver’s matted fur. Most of the aggressive fine detail is delegated to the foregrounds, as generally shallow focus is used for at least half of the film. Compression artifacts are limited to the point of near nonexistence outside of some of the flatter light blue backgrounds. Contrast levels are brilliant, and black levels are quite deep and pure. Colour plays a very important part in the film. Foster doesn’t quite pull the whole ‘subtext representative hues’ approach, but for the most part positive emotions seem to equate more complex hue arrangements, and darker emotions seem to equate desaturated blueness. The colour palette is consistently blue/green tinted, but flesh tones are usually quite warm, and poppy acrylics make a subtle appearance in most scenes.
The Beaver’s generally lo-fi production, and this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track follows suit. There isn’t much else to say about it. The vast majority of vocals and sound effects are delegated to the center channel, with only occasional outdoor ambience to break the tradition, and give the stereo and surround channels something to do outside of music. There aren’t really any directional effects to speak of, and even unless something very loud is happening off screen the sound designers basically ignore the possibility of widening their aural scope. This isn’t really a problem given the aspirations and tone, and dialogue is always clear, so I don’t really consider this disappointing. I caught a couple of off lip-sync moments, but most of these seem to be an effect of Gibson’s cockney accent, which makes his mouth do strange things. Marcelo Zarvos’ waltzing, European inspired score is warm and smooth, with some minor stereo effects, and bit of LFE punching bass.
Before I discuss the special features, I’d like to briefly mention The Beaver’s menus. These are quite clever in concept, and even attractive, but are awkward to navigate, and slow moving. A for effort, D for execution. Anyway, extras begin with Jodie Foster’s solo audio commentary. Foster approaches the track intellectually, and obviously came to the recording well prepared. She discusses subtext and themes, which can definitely grate, and sound like simple narration, but for the most part her input is welcome and helpful. Her grasp of film theory is consistently impressive, and if her presence on this track were more consistent it’d work well as an educational tool. She’s also plenty aware of the problems with melding the father and son stories, though she comes to the conclusion that she succeeded in the balance, and I tend to disagree with her despite her compelling arguments to the contrary.
The disc also features two deleted scenes with optional commentary from Foster (who implies during the commentary that a whole lot more material was actually cut, 4:50, HD), ‘Everything is Going to be O.K.’ (12:00, HD), a decent EPK/extended trailer featuring footage from the film, a little bit of behind the scenes footage, and interviews with Foster, Gibson, Lawrence and Yelchin, and trailers.
The Beaver probably deserved more attention for being a generally well made movie, rather than being the death knell of Mel Gibson’s career. Unfortunately there’s something special in the concept that goes unexplored in favour of more modern, independent film bitter-sweetness. Director Jodi Foster manages genuine beauty, and structures the flawed narrative well, and the performances, especially Gibson’s, are impressive, but the material would likely make a much better cynical, R-rated feature, like Death to Smoochy or After Hours. The disc looks gorgeous, sounds fine but unassuming, and features a solid director’s commentary to boot. It’s worth a rent for Foster’s fans, but will likely disappoint the lookie loos hoping to see Mel Gibson embarrass himself one last time.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray's image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 23rd August 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Extras: Director Commentary, Deleted Scenes with Option Director Commentary, Everything is Going to be OK, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Jodi Foster
Cast: Mel Gibson, Jodi Foster, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence
Genre: Comedy and Drama
Length: 91 minutes
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