“A dog has no use for fancy cars, or big houses, or designer clothes. A waterlogged stick will do just fine. A dog doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, clever or dull, smart or dumb. Give ‘em your heart and he’ll give you his. How many people can you say that about? How many people can make you feel rare and pure and special? How many people can make you feel extraordinary?”
In the name of full disclosure, I should probably give you a little background in the circumstances in which I find myself watching and reviewing Marley & Me. If you’re a regular reader of this site and my reviews, you have come to learn that I have a Siberian Husky named Athena. You’ve come to know this because I have, from time to time, allowed her to “review” many of the various dog films that have come my way for this site. You also know that Athena retired recently with her review of Walt Disney’s Bolt. What you don’t know is the reason behind the retirement. About three weeks ago, Athena was diagnosed with bone cancer in her front left shoulder. At 14 years old, there really isn’t much that can be done. She was given anywhere from two weeks to a couple of months, on the outside, to live. We’re able to control any pain she has with medication. In fact, the medication has often given the illusion that she’s getting better. We know she’s not, and that it’s only a matter of time from here on out. It’s a tough situation to be in, as I’m sure any dog owner out there realizes. So far, Athena’s still with us. She’s beaten the lower estimate and continues to avoid too much discomfort. But, the sad reality is that my wife and I are watching our 14 year old companion in her final days. This is not the place you want to be in your life while watching Marley & Me. It might have been the toughest film I’ve had to watch in nearly 10 years of reviewing movies, in one form or another. Enough about my situation.
Marley & Me is actually a pretty clever story device. The film is actually loosely based on the autobiography of John Grogan. The film begins on the wedding day of John Grogan (Wilson) and his wife Jennifer (Aniston). The young couple are looking forward to their lives together, as Jennifer ticks off phases to her life’s master plan. They leave their wintery northern climes and settle into the warm world of Miami Florida, where both get jobs at competing newspapers. Jennifer is an already known features writer. John wishes to become a big investigative reporter, but finds instead he has a knack for the somewhat humorous column. One of the first things the couple does is adopt a retriever. Marley is a clearance puppy, and we’ll soon discover why he’s on sale. The dog was actually a ploy of John’s to slow down Jennifer’s biological clock, hopefully to delay a baby, so he can peruse his dream of investigative journalism. As it happens, Marley is “the worst dog in the world”. He destroys rooms in the blink of an eye. His teeth manage to shred almost anything they touch. While Marley might be “encourage able” he becomes a essential part of the Grogan family. And as far as that biological clock is concerned, Marley’s not the kind of dog to slow down anything. Before long the film is chronicling the lives of this growing family in the span of time that is Marley’s lifetime. They end up with three children, move to Philadelphia, and generally experience the ups and downs that are life. Now, we never experience life through Marley’s eyes, but he is the driving force and the vehicle by which the story is moved forward. Of course, if Marley’s life is the span of time in which this life snapshot is to be taken, there is only one way for this story to end. So, I don’t really consider it a spoiler to tell you that Marley will grow ill and die before the film ends.
Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson are truly a believable couple. While Aniston is often linked to more glamorous type of roles, she makes a pretty solid normal person here. There’s little about either character that has to do with looks. They share a pretty solid chemistry. Alan Arkin has a very strong, albeit minor role as Grogan’s editor in Miami. The truth is that the rest of the cast doesn’t really matter. The movie opts for a relatively intimate look at this family and remains focused on that dynamic throughout. There are times that even Marley himself is secondary as we explore all of these crucial moments over what appears to be about 15 or more years in their lives. What that means is that you don’t have to be a “dog person” to enjoy the film. What impressed me most was the ability to show the change in the characters over those years. Marley, for his part, never really changes until the very end. There are moments when I marveled at how spry he appeared after what must have been a goon many years. Not bad for a dog who once ate an entire answering machine, coming back for the phone for dessert.
Marley & Me is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. This is a very bright film. Most of it happens in Miami, and you get that kind of glossy extra colorful representation that has been popularized in such television shows like Mimi Vice or CSI: Miami. It’s a very solid 1080p presentation provided via an AVC/MPEG-4 codec. Detail is quite good, and it really gets shown off when you have a director who puts a lot of detail in the sets. You can really examine the lives of this family by the smallest things that surround them. There is marvelous contrast, evident in one of the film’s later scenes as the kids play in a newly fallen snow. Black levels are fantastic. There aren’t a lot of low light circumstances, but when they are there you never lose the detail and definition. Maybe this isn’t one of those show-off discs, but it’s about as natural as I’ve seen, which fits this story to a T.
The DTS-HD Master Audio track does a very fine job. It isn’t very aggressive, but then again this is intended as a very intimate film. There are some wonderful ambient surrounds. Marley doesn’t like thunder, a trait one of our dogs, not Athena, shares. The surrounds carry the storm effects off very well. Dialog is always right where you need it to be. The score is actually a very nice one, an unexpected treat.
All of these features are in HD.:
Deleted Scenes: There is nearly a half hour of extra footage to explore here. Most of it is extended stuff, but there are a few moments worth exploring further. There are 12 scenes and a handy play all feature. You can also opt for the commentary track, if you want.
Finding Marley: Did you know that 22 different dogs played Marley? There were, of course, the various ages. They also had specialty dogs for different types of behavior. Meet some of them here in this nearly 8 minute feature.
Breaking The Golden Rule: It’s an old saying in Hollywood to never work with dogs or children. The cast and crew talk about doing just that in this 8 minute feature. There’s also a lot of behind the scenes stuff and info on the film’s human adult characters.
On Set With Marley – Dog Of All Trades: This 3 minute mockumentary is an interview with “Marley” himself. He speaks in dog with English subtitles.
Animal Adoption: This is a kind of 5 minute PSA for adopting your next pet from an animal shelter. The piece provides some tips to responsible pet ownership.
Gag Reel: 6 minutes of the typical stuff, much of it set to a nice Irish jig.
When Not To Pee: An accident led to a script rewrite and it’s explained in this 2 minute piece.
Dog Training Trivia Track: This is one of those PIP features to enable while watching the film. It’s distracting nonsense.
You get a DVD copy of the film as well as a Digital Copy.
Some people shy away from dog movies. I’ve had people tell me they either are or are not a “dog person”. What exactly is a “dog person” anyway? Does the subject involve full moons or a cameo by Lon Chaney, Jr.? Are their noses a little too big, or maybe they sneak a few biscuits of kibble every now and again? I don’t know. I’m told I’m a dog person, but I still don’t know what it means. Maybe it means that this is the kind of film that can send you on an emotional rollercoaster, when even the saddest of normal films hardly illicit a sigh. They say that life sometimes imitates art. I suppose that’s true. You’d have to get into that whole chicken or the egg debate. I think the best films occur when art imitates life. “Sometimes life has a better idea.”