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Universal Studios Home Video presents
"You've arrived here during a sad time in an otherwise happy marriage."
DVD ReviewFilm versions of John Irving novels are often exasperating, and if you've read any of his intricately woven books you would probably agree. Some writers lose something in the translation—Stephen King is another—though Irving's The Cider House Rules, The Hotel New Hampshire and The World According to Garp were still turned into enjoyable films in their own right, and all fairly well received, but they lacked so much of the original that they seemed like fragments of a bigger whole. The sweetly simplistic Simon Birch (based on A Prayer for Owen Meany) was maybe not as well-received as those, but is probably the one that touched me the most, and came closest to making me forget the depth of the novel.
For his second film, director Tod Williams got adventurous and chose to lift and rework a segment from Irving's A Widow for One Year, with the author's blessing and involvement. This slightly condensed version (though it runs a drawn-out two hours) follows the disintegrating marriage of Ted (Jeff Bridges) and Marion (Kim Basinger) Cole, a couple whose personal tragedies have formed a fatal wedge between them, and each seems to rotate in their own isolated orbits, crossing paths only when the needs of their four-year-old daughter Ruthie (Elle Fanning) connects them.
Ted, a loutish sort who spends an inordinate amount of time "drawing" neighborhood women, is a successful children's author (the film's title comes from one of his books), and when he hires 16-year-old Eddie (Jon Foster) as his personal assistant the fragmentation of the already fragile family dynamic accelerates. The crux of the emotional problems arise as a sexual affair develops between teenage Eddie and Marion, a relationship that ramps up when she catches him masturbating to one of her sweaters.
The interplay between the three lead characters is, for the first hour or so, where Williams attempts to drive the story, though it is a really slow go, built more around small moments than an overall story. This is the kind of film in which individual scenes are loaded with interesting blocks of dialogue, giving the actors (Bridges and Basinger especially) room to flex and shine, but where the storytelling speed itself is positively glacial. Bridges, who is one of those unsung actors that doesn't seem to get the kudos he deserves, holds The Door in the Floor together with another of his casually dangerous performances that allows him to take an often unlikable character and reveal a range of unseen layers, all with the slightest expression change. Basinger plays weary well here, and her seduction of Eddie would almost be sweet if it were not for a late plot reveal that manages to take her portrayal and transform it into something dangerously sad.
But it is the pacing that drags this one down, a downright lethargic narrative, as well as some character actions that seem mind-bogglingly unexplainable, that makes The Door in the Floor such a wobbly project. There is the weakly developed subplot about Ted's artistic dalliance with Mrs. Vaughn (Mimi Rogers, who takes on an eye-popping bit of nudity here) tries to pay off with a bit of near-slapstick comedy that seems strangely out of place within the context of the rest of the story.
This is odd, emotional high drama, from one of the great American authors, and though there are pockets of strong material, the film drags rather than flows.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-
Image Transfer Review: The Door in the Floor has been issued in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, and it is pleasing, but not perfect. This is an intentionally soft-looking film, and as a result colors often have a vaguely hazy appearance to them, though fleshtones come across exceptionally well here. Some edge enhancement issues are evident, and the print contains a few instances of distracting specking, as well, which for such a new film knocks it down in the grade category.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: This is a very tight Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track, one that keeps the dialogue locked firmly in the center channel. There isn't a lot of spatial movement in this mix, and there were times when utilizing the left and right fronts a bit more might have opened things up slightly. The good news is that composer Marcello Garvos' beautiful score is allowed to spread out periodically, and that is when the audio sells the drama the best.
A French language 5.1 track is also included.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Wimbledon
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Tod Williams, Terry Stacey, Affonso Gonzales, Marcello Garvos, Eric Daman
Extras Review: Writer/director Tod Williams, cinematographer Terry Stacey, editor Affonso Goncalves, composer Marco Zarvos and costume designer Eric Daman contribute a "creative team" commentary track, and it understandably focuses on the rich physical textures of the film, as opposed to being simply a reiteration of what's happening onscreen. There is some of that, to a degree, but most of it falls back on techniques of composition, etc. I found it interesting to note that Jeff Bridges did the drawings for the fictitious The Door in the Floor book, and the images are used as part of the title sequence.
There are also a trio of fine inside looks at the production, though they all tend to cover a lot of the same ground. Frame on the Wall: The Making of The Door in the Floor (25m:43s) is the most completely comprehensive—from casting, writing, etc—while Novel to Screen: Author John Irving (15m:49s) centers primarily on the great author's impressions of the film versions of his books, and how this particular one was whittled down. Anatomy of a Scene (25m:49s) is lifted from The Sundance Channel and focuses on some pivotal moments late in the film.
The disc is cut into 20 chapters, and features optional subtitles in English, French or Spanish.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsA little too slow for its own good, The Door in the Floor is most definitely an actor's film, one that is more memorable for the delivery of certain scenes than it is as an overall experience.
Credit writer/director Tod Williams for having the guts to tackle a film adaptation of a huge John Irving novel, and the foresight to draft Jeff Bridges as the often unlikable lead, who once again shows some mighty fine acting chops.
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