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Fox Home Entertainment presents
Oscar and Lucinda (1997)

Lucinda: Um, you have not absolved me.
Oscar: Where is the sin? We bet!

- Cate Blanchett, Ralph Fiennes

Review By: Nate Meyers   
Published: January 10, 2005

Stars: Ralph Fiennes, Cate Blanchett
Other Stars: Ciaran Hinds, Clive Russell, Richard Roxburgh, Tom Wilkinson, Linda Bassett, Barnaby Kay, James Tingey, Bille Brown, Josephine Byrnes, Adam Hayes, Polly Cheshire, Geoffrey Rush
Director: Gillian Armstrong

Manufacturer: dvcc
MPAA Rating: R for a scene of sexuality, brief violence
Run Time: 02h:11m:48s
Release Date: January 11, 2005
UPC: 024543130864
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B-AB D-

DVD Review

When I first heard about Oscar and Lucinda, I immediately thought it would be just another boring costume drama. Then I saw, on the back cover of the DVD, a quote from Playboy Magazine. It reads, "a love story about two reckless dreamers." The truth is that the film is somewhere in between those statements.

The story is really about Oscar Hopkins (Ralph Fiennes). As a young boy, his father, Theophilus (Clive Russell), raises him in a strict 19th-century religious house after his mother's untimely death at sea. So strict that young Oscar (played by James Tingey) is slapped for eating Christmas pudding because it is "the food of Satan" (I'm inclined to agree with Theophilus on this one, but for different reasons). Eventually, Oscar leaves his father to live with the Anglican priest, Hugh Stratton (Tom Wilkinson), and the priest's wife. They take the boy and send him to Oxford.

This is where the story really starts to pick up, because at Oxford, while studying to be a priest, Oscar learns to gamble. At first he's a good Christian about it, taking only what he needs to survive and giving the rest to the poor. However, he starts to gamble on vile things, such as dog fights, and the tortured Oscar decides to leave for New South Wales. Setting sail, he meets Lucinda (Cate Blanchett) and the two become friends over a game of cards. This all sounds like a very interesting story, but it is hampered by the fact that Oscar and Lucinda don't meet one another until 45 minutes into the movie. There's also the problem that we want these two together, but this never happens. Instead, Oscar leaves Lucinda to bring a glass church to another preacher, under the guidance of Mr. Jeffris (Richard Roxburgh).

The whole tone of the script by Laura Jones, based on a novel by Peter Carey, is that of a love story. Unfortunately, the direction by Gillian Armstrong seems to deprive the characters of love—at no point did I feel as if these two characters loved one another. How could I? They only occupy screen time together during the second act. The first portion of the movie is entirely set up and takes forever to get where it's going. The third act is a bizarre detour from the rest of the movie, where characters do things for inexplicable reasons. Mr. Jeffris is a completely undeveloped character, but for some reason he hates Oscar. Additionally, there's a twist late within the script, probably to justify the Geoffrey Rush narration as Oscar's great grandson, involving Oscar and another woman, Mrs. Chedwick (Josephine Byrnes). Then, once this occurs, the movie pretty much ends on that note. It's a rather unsatisfying ending.

Considering Oscar and Lucinda, it's pretty much the same response I had to Armstrong's movie version of Little Women. She has a great eye for beautiful visuals—there isn't a single shot here that couldn't serve as a fantastic postcard—but doesn't manage to convey the heart of the story. Are we supposed to think that Oscar and Lucinda truly love one another? I believe so, but we can't draw that conclusion from poor Oscar. His character is anguished from beginning to end, with no internal growth and little ability to open himself to others. Ralph Fiennes does a good job of conveying this, but eventually Oscar amounts to a bore.

Thankfully, the movie is salvaged by Cate Blanchett's performance as Lucinda. It's a shame the story isn't about her, since her's is the truly interesting character. She's free-spirited, ambitious, an obsessive gambler, and in love with a priest. Now that's a story I want to see, not the monotonous one of Oscar. Whenever Blanchett is on the screen, you can feel her presence and it is just as noticeable here as it is in Elizabeth. In addition to her wonderful performance is a nice score by Thomas Newman, which helps pick up some of the lags in the story.

Is Oscar and Lucinda a good film? Yes and no. There's not a single frame that isn't worth viewing, but Oscar just isn't an interesting character. The portions with Lucinda are so good that I just simply wanted more of them. It's a real shame the movie isn't Lucinda and Oscar.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is preserved in this anamorphic RSDL transfer. The image is a strong entry into the Fox catalog, with only a couple of instances of print defects. Colors are strong and vibrant (particularly reds) with excellent detail, especially with the sweeping shots of landscapes, creating a filmlike look. Skintones are accurate and there isn't any noticeable edge enhancement. Excellent work.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Spanishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is active, but not especially dynamic. The surround speakers are used often but primarily for the musical score and ambient noises, so there is not much directionality. A few instances of sound separation open up the front soundstage, but it doesn't have a very wide feel to it. Dialogue comes through nicely, making this a good, but not outstanding, listen. There is also a Dolby Stereo Spanish mix.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:58m:55s

Extras Review: The only supplemental feature is the original theatrical trailer, presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen and Dolby Stereo. It's one of the most misleading trailers I've seen in recent memory, since it mentions nothing about Oscar being a priest and hypes the movie as a passionate love story.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

Oscar and Lucinda is a well-made film with good acting, but no sense of direction. This barebones DVD features an impressive transfer and active Dolby Digital mix, but there's nothing outstanding about it.


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