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New Line Home Cinema presents
"I am no one special, just a common man with common thoughts. I've led a common life. There are no monuments dedicated to me, and my name will soon be forgotten. But in one respect, I have succeeded as gloriously as anyone who ever lived. I've loved another with all my heart and soul and for me that has always been enough."
DVD ReviewWhat makes the romance genre survive? By now, it certainly seems we've seen it all. Countless reinventions of Romeo and Juliet and the like can satisfy the romantic in all of us, but how many actually endure beyond the closing credits? Many elements are important, such as the chemistry of the actors; beautiful, larger-than-life locations; and a bygone era that gives a welcome sense nostalgia to such tales, adding the glaze of memory to an otherwise clichéd, predictable story. If executed well, a tale as simple as this can soar. Based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook delivers.
We open on a glorious setting: a lake amidst the rich hues of a summer sunset. A lone rower breaks the water's glassy sheen, and a flock of birds heads toward our destination. Inside a stately nursing home, an old man (James Garner) is preparing to repeat himself once more. He is committed to reading a familiar story to an ailing Alzheimer's patient (Gena Rowlands). She sometimes shows a brief moment of recollection, but it is quickly devoured by the abyss of dementia. The man does not care; his love for her is clear, and the story he tells, universal.
It is a tale of forbidden romance set against the backdrop of the 1940s South. At a local carnival, Noah sees the love of his life. Allie, a young rich girl spending her summer in the plantations of the Carolinas, is not convinced, and is initially put off by the young man's bold advances. Before long, Noah turns the tide, and the two share a summer of true love. Of course, Allie's parents do not want their daughter marrying a poor lumber worker; she will undoubtedly live in squalor, away from the frills of high society. They quickly put an end to the affair and depart, cutting all ties.
WWII breaks out, Noah goes off to war, and Allie's life goes on. College, and a new fiancé occupies her time. Lon (James Marsden) is a rich southern gentleman, certainly more in tune with the wishes of Allie's parents. Allie is satisfied with her life, but the closer the wedding day looms, the more clearly she sees the face of Noah. Will she choose security, or her heart? Clichés abound, no doubt, but the resolution of this story, and the emotional link between past and present, make this a real tearjerker that has heart, honesty, and above all, love.
There is nothing groundbreaking or original here, but that's okay. Sentimentality, romantic devices, and the usual trappings of fictional love stories are all here, but, oddly enough The Notebook does not get bogged down by them. We all need that tale of pure love from time to time to remind us of what is truly important (yes, gentlemen, the ladies will prefer this movie, but if you have a shred of the romantic in you, you should too...I'm kind of exposing myself here). Paired with the amazing vistas of the southern locations, and Robert Frassie's conventional yet gorgeous cinematography, you'll need the tissues near by (now I'm in trouble).
Director Nick Cassavetes knows he is opening himself up for criticism, but his boldness toward making an all-out romance is admirable. Like his father, he is an actor's director, and guides the worthwhile performances by Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling. These two have a palpable chemistry on screen—an element that can make or break this kind of film. McAdams captures the bubbly innocence of the young Allie, and transforms into a mature woman as the story progresses. Gosling, too, has a distinct change in character, shifting between a scoundrel and a man enshrouded in the darkness of past memories. The modern day segments, though not nearly as successful as the period material, is functional with solid work by Garner and Rowlands, though their material did not really deliver until the end. Sam Shepard and James Marsden—whose character is refreshingly likable—also turn in impressive work.
To put it plainly, this is a simple story, well told. Perhaps that is enough.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: New Line's anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer is stunning. Robert Fraisse's cinematography is well rendered, featuring bold hues, solid contrast and good detail. This is one of the cleanest images I have seen in a while—you'll be hard pressed to find a print flaw. Well done. A pan-and-scan transfer is available on the flipside of the disc.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby 5.1 EX track is mostly front centered, but the surrounds come alive during the brief war sequence, and for atmospheric fill. Center surround imaging is decent, but this is an appropriately natural track, not a showy one. A Dolby Surround track is also available.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
12 Deleted Scenes
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by director Nick Cassavetes; novelist Nicholas Sparks
We begin with a pair of commentaries, the first by director Nick Cassavetes and the second by novelist Nicholas Sparks. Cassavetes gives the stronger track, focusing on various aspects of production, including some other names that were involved with the project early on (such as Reese Witherspoon). Sparks' comments revolve around his novel, naturally, and are not as engaging, but worth a listen for devotees of the book.
A collection of 12 deleted scenes is included, with optional commentary by the editor. They can be played together or individually (28m:25s total). Scenes include "Allie Confronts Noah in Bathroom," "Alternate First Love Scene," "Fin Consoles a Drunken Noah," "No Letters," "New Couple," "Dad Visits Noah on Roof," "Allie's Return to Seabrook," "Catching and Preparing Dinner," "Duke Gives House to Kids," "Allie Tries to Phone Noah," "Alternate Second Love Scene," and "Story of the Notebook." The two love scenes are presented here in their original and superior form. Both were cut down to obtain a PG-13 rating in the final film. All are presented in anamorphic widescreen and Dolby 5.1.
Next is a series of short featurettes, featuring cast/crew interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. All in the Family: Nick Cassavetes (11m:38s) takes a look at the director's techniques, his relationship to the legendary John Cassavetes and his mother, Gena Rowlands. Nicholas Sparks: A Simple Story, Well Told (06m:36s) is a piece on the author, who offers comments on his newfound fame and literary success. Southern Exposure: Locating The Notebook (11m:32s) is a tour of the film's stunning locations, and the many mansions that served as both interiors and exteriors. Casting is broken down into two sections: a Rachel McAdams screen test (03m:36s), and a featurette on casting the leads (04m:06s). All of these pieces are presented in anamorphic widescreen.
Finally, the film's theatrical trailer (anamorphic) and a soundtrack promo rounds out the package.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsThe Notebook soars with some fine performances and visuals, and does not get too bogged down in its romantic clichés. It's a straight forward, solid romance that will get the emotional juices flowing. New Line's disc is excellent.
Did I mention you should have tissues on hand?
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