June 16, 2002 -- The DVD of the Academy Award-winning film, "A Beautiful Mind" is coming out on June 25. I got an advanced review copy of the two-disc "Awards Edition" set. This review relates specifically to the DVD. I assume those reading this have already seen the movie, so this review has some "spoilers" in it. For a review of just the film itself without the spoilers, click here.
The DVD has a good array of extras, including a number of deleted scenes. There is even director's commentary on the deleted scenes. Director Ron Howard says, as a prelude to the deleted scenes, that he usually doesn't include deleted scenes on DVDs, but these particular deleted scenes are exceptionally good ones. He clearly hated to cut some of these scenes, but sometimes show business can be tough. He even had to cut the only scene that featured Howard's own father! Now that's a tough choice to have to make. One scene in particular, with Ed Harris and Russell Crowe watching a car sink into the water, was one of the last to go. It had an important hint about Nash's mental condition in it.
Howard says in his commentary that he assumed audiences would catch on quicker that William Parcher and some of the other characters were imaginary artifacts of Nash's delusional mind. Apparently test screenings changed Howard's mind in this regard, so he began editing the film to eliminate some of these early hints in the deleted scenes. His goal was to delay the moment of revelation to a specific point later in the movie. His goal was also to shorten the film, which was at two hours and forty minutes at one point. Howard argues many of the cuts were necessary to improve the "flow" of the film and to increase dramatic tension. Often, however, cuts are made to enable theaters to show a film more times each day, thus making more money. The longer the film, the fewer showings can be made in a day, or evening. That, too, is part of the harsh reality of show business. In many ways show business is a business, as opposed to an art form.
In one interesting deleted scene, Nash is shown inventing a new, mathematically perfect game, to replace a popular game that he regarded as flawed. In the final cut of the film, we see Nash losing at the game and complaining that he should not have lost because he made no mistakes. We do not, however, see him inventing a new version of the game, except in the DVD. Nash says the new game will ensure that the best player will win. Howard argues that the scene was deleted because he did not want to steal the thunder from Nash's greatest breakthrough, which comes later in the film. Of course, one could also make the argument that an additional early small triumph for Nash would simply make his later downfall that much more tragic and dramatic. Howard reiterates time and again there was nothing wrong with the deleted scenes. The acting was good. He did have to shorten the film, however, for whatever reason. Howard notes at one point he and the rest of the crew worked as hard or harder on the deleted scenes as on those which made the final cut. It would have been nice to have the option of seeing the film with a choice of one or more of the deleted scenes inserted in the proper sequence, even though many of the deleted scenes (like the one where Jennifer Connelly is seen fleeing a nuclear blast) were never fully finished.
Howard's commentary during the film is interesting. He talks about the rules he followed regarding the delusional characters. We always hear the characters before seeing them, which is a acknowledgment that in real life such schizophrenic imaginary characters are almost always heard as voices, rather than seen as visions (and this was true of Nash's delusional characters, but they were made visual for purposes of effect in the film). The imaginary characters are always shown from Nash's point of view in the film as well. It isn't until later in the film when we see a wide shot of Nash talking to invisible, imaginary people, that we know the full extent of Nash's delusions. In the special effects section of the DVD we see an interesting shot where one of Nash's delusional characters runs through a flock of pigeons. Since the young girl does not exist, the rules demanded that the pigeons not react to her. Since you can't easily train pigeons not to fly away, fake pigeons were digitally inserted into the shot.
The extent to which digital effects permeate modern films is illustrated by some other effects shots used in the film. In a scene in which Nash's son nearly drowns because of Nash's delusions (he thought his imaginary friend was taking care of the baby), the hands holding the baby safely up are digitally removed and digital water is inserted at a higher level to make it appear the child is in imminent danger. The shot looks natural in the film, but it was, in fact, a very difficult effects sequence. In another normal-looking shot early in the film, Nash is seen strolling across a lawn at Princeton on a fine spring day. Only it is not spring, it is winter. The entire shot is digitally changed to make it look like spring. As expensive as it was, it was probably cheaper than bringing the whole crew back the following year for a real spring shot.
The DVD also has a documentary on how the film was made, a feature which compares the storyboards of scenes to the finished versions of those scenes. There is a "meeting with John Nash" video in which Nash explains the mathematical theory of equilibrium for which he won the Nobel Prize in Economics. There is also a short video of Nash accepting the prize in Stockholm in 1994 (but it does not include his acceptance speech). There are also features on the making of the film, the scoring of the film, the process of making Crowe and Connelly look older, the casting of Crowe and Connelly, development of the screenplay, and a feature on the way Howard worked with producer Brian Grazer on the film. There is feature commentary by screenwriter Akiva Goldsman and production, cast and filmmaker notes as well as a theatrical trailer. There is also a DVD-rom feature which will enable your computer to access additional information on the Internet (if you have DVD drive in your computer). Access to this particular web site is limited to those who have a DVD with this feature. New features are periodically added to the web site.
The film is displayed in anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen format. The picture and sound quality are good. The soundtrack includes spoken English and French, and English and Spanish subtitles. Sound is 5.1 surround. Disk one is dual layer, disk two is single layer. Disk two (which has most of the extra features, but not the film, lacks the Spanish and French language features. Disk two is also in full-screen, rather than widescreen format. This is a good, two disk set with some nice features and bonus material. Whether or not this is ultimately the best DVD of this particular film remains to be seen, since studios sometimes issue more than one DVD package for a particular film. This DVD rates a B.
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