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Warner Home Video presents
"You measure yourself by the people who measure themselves by you."
DVD ReviewGreat scripts rarely rise above poor performances, but good acting can make a mediocre screenplay sound almost as lyrical as Shakespeare. Now, no one would ever confuse The Bucket List with anything The Bard wrote, but in the hands of Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, this life-affirming story about death achieves a remarkable, unexpected resonance. The two old pros instantly command our attention, and create a priceless odd-couple chemistry reminiscent of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. With deceptive ease, they all but vanquish the tale's trite and syrupy elements, and like a pair of crafty Houdinis, magically make Rob Reiner's film seem far better than it is.
Edward Cole (Nicholson) is a thrice-divorced, high-profile health care executive who lives a lavish, narcissistic lifestyle. Carter Chambers (Freeman) is his polar opposite—a self-effacing auto mechanic of modest means with a loving family and keen mind for trivia. The two share little in common except the "C" word—cancer—and when they're randomly thrown together in an oncology ward, where they languish for weeks enduring tests, surgery, and chemotherapy, they're forced to interact. Their awkward friendship intensifies after both receive devastating diagnoses, and the bad news inspires Carter to compose an off-the-cuff "bucket list"—a random sampling of activities and feelings he'd like to experience before he "kicks the bucket." Carter's to-do list is simple and largely spiritual, but Edward—with millions to burn—has more grandiose plans, and convinces a leery Carter to throw caution to the wind and embark on a world tour so elaborate, it would instantly bankrupt the Make-A-Wish Foundation. A simple trip to Disneyland won't do for these dying dudes, and their global adventure both broadens and crystallizes their perspective on life, love, and friendship.
Several movies have trod the well-worn "live life to the fullest" path, following terminally ill characters on voyages of self-discovery and enlightenment. But what makes The Bucket List different (and better) than most of its counterparts is its earnest, no-nonsense approach. More often than not, its humor evolves naturally from the characters, and Reiner admirably tempers the story's feel-good aspects by pulling no punches in his depiction of the physical and emotional toll cancer can take, from invasive surgery and debilitating treatment to inattentive doctors and strung-out family members. The strong dose of reality early in the film makes the later travelogue all the more joyful, and adds welcome weight and emotional heft to the hopeful, comforting message.
Nicholson peppers his portrayal with enough "Jack-isms" to satisfy fans, but thankfully keeps his arched eyebrows and maniacal grin in check most of the time. I liked him best during the film's hospital scenes; as a gravely ill man just out of surgery and battling the horrific side effects of chemo, he subtly transmits the weakness of mind, body, and spirit that so often afflicts cancer patients. (It's his least affected work in years.) On the flip side, there's a serenity to Freeman's understated performance that makes his character's evolution fascinating. Always believable, Freeman nails the small moments like few actors can, and his expressions of bemusement, concern, melancholy, and wonder help us grow as attached to Carter as Edward.
The Bucket List, at times, feels like little more than a beefed up TV movie, but Nicholson, Freeman, and Reiner infuse it with such honesty and warmth, it winds up deserving its big screen canvas. Far more serious than a typical buddy film, but hardly a manipulative tearjerker, it strikes a satisfying balance, and should appeal to a broad audience despite its geriatric slant. These old men may start out grumpy, but soon mellow enough to teach us the importance of grabbing life's reins and appreciating every experience—large and small—while we can. It's a simple lesson, and one well worth heeding.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: From the opening shot of the Himalaya Mountains, with jagged, snowcapped peaks jutting into a crystal blue sky, it's quickly apparent the 1080p transfer of The Bucket List is top-notch. Detail is exceptional, especially when the camera zeroes in on the craggy, timeworn faces of Nicholson and Freeman. Never have Freeman's freckles been more beautifully pronounced; ditto Nicholson's trademark eyebrows. Actors of their caliber express so much with an understated glance, grin, or grimace, and the crisp high resolution image heightens the impact of many such moments.
The sharp edges never look enhanced, colors are rich and true, fleshtones come off naturally, and contrast seems almost perfectly pitched. Of course, the travelogue sequences are by far the most breathtaking in HD, with shots of the Giza pyramids (gorgeous at twilight), the Taj Mahal, the African Serengeti, and China's Great Wall producing the "wow" factor that's the ultimate selling point of Blu-ray. Even the drab hospital interiors possess a clinical crispness that's pleasing to the eye. Best of all, no compression artifacts or digital noise could be detected, and the spotless source material still retains a warm celluloid look. Excellent job, Warner.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: Sure, The Bucket List is a dialogue-driven drama without the explosions and gunfire that distinguish most action blockbusters, but that doesn't excuse Warner's decision to forego high-def audio in favor of a standard DD 5.1 track. Part of Blu-ray's appeal is the spectacular sound the platform is capable of providing, and The Bucket List—particularly during its skydiving and racing sequences—would certainly have benefited from uncompressed audio. That said, the DD 5.1 track suffices, offering a well-balanced, broad sonic field with appropriate peaks and valleys. Dialogue remains prominent throughout, and Marc Shaiman's music complements the action without overwhelming it. Surround activity is spotty at best, and bass frequencies are, for the most part, muted. All in all, a solid effort from Warner, but hopefully the studio will make high-def audio a standard component on future Blu-ray releases.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 23 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
Packaging: standard Blu-ray packaging
Another exclusive, Rob Reiner Interviews the Stars allows the film's chatty director to shoot the breeze with both Nicholson and Freeman. The Nicholson piece runs 22 minutes and touches upon the actor's own health crisis that almost prevented him from making the movie (and added depth to his portrayal), his previous collaboration with Reiner on A Few Good Men, and the joy of working with Freeman. Freeman joins Reiner via satellite from New York, where he's rehearsing The Country Girl for Broadway, and their mutually admiring 17-minute discussion addresses Morgan's initial reluctance to take part in the project, the efficiency of Reiner's direction, the differences between stage and screen acting, and their daily "morning hug" on the set. Judging by these interviews, Reiner won't be getting his own daytime talk show anytime soon, but proves an affable questioner and creates a comfortable rapport with his subjects.
Writing a Bucket List, which also appears on the standard DVD release, is a puffy five-minute featurette in which screenwriter Justin Zackham talks about the genesis of his script, and hawks a book full of bucket lists garnered from both celebrities and common folk. (Proceeds from the volume, available on Amazon, go to charity). A music video of John Mayer's catchy Say, the closing credits tune, runs four minutes, and The Making of "Say" (another Blu-ray exclusive) clocks in at five-and-a-half minutes—although it's really just an interview with Mayer in which he speaks about his inspiration for the song and the importance of the movie's subject matter.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsThe Bucket List reminds us to embrace life as fully as we can while we can, but first and foremost, it's an actor's showcase for Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. The joie de vivre these two legends bring to Rob Reiner's film is worth the price of the disc, and their seamless work adds potency to the picture's uplifting message. Warner's Blu-ray edition boasts a stunning 1080p transfer and some exclusive extras, but the lack of HD audio is disappointing, and the supplemental material (in dull standard def) isn't as extensive as one would hope. Still, whether you're 17 or 75, this warm, touching movie merits a recommendation, and might inspire you to start compiling a bucket list of your own.
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