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review added: 10/20/00



The Cider House Rules
Miramax Collector's Series - 1999 (2000) - Miramax (Buena Vista)

review by Florian Kummert of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Cider House Rules: Miramax Collector's Series Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B+/B

Specs and Features

125 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:11:32, at the start of chapter 23), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary (with director Lasse Hallström, screenwriter John Irving and producer Richard N. Gladstein), 5 deleted scenes, The Cider House Rules: The Making of an American Classic featurette, cast and crew bios, 16 TV spots, theatrical trailer, animated film themed menu screens with music, scene access (37 chapters), languages: English and French (DD 5.0), subtitles: English and Spanish, Closed Captioned

"Good night, you princes of Maine... you kings of New England."

It took John Irving 13 years and four directors to lift his epic novel The Cider House Rules onto the big screen. And what a feat he and director Lasse Hallström achieved. This film is a quiet beauty, filled with wonderful performances and an addictive musical score by the talented Rachel Portman. Irving (who wrote the screenplay) dared to do what few authors would accomplish. He radically discarded major characters, compressed the time frame from decades into a few years and telescoped in on a fragment of his original novel. In a way, he retold his story in a new and elegant way.

John Irving's novels are peopled with quirky, off-kilter individuals. Irving's world is similar to the sprawling universe of the great English writer Charles Dickens. Irving's stories, soaked in a wonderful tragicomic tone, are fables for adults, written with the keen sense of a grown-up boy. Lasse Hallström, the director of My Life as a Dog and What's Eating Gilbert Grape, succeeded in capturing all the wondrous spirit of Irving's world on film and created, with his sensitive, low-key direction, the finest film adaptation of an Irving novel so far.

The Cider House Rules begins at the St. Cloud's orphanage in Maine, where you go to "add a child to your life, or leave one behind." The doctor of the orphanage, the eccentric Wilbur Larch, presides over the boys and girls who dream of a family, a home sweet home of their own. Homer Wells is the oldest of the orphans and a special one. Over the years, Larch has developed an emotional attachment to the medically skilled Homer. Larch teaches him everything he knows about medicine and the boy eagerly learns. But they have diametrical views on one particularly delicate subject. Dr. Larch not only delivers the babies of single mothers, he performs abortions upon request. At the time of the telling of this story, it's an illegal act. The doctor thinks he is saving pregnant girls from coat-hook butchers of the back alleys, but Homer disagrees, citing the law and God's will. As an aside, I'd like to note that the novel's exhaustive examination of abortion, both its moral and medical aspects, is greatly reduced, but the movie conveys Irving's opinion - the author is fiercely pro-choice - very well. Apart from the abortion discussion, what's left of the novel is a gentle tale about Homer's journey into the world and his loss of innocence. In the end, he has learned his lessons and acquired values that will enable him to 'do the doctor business' and take care of the orphanage himself. But back to the story... one day, Wally, an Army flyer, comes to St. Cloud's with his beautiful fiancée, Candy, for an abortion. When they leave, Homer decides to join them and starts as an apple-picker at the farm belonging to Wally's parents. For the first time, while there, Homer sees the ocean. For the first time, he eats lobster. And he lives with a group of migrant workers who share a wooden shack with set of useless rules (thus giving the film its name) posted on the wall. When Wally leaves for the war, the lonely Candy comes to visit Homer and eventually they fall in love. Naturally, there's bound to be big trouble…

The movie's cast delivers brilliant performances. Tobey Maguire's Homer is a sober, innocent guy who follows his inner voice, always savoring Dr. Larch's advice to find one's business and be of use. Michael Caine won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Wilbur Larch and he deserved it. Caine, a Brit, puts on a perfect New England accent and fills his role with dignity, strength and stubbornness. And Charlize Theron as Candy lights up the movie with her beauty and energy. The musician Erykah Badu, in the tragic role of Rose, the chief apple-picker's daughter, belongs among the most convincing acting debutantes ever. The Cider House Rules is sentimental. It shamelessly wants to make you weep. But it never fakes its emotions. I wish more literary adaptations would treat novels as boldly as this damn fine piece of art.

Miramax offers The Cider House Rules as a Collector's Series DVD. The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is generally pleasing, but not reference quality. The picture is generally a little bit too soft and the colors seem faded, but that may be intentional. Other than that, flesh tones are accurate, with strong black levels. There are no scratches or marks on the source print used for transfer. The film is presented in a fine Dolby Digital 5.0 soundtrack. One can't expect a surround extravaganza in a dialogue-driven film such as Cider House Rules. But the score opens up the sound field, brilliantly supporting the images. Surround channels are used only for music and subtle effects. The center channel-strong dialogue track sounds natural and is well integrated with the picture.

Finally Miramax, offers animated menus designed to harmonize with the tone of the movie. Even the sub-menus are subtly animated. Nice job, Miramax - it was about time. The extras are also nice, though for a Collector's Series title they're not extremely exhaustive. Director Hallström, screenwriter Irving and producer Gladstein talk in their commentary about some interesting aspects of filmmaking. It's not the most entertaining of commentaries (the three dudes seem a bit sedated), but it keeps with the low-key tone of the movie. Irving talks about the process of writing for the book and the movie and Hallström has some anecdotes to share about technical problems on the set and the difficulties and joys of working with children. The disc also includes a 20-minute featurette, Cider House Rules: The Making of an American Classic. I think it's quite bold to call a brand new film "An American Classic". No doubt a PR guy's idea (sigh). The featurette isn't quite as substantial as I had hoped, but at least it's not just promo material - it includes some nice interview clips as well (one with a very thin-looking Stephen King, after his accident, I assume). We also have some deleted scenes, presented in one clip, running about eight minutes worth of footage. After a quick viewing, you'll find that Hallström cut them for a reason. They wouldn't have added anything and would have ultimately slowed down the film. But it's always nice to have material like that on the disc. For you TV spot and trailer freaks, Miramax has added no less than 16 TV clips and the theatrical trailer (in full frame and 2.0 sound). Finally, cast and crew bios provide some basic information on the... er, the cast and crew.

For a film with such an interesting production history, there's awfully little on the disc of Irving's struggle to get the project green-lighted. If you're truly interested in the film's development, I recommend John Irving's own account, My Movie Business: A Memoir. Still, The Cider House Rules is a fine movie. And Miramax has done a decent job presenting their crown jewel of last year's movie season on DVD. This disc comes highly recommended.

Florian Kummert
floriankummert@thedigitalbits.com




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