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Published by Warner Books in 1996, Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook is a New York Times best selling novel and has gone on to sell twenty five million copies world wide. Even before the book saw publication it was picked up as a movie option. After sitting in Hollywood limbo for seven years, production began in 2003 with director Nick Cassavetes at the helm. In a somewhat odd choice to release a romance film, The Notebook was released in June of 2004 (in the midst of the summer blockbuster movie season) and became a bonfire hit earning over eighty million dollars domestically. Now just in time for Valentines Day, New Line Cinema has released the film in their Platinum Series of titles.

Notebook, The
Film
Our story begins in modern times with an elderly gentlemen Duke (James Garner) reading to another older woman (played by Oscar nominated actress Gena Rowlands) a story of love and romance. With the story set in South Caroline during the 1940s, Duke acts as the narrator for the woman and audience alike. Noah is a young man in his late teens who sees a woman of his age at a carnival that he cannot resist in courting. After he performs an acrobatic stunt to get gain her attention, Allie (Rachel McAdams of Mean Girls fame) reluctantly grants Noah a date. He clearly is infatuated with her, but it the feelings aren’t generated quite as quickly on her end. Their relationship isn’t perfect, but the companionship they provide for one another is ideal.

Like any story worth telling, obstacles are put in the path of our characters romance. Noah (played by Ryan Gosling whom you may recognize from Remember the Titans) comes from a very middle class family, a typical southern working family. At the other end of the spectrum Allie is of an upper class decent, living on a plantation with parents who like Noah, but want more financial security for their daughter. For this reason they enrol Allie into a university far away from her home in South Carolina. Noah, keeping best intentions for Allie in his heart, decides to break things off with her and join the military. As the years pass by Allie is a nurse volunteer and meets a wounded soldier whom she falls for. Shortly after she agrees to marry the wealthy Lon Hammond (actor James Marsden of X-Men) Allie sees a feature in the local paper on her old beau, and the emotions begin to flood back into her heart.

Notebook, The
While the ensemble cast is performs beautifully throughout the duration of the film, the chronology is dictated masterfully through the familiar, poetic narration of James Garner. He brings conviction and exposition which gives the audience a chance to exhale yet still keeping their attention. In fact, some of the more moving moments of the film are told through his voice. Between his narration and the way the characters are handled, the audience becomes very attached to these likeable people. Their romance is one that easy to root for, and you almost feel as though you journey with them on their path. It is this which sets up a plot twist that will tug at the strings of your heart. Because this occurs at the halfway point, the film almost feels like Citizen Kane (not to say that it’s anywhere near as good, but in terms of style) in that you know the ultimate fate of the characters as the story wears on.

Technically speaking there are two elements that are noteworthy in The Notebook: the score and the cinematography. Composer Aaron Zigman is a relative newcomer to this realm of filmmaking, with his only major previous work being on John Q. His simple solo instrumental riffs are very majestic, and give an element of class to the film. There aren’t many moments of sweeping, whimsical pieces of music, which keep the film from being too drenched in the genre. Robert Fraisse is responsible for making the shots of the film very encompassing, putting you in the setting along with the characters. He, along with the composer, paints a Norman Rockwell picture throughout the film, giving a sense of striving for that ideal life that is attached to the notion of the American Dream. These areas give Cassavetes interpretation of The Notebook an edge over other films in the genre. It stays true to the romantic style, but does not go as far to be sappy. If you have a heart and have ever had a loved one, you will relate to the story. It tugs on the strings of your heart to the extent that even the hardest nosed folks will find a lump swelling in their throat.

Notebook, The
Video
Shot on a Panavision camera and lens, The Notebook is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2:35:1. Technically speaking there aren’t any major issues with the video transfer. Grain isn’t excessive to distraction, but there is a hint of it here and there. I did notice one instance of haloing from edge enhancement, but most probably won’t even catch it. My biggest concern is with the lack of consistency in the contrast of the colours. There are some times when the transfer is as gorgeous as some of the cinematography with the images leaping off the screen. However there are other times in which the picture appears soft, and sometimes saturated. This could be attributed to the amount of extras on the disc taking up precious bit rate. Overall the video quality is average, but nothing to write home about.

Audio
The region two edition of The Notebook comes with but two audio options: Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Stereo 2.0, both in English. While there aren’t any glaring audio issues, like the aforementioned video quality there’s nothing really to gush over either. In the ninety seconds or so of war footage sub will get a nice workout, but that’s about it in terms of low frequencies. The dialogue does get drowned out by other sound elements at times, partially because the mix doesn’t take enough advantage of the rear audio outputs. The score on occasion is heard with slight distortion, which is a real shame as it’s a beautiful one to hear. An important fact to remember is that a film of this nature doesn’t have a purpose in showing off the in the surrounds, other than to provide balance.

Extras
For your viewing pleasure New Line Cinema has jam packed their DVD release of The Notebook with a set of comprehensive. First and foremost there are two full length audio commentaries to watch in conjunction with the film, the first being with director Nick Cassavetes and the second being with author Nicholas Sparks. I am pleased to report that both are commendable efforts on the parts of the participants. Cassavetes offers a very in-depth look at the making of the film. He gives insights into the technical aspects of shooting the film, from location scouting to limitations on equipment, and also shares information on his storytelling process; his insights on his theories of telling a story (in particular this one) are very intriguing and make the commentary worth listening to.

Notebook, The
The commentary by author Nicholas Sparks is essentially a series of anecdotes telling his inspirations for this book, and the process of how a book is adapted to the screen. What impressed me the most about both commentaries is that you can tell the participants loved what they created, but they didn’t feel it was necessary to gush (which had been my problem on the commentary for Friday Night Lights). Those interested in film making will love what Cassavetes has to say, and those who are in love with the story will get multiple viewings with Sparks’ commentary.

Twelve deleted scenes are also a feature on this disc which can be watched individually or as one cohesive track (also with the option of director’s commentary). My general consensus on this cut material is that it was for the best. The cut scenes do a bit too much explaining of details in the story; if they were included in the feature it would have taken away from the effectiveness of James Garner as the narrator, which is one of the most charming elements of the picture. Their tone is almost completely different than that of the rest of the story. In sum they might be fun to look at and a nice inclusion to the set, but are graciously not part of the film.

In addition to the theatrical trailer, the extras are rounded out by four featurettes which look at the production of The Notebook. One gives a profile on the director, and another gives a profile of the author. Interviews with cast and crew alike share their thoughts on the featured members of the production team, giving a look into the types of people they are. The feature on casting the film also includes the screen test for Miss Rachel McAdams (Allie). Finally a feature on the locations for the film looks at the location scouting process, as well as the process of shooting a film taking place in the 1940s. Of these featurettes, the ones most worth looking at are on the location scouting and on the author, with the others being easy to skip over.  
It would be tough to find something to complain about in the set that EiV has delivered here. Fans of The Notebook definitely have what they want, and movie goers also have their share of worthwhile extras as well. Perhaps the best quality of these extras is that some of them have repeat viewing value.

Notebook, The
Overall
Is The Notebook a sappy romantic film that appeals more so to the female gender? In a word, yes. What separates this film from others in the genre is that it is very well made. The dialogue isn’t overly dramatic, the cinematography is beautiful, the acting is solid, and the score is majestic. On top of that the studio has done a great job on the release. With Valentines Day less than a week away, this is a great date movie for romantics of all ages. Guys can score some points with their significant others in bringing this one home for a movie date, and women can have their partners sit through a nicely done movie.


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