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Empire presents
I Am the Cheese (1983)

"There's so much about my past I don't understand. There's so many locked doors."
- Adam Farmer (Robert MacNaughton)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: June 09, 2005

Stars: Robert MacNaughton, Hope Lange, Don Murray, Robert Wagner
Other Stars: Cynthia Nixon, Robert Cormier
Director: Robert Jiras

MPAA Rating: PG for (violence, thematic material)
Run Time: 01h:35m:07s
Release Date: May 31, 2005
UPC: 843171005708
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ BC-D+ D

DVD Review

One of the more notable literary events of the 1970s, at least in the young adult section, was the emergence of Robert Cormier as one of the better authors of such fiction. In particular, three novels, The Chocolate War, I Am the Cheese and After the First Death made a huge impression with their uncompromising looks at adolescence and the intrusion of the outside world into the family unit. The most accessible of the three, I Am the Cheese, was in 1983 the first to be made into a motion picture, and was remade in 1992 as Lapse of Memory.

The movie is highly fragmented, in parallel to the fractured memories of teenager Adam Farmer (Robert MacNaughton). One thread follows Adam on a seemingly endless bicycle ride to a hospital to visit his father, while carrying a mysterious bundle that he guards tenaciously. The second finds Adam in a mental hospital, trying to recover his memories with the aid of a psychiatrist, Dr. Brint (Robert Wagner). The third thread is a series of flashbacks to life with his father (Don Murray) and mother (Hope Lange), as well as his first feelings of love for his friend Amy Hertz (Cynthia Nixon). But the mystery may be deeper than Adam suspects, as the same sites and people begin to recur in all three thread, tying the story together, most malevolently by a sinister brown van.

As was the case with Memento, the structure of the film is the main point of interest here. The gradual discovery of the truth about the situation with Adam and his family is far more intriguing than the truth itself. The theme of self-discovery makes a good metaphor for several aspects of adolescence. Insecurities and embarrassment at developing feelings are underlined by a simultaneous distancing from the family and a desire to get closer to them; there's also a thematic parallel in the discovery that one's parents may have more substance to them than the child ever guessed. A sense of incipient distrust of the establishment can also be seen in Adam's relationship with Dr. Brint, which starts off trusting but rapidly grows more and more suspicious. Adam frequently sits immobile and apparently unhearing while others talk about him, emphasizing Adam's isolation and wavering between childhood and adulthood.

MacNaughton, fresh off a co-starring role in E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, very much has to carry the picture, since he's in virtually every scene. He does a reasonably good job with a difficult role, especially in the flashbacks as he flirts and then draws back from the young Cynthia Nixon (decades before Sex and the City, though that credit is prominently trumpeted on the keepcase blurb). Don Murray really goes over the top with his attempts to be a good father, though since he's only seen in flashback that could just be Adam's characterization in his memories. Hope Lange doesn't project such a caricature, however. Robert Wagner is decent enough, though he doesn't seem to be trying very hard to gain Adam's trust; a warmer approach might have sold his character a bit better. Author Cormier acquits himself well in a bit part as Amy's father.

The film, while not full of onscreen violence or gore, does have several intense sequences that will probably be too much for younger viewers. These particularly include a series of scenes in which Adam and his bicycle are violently threatened by a gang of bullies. But that makes sense in the adaptation of a book for teens; its intended audience may find the going a little slow, but it's pretty well done on the whole. Youngsters may wonder what these pay phone things are that Adam keeps stopping at, an element that surprisingly dates the film in this era of cellphones.

The running time is five minutes shorter than the 100 minutes claimed on the keepcase.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: The film is presented in a 1.33:1 ratio. However, it doesn't appear to be pan-and-scan, but rather an open-matte presentation of what was a widescreen film theatrically. When zoomed on a 16:9 set the picture seems to be perfectly framed throughout. The source materials are somewhat of a problem, since they're very soft and somewhat speckly, and quite lacking in fine detail. Given that they're not the sharpest in the first place, zooming doesn't really deteriorate the picture too much.

Image Transfer Grade: C-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchno

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 mono English track is quite poor-sounding. It's very shrill, with highly distorted music, particularly the ghastly-sounding Chopin Piano Concerto that plays over the finale. Moderate hiss can be heard throughout, but dialogue is reasonably audible. It's rather painful at reference levels, and is best listened to at significantly lower levels, in a quiet room.

Audio Transfer Grade: D+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 11 cues and remote access
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Almost Peaceful, Monsieur N, La Vie Promise, September 11th
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Still gallery
Extras Review: There's only a photo gallery of 14 tiny stills, in a big frame, to serve as a modest extra. Four completely unrelated trailers bring up the back end.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

A solid, if slightly dated, adaptation of the Cormier novel, suffers from an open-matte transfer and a poor audio track.


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