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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 2/18/00

Great Expectations
1998 (2000) - 20th Century Fox

review by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

Great Expectations (1998) Film Rating: C+

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

Specs and Features

112 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), single-sided, dual-layered (layer switch at 1:06:30, in chapter 15), Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailers for Great Expectations, One Fine Day, French Kiss, Picture Perfect, Ever After, Cousin Bette and Never Been Kissed, film-themed menu screens with animation and sound, scene access (22 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1) and English & French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English and Spanish, Closed Captioned

"I'm not going to tell the story the way it happened. I'm going to tell it the way I remember it."

I would think that we all had to read Charles Dickens' classic novel Great Expectations in high school. I did, and I really enjoyed it as well. At first, I was dreading it, thinking it would be all stuffy and English. But I was happily surprised. Maybe it was the book's episodic nature, or the fact that it started out in a muddy field with an escaped convict on the run. Whatever it was, Great Expectations as a book grabs you and sucks you right in. I wish I could say the same about the most recent film version.

It would seem that writer Mitch Glazer wasn't about to tell the story of Great Expectations the way he read it. Instead, he tells it the way he wants to remember it. In his modern update, young Finn (read: Pip) bumps into the above mentioned ex-con (Robert De Niro), but this time they're in the middle of Florida's Gulf Coast instead of the English countryside. Most of this sequence is the pretty much the same as the book, except De Niro's con curls his lips around a few obscenities' Dickens would never even think of using. Finn helps the con, and keeps on moving forward with his life. The events continue to parallel the book: he's invited to Miss Dinsmoor's decaying estate (in the book, it's Miss Havisham, played here with spooky delight by Anne Bancroft) for the purpose of playing with, and eventually falling in love with, her niece Estella. Estella's a bit out of Finn's league, but he aspires to look in her eyes and see love. Dinsmoor couldn't be happier with this, because her goal is to destroy their young love, due to the fact that she was left at the altar years before and hasn't recovered.

Years later, and after having on again/off again friendships with Estella, Finn (now played by Ethan Hawke) eventually becomes a pretty talented artist. Through a mysterious benefactor, he's sent to New York to show his stuff in a gallery. This is where he meets Estella (all grown up now into Gwyneth Paltrow) strutting around New York in see-through fashions. She's engaged to Apu Nahasapeemapetilon (okay... some other guy played by Hank Azaria - pardon the Simpsons joke) and all seems to be going well. Except that Estella's not in love. She's programmed to never be in love, because of her upbringing at Dinsmoor.

Even adapted to "modern times", the film actually does works... but something is missing. I think that because it's such a condensed version of the book, all we really have time for is a focus on the love affair. That's all well and good, but Great Expectations is a coming of age type of deal. Making it simply about love, is like saying that Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is about the responsibility of marriage. Still, the film does look beautiful. The cinematography is gorgeous, and the fluid camerawork really helps bring you into the story -- especially pre-Hawke and Paltrow.

This DVD shows some shimmer in the picture (no doubt NTSC and analog artifacts), and it's pretty grainy in spots (a print issue). Ultimately, it manages to impersonate a good clean picture, even if it isn't anamorphic. When is Fox gonna learn, darnit? They're doing really good DVD work right now -- imagine how great it would be if more of their discs were anamorphic? At least the audio is excellent here -- this is a very nice sounding disc. It's got a pretty active soundfield in both 5.1 and 2.0 (especially in chapter 3, when Finn first steps into Miss Dinsmoor's estate). Film-based extras are non-existent, but you do get a handful of trailers.

All said and done, this is a fairly good disc of an okay film. I wouldn't go out of my way for either, but if you want to see Hawke and Gwyneth looking pretty, this is a good way to do it.

Todd Doogan
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