Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 3/24/99
Line Platinum Series - 1998 (1999) - New Line
review by Bill Hunt,
editor of The Digital Bits
Pleasantville is a whimsical "what
if" story - a classic fish out of water tale, of two 90s teens
who suddenly find themselves trapped in the idyllic world of a 1950s
sitcom - a world they quickly turn upside down. Funny, endearing and
well-crafted, if just a bit heavy handed.
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras):
Terrific anamorphic widescreen picture, and very natural Dolby
Digital 5.1 surround. A bunch of nifty extras are included too,
although Mac users are left in the dark by the PC-only features.
Overall Rating: A
It's tough not to love this disc. The film is very entertaining,
and is presented here in wonderful quality. And there are hours
worth of extras to sift through, including some good commentary and
even the film's script. The Mac-compatibility issue aside, as a
character in the film might say, "Golly, it's swell!"
124 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced,
single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 80:44, at start of
chapter 30), Snapper packaging, audio commentary by writer/director
Gary Ross, isolated score with commentary by composer Randy Newman,
behind-the-scenes featurette The Art of
Pleasantville, Fiona Apple music video Across
the Universe, storyboard gallery, theatrical trailer,
color TV set-up images, PC-only DVD-ROM features (which include web
access, links, trivia, and printable screenplay with storyboards
linked to each scene), film-themed menu screens, scene access (37
chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0), subtitles:
English, Close Captioned
Imagine if you will, two modern teenagers from a broken home,
coping with all of the trials and tribulations of high school in the
present day. One, David (played by Tobey Maguire), is something of a
geek, whose favorite pastime is watching reruns of an old 1950s
sitcom called Pleasantville
(think Leave it to Beaver
meets Father Knows Best - you
basic sans color, Nick at Nite fare). The other, Jennifer (Reese
Witherspoon), is a somewhat slutty bad girl (good at heart, of
course) who is working hard to be popular, and is definitely hanging
with the wrong crowd.
One night, while Mom's away, both have big plans - Jennifer's
invited a guy over for MTV and other extracurricular activities, and
David's planning on winning a trivia contest at the end of an
marathon. But both reach the coveted TV remote control at the same
time, and a fight ensues, in which the remote is damaged beyond all
hope. As luck would have it, a kindly TV repairman (Don Knotts)
arrives with a replacement. But this ain't no ordinary remote, and
before Jennifer or David know it, they've zapped themselves right
into the world of Pleasantville.
And what a strange world it is - the books all have blank pages, no
one ever misses a basketball shot, and no road leads out of town.
David and Jennifer soon find that they've assumed the black &
white identities of Bud and Mary Sue Parker, complete with
shinny-happy new parents (played by Joan Allen and William H. Macy).
Everything that happens around them is straight out of a rerun, and
when David and Jennifer start deviating from the original plot,
strange things begin happening, andPleasantville
may never be the same.
This movie was written and directed by Gary Ross, who also crafted
the screenplays for Dave and
Big. As the director admits on
his own commentary track, he's very much attracted to high-concept
stories, that can serve as allegories for contemporary themes. This
film, which recalls the work of Frank Capra in many ways, is no
exception. Human beings have a tendency to romanticize the past -
the "good old days", so to speak, when everyone was happy,
and there was nothing of the problems and complexities of modern
life. This is, of course, almost completely false, and that's the
point Ross is trying to make here. Pleasantville's
seemingly perfect world is devoid of all of the true pleasures of
life - there's no art, no literature, no one even knows what sex is.
Naturally, David and Jennifer begin to change this. And as the
inhabitants of this fictional town begin to gain a greater awareness
of what life is really all about, they begin to (literally) see the
true colors of the world around them.
