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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 3/5/99



Ever After: A Cinderella Story
1998 (1999) - 20th Century Fox

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Ever After DVD Film Rating: B+
Director Andy Tennant's new telling of this classic story rings surprisingly true. Drew Barrymore brings a refreshing honesty and charm to the story's central character, and Anjelica Huston is deliciously wicked as the infamous stepmother. Completely engaging.

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B/D
Despite being non-anamorphic (a disappointment) the letterboxed widescreen video is excellent. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is also generally good. As for extras, only a theatrical trailer is included.

Overall Rating: B
The film is delightful, and the disc presents it in very good quality indeed. The almost complete lack of extras and the non-anamorphic transfer hamstring the DVD somewhat, but it's still absolutely worth a look.

Specs and Features

121 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at ???), Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens with animation and sound, scene access (30 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), English & French (DD 2.0), subtitles: Spanish, Close Captioned

Review

When I first saw the trailer for Ever After in the theater, I could barely suppress a groan. Edited like a music video, the trailer evoked the memory of another film that I really disliked - the recent remake of Romeo + Juliet, starring Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio. What a missed opportunity that film was. The production design was nothing short of phenomenal, but you could never get a good look at it, due to amateurish direction and haphazard, B-grade music video-style camerawork. Not to mention the fact that no one but Paul Sorvino seemed to have any understanding of the lines they were spouting with such attitude. But I've really enjoyed Drew Barrymore in just about everything she's done, so I gave Ever After a shot. Imagine my surprise - Ever After is a surprisingly new and satisfying spin on this classic fairy tale.

The film's story is told by an old woman, to a pair of curious writers (none other than the Brothers Grim). It goes like this… once upon a time, in 16th century France, there was a young girl named Danielle. One day, Danielle's father (a widower) brings home a new wife, the Baroness Rodmilla de Ghent (Anjelica Huston), and her two young daughters. But before this new group can become a true family, Danielle's father dies suddenly, leaving the Baroness in charge of his estate. Years pass, and we learn that Danielle (Barrymore) has been reduced to the level of a house servant, while the Baroness has spoiled her own daughters rotten, and squandered away the family fortune.

Meanwhile, the King has commanded that his son, Prince Henry (Dougray Scott), marry a Spanish princess to cement a peace treaty. Henry, disillusioned with his duty and his impending marriage, runs away, stealing a horse in his escape attempt. As it happens, the horse belongs to Danielle's family, and Danielle catches the Prince in the act. She confronts him, without at first realizing who he is. This first meeting leaves an impression on Henry (in more ways than one). A few days later, Danielle sneaks onto the palace grounds, posing as a Countess, to free one of the family servants, whom the Baroness has sold into slavery. Once again, Danielle and Henry cross paths, and though Henry doesn't realize this is the same girl who accosted him, he's fascinated by her. When the King relents, and gives Henry a week's time to find a girl he'd marry out of love, Henry can think only of Danielle. But he has no idea how to find her, or what her real name is. And the Baroness has her own plans as to whom Henry should marry… namely her oldest daughter.

Ever After is an entirely unique telling of the Cinderella story. You'll find no magic pumpkins here - this is a story rooted in the more mundane realm of everyday life. But in that reality, as written by director Tennant and Susannah Grant, Ever After finds a magic of its own. This is a film with heart, and a sense of humor. The story, which is richly fleshed-out beyond what I've outlined above, is completely engaging. Drew Barrymore is equally engaging - all right, her English accent is really terrible, but that's not the point. She brings a charmingly evocative quality to Danielle, that you immediately identify with. Danielle is a strong woman, idealistic and optimistic despite the hardships of her station in life. Barrymore's performance is real - it's honest. You can't help but be taken in by her. She centers the film wonderfully, and allows the story to wind it's way around her. And she is surrounded by a true rogue's gallery of fascinating characters, acted to perfection by a terrific supporting cast.

Dougray Scott is well matched with Barrymore as Prince Henry - there's a definite chemistry there. Moreover, the idea of a disillusioned prince, who finds his life's purpose in the arms of a servant girl, is a romantic notion indeed. Angelica Huston is simply wonderful as Danielle's wicked stepmother. The film is interwoven with numerous plots cast by the Baroness and her oldest daughter Marguerite, and it's fun to watch Huston at work. She even manages to evoke a rare moment of warmth towards Danielle, which serves to greatly humanize the character (after all, even the nastiest villians have some good in them - just ask Darth Vader). Instead of a fairy godmother, we have here something of a wizard - not of magic, but rather of science - Leonardo Da Vinci himself (Patrick Godfrey), who has a number of funny moments. The King and Queen are equally good, played with wit and humor by Timothy West and Judy Parfitt. There's even a band of gypsy thieves, who add an element of danger, some good action, and a humorous test of Danielle's strength. There are several other characters as well - I've by no means touched upon them all.

The video quality of this Fox DVD is very good in letterboxed widescreen. It isn't anamorphic, which disappointed me greatly. But the video suffers little for this, which is fortunate - this is a very good looking film, with first-rate production design. The colors are rich, yet not oversaturated. Skin tones are very natural looking. The contrast is good, and there's excellent shadow detail. The picture takes on a soft quality on occasion, but this was present in the original film as I experienced it in the theater. There are virtually no artifacts visible, digital or otherwise. All in all, this is a very good transfer of a very good print. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is also generally good, if not outstanding. There are several scenes, particularly set in forest areas, where the rear channels are used to create good ambiance. However, the audio does tend to be somewhat hemispheric, with the dialogue sounding a bit flat (if still natural). The musical score is not exceptional, but is certainly adequate to the film, and is well mixed. Stereo Surround is also available in both English and French, and there are Spanish-only subtitles.

As for extras… well, other than the aforementioned theatrical trailer, there aren't any. That's a shame, as this is a disc on which I would have loved to see a making-of featurette, production design artwork, or perhaps a commentary track. The story is so well woven and acted, that I would have really enjoyed a look behind-the-scenes. Still, the film is good enough that it stands on its own. And at least the DVD version includes the original PG-13 version of the film seen in theaters - if you buy it on VHS, you'll be missing a couple of objectionable lines of dialogue, in a slightly edited PG version.

Bottom line

Ever After is completely charming. I'm not a big fairy tale kind of guy, but I'm not ashamed to say that I really enjoyed this film. It takes a unique, and completely refreshing approach to a very familiar story, while remaining very human, and true to the romantic spirit of the tale. The DVD is overpriced, given the lack of extras, but the disc's quality helps to make up for it, at least in part. If you can find it for a good price, I highly recommend it.

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com




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