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Universal Studios Home Video presents
A Beautiful Mind (2001)

Parcher: So John, no close friends. Why is that?
Nash: I like to think it's because I'm a lone wolf. But mainly it's because people don't like me.
Parcher: Well, there are certain endeavors where your lack of personal connections would be considered an advantage.

- Ed Harris, Russell Crowe

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: June 23, 2002

Stars: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris
Other Stars: Christopher Plummer, Paul Bettany, Adam Goldberg, Judd Hirsch, Josh Lucas, Anthony Rapp, Vivien Cardone
Director: Ron Howard

Manufacturer: Ritek
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for (intense thematic material, sexual content, and a scene of violence)
Run Time: 02h:15m:09s
Release Date: June 25, 2002
UPC: 025192145025
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A A-A-A- B+

DVD Review

When a film wins the Best Picture Oscar® as this one did in 2001, it is a safe bet that it's a pretty darn good one. You don't need me to tell you that. The pile of recent winners crosses a multitude of genres, but they all have one thing in common: grand dramatic spectacle. It may be accomplished acting in a well-written story (American Beauty) or inventive, engaging production values in an arguably dull affair (Titanic). A film like A Beautiful Mind, from the consistently rewarding Ron Howard, easily falls more toward the former, and it certainly deserves all of the accolades it has received; it is an extremely intelligent and sentimental drama.

By now, much of the intricacies of the storyline for this film are well known, but that's irrelevant. A Beautiful Mind is loosely based on the troubled life of brilliant mathematician John Nash (here portrayed wonderfully by Russell Crowe), a Nobel Prize-winning genius, and it is adapted from Sylvia Nasar's bestseller. Working from a finely layered Akiva Goldsman screenplay (the man generally reviled as the writer for Batman & Robin), Howard creates a world where the process of deep, unencumbered thought actually becomes exciting and where mathematical equations and models contribute to unimaginable danger.

Howard's story begins at Princeton in 1947, where a young Nash arrives and soon butts brilliant noggins with an assortment of similarly egg-headed types. Nash, with his eclectic quirkiness and decidedly unsocial behaviors, soon becomes a solitary "lone wolf," despite the social machinations of his energetic roommate Charles (Paul Bettany). There is plenty of mad, frantic scribbling and muttering by Nash, all delivered by a startling electric Crowe.

The story then jumps to the mid-1950s, in paranoid Cold War America, where the eccentric Nash is teaching at MIT and doing occasional consulting for the Pentagon. He is approached by a mysterious government agent named Parcher (Ed Harris), who considers Nash a naturally gifted codebreaker, and the mathematician is soon drawn into a labyrinthine plot concerning deadly Russian spies, atomic bombs, and secret codes appearing in magazines and newspapers. This cloak-and-dagger stuff wreaks havoc on Nash's personal life, most significantly his relationship with his wife Alicia (Jennifer Connelly, who coincidentally snagged the Best Supporting Actress honors for this role).

This is an actor's film, one full of deeply written characters and more than a few scenes of dramatic histrionics; in other words, the stuff of Academy Awards®. Crowe ditches the broad, hunky good looks he flashed as Maximus in Ridley Scott's Roman epic, in favor of an awkward, quirky, explosively paranoid math whiz, and he does it swimmingly. Here's a performance that deserved a Best Actor nod (as opposed to his turn in Gladiator), and I have to admit his portrayal of Nash has made me look at this guy in a whole new light. I haven't seen Ed Harris ever give a less-than-perfect performance (though I do try to forget the Melanie Griffith hooker comedy Milk Money), and his gumshoe-tough agent is one hardass hombre. Connelly is strong, fragile and faithful, though I didn't catch the same prickly sparks from her performance that Crowe and Harris tossed out for theirs.

Much of the extra content on this 2-disc "Awards Edition" is only marginal in quality (the exception being Howard's commentary and the segment on special effects), but that isn't really an issue; the film itself is a moving, suspenseful and invigorating experience that is a worthy addition to your DVD library.

Beautiful.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Universal has issued a near perfect 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer here, easily one of the better I've seen this year. Image detail is very sharp, with natural colors and fleshtones, and deep black levels. The first half of the film has a bright golden hue to it, while the second half becomes drastically more noir-ish, with more shadows and the like. The image transfer captures all of the nuances, and Roger Deakins always impressive cinematography is rendered exceptionally well. I caught some haloing at times, but it is not majorly disruptive.

Excellent.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
English, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: What? No DTS? I guess I'll get over it. The glaring omission of a DTS track notwithstanding, the 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is a good one. James Horner's score, as well as Charlotte Church's ethereal voice, are used for a number of neat surround cues, but the dialogue generally remains anchored across the fronts. This isn't a Matrix-style surround explosion, and considering it's largely dialogue-driven that's not surprising. It is, however, a crisp, well-mixed 5.1 track.

A French 5.1 track is also provided.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Apollo 13, K-Pax, Family Man, Patch Adams
18 Deleted Scenes
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
8 Featurette(s)
Storyboard
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Ron Howard, Akiva Goldsman
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
Picture Disc
2 Discs
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: I guess the number of discs a DVD release gets is in relation to its "importance". Fans would have squawked, no doubt, had Universal issued a single-disc release of A Beautiful Mind, especially with a Best Picture win under its belt. This 2-disc set is a definite example of quantity over quality, but it's nicely packaged, regardless.

