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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents
Oliver Twist (2005)

"Such a nice lad. I have a feeling he'll turn out a hard worker."
- Fagin (Ben Kingsley)

Review By: Jeff Wilson   
Published: January 24, 2006

Stars: Ben Kingsley, Jamie Foreman, Barney Clark
Other Stars: Harry Eden, Edward Hardwicke, Mark Strong, Leanne Rowe
Director: Roman Polanski

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for disturbing images
Run Time: 02h:10m:15s
Release Date: January 24, 2006
UPC: 043396130654
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ C+A-A- B+

DVD Review

Roman Polanski's follow-up to his Oscar-winning The Pianist, Oliver Twist would seem an unsurprising choice for the director, given its general tale of innocence placed amidst a corrupt world. The film was a bomb in general release here, pulling in just $1.9 million against a budget of more than $60 million. Audiences clearly weren't interested, but that's never a valid judgment of a film's worth. So the new DVD release allows us to re-assess, and see if the general public had it right the first time.

The story, adapted from Charles Dickens' classic novel by Ronald Harwood, tells of the titular character (Barney Clark), an orphan sent to the workhouse. He is indentured to an undertaker, where, after cruel treatment, he runs away to London. He is taken in by Fagin (Ben Kingsley), the ringleader of a band of kiddie thieves, and Oliver is quick to want to finally fit in somewhere. But when a job goes bad and Oliver winds up taken in by Mr. Brownlow (Edward Hardwicke), a wealthy philanthropist, Oliver has second thoughts. He finds that leaving the life he so recently yearned for is harder than it seems, as Fagin and the crooked, psychotic Bill Sikes (Jamie Foreman) drag him back into the fold.

The film is handsomely mounted, and well-acted, but it does lack a certain something. Perhaps its chief flaw is the portrayal of Oliver. Clark does what he's supposed to do well enough, but it's the way in which the character of the boy is written that is the problem. Oliver is a bystander in his own story, which is perhaps more interesting to read than to watch. He rarely takes action, aside from choosing to leave for London. Too often, Oliver reacts to others deciding his fate for him, and usually does so feebly at that. The forces massed against him are simply too great for the lad to make much headway. Polanski has made other films about innocents led astray, where the lamb is led to the slaughter, and it's barely alleviated here. By the story's end, Oliver seems more haunted and disturbed than he did at the beginning, and the final embrace of sorts between he and Brownlow doesn't give much assurance that Oliver is going to turn out a well-adjusted person.

The world Polanski creates for Oliver is a fairly black-and-white one; characters are, almost to a man, self-interested and eager to put one over on someone else to get ahead. Oliver's unconscious influence and general good nature brings about his eventual salvation, but his appears to be a unique case. Once Sikes and Fagin get what's coming to them, we see no more of Fagin's gang of kiddie thieves and can only imagine their presumably grim fates. As Sikes, Foreman doesn't have much to do beyond acting like a mindless thug (Sikes' only moods in the film are angry and dangerously angry), but he does look the part. Kingsley's Fagin has some nuance to his personality and is vastly enjoyable to watch, and the script is careful to omit any mention of his being Jewish, though his appearance retains the typical Fagin look. The kids comprising Fagin's gang all do their jobs admirably, without any offputting cutesiness.

I'm not aware of how the film went over with the hardcore Dickens crowd, but it seems to me that Dickens is best served on television, where his long, dense narratives can be given a fuller treatment. Condensed and pared down as it surely is here, Oliver Twist provides diverting entertainment, but left this viewer otherwise unmoved.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Anamorphically enhanced in its original ratio of 2.35:1, Oliver Twist looks excellent, with a crisp, detailed transfer. Night scenes, of which there are plenty, look clean and free of any major artifacting.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby 5.1 track does a nice job, with some moderately active surrounds. Rachel Portman contributes an unobtrusive score that provides most of the sonic action here.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
0 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Fun With Dick and Jane, The Pink Panther, The Da Vinci Code, Open Season, The Baxter
2 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: unmarked keepcase
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The chief item amongst the extras is the making-of documentary, Twist by Polanski (28m:35s), which interviews all the principals and covers the film from its initial conception through the production. It's all lovey-dovey like most of these "making-ofs" are, but interesting nonetheless, especially in terms of the film's subsequent failure. In The Best of Twist (17m:47s), we get yet more production footage and discussion, this time looking at specific elements of the film, including sets, design, and photography. It underscores the massive effort needed to mount a film of this type. Kidding with Oliver Twist: Barney Clark's Diary (05m:41s) covers some of Clark's memories, read directly from his own diary, by Clark, with footage from the film and shoot. A nice touch and it doesn't overstay its welcome. Trailers for several other Sony films are included, but strangely, none for the film on the disc.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

Handsome to look at and well-acted, Oliver Twist comes off lacking heart and genuine emotion. Oliver runs through a gauntlet of cruelty and evil and comes out the other end looking shell-shocked and battered. Polanski claimed to want to make a film for his children, but this isn't it. The DVD presents the film in a crisp and vivid transfer, with a handful of decent extras to go with it.


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