Posted in: Disc Reviews by Archive Authors on February 20th, 2004
I can only imagine what it might have been like to be a child during the heyday of Disney’s live films division. Going to see The Parent Trap or Mary Poppins as a young girl must really have been exciting. Experiencing Pete’s Dragon or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in the theater must have been a thrill for young lads.
Unfortunately, Disney has not lived up to those high standards in its later days. Part of the wonder of those films was that they were not children’s films, as much as s…andard feature films that were easily accessible to children. While there is nothing wrong with films such as Angels in the Outfield, The Mighty Ducks or George of the Jungle, they just don’t have the same classic quality that the older Disney films had. The genre grew into a direction that made these modern films a little more sterile, and a little lower quality than your average Hollywood production.
Secondhand Lions is a throwback to the old days; a great snapshot of what might have been, had Disney continued on their earlier path. (Incidentally, this vision of an alternate Disney reality has come to us courtesy of New Line.) Watching this film, I experienced what I imagine to be the same emotions those young boys and girls must have felt while viewing the aforementioned Disney classics. Everything is here; action, adventure, romance, drama and comedy, all wrapped up in a family friendly package.
Michael Caine and Robert Duvall are spectacular as two aging brothers who are suddenly given the responsibility of caring for their great nephew. This film would not have been the same without the mastery of these two Academy Award winners. Their dramatic performances are flawless, and their comedic timing is spot on.
Not to be overlooked, however, is the work done by Haley Joel Osment. He has held his own extremely well against the power of these cinematic giants, and his performance in this film is proof that there are not two great actors in this production, but three. Certain scenes, most notably one along the banks of the family pond featuring Osment and Duvall, are outstanding, and show that this young actor will certainly provide a wealth moving and powerful performances for many years to come.
This is an immensely enjoyable film that truly is fun for the whole family. It’s not too sugar coated for the older viewers, yet not too harsh for the younger ones. Everyone will enjoy something about Secondhand Lions.
From the first moment this film began, I knew that I was in for an aural treat. Even before the picture fades in, you can hear a plane coming from the rear, off in the distance. As the picture fades in, the sound grows louder, until finally… “whoosh!”… the airplane flies into the back of your living room, and out the front.
This is a superb soundtrack from start to finish. Dialog is clear and well-anchored to the actors’ movements. Bass tones are tight and deep. Highs are clear and sharp. Gunfire is powerful and percussive. Put simply, everything is perfect. I was shocked to find such a wonderful soundtrack on a family film such as this. For a run-of-the-mill single disc release, this is some truly amazing audio. This one belongs in your reference-quality audio stack.
While the visuals don’t match the audio, they are darn close. As far as I could tell, the transfer is completely blemish-free, with not a single speck, scratch or burn present on the entire film. The lighting is especially noteworthy, as the whole film comes across as a beautiful golden dream. Nighttime scenes are wonderful, with deep black tones, and “natural” light landing in just the right places.
The flashback sequences are sharp and spectacular, and bear a marked contrast to the colors used throughout the bulk of the film. Colors utilized during these scenes are dreamlike and bold, just as they should be. During the scenes that are based more in reality, the colors are much more natural, yet there are still hints of vibrant hues lying just under the surface.
Finally, the decision to include both the widescreen and full screen versions of the film on a single disc was an inspired one. As I said before… with this disc, everybody is happy.
There is so much to cover with regard to extras that I will start with the small things and work my way up. The Theatrical Trailer is included here, as well as those for Elf and the forthcoming theatrical release of Laws of Attraction. Seven TV Spots are also available, three aimed at a younger audience, and four for the older set. Two short and simple Visual Effects Comparisons are also present, as is some DVD-ROM content.
A well-recorded and informative feature length Commentary track is provided by writer/director Tom McCanlies, who also lends an optional commentary track to over thirty minutes of Deleted and Alternate Scenes. These bonus scenes also include an Alternate Ending to the film that some viewers may find particularly interesting.
While this is certainly already more than I would expect from a film such as this, the big extras are still to come. The three featurettes that follow are very well made, and come across much better than the standard thrown together extra that is so often found on new releases these days. Haley Joel Osment: An Actor Comes of Age is a 12-minute mini-biography on the actor, from his early work, to his current body of films, and on through Secondhand Lions and beyond.
One Screenplay’s Wild Ride in Hollywood is a 26-minute piece unlike any that I have seen before. This professionally made documentary traces the steps that the script went through during its ten year journey from first inception, to being optioned by Warner Brothers, to rewrites and delays, and finally through its life at New Line. Among other interesting tidbits discovered here, viewers get to hear foolish studio executive ideas, including turning the script into a sequel for various other films in the Warner catalog.
Finally, On the Set With Secondhand Lions is another 26-minute documentary. This one, as you may have guessed, deals primarily with the shooting of the film itself, including cast and crew interviews, and stories from the set.
This is a first-rate collection of extras, worthy of a two disc set.
This is a thoroughly entertaining film that has received fantastic treatment on DVD. Every aspect of this disc, from the feature to the extras to the technical bits, are in top-notch form. This is one of those surprising little discs that could easily slip past consumers’ radar, if it were not for reviews on sites such as this one. DVD-philes, avid movie watchers, and casual viewers will all have something to enjoy with this disc.
Special Features List
- Commentary by Director Tim McCanlies
- 30 Minutes of Deleted / Alternate Scenes with Optional Filmmaker Commentary
- “Secondhand Lions” One Screenplay’s Wild Ride in Hollywood (documentary)
- On The Set With “Secondhand Lions” (documentary)
- Haley Joel Osment: An Actor Comes of Age (documentary)
- Visual Effects Comparisons
- Theatrical Trailer & 7 TV Spots
- DVD-ROM Features