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Warner Home Video presents
"My father knew years of famine, but he kept the land. I must keep it for my sons. The earth is good. If we work, it will feed us."
DVD ReviewThe Good Earth is one of those movies that is stunning to look at, but also requires you to stop thinking while watching the gorgeous visuals. Based on the novel of the same name by Pearl S. Buck, Sidney Franklin's film is a somewhat boring look at the life of Chinese peasants. Coming from legendary Hollywood producer Irving Thalberg, who died during its production, the film is a disappointment.
Wang Lung (Paul Muni) is a poor wheat farmer living with his father (Charley Grapewin) and an ox, who happens to be his best friend. Entering into an arranged marriage with the plain O-Lan (Luise Rainer), Wang takes great pride in working the earth alongside his new partner. The two are clumsy with one another, not understanding each other's motives and neither one loves the other. Even with the arrival of three children and Wang purchasing additional fields of land, the family lives on the brink of starvation. Faced with the option of selling the land or heading south to outlast a bitter winter, Wang takes the whole family to the city.
Part of why the movie doesn't work for me ishow superficial everything is. What city do Wang and O-Lan move to? The script never bothers to inform us, nor do the children or many other supporting characters receive an actual name. With a cast consisting of "elder son," "younger son," and "uncle" it is difficult to become emotionally involved with these characters. Thus, when Wang's family is caught up in China's communist revolution, I really didn't care whether they survived the riots and looting. The fact that O-Lan happens upon a purse of jewels, thereby turning the poor farmers into wealthy landowners, also lacks any emotional punch.
Perhaps the film is doomed from the beginning, since it is meant to be a love story between two characters that really don't seem to love one another. Wang is more occupied with the soil and his second wife (Tilly Losch) than he is with O-Lan, while she is so self-loathing that it's difficult to see how anybody could care for her. The fact that two obviously white actors are playing the parts only furthers my dislike of the love story, amounting to little more than a collection of stereotypes. Paul Muni is not my favorite actor and his lifeless performance here only cements that sentiment. Luise Rainer, who won an Oscar for her work here, really has nothing to perform with. O-Lan hardly every speaks and, apart from looking pathetic, I can't honestly see what Rainer brings to the role.
Franklin has little else to rely on than his team of technicians. On that score, the film is a rousing success. The editing during the important set pieces works to create effective bits of filmmaking. The costumes, sets, and cinematography are all vivid and wonderful to look at. There's even an impressive special effects extravaganza when locusts attack the wheat fields. Too bad the actors and story get in the way of The Good Earth's visual wonders.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: C
Image Transfer Review: The film's Oscar-winning cinematography hasn't been well preserved over the years, a sad fortune made apparent by this DVD. Numerous print defects are noticeable, as is a considerable amount of grain in some shots. Dirt and scratches pop up on a couple of occasions, as well. The gray level isn't particularly impressive, nor is contrast. However, detail is about as good as one could hope and there's a decent sense of depth in some shots. While the picture isn't awe-inspiring, this seems to be a result of the source material and not the transfer itself.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: The original mono mix doesn't hold up well, either. There's a consistent hiss throughout the whole movie, but it never reaches to a level that prevents the dialogue from being audible. The score permeates nicely from the front sound stage, but otherwise the track is fairly ordinary. A French mono mix is also available.
Audio Transfer Grade: C+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 31 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Layers Switch: 00h:56m:33s
Extras Grade: C
Final CommentsA bloated film, The Good Earth still manages to collect multiple gorgeous images that will strike a viewer's eye. Warner's presentation of the movie is about as good as one could expect.
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