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MGM Studios DVD presents
The Dust Factory (2004)

"You have no idea how long I've waited for someone like you to come along."
- Melanie (Hayden Panettiere)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: March 21, 2005

Stars: Hayden Panettiere, Ryan Kelley, Armin Mueller-Stahl
Other Stars: Kim Myers, Michael Angarano, George De La Pena, Peter Horton, Ted Roisum
Director: Eric Small

MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements and some scary images
Run Time: 01h:39m:18s
Release Date: March 22, 2005
UPC: 027616924438
Genre: family

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

There are a lot of deep, weighty issues at hand in writer/director Eric Small's The Dust Factory, a golden-hued teen drama/fantasy dealing with things like death, love and fears. In it, teenaged Ryan (Ryan Kelley) is living life as a distant, self-induced mute after witnessing the death of his father in a horrific train accident years before.

If that weren't bad enough, the film opens with the death and burial of his grandmother, and introduces his nearly catatonic grandfather (Armin Mueller-Stahl) who is deep in the grips of Alzheimer's. All of that sadness is tilted sideways when a seemingly fatal accident on a dilapidated train trestle plummets Ryan into some kind of alternate reality that on the surface appears to be a bridge between life and death.

We know right away it's an alternate reality, because here Ryan's grandfather not only speaks, but has taken on the role of sage-advice-giving mentor, and has the ability to magically transport himself via the bedroom closet to other locations. Likewise with Melanie (Hayden Panettiere), a mysterious and forward young girl who can ice skate on unfrozen lakes and serves not just as Ryan's guide in this new world, but as a young love interest of sorts. In between bouts of excessive giggling and cute expressions, she teaches him about The Dust Factory, a creepy circus tent in the middle of a field where other inhabitants have to overcome their fears and try to get "dusted", which means plummeting from the big top trapeze to the ground where one explodes into a pile of dirt.

The sometimes heady subject matter paints an interesting premise that Small largely milks successfully for the first 2/3 of the film. The surreal creepiness of the big top—and the menacing ringmaster(George De La Pena)—is offset by moments of the gently developing romance between Ryan and Melanie, though at times Panettiere seems to ratchet up her character's free-spirited giggling to near mind-numbing levels. Their relationship is sweet in that only-in-a-movie kind of way, and when balanced with Armin Mueller-Stahl solidly delivered wise-old-grandpa schtick, Small builds it all nicely to an unfortunately rushed final act that fails to answer a few nagging questions, but more importantly seems to want to wrap up the story too quickly.

There aren't many films geared toward young teens that are completely devoid of tired sex jokes and moronic plots, so that makes something like life-before-death imaginings of The Dust Factory ultimately that much more disappointing because Small comes up short when it really counts. He lays the groundwork early for making a very different kind of fantasy, fills the screen with both beautiful and dark images for most of the film, and even manages to develop a boy-girl relationship that doesn't center around them working to get in each other's pants.

That's all well and good, and while I did like the direction the story moved in, it all felt largely unresolved (or at least resolved to a degree with a jarring dose of schmaltz) by the time the end credits rolled.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: MGM has issued The Dust Factory in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and the transfer is actually quite impressive for such a small film. Colors are excessively bright and vibrant throughout, and though Small goes heavy on fuzzy golden hues, image detail is exceptional. No trace of compression issues at all, and in general just a beautiful looking transfer all the way around.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The only audio option is an English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track, and while this is largely a dialogue-heavy film without the need for too much flash, there were a few moments (such as Ryan's memory of the train crash that killed his father) that really get the chance to take advantage of all available channels. Some minor directional movement across the front speakers at times, but in general a pleasing presentation that wisely doesn't overdo itself.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Deleted Scenes
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. music video
Extras Review: Extras are a little skimpy, consisting of a blink-and-you-miss-it Making The Dust Factory (03m:33s), which seems more like an extended commercial than anything. A pair of deleted scenes (running just over a minute in total) don't offer much, and the Hayden Panettiere and Walt White music video for Someone Like You (03m:44s) echoes with an anonymous and forgettable pop ballad blandness.

The disc is cut into 16 chapters, with optional subtitles in English, French or Spanish.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

Credit writer/director Eric Small for tackling a fairly deep subject for his young teen drama The Dust Factory—what with all the talk about life, death and where you ought to be—though the slightly anemic payoff lacks the proper level of emotional satisfaction that the rest of this beautifully shot film hints at.


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