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“I see dead people” – well not quite! Michael Caine and Robert Duvall might be getting on a bit but they are certainly not dead yet, and that for the diviewing public is fortunate indeed as we get to see them in Secondhand Lions. Either this film did very badly at the UK box office, or it was released when I was on holiday last September as I do not recall seeing one piece of advertising for it. So it was with a great trepidation that I watched this film which was sold to me as a family movie.

Secondhand Lions

The Film
Secondhand Lions is a film about two elderly brothers with a lot of hidden money, greedy families and their enjoyment of their solitude. It is also about a young boy whose gold digging mother sends him to live with his uncles for the summer with the intention of him finding where their money is stashed. Haley Joel Osment stars as Walter, a shy but intelligent boy who knows all too well about his mothers lack of concern for his welfare. She spins him a story that she is going off to college and that he must stay with two eccentric uncles who he does not know and has probably never met. The uncles, Garth and Hub are played by Caine and Duvall. As Walter and his mother drive up to the house, there are many signs informing people to keep away, including “Loose Rabid Attack Dogs (and a Pig)” and “Nuclear Radiation! Personnel in protective suits ONLY!”. The house itself is a curious shape with a tower in the middle, and it looks old or at least, dilapidated. These two men certainly do not live like the rich men everyone says they are. And everyone does as we hear many rumours about how the men came to be rich in the first place.

As Walter spends more time in the tv-less, telephone-less house he starts to befriend his uncles and with this, becomes more confident in being around these fun loving, men who spend most of their days sitting on the porch, and shooting at travelling sales men who try to hawk their wares. The men have a passion for guns not only using them for removing salesmen from the premises, but for fishing too. As time passes, Walter asks Garth of his past, and so begins a tale of wonder. Clearly from the start of the film, Hub is the stronger and more virulent of the two and Garth’s stories strengthen this as he explains about their time in Europe, the Foreign Legion and Africa. The stories are full of magic and wonder, as well as action and adventure. One day an animal transporter arrives with Hub’s order – a lion. Both men take arms and stand facing the animals crate waiting to shoot the beast within. Unfortunately when Walter opens the crate, the lion inside is hardly a man eater and in fact is a bit old, used, secondhand. So instead of shooting the lion, Walter looks after her and she is his first pet. Hub agrees to this with the intention of shooting the lion at a later date when she is stronger again. Add to these absurd plot lines the remainder of the family – another money grabbing pair with three of their own kids whom the uncles clearly dislike with a passion. Sine these people see Walter as competition they instantly hate him through no fault of his own and therefore whenever Walter suggests something, the uncles see how much it will annoy their family and so do it right away. For instance, they buy a clay pigeon firing arm from a travelling salesman, spending what could be inheritance money which does not go down well at all.

Secondhand Lions

This film has many small stories following its main plot and with Michael Caine telling a lot of the stories, this works well even if he has softened his British accent for a melodious Texan drawl. Robert Duvall reminds me of Daniel Day Lewis from Gangs in New York with his broad shoulders and menacing stare. The pairing works well which makes the film accessible to adults as well as children. The film also contains a fair amount of jokes children might not pick up on in almost a Toy Story way. They are not rude, and imply nothing but this delicate humour makes the film very enjoyable. These are not as prolific as in Pixar’s films but they are there enough to give a wry smile at times. Osment is at a difficult stage in his career where he is too young to play a young adult (he is currently nearly 16 years old) but getting too old to play a child. For me here it was touch and go with him with a couple of instances where his lack experience shows but overall he added greatly to the film, with an inquisitive nature showing through helping his character progress. Certainly this film is one of those rare films that should please all ages and while there are moments of sadness, they are shown in a light not made to crush the audience’s spirit, but to elate them for the times the characters spent together before.

Video
What a wonderful world we live in where video quality has got to this sort of level. For the bigger budget, newer films the quality of the video is fantastic and while that might leave me to say this DVD is average or above average in terms of quality, that level in itself is so high that it is a compliment to the producers. The film is set in a variety of environments and at different times of day putting a reasonable amount of demands on the video quality. From the night scenes, black levels are good with a decent amount of detail in the darkened sky whilst the daytime scenes in the desert are bright and interesting without being too enhanced or forced colour wise. There is a smidge of grain present here which is unlikely to be picked up on anything but the largest of screens. My only other concern is that is it a little soft generally but this is not distracting.

Secondhand Lions

Audio
The DVD is presented with a Dolby Digital 5.1 EX audio track. This means it can make use of a rear centre speaker if one is available, but this is not essential to the decoding nor ability to listen to this track. The film is for the most, dialogue driven but does have its fair share of surround sound usage through the use of the upbeat Texan musical soundtrack and the explosions and gun fire generated during the films stories. I found the power of the rear speakers to be a little low at times and the bass too is a little lacking however dialogue runs at acceptable levels making this an above average presentation. It is also worth mentioning the score which was written by Patrick Doyle which does sound great here and captures the spirit of the movie magnificiently.