As clever as the story is, and it is very well written, it's the
acting that makes this film. There is not a bad performance in the
bunch, and Maguire and Witherspoon really give it their all. Macy is
wonderful as the father whose perfect life begins to crumble around
him. Allen shines as she begins to discover a life beyond what she's
ever known. And Jeff Daniels brings great humanity to his role as
Mr. Johnson, the humble owner of the local soda fountain, who
discovers his love of artistic expression. But I must admit, Don
Knotts and the late J. T. Walsh stole the show for me. It's just
great to see Knotts on screen again, and he's just as off-kilter
funny as he ever was: "Those aren't your cookies! Those are
Whitey's cookies, Bud!" And it's important to note that Pleasantville
was J. T. Walsh's final film performance. If Walsh is remembered for
no other role, this one is a fitting swan song. He's simply
wonderful as Big Bob, the beleaguered town Mayor, who struggles
valiantly to turn back the clock on progress. And he delivers, hands
down, the best line of the film. As their world collapses, the
town's concerned men folk gather around Big Bob for their leader's
advice: "Well, we're safe now. Thank goodness we're in a
My only real complaints with the film, are that it seems to run on
a bit long, and it does get (in my opinion) just a bit heavy handed
in the end. As more and more of the characters begin to appear in
color, those still in black and white start accosting the "coloreds",
burning books and the like. A mini riot ensues, eventually leading
to the arrest of David (as Bud) and Mr. Johnson, followed by the
obligatory trial scene. It was just a hair too melodramatic for my
taste. Still they're fairly minor issues, and they don't affect the
film's impact overmuch.Pleasantville
is an entirely wonderful movie experience - if not quite perfect,
still very, very good.
As a DVD, this latest addition to New Line's Platinum Series is
impressive indeed. The video quality is tremendous, presented here
in anamorphic widescreen. Those involved in the DVD's production say
that this version is actually closer to director Ross' vision of the
film than even the original theatrical exhibition. The reason for
this, is that much of the film is presented in black & white,
with only selected portions of the image in color. Film prints are
subject to chemical imperfections, which resulted in the release
prints having a slight green or magenta tone. With DVD, the chroma
information can be simply removed, resulting in true black and white
where desired. In addition, the transfer done for this DVD is
nothing short of fantastic, with virtually no print imperfections
visible. The contrast range exhibited here, so important given that
most of the film is in black and white, is excellent. The picture is
crisp and clear. And where it does appear, the color is rich and
The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround is nearly as good as the picture.
Don't expect a ton of surround sound effects here - what there are
are very well done, but that's not the point. The audio mix is
completely natural sounding, with clear, full dialogue evenly mixed
across the front of the sound stage. The bass is solid but not
overpowering, and Randy Newman's score is well presented. And there
are one or two moments of really great sound - the wet slap of a ham
steak on Reese Witherspoon's breakfast plate in chapter 8, followed
by the thick glug of maple syrup. And chapter 29 has some good audio
work set in the aforementioned bowling alley.
As for extras, this DVD delivers plenty. Two audio commentary
tracks are provided - one of the director, and another which is
actually the film's isolated score, with occasional commentary by
composer Randy Newman. Both are a generally good listen. There's a
good behind-the-scenes documentary included, which takes a
fascinating look at the production design and the effects work. A
small gallery of selected storyboard images is available, as is the
film's wonderful theatrical trailer. The original music video for
the film's closing song, a remake of Across
the Universe as sung by Fiona Apple, is also available.
New Line even provides a series of images that are intended to be
used to make sure your TV's color settings are properly adjusted,
although I wish they weren't tacked onto the front of the film -
they're the first thing you see when you press play. My only
complaint with the DVD player accessible extras, are the menu
screens, which are rather dull, with no music or animation.
As for DVD-ROM features, you get web links, access to up-to-date
cast and crew bios (maintained on the Internet), trivia and more.
You also get access to the complete screenplay (it's actually on the
disc), with storyboards, which can be printed in full. Or you can
read a particular scene, then (with the click of a mouse) jump right
to that scene in the film. As a screenwriter, I find this feature to
be a great resource for anyone who studies the craft. Unfortunately,
the DVD-ROM extras are only available to those with PCs - Mac owners
are out of luck (although New Line assures me that they are working
to change this in future releases). I still don't like having to
install software on my computer to access these extras (HTML-based
access, which requires only a browser, seems a better idea to me).
Something which makes me very happy however, is that New Line fully
intends to maintain any DVD-ROM content, that's stored on their
Internet web site, in perpetuity. So there's no fear that the disc's
Net-based extras will just disappear after a certain amount of time.
All in all, I'm very impressed with Pleasantville
on DVD. This a very good film, with terrific performances, good
tongue-in-cheek humor, and plenty of humanity. The disc packs lots
of fun extras, which would take many hours to explore completely.
This is a DVD for all to savor, from film buffs to 50's sitcom fans
to anyone who has ever looked back on the "good old days"
with a blind eye. Buy and enjoy!