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review added: 6/15/01



O Brother, Where Art Thou?
2000 (2001) - Touchstone/Universal/Studio Canal (Buena Vista)

review by Greg Suarez of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsEncoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

O Brother, Where Art Thou? Film Rating: A-

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

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): B+/A-

Specs and Features

103 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:27:14, in chapter 20), Amaray keep case packaging, "behind-the-scenes" featurette, Painting with Pixels post-production featurette, 2 multi-angle scene comparisons, I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow music video, theatrical trailer, home video trailers (for The Crew, Bounce and Unbreakable), animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (24 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & DTS 5.0), subtitles: Spanish, Closed Captioned


"Well, it didn't look like a one-horse town, but try finding a decent hair jelly!"

There are certain movies that just wouldn't work with anyone else other than the person that directed it. What would Fight Club be without David Fincher's disturbing, acupuncture-like sensibility? Could anyone else really do as much justice to the gothic flavor and atmosphere of Sleepy Hollow as Tim Burton? And let anyone else other than the visionary Coen brothers make a film like O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and you'll probably end up with something less than desirable - I can't think of any other filmmaker who would "get" this film.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? - a modern-day (well, 1930s) retelling of Homer's Odyssey - is the story of three escaped convicts on a quest for treasure. It seems that Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney) was jailed after he knocked off an armored car for $1.2 million and hid the loot. Now he and his buddies, Pete (John Turturro) and Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson), are making a break across Mississippi to reclaim their fortune and start their lives anew. During the journey, our heroes find themselves in all kinds of crazy mishaps, from a nasty run-in with a very large, one-eyed (cycloptic?) bible salesman (John Goodman), to a trio of beautiful temptresses (sirens?) and even lone guitarist Tommy Johnson (Chris Thomas King), who sold his soul to the devil for the gift of master ghee-tar riffin'. It's interesting to note that this character uncannily recalls legendary blues man Robert Johnson. There are many more colorful and wacky characters introduced in this story, too numerous to get into here. The ultimate question is this - when the boys reach the end of the road, will they find what they're looking for, or will their path lead them to something better?

It's so hard to sum up this film on paper and do it justice - it's just one of "those" movies. You know, the kind of film that is so wonderfully quirky and filled with you-just-had-to-be-there humor. But we're talking about the Coen brothers here, so are you really surprised? O Brother is a fairly archetypal road movie, but instead of the typical characters, chases and mishaps, the Coens introduce us to much more inspired and original characters, chases and mishaps. How many road movies do you know where one of the main characters (supposedly) turns into a horny toad, or another of the main characters goes through seemingly gallons of pomade? Add to this the fact that the Coens loosely based this on the Odyssey, and the film becomes that much more pleasurable. It's hilarious to witness how Homer's epic poem has been so fantastically transformed into a comedy set in the deep fried south during the Depression. If you love the Coens (or more accurately, if you "get" the Coens), you must see this film. O Brother stands as one of the most original films and probably the biggest cinematic surprise of 2000.

I don't mean to tell tales outside-o-school, but, sporting a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer, O Brother looks beautiful. The rich amber and sepia tones the film is presented in are accurately reproduced on this DVD. Fine detail is excellent, as are black levels and shadow delineation. The image looks very smooth, and appears to have been sourced from a very clean print. The picture does run into some minor compression artifacting and a slightly hazy look in spots, but it's nothing too serious.

Featuring dual Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks, O Brother sounds very good. The Dolby track is spacious across the front speakers, with much of the aural action anchored in the front center of the soundstage. However, the surrounds are used occasionally for a nice ambient effect. Dialog sporadically takes on a harsh sibilant quality in the opening minutes of the film, however this becomes a non-issue after the first 10 or 15 minutes. The DTS track sounds almost identical to the Dolby track, but opens up the sound space a little bit more, offering slightly more inner detail to the ambience. Note that the Dolby track registered as a 5.1 track on my DVD player, while the DTS track registered as a 5.0 track. That said, I noticed no significant difference in low frequency output between the two.

Yee-haw! Not only does O Brother have a decent audio/visual presentation, but the supplements ain't bad neither! They start off with a 9-minute "behind-the-scenes" featurette - expect a typical EPK-style reel with interviews and film footage. You'll find some semi-interesting bits about casting, and the usual cast "ass waxing" of the directors (although this time it's well-deserved ass waxing). Next up is a highly interesting 9-minute featurette called Painting with Pixels. This is a look at the post-production process, and how the filmmakers were able to effectively edit and tweak the color and look of the film to it's final brownish, dusty appearance, which adds a great deal of atmosphere to the finished product. This is really good stuff, and a well-spent 9 minutes for any film buff. Two scenes from the film ("the flood" and "the KKK rally") are presented with multi-angle enhancement, which allows you to compare the storyboards to the final scenes. The Soggy Bottom Boys' I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow is highlighted on this disc as a quasi music video featuring clips from the film. Rounding out the supplements are the film's theatrical trailer, and three home video trailers that pop up automatically at the beginning of the disc (that you can thankfully skip).

If you're a fan of the Coens you should make it a point to check out O Brother. It's probably not for everyone, but its mixture of very novel characters and unique updating of the Odyssey make it a real treat for those who can appreciate the film's unorthodox storytelling. Next time you're out at the Woolworths, make sure you don't R-U-N-N-O-F-T 'fore you acquire your very own copy of O Brother, Where Art Thou?. It's bona-fide.

Greg Suarez
gregsuarez@thedigitalbits.com




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