Disc 1
Commentaries
There are two full-length, scene-specific commentaries, one from Ron Howard and one from writer Akiva Goldsman. Howard's is the better of the two, but maybe that's because he's such a familiar voice (being Opie or Richie Cunningham, depending on your age). The director refrains from on-screen narration, thankfully, and instead offers insight on his approach to the use of sound and POV shots as critical, if not subtle, narrative tools. There isn't too much sugary prose, with most of his comments being purely informational. Howard is easy to listen to, and his enthusiasm for the project is very apparent on this track. Goldsman's track is less informative, and has too much commenting of what we're seeing on the screen. He does supply a few interesting tidbits, but his approach is far drier than Howard's, and consequently less engaging.

Deleted Scenes
There are eighteen deleted scenes, available with or without a Ron Howard commentary. The scenes are presented as rough cuts, and it is really Howard's insightful comments that make these worthwhile. As is often the case, most of the cuts were made to trim an already long film down to two hours and sixteen minutes.

DVD-ROM
This will connect you to the A Beautiful Mind web site, with what is supposed to be an ever-changing and growing array of content.

Disc 1 concludes with on-screen production notes and cast/crew bios and filmographies.

Disc 2
A Beautiful Partnership: Ron Howard and Brian Grazer (05m:22s)
Producer Grazer and Howard glad hand each other about how great the project was for five minutes, interspersed with behind-the-scenes footage.

Development of the Screenplay (08m:06s)
Akiva Goldsman discusses how he tried to achieve a "replication of the experience" when it came to turning Nash's life into a screenplay. Eight minutes probably isn't long enough to fully explain the process, but Goldsman does a decent job. This segment is divided into two parts: "Inside the Mind" and "Writing Process," and features footage of the real Nash on-set.

Meeting John Nash (08m:21s)
Shot on hand-held video, this piece follows Ron Howard as he interviews John Nash and attempts to have him explain some of his theories. The curiosity factor for me was pretty high on the segment, but it ultimately became a dry lecture. Of course, Howard had other reasons for including this footage, and if you have seen the film you will understand.

Accepting the Nobel Prize in Economics (01m:57s)
Here's footage of Nash accepting his Nobel Prize in Stockholm in 1994, available with Swedish subtitles. About as fascinating as you can imagine it would be, which probably isn't much.

Casting Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly (05m:51s)
More comments from Howard and Grazer on how Crowe and Connelly were selected for their roles. Again, it's only five minutes long, and I have to think the casting process was a little more involved than what is covered here.

The Process of Age Progression (07m:05s)
One of the gems of this set are these comments from makeup effects designer Greg Cannom. He gives examples of how the increasingly subtle aging process on Crowe was achieved, spread across nine stages. Think Crowe has a double chin? Guess again, pal, because these makeup devices are brilliantly done. This segment included footage from Hair & Makeup Tests as well.

Storyboard Comparisons
Howard offers a brief intro, then it's on to three final scene comparisons:
The Pub Scene
John Nash Meets Dr. Rosen
Baby in the Bathtub
Also included are deleted scene comparisons for:
Nash and Parcher Dispose of the Car
Alicia and the Disappearing Evidence
All of the storyboards play on a split screen, with the finished film version available for comparison. There is the option to click on the storyboard to enlarge it to full frame, too.

Creation of the Special Effects (10m:40s)
The other real highlight of the extras is Digital Domain's Kevin Mack spending a quick ten minutes discussing some of the not so obvious, but equally stunning, special effects shots used in the film. Mack walks us through the various elements used for the "baby in the bathtub" shot, as well as the dating sequence and the development of some much needed CG pigeons.

Scoring the Film (05m:50s)
Composer/god James Horner chats up his process for creating the haunting score, though five minutes isn't really enough time to really get to the heart of the creative process. Super cute Charlotte Church also offers some lightweight comments on her contributions.

Inside A Beautiful Mind (22m:30s)
This is a traditional studio puff-umentary, blending innocuous cast/crew comments with behind-the-scenes and finished film sequences. Too sugary for my tastes.

Academy® Awards
Can't get enough of people accepting awards? Here's backstage clips from the Oscars®, with comments from:
Best Picture: Brian Grazer and Howard
Best Director: Ron Howard
Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Connelly
Best Adapted Screenplay: Akiva Goldsman

Disc 2 wraps with a 1.85:1 non-anamorphic trailer for the feature, in addition to a section called Now Showing, which highlights Apollo 13, K-Pax, Family Man and Patch Adams. The segment opens with a montage of the four films, and then you have the option to watch individual trailers or outtakes/interviews for each. In this politically correct era, weblinks to assorted mental health web sites are also included.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

A Beautiful Mind won awards and received all sorts of kudos. Justified? You betcha. Russell Crowe undauntingly steps out from behind the mass appeal shallowness of Gladiator to show he's got legit acting chops, while Ron Howard and legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins blend it all together into a deftly executed dramatic package.

Highly recommended.

 


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