There have always been directors that have stood out in the public consciousness. Scorsese. Spielberg. Hitchcock. Lynch. These are all directors that have a specific vision. With very few exceptions, if you came across one of their films on television on an average Saturday afternoon, it wouldn’t take too long to figure out who the director was. They each have a very unique cinematic style, usually based in dramatic films.
Oddly enough, Rob Reiner also fits into this category. His light comedies all have a …pecial feel to them, and even the bad ones are uniquely pleasing. A kind man hiding behind an emotional facade, a quirky but charming woman and a classic soft jazz soundtrack is all it takes to make one of his light-hearted modern classics.
Alex & Emma is yet another film based on Reiner’s hit-maker formula. This time around, Luke Wilson is the guy, in his usual “confused good guy” role, and Kate Hudson is the girl, in her standard “so-charming-you-can-hardly-stand-it” character. The plot is simple; Wilson must write a novel in 30 days, and Hudson is hired to take dictation. Of course, their time together makes them fall in love.
While this film certainly could have been much better than it is, it is still an amusing and relaxing way to spend two hours of your life. The stereotypical “Cuban Mafia” characters do their absolute best to ruin the film, but Kate Hudson is so wonderful that she brings the film back from the brink of total destruction. This movie is a case study on the importance of casting process to the overall success of a film.
I have noticed as of late that many studios are starting to beef up the audio on film genres that traditionally have not been renowned for their sonic quality. Documentaries, cartoons and even love stories get the 5.1 treatment these days, and often times the result is a film that is of higher quality than it would have been with the support of 2.0.
While Alex & Emma was also mastered in 5.1, it didn’t take full advantage of the dynamics that the format has to offer. Much of the dialog in the film is compressed, giving the actors voices that are more generic than varied. Also, the sound stage is fairly narrow, with the majority of the audio coming from the center speaker.
Surround effects are almost non-existent, which is a real shame, as they could have added much to the presentation. A couple scenes in the film take place in a Casino, which would have been a perfect opportunity to utilize the surrounds for crowd noise and gaming sound effects. This would have helped to immerse the viewer in the location. Without these sounds, however, the viewer is a little more detached form the action, at a time in the film when they should be completely involved in the drama of the spinning roulette wheel.
On a positive note, music plays well throughout the film. The audio presentation really opens up during the jazz numbers, like sun shining through a break in the clouds. Once the song is over, however, the clouds close in, and the soundtrack again becomes small.
Video quality is decent, but not entirely pleasing to the eye. The modern-era scenes look different from the book segments, and that’s a good thing. It is important to distinguish these two worlds, and the cinematographer does a good job of doing so, giving each storyline its own unique feel.
Unfortunately, neither presentation is particularly outstanding in its own right. The modern-era segments have some great black levels, but they come at the expense of the whites, which are not as powerful as I would have liked. Almost all of this portion of the film takes place indoors, which makes for some very dark and dingy visuals.
The book segments, however, hit the opposite end of the spectrum, with lots of whites and very light black levels. These scenes appear washed-out and monochromatic. While this is mostly done through necessity, in keeping with the fashions of the day, the shots are visually bland and unappealing nonetheless.
The contrasts between the modern world and the literary world are too vast, and leave each segment looking sub-par. These directorial decisions, combined with minor blemishes on the negative sprinkled throughout the film, result in a transfer that receives an average rating.
Apparently Warner Brothers had very little faith in this film finding a good life in DVD land. The only extras here are a theatrical trailer, and a commentary with Luke Wilson and Rob Reiner. Unfortunately, the commentary track is more of a listening party than a gabfest. Just as he did with “When Harry Met Sally”, Reiner offers a Spartan discussion, with the director choosing to spend more of his time watching the film than discussing it. Surely more value-added material could have been included with this release.
This is another one of those “good, but not great” romantic comedies. Reiner has never really made a bad film, he just makes some that are better than others. With Alex & Emma, it looks like he may be starting to put his career on cruise control. The film is certainly worth a rental, but viewers may want to think twice before purchasing this disc.
Special Features List
- Theatrical Trailer