For the audience this film is aimed at, a synopsis should be superfluous. At any rate, this isthe tale of March family, consiting of mother Marmee (Susan Sarandon) and her four daughters:protagonist Jo (Winona Ryder), proper Meg (Trini Alvarado), delicate Beth (Claire Danes) andyoungest Amy (first Kirsten Dunst, cute as a button, then Samantha Mathis). We begin during theCivil War, with the father absent, and the family dealing with the privations of that time, andthen move…forward through the years, witnessing the ups and downs, joys and heartbreaks andcoming of age of the sisters.
Cards on the table: I am emphatically not in the film’s target audience. I tried readingLittle Women as a kid, but even then found it too sweet by half. (These are sisters whoplay Pilgrim’s Progress. ‘Nuff said.) My sense, though, is that those who love the book shouldenjoy the film, which is made with great care, and has that Christmas-card nostalgic palette ofcolours. The voice-over switches the narrative from the book’s third person to Jo’s perspective,thus emphasizing her literary aspirations. The period detail is very attractive, and theperformances are strong. It is all extremely nice, for good or ill, depending on yourperspective.
This is a low-key film, and so is the soundtrack. This isn’t to say that there are no surroundelements — there are, but they are quite subtle, and could easily be missed (an example of whenthey do turn up is the quiet background babble of voices during the ball scene). The music is verywell served by the mix, coming across with a full yet gentle sound.
As mentioned above, the colours are extremely warm, with that extra orange glow in thecandlelit scenes so beloved of period films. The transfer looks very good, then, though thesharpness could be tightened up a bit. The blacks, flesh tones and contrasts are all very fine, andthere is no edge enhancement or grain to speak of.
Director Gillian Armstrong’s commentary is very articulate and engaging, and though itfocuses primarily on behind-the-scenes aspects, it does touch on how the production worked tobe as close to the spirit of Walcott as possible, right down to using a house that resembled hers.Armstrong is also on the optional commentary that accompanies two deleted scenes. The“Historical Timeline” is a series brief thumbnails about adaptations of the novel, and would havemade more sense as a single screen of text, so short are the notes. The two trivia games are veryeasy, and disposed of in a couple of minutes. Better is the “Costume and Production DesignGallery”, which is really closer to being a featurette than a slide show, and is a pretty informativeone at that. There is also the standard-issue making-of featurette, for those who care about suchthings. There are point-form bios and filmographies of the cast, director and producer, andtheatrical trailers for the feature, Jumanji, Hook and Madeline. Themenu’s main screen is animated and scored, as are some transitions. Off the disc, there are linernotes, and the most worthwhile extra of them all: the book itself. Now THAT is a nicetouch.
I really like this idea of including the book along with the film. Here’s hoping for more ofthis good thing.
Special Features List
- Director’s Commentary
- Isolated Music Track
- 2 Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary
- Trivia Games
- Costume and Production Design Gallery with Commentary
- Talent Files
- Making-of Featurette
- Theatrical Trailers
- Classic Novel