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It’s not uncommon for a successful comedic actor to have an itch for playing more dramatic roles. And it’s also not uncommon for the critics and general public to destroy said actor for merely going for schmaltz over a decent character. Take Robin Williams, for example. No one doubted his effectiveness in playing the crazy, funny bloke, and rightly so. But when he began throwing mud at his own career by starring in cream-pies like Patch Adams and Jakob The Liar, all but the most forgiving of viewers were more than just slightly disappointed. It’s probably a credit to the man’s talent that he’s now back with a vengeance playing another type of role, and also highlights that it may be the choice of character rather than the defection itself that decides whether a comedian can make a smooth transition into straight out drama.

Jim Carrey is the latest to give it a fair dinkum crack. He’s hardly disguised the fact that the search is on for an Oscar in the near future, and The Majestic was hopefully going to be his ticket. With the Academy shunning successful comedies for years it comes as no surprise that Carrey and the like have to turn to more dramatic characters to be noticed. This time, unlike Williams, there’s not a lot of mud to be thrown. Carrey can act, and I’m not talking just the loud-mouthed nutbags we’ve come to know from early in his career.

Majestic, The

Movie
The Majestic gained a lot of interest for the sole reason that it was Carrey’s big stab at outright drama. It also marked a different turn by Director Frank Darabont, who helmed the brilliant Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. Those two had their similarities but Majestic was a bit of a change of pace. Despite this you can still see Darabont’s mark on the film stand out; the slow but intriguing pace, the soft look of the surrounds and the strong focus on timing with the actors.

The film begins with B-movie screenwriter Peter Appleton, pondering life as studio executives argue ridiculously over a plotline for their latest movie. We soon learn that Appleton is being blacklisted by the studio for being a supposed communist and having his current film shelved, such was the trend in Hollywood during the 1950s. Like all sorrowful middle-aged men who are they’re down on their luck, Appleton chugs down a bottle of grog. The problem is he decides to jump in his car shortly after. A stray animal, a slippery bridge and a bump on the head later and Peter Appleton is just a distant memory.

Peter awakes with no recollection of what happened and is found by a man and his dog in the town of Lawson. Peter can’t remember his name, where he came from or what he was doing to wash up on the beach. Soon after the kind folk of Lawson realise that he is, in fact, a World War Two soldier by the name of Luke Trimble, missing in action since he set out to battle. This “miracle” is just what the town needed since losing so many young men to the fight, and everyone is overjoyed that Luke is back and alive.

Luke’s father Harry is easily the most pleased to see him. His son has returned after many had (probably rightly) presumed he was dead. Even his old girlfriend Adele has her initial doubts, but Harry convinces everyone that the unthinkable has happened. Of course, Luke (or is it Peter?) can’t remember a thing so he just goes along with all the joy that has suddenly befallen the small town. Heck, they throw a party just for him and reminisce about how good a bloke he really is. Why wouldn’t you just accept it?

Finally comfortable at being back home, Luke decides to restore the old movie theatre he and his father used to run before the war. With so many men lost in the fighting the patrons stopped coming, but with Luke back they are more than happy to start having some fun once again. With a little elbow grease and a few minor mishaps, The Majestic is open for business just like old times.

Majestic, The

The final act is most definitely the thorn in the side of what is a pretty good film. We are soon taken to the town of Lawson thanks to some quick-fire action and the rapid introduction of Peter and his situation. But for the other two-and-a-quarter hours the audience must sit through the slow-paced drama with the shadow of Luke’s past inevitably going to catch up with him somewhere along the line. A poorly thought-out courtroom sequence and even more “closure” afterwards really do drag the film out unnecessarily, with at least half an hour of the final few scenes entirely expendable.

Helping to make this an enjoyable ride despite the lengthy running time is the stellar cast assembled by Darabont, who has a penchant for using some great actors in small roles dotted throughout his films. Carrey more than holds his own as Peter/Luke but probably doesn’t show enough contrast between the two to really be considered for that little golden statue. Laurie Holden as Adele is an inspired choice as Luke’s girlfriend, but it is Martin Landau who once again stands out above the rest. His portrayal of Luke’s father Harry is top notch and utterly convincing as a man who so desperately wanted to see his son return. These three are ably supported by a number of others who give the town that “homely” feel, David Ogden Stiers the standout. And see if you can pick the A-list star cameo during the finale.

The film never tries to be too ambitious with its range of emotions. We’re basically there to enjoy ourselves the whole way through, yet be touched by a few choice moments along the way. There are some great little monologues dotted throughout, most of them pivotal to the essence of the story, and Carrey deals with a difficult penultimate scene by playing down all his lines, so if you can stand sitting through what is a slow-moving drama you’ll definitely find some value out of this one. It might not have earned Carrey his Oscar but this solid piece of work can hopefully lead to bigger and better things for him in the future. Let’s just hope he stays away from the Robin Williams syndrome of picking tear-jerking junk in order to break out of the comedic typecast.

Video
Again, this is a fine transfer from Roadshow who are back to their best with the new releases. The film is presented in 1.85:1 and is 16:9 enhanced, looking great on the eye and accentuating Darabont’s attention to detail and soft touch with the lens. Even though the film looks quite soft with rich colours and a slight glow to the skin tones the sharpness is never lost. The money shot, of course, is the scene where the cinema lights are displayed in full, with an audience staring in wonder down below. This shot definitely confirms this is a great looking disc. Even the clips from the classic films played at The Majestic come out on top, obviously with a little grain that comes as no surprise at all. The visuals are top notch here and help bring out the soft touch Darabont is so adept at giving us with his work.

Majestic, The

Audio
Included on the disc is a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack that does the job without being anything out of the ordinary. For the most part the action sits in the front speakers, giving us no problems with the dialogue at all. There is the odd use of the rear channels to good effect such as during the car crash and for a few atmospheric sounds here and there. But it’s probably the score from Mark Isham (Life As A House, Don’t Say A Word) that makes the best use of the rears. While the score itself seems a little wayward sometimes and doesn’t quite have the power to match what is going on in the story, the soundtrack does its best to pump out the orchestral pieces through all your speakers. The subwoofer use is fairly limited, no surprise given this is a very dialogue driven film. On the whole it’s a pretty unimpressive audio mix but doesn’t really need to be with this film.

Extras
A small extras package awaits us when we step into the special features section of the DVD. First up are seven deleted scenes that run for a total of around ten minutes. Most of these scenes are quite short and add little to the story, though there are a couple that do add a little more detail to certain events during the film. There was obviously no need to keep them in with the already lengthy running time, so the DVD is the best place to have them, complete with a handy play all feature.

Next up is a featurette that shows the entire sequence of Sand Pirates Of The Sahara, a movie written by the character of Peter that was shown during the film. Most of this footage was seen in the final cut, so watching it in its entirety isn’t all that appealing.

Possibly the most interesting extra is The Hollywood Blacklist, a six-page text feature that details the blacklist era of Hollywood during the 1950s when communism was being ironed out. It mentions the names of those affected and how changes were made to certain film credits once the fiasco was over. A great way to put some of the events in the film into historical context.

Rounding out the extras section is the theatrical trailer and a terrible cast & crew biographies menu where only Jim Carrey, Frank Darabont and Writer Michael Sloane are given any information. Overall, a pretty disappointing package.

Majestic, The

Overall
As a straight out drama, The Majestic definitely has its merits. Despite the slow pace and lengthy running time I found myself compelled until the unnecessary final half hour. Carrey does a great job in his first real shift from comedy, while Landau and Holden provide great support for his character. The video is another superb effort, the audio is serviceable and the extras section is quite disappointing so the disc is a bit of a mixed bag. But you could well get some real value out of the film.


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