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Every year hundreds of movies are made all over the world. From Canada to France to the United States the number of movies made is mind boggling. However not all movies get the fair shot they deserve. Some movies head direct to video, others to American cable channels and many to theaters. In the past I've been of the mind set that movies released direct to video must have been pretty bad and undeserving of a wider audience. Recently I've been proven wrong as some really great films end up straight to video for many reasons. Michael Winterbottom's "The Claim" earned a small theatrical release after receiving positive reviews but even then wasn't truly given a decent shot due to the timing involved with it's release. MGM just wasn't sure how to market such a film. Now MGM brings "The Claim" to the home on DVD.

Claim, The
Movie
The lives of the people living during the 1800's were much different from the lives we live today. Things were much simpler.  They didn't have nearly the number of things to worry about as we do today, there were no cell phones and no modern appliances. However at the most basic level life was not all that different than what we know now.  One needed to care for his children and health and maintain a job whenever possible. During this period in the state of California an event called The Gold Rush was occurring where people from all over were flocking to California in search of gold.  Many people took this to be the source for all their problems to go away. However the gold eventually ran dry and people once again needed to find other ways to sustain life.  Set amidst the backdrop of the end of the gold rush director Michael Winterbottom (Wonderland) brings us "The Claim".

The year is 1869 and the supply of gold in California has nearly ran out. Wealthy land owner Daniel Dillion (Peter Mullan) lives and runs the small town of Kingdom Come located among the Sierra Nevada mountains.  However with the supply of gold running out he is looking for another way for his town to continue to prosper. Donald Dalglish (Wes Bentley) is the chief engineer of the Central Pacific Railway company who has been commissioned to determine where the railway will pass through. Donald has come to Kingdom Come to survey the area to see if the tracks will run through the small town. Dillion knows that only way his town can continue to survive is if he can get the railway to run through it. So Dillion sets out to make sure Dalglish will build through there and has his mistress,  a bar maiden by the name Lucia (Mila Jovovich) set him up with a girl. Arriving in town at the same time is Hope Burns (Sarah Polley) and her mother Elaine (Nastassja Kinski) who are in town to visit a relative.  Despite Lucia's attempts to set him up with one of the girls from the brothel Dalglish has his eyes set on Hope. Hope has also taken an interest in Dalglish and often asks to accompany him on day trips related to his job. Over time relationships form, decisions have to be made, lives will change and one thing is for sure, Kingdom Come will never be the same. 

"The Claim" features an excellent ensemble cast, all of which contribute to make this movie what it is. Wes Bentley best known as the video camera kid in "American Beauty" is one of Hollywood's greatest up and comers. His range here is excellent, going from caring beforehand to greedy next. Canadian actress Sara Polley ("Go, The Sweet Hereafter") is a talent I've watched mature over the years and is truly a treat to watch here again. While she doesn't appear in many films the ones she does appear in benefit greatly from her presence. Mila Jovovich from the "5th Element" plays a caring barmaid and love interest for Dillion who is a backstabbing someone one minute and caring for someone else another. While her motives are entirely superficial and aimed towards herself, Mila makes it appear the character is looking out for the others. Also excellent is Peter Mullan as the town owner, whose character finally attempts to get the priorities in his life arranged and on track. The lovely Nastassja Kinski also displays a range of emotions in her small role. 

This is director Michael Winterbottom's 3rd feature and after seeing this one I'm suddenly very interested in seeing his other works. Michael has successfully told a story that gives off the message that life is what you make it out to be, and that just because you act one way doesn't mean you can't change. Life is what you make it out to be and as long as your happy then that's all that matters. Things change and people change but that's life.

Sadly this wonderful film wasn't given a fair chance in theaters. At the height of it's release it was playing on just a handful of screens. While one of those screens was in my hometown it was long gone before I even knew what it was.  It seems as though MGM just didn't know how to handle it's release. Had this film been marketed better I think it could have made some money. Regardless of MGM's mistake, at least they have tried to do right by themselves on DVD.

Those of you who like dramas that deal with the human condition and soul will like this movie; "The Claim" is an excellent movie that shouldn't be missed. 

Claim, The
Video
Recently, MGM has been falling behind the pact in terms of video transfers. While MGM has released quite a few titles in the year of 2001 the majority of these titles have been older catalog titles suffering from old laserdisc transfers, some of which were not enhanced for 16x9 displays.  In the early days of DVD I would have been more forgiving but now with other studios offering up beautiful transfers for catalog titles it's unacceptable. What's even more unacceptable is a below average transfer for a new release title.

MGM presents "The Claim" in it's original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1. After having the pleasure of viewing so many excellent transfers over the past 3 months, when a transfer like this comes along it's a reminder that not all DVDs are created equal.

"The Claim" is a beautifully photographed film and as such it makes it even more disappointing when the image is not as good as it can be.  The picture suffers in many areas, the most major being softness and print flaws. For a recent release there seems to be an abnormally high number of print flaws, including lots of dirt and dust on the print used.  Color use is minimal and depth seems to be a bit flat. 

On the plus side compared to many other recent MGM transfers, this is one of the better ones I've seen from them in recent months so not all is lost here. It's not a bad transfer just disappointing considering what else is out there and what could have been given the beautiful look of the film.

Audio
"The Claim" contains Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks in both English and Spanish. 

Aside from the score and the occasional surround effect "The Claim's" audio mix sticks to the front 3 speakers. Dialogue is clear and easy to understand and well balanced in the mix which is important for a dialogue driven film. The score is presented well across the front channels and occasionally spills into the surrounds to create a more sweeping atmosphere. While not an action movie, there are a few scenes containing some floor rumbling bass and some above average surround sound effects.

"The Claim" is not the most impressive audio experience I've ever heard but it doesn't really have any real faults either. It simply accomplishes what it needs to.

Claim, The
Extras
DVD Fans have had their fair share of gripes with MGM Home Entertainment and their output on the DVD format. Sure there have been a few exceptions to the rule, but for the most part seeing the name MGM beside a release causes concern.  Just one of the many problems has been the number of extras on discs or lack therof. Aside from the odd Special Edition disc like "When Harry Met Sally" and "Antitrust", most of MGM's disc's have been bare bones, containing no real value added material. 

"The Claim" is no exception to this as the only extra on this disc is the excellent theatrical trailer.

While the disc doesn't have a wealth of special features or even a commentary track from the director, in the end it's the film that counts. Michael Winterbottom's "The Claim" is a gem of a film; if you've seen the film then pick up the disc. It may not offer the best video quality or an earth shattering audio mix but it is a great way to own an outstanding film. If you haven't seen the film and I doubt many of you have then please take a chance and rent this disc.


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