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review added: 8/5/03



The Price of Milk
2000 - (2002) - John Swimmer Productions/New Zealand Film Commission (New Yorker)

review by Graham Greenlee of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Price of Milk Film Rating: B

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): D/D/C

Specs and Features
87 mins, PG-13, cropped widescreen (1.78:1), 16x9 enhanced, keep case packaging, single-sided, single-layered, audio commentary (with directors Harry Sinclair and actress Danielle Cormack), Outtakes featurette, theatrical trailers, film-themed menu screens, scene access (12 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0 Surround), subtitles: none


Harry Sinclair is probably best known to American audiences as Isildur at the very beginning of Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, but in native New Zealand, he's gotten a name a stage actor and as a very unique, ambitious independent filmmaker. I've gotten the opportunity to see two of his films, Topless Women Talk About Their Lives and The Price of Milk, and they both contain a strange, but deep connection with the audience. The Price of Milk, however, far outshines the former film as a winning, at times magical, romantic comedy.

Lucinda and Rob aren't your normal couple. Rob (Karl Urban) is a simple farmer who is happy with his life as a diary farmer in the New Zealand countryside. Lucinda (Danielle Cormack), his fiancé, loves him dearly but is a bit concerned that the relationship has become stale, and taking the advice of her best friend, she decides it's time to spark things up. Lucinda starts to anger Rob at any chance she gets, and for a while that strategy gives the engagement the extra kick that it needs.

After Lucinda accidentally runs over an old Maori woman, her nephews steal Lucinda's prized quilt in the middle of the night. After correctly suspecting the old woman's involvement, and confronting her with it, the old woman proposes that she'll only give the quilt back if Lucinda gives her one of the couple's most prized possessions. Figuring that it's the perfect opportunity to give her relationship with Rob an extra spark, she decides to trade his cows.

Obviously Rob does not take the trade lightly, and calls off the engagement. Now Lucinda must learn the true meaning of love, and the price of milk, if she's going to get the cows and her fiancé back.

The Price of Milk relies on old, obvious special effects techniques, such as simple editing to achieve characters appearing and disappearing and sound effects for off-screen car wreaks. There was even so little budget that Rob's dog was made to be agoraphobic so that it was simply a person running inside of a large cardboard box. It's that quirkiness that creates the odd timing and cleaver, economical charm that is The Price of Milk, not that you'd necessarily notice how cheaply is was made.

Along with those low-tech tricks, there is a great sense of immediacy and improvisation to the film. It's helped in part by the fact that many scenes were written only just before they were shot. That level of commitment by the actors gives the film great energy, even in sections where the plot would otherwise slow down.

New Yorker Video has been a champion of obscure independent and foreign films on DVD, but the actual transfers used have been rather poor, leading to lackluster releases, and The Price of Milk is no different. First of all, there is almost no shadow detail, and having seen the film in theatres, I can tell you that is not a part of the cinematography. Shots are either brightly illuminated or half of a face is completely blacked out. The picture is overly sharp, and the colors fluctuate from being overly saturated to under-saturated. Finally, the film was shot in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio and you can tell by the extra letterboxing during the credits, but the large majority of the film has been cropped to 1.78:1, and it's pretty obvious that the sides of shots have been cropped out. Very poor.

The audio doesn't fair much better, and those of you with surround sound may want to switch to a stereo mode for this one, as the surround matrix is incredibly uneven. In the middle of dialogue, the sound can shift from left to right unnaturally. The sound itself sounds overly compressed, and often-different elements overpower each other (the score occasionally drowns out the dialogue). Not good at all.

Extras are a little on the light side, but considering the size of film that this is, it's nice that this DVD isn't just bare bones. First up is an audio commentary with director Harry Sinclair and actress Danielle Cormack. The two are very gracious speakers allowing each other time to speak, and their camaraderie shines through. For anyone confused by the film or interested in how it was made as cheaply as it was, this is one of those seemingly rare audio commentaries that do give the secrets away. They reveal the quick edits, physical stunts, and improvisations that give the film its character. While it may not be a classic review, I'd suggest this commentary to be a must-hear for aspiring filmmakers as this is a great guide on how to make your film cheaply and quickly. Also included is a theatrical trailer presented in an 1.33:1 aspect ratio, and a feature called "Outtakes" which is actually footage that Harry Sinclair shot on DV to sell the idea of the film to the New Zealand Film Commission, as there was no script - a misleading, but interesting addition.

The DVD release of The Price of Milk is a double-edged sword. On one hand, you have to applaud New Yorker for giving this unique and charming film a release at all, but the audio and video quality is a bit of a let down, certainly not befitting of the film. While home cinema aficionados may find the transfer distracting, it's most definitely a recommended rent for those looking for a charming romantic comedy. As a fan of the genre, I can say that this is about as good as it gets.

Graham Greenlee
grahamgreenlee@thedigitalbits.com




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