Extras
As always the main feature is the Director’s Commentary with writer/director Tim McCanlies. Tim has a voice on him, so don’t expect a quiet track here. From the off, he really gets into the film and its actors starting out by taking us through the story in case we missed a bit. While that sounds dull but since it is intermingled with the fun snippets from the set it picks it up. For instance, the film was shot (mostly) in sequence which is not normally done since it can be very expensive. A pig in an early scene attacked Osment which the director predicts will be on “When Animals Attack” in the future. There are few quiet moments in the track and there is quite a lot of back patting going on. With only one person on the track, it is hard to do this in too long a spurt but it happens frequently enough. Overall it is a fairly enjoyable track but not my favourite feature on this disc.

Secondhand Lions

There are several Deleted/Alternate Scenes on this DVD. These are entitled Walter’s First Fantasy, First Day Alternate Edit, The True Story of the Salesmen and More Helen, The Santa Suit, Burying Santa, The Sheik Rewind, Battle on Horseback, Corn Corn Corn, Alternate May and Stan and finally the Original Ending. These run for forty one minutes in total and are available with or without a commentary track. They are presented as the film is, that is in widescreen with surround sound as though they were cut from the final film rather during the filming process. Overall, these are more of alternate takes rather than new scenes however these new longer scenes are integrated with footage used in the film so that it can be seen how it all integrates with the rest of the film. The longer original ending was apparently removed as it did not do well at the test audiences and so at a cost of $600,000 it was re-shot for the now theatrical cut.

Secondhand Lions: One Screenplay’s Wild Ride in Hollywood is a feature presented in 16x9 and is a story which tries to explain how a film can actually be made in a place which sees over 100,000 screenplays every year. It starts with continues with interviews with writer/director Tim McCanlies and his very personal screenplay. It also features interviews with studio representatives and features clips from letters with McCanlies ripping into those that had commented on his script and just didn’t get it. The studio just didn’t get it at all and Warner Brothers wanted at first to make this into a view of Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid starring Redford and Newman in character which is just absurd, and then they wanted to use Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau and make it into Grumpy Old Men 3. This is because they knew they could sell this, even if it was not what the script was about. After WB’s 2 year option on the script expired McCanlies took it back and decided he wanted to direct it himself and then it moves on to how Digital Domain and New Line got on board. Anyway, this twenty six minute feature is really great and shows how hard it is to get anything at all done in the world of Hollywood. There are few features that really grab me, but this did. Perhaps if you are thinking about writing a script, you should see this and check out how this film got made.

On the Set with Secondhand Lions is again fortunately presented in a widescreen aspect ratio and obviously features footage from the set of the production. It includes interviews with the cast and even includes interviews with the family that gave up their house for the film. People call Robert Duvall “Bobby”, which just doesn’t seem to fit his butch manner, and hearing Michael Caine do his Texan accent next to his proper English accent was also an experience to say the least. I have the utmost respect for both Caine and Duvall who can always elevate a film above itself with their sheer class and screen presence. Osment talks about his voice breaking during filming (apparently he was a 14 year old playing a 12 year old). There is a touching scene at the end where on the last day of filming the three main stars end their time on set. This runs for twenty six minutes.

Haley Joel Osment: An Actor Comes of Age is a widescreen presentation featuring interviews with Osment as well as others. It tells of how he got started in acting from his early times in a Pizza Hut commercial to the more recent films like Forrest Gump and The Sixth Sense. His father, also an actor, has helped him a lot in terms of being a mentor and giving him both artistic and technical direction. Surprisingly he has a fairly normal life, going to school and even performing in the school plays, or helping out behind the scenes. McCanlies has nothing but praise for him in his work and what his future can hold. This runs for nearly thirteen minutes.

There are two digital effects comparisons. The first is From Austin to Marseille (just over one minute) and the second is titled Digital Soldiers (just under one minute). They are both presented in split screen so that it is possible to see the original shot and the final composite of what Digital Domain added to the film. It is an impressive feat to see.

There are seven TV Spots made for this film. It tells us how TV spots are created for different age groups and therefore presents these either as one large piece of video, or as broken down into sections – one aimed at younger audiences, and one aimed at older audiences. Its interesting to see how a film can be made via its trailers to be about one thing when in fact it isn’t really about that at all. I guess another good example of this is the marketing campaign for Lost in Translation which while it is an excellent film, it isn’t exactly the hernia inducing comedy it is being billed as.

Secondhand Lions

Overall
Secondhand Lions is an easy film to enjoy. It isn’t vicious or violent, rib tickling or humourless, nor badly acted or presented. This is a film that can be enjoyed on several levels, and while not without sadness, it is overall a happy story presenting many themes in an enthralling way. I thoroughly enjoyed it and while it is presented slightly more in favour of children, there is enough there to keep everyone interested. The DVD is presented well, from its menu system to its above average video and audio arrangement. A decent amount of extra features including a couple which were very interesting indeed make this package overall, interesting and fun.


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