Henry & June


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Details At A Glance

General
Extras
Category Drama Theatrical Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - 1.33:1, not 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0
Rating Other Trailer(s) None
Year Released 1990 Commentary Tracks None
Running Time 130:33 minutes Other Extras Biographies - Cast and Crew
Production Notes
Web Links
RSDL/Flipper RSDL (62:47)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Movie
Region 2,4 Director Philip Kaufman
Studio
Distributor
Universal Pictures
Columbia TriStar
Starring Fred Ward
Uma Thurman
Maria de Medeiros
Richard E. Grant
Kevin Spacey
Case Brackley
RRP $39.95 Music Mark Adler

 
Video
Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame No MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Dolby Digital 2.0 
16x9 Enhancement
Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192 Kb/s)
German ( Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192 Kb/s) 
French (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192 Kb/s)
Italian (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192 Kb/s)
Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0, 192 Kb/s)
Polish (Dolby Digital 1.0, 96 Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
Miscellaneous
Macrovision Yes Smoking Yes
Subtitles English
French
Portuguese
Danish
Finnish
Czech
Swedish
Norwegian
German
Dutch
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    It is somewhat funny to reflect that my favourite film of all time (as well as one of the best books I have ever read), and the very first DVD that I ever bought, was The Right Stuff. What has that to do with Henry & June? Well the director of both films is Philip Kaufman. Aside from the fact that Fred Ward stars in both films, that is where the similarities end, for whereas The Right Stuff is a wonderful film that bears repeated viewings with ease, Henry & June is a pile of tripe that I hope I never see again.

    My apologies for getting that rather bluntly out in the open but I thought it important to make my views rather clear on this point. I do however concede that there are many who will disagree with me completely on this point and will find much to enjoy in this somewhat pretentious work. This is a rather languid affair that somewhat laboriously wends its way through a rather mildly interesting menage-a-quatre. Based upon the diaries of Anais Nin, which were for many years sequestered away from the public eye, this is broadly the true life story of the affair between the American writer Henry Miller (Fred Ward) and Anais Nin (Maria de Medeiros). For those no so literary-inclined, Miller was noted for the rather sexually explicit nature of his works and the book that is mentioned during the film, and that forms the framework around which the film is to some extent hung, is Tropic of Cancer, written in 1934 and for many years banned in many countries - it was not published in the United States until the 1960s for instance. Anais Nin was perhaps most noted for her Journals, based upon her diaries written between 1931 and 1974, which more or less document the sexual awakenings of a woman and her general journey of self discovery.

    The film broadly revolves around the sexual self discovery of Anais Nin and the impact upon that self discovery of her meeting Henry Miller, and how this impacted upon her relationship with her husband Hugh Guiler (Richard E. Grant) and Henry Miller's wife June (Uma Thurman). It s also a documentary of the sexual liberation of Paris during the early 1930s, a period dominated to some extent by the throwing off of the restrictive sexual shackles of the Nineteenth Century.

    From a performance point of view, there is little to complain about here, although I also find little to praise here either. Fred Ward unfortunately to me will always be remembered as Gus Grissom from The Right Stuff, and is less than compelling here as Henry Miller. Maria de Medeiros is suitably waif like as Anais Nin and is perhaps the most convincing of the lead performers here, which is more than I can say about Richard E. Grant: I am still trying to work out exactly what sort of person he was trying to characterize. Uma Thurman got stuck with something of the poor end of the deal here with the slightly eccentric role of June Miller, and plays little real role in the film other than being the object of Anais' desires: however, when she was present on screen she tended to be the focus, exuding a nice sexuality that is quite alluring in some respects. It would seem that Philip Kaufman was trying to achieve a certain style here to convey the story, but it really all went straight over my head and just left me bemused by what really seems more like an incoherent rambling. About the only thing positive that I have to say about the film is that it copped an Oscar nomination in 1991 for Best Cinematography.

    You should have gathered by now that I did not like the film, and found little to enjoy here at all. The blurb describes this as Philip Kaufman's "brilliant film", "a true adventure more erotic than any fantasy" and "an erotic masterpiece". I am still trying to work out what is so erotic about this film, and the rest borders on false advertising in my view.

Transfer Quality

Video

    Now for the real rant time! Once again Universal have provided a widescreen presentation that is not 16x9 enhanced. I simply fail to understand why Universal continue to issue non-enhanced widescreen transfers, other than as a deliberate two fingers in the face of the Region 4 consumer. There are people out there with widescreen televisions now and I certainly intend to go down that route by the end of next year. Transfers that are 16x9 enhanced are demonstrably better than non-16x9 enhanced transfers on widescreen televisions, and this one is going to look really ugly on that widescreen television that we will all be indulging in over the course of the next five years or so. I would urge Universal to review their policy of issuing non-16x9 enhanced transfers, and would suggest that on the evidence of this one that I would frankly prefer no issue rather than this sub-standard fare. For not only is this not 16x9 enhanced, but it also the sorriest looking ten year old transfer I think I have seen, one that is well and truly outshone by the twenty, thirty and forty year old transfers that have been passing through my player recently.

    The video transfer is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. It is not 16x9 enhanced.

    Overall, this is quite a dismal looking transfer: the overall definition is fairly mediocre and is anything but sharp. The transfer is itself quite dark and this does not aid the definition. Furthermore, there is a high degree of grain in the transfer, which at times makes the transfer look like a blown up picture of microbes moving around in a petri dish. Part of the problem here is that the director had a certain artistic style in mind, and this would appear to have been to catch the gritty, grimy nature of a big city in the 1930s. Whilst that may have been successful, the result does not look great on this decidedly second rate transfer. The overall transfer is not really clear either. Shadow detail was reasonable but I would have expected a little better