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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 5/1/00

Music of the Heart
Collector's Series - 1999 (2000) - Miramax (Buena Vista)

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

Music of the Heart Film Rating: B+

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

Specs and Features

Disc One: The Film
123 mins, PG, widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:35:59, at the start of chapter 34), Amaray keep case packaging, commentary (by director Wes Craven and producer Marianne Maddalena), deleted scenes (with Wes Craven commentary), Scoring Session: Behind the Scenes featurette, The Back Double Concerto: Behind the Scenes at Carnegie Hall featurette, Music of My Heart music video by Gloria Estefan and N-Sync, featurette on the making of the music video, soundbites, scenes with deleted score, cast & crew bios, theatrical trailer, scene access (41 chapters), languages: English and French (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

Disc Two: Documentary (Small Wonders)
77 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, scene access (9 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

With every passing awards season, it seems that Meryl Streep is nominated for yet another trophy. It's easy to dismiss her constant accolades as Hollywood inside pats on the back, but more often than not, she is deserving of the nominations. Music of the Heart may be no exception to that. I would have preferred to see the Academy be a little more progressive and nominate Reese Witherspoon for Election, but this is truly a great performance. Streep absorbs herself so completely in her role (as a violin instructor at an alternative school), that she seems a natural choice for the part.

In Music of the Heart, she stars as Roberta Guaspari, a newly-divorced mother of two, struggling to get back on her feet. She lives with her mother in Rome, New York and makes money as a gift-wrapper in a department store. That is, until she’s visited by an old flame (Aidan Quinn), who reminds her of her gift as a musician and teacher. He tells her about a possible job opening in New York City. And on a whim, she makes the trip to East Harlem and convinces Principal Williams (Angela Bassett) that she would be perfect for the job.

The first hour of the movie puts a great amount of detail and attention into developing her initially unsure relationship with the students, teachers and parents. While Roberta struggles to implement a program that the school system does not wholeheartedly support (as is often the case with arts programs), she is also dealing with trouble at home, as her kids try to cope with the absence of their father.

She is very tough on her students. Great artistic skill requires a lot of attention, and she demands it from her children. Eventually, both students and school see the value in her teachings. These are the scenes where Streep really excels. There is a real give to her scenes with the kids that allows them to play off of each other. The kids speak a little like comic book orphans, with one or two line passages, but there is real meaning behind what they're saying and her response to their needs.

Ten years later, Roberta is a more confident, skilled teacher, and her program is doing extremely well. It has grown from a one-school program of fifty students to one of three schools and a lottery that allows 150 children the opportunity to take her class. But funding has been completely cut, and since she is officially a substitute teacher, she will be fired at the end of the term. From this point on, the movie starts to feel like a movie-of-the-week effort, as the community and city rally to save the program. Ultimately, it surrenders to a lot of cliche. The music swells often and there are more than a handful of standing ovations (both literal and implied). Still, most of it is very powerful and enjoyable, and Streep is completely engaging. The movie definitely carries a message about the importance of arts in the schools, but it's never forceful about it.

With this film, Wes Craven (of Scream fame) proves himself to be a competent director outside of the horror genre in which he has been pigeonholed. Sometimes the movie is a little on the overly sympathetic side and I don't know if the gritty look to the movie was the best choice (it makes the film seem dated). Otherwise, Craven's attention to detail is well suited to the movie's theme. If this film is any indication, he should be able to make a smooth transition out of genre-based direction.

Why, oh why, hasn't Disney done anamorphic from the very start? The 16x9 transfer for Music of the Heart is terrific, and presents a very nice picture indeed. There is some grain visible and many of the indoor scenes have a 1970s-like feel to them, as they're saturated in natural light. But those are deliberate creative choices - this is a very clean print. There is a little edge enhancement to be found, but overall, the picture quality is pretty darn good. Colors are balanced and skin tones are rendered very naturally. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound mix (in both English and French) is also effective, though this is not an active sound field on par with many of the more action-oriented DVD releases. Surround channels are subtly used in the film's concert scenes, but only sparingly used otherwise. Nonetheless, the mix that is included is very strong, and thankfully dialogue sequences were never drowned out by other noise.

There is an impressive set of supplements on this two-disc set. I've listened to commentary by Wes Craven on two or three other discs, and he is always well spoken and ready to share tons of information about his craft. This one is no exception, as he is joined occasionally on this track by producer Marianne Maddalena. The featurettes, which are usually Disney's weak points, are pretty good this time around. There is the usual movie-oriented short feature, along with a short about the shooting of the concert in Carnegie Hall. For the screaming pubescent teen in all of us, there's N-Sync and Gloria Estefan's music video of schmaltz-meister Dianne Warren's Oscar-nominated song, Music of My Heart, as well as a "making of the video" featurette. The three deleted scenes run about ten minutes in length, and like many deleted scenes, their presence in the final cut of the film is not missed. Roberta is a strong, stubborn woman who will always stand up for her kids, and it comes across well enough on screen without these scenes. Some them feature pieces of the movie's score that didn't make the final cut, but all if it is included here as a bonus. A trailer, bios (of the musicians, cast & crew) and interviews with some of the musicians round out the main features on the first disc.

Disney also included a second disc in this special edition, containing the documentary Small Wonders, the Oscar nominated film on which Music of the Heart is based. To review this completely would require another page, but in short, it's an amazing portrait of a truly giving teacher. Perhaps Roberta was softened just a little for the Hollywood version of her story, but she is seen here for what she is - a good teacher who wants nothing but the best for her students. The documentary is presented here in its original full-frame, 4x3 aspect ratio, with a stereo track. It will give you a little better insight into the relationship Roberta has with her students.

I found myself really involved with the most of Music of the Heart. It reminded me of the best parts of movies like The Karate Kid, which really value and appreciate the importance of good teacher/student relationships. Wes Craven's love for the arts really comes across in his direction, and he wisely avoids delving into Guispara's romantic life. Doing so would have devalued her relationship with the students, and taken away some of the film's subtle importance. This is a good movie and, along with The Sixth Sense, is a continued step in the right direction for Disney's special edition DVD's. And hey - there aren’t the mandatory commercials, so Disney must be learning something.

Dan Kelly
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