the review site with a difference since 1999
Reviews Interviews Articles Apps About

Koch Lorber presents

Radiant City (2006)

"People have come together seeking each other, and now they're fleeing from each other into isolation."- Mark Kingwell, professor of Philosophy, University of Toronto

Stars: Bob Legare, Jane MacFarlane, Kyle Grant, Daniel Jeffery, Ashleigh Fidyk, Curt McKinstry, Karen Planden, James Howard Kunstler
Other Stars: Curt McKinistry, Chantal Perron, Mikeala Jeffrey
Director: Gary Burns, Jim Brown

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:25m:00s
Release Date: 2008-03-04
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer


DVD Review

The negative impact of urban sprawl is not a fresh topic and has been covered in a wide array of books, films, and other venues. With home prices soaring in big cities and buyers longing for gigantic, unnecessary mansions, the flight into suburbia has become a major issue across the country during the past few decades. While city dwellers and supporters of "new urbanism" decry this movement as representative of a larger societal problem, the residents themselves are often proud of their colossal homes. But does this growth really help us in the long run? Are the people who live in these suburban communities truly happy? Radiant City explores these ideas and presents a distressing vision of a growing way of life.

Directors Jim Brown and Gary Burns obviously have a clear agenda with this film and aren’t trying to give a balanced look at the subject. I have no problems with this approach, as the movie is designed to elicit discussion and change audiences' opinions. Burns is known for making surreal comedies, while Brown's journalistic background brings an informative side to the piece. They focus on the Moss family, a standard yuppie clan who have moved to a large, cookie-cutter home in the middle of nowhere. The two kids are baffled by the dull, strange exteriors and have little interaction with the neighbors. The father Evan spends most of his time commuting to work and seems emotionally detached from everything. Meanwhile, the mother Ann grows distressed over the kids' ridiculous schedules and is extremely nervous of even minor issues. Living far away from the city’s infrastructure, the family must trek long distances to conduct even the most basic daily activities. A "power station" does exist for shopping at the typical retail chains, but it's a depressing sight and can only deliver the most standard fare.

This film makes a few strong points about the depressing state of our suburbanized culture, but the Moss family's scenes generally fall flat. A more effective approach would be to describe the various reasons that families move to the suburbs and then debunk them. Instead, we spend way too much time watching the Moss' daily life, which minimizes this documentary's important points. The final segment includes a big twist that might surprise some viewers but doesn't really work. Vital issues appear through this picture, but they're often buried in favor of more obvious situations. Using suburban residents to exemplify key points could succeed, but it falls short when presented in such a haphazard manner. The individuals just aren't interesting enough to carry such a large portion of the running time.

The most convincing parts of Radiant City involve comments from experts describing what's missing from the suburban setting. An effective group of speakers, including author Howard Kunstler and urban planner Beverly Sandalack, state the problems with this situation and offer clear solutions to improve cookie-cutter neighborhoods. I would have preferred to see an entire documentary composed of their thoughts, with detailed explanations of how to start fixing the problems. Brown and Burns chose a different route that might have worked, but its evolution into contrived drama significantly dilutes their message. If you're interested in this topic, this picture might be worth a viewing, but it falls well short of delivering thought-provoking cinema. We’re left feeling cheated when we should be considering ways to alleviate the saddening condition.

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


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Radiant City appears in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that performs acceptably. There are few moments of visual invention and this is obviously a low-budget presentation, but few noticeable defects exist. The images are clear enough to showcase the bland, nauseating suburban homes and adjacent strip malls.

Image Transfer Grade: B

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: This disc offers a fairly simple 2.0-channel Dolby Surround transfer that presents the dialogue clearly. However, an odd echo does permeate much of the audio during certain scenes. This effect only distracts slightly from the production, but it is a strange element rarely heard on DVD releases.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Packaging: unmarked keepcase
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Radiant City includes no features except the trailer, which is disappointing but not a surprise considering the film's low budget. I would have enjoyed hearing the filmmakers speak further about the big twist and the reasons they chose to go in that direction.

Extras Grade: D

Final Comments

I'm currently involved in the home-buying process, and the temptation does arise to choose a large, newer house situated outside the city. But that desire quickly disappears when we consider the many negatives involved with living so far from urban areas. Radiant City depicts the lifelessness of these remote suburban neighborhoods but could have made a stronger argument. The end result feels more like a gimmick than a convincing denunciation of an obvious societal disorder.

Dan Heaton 2008-03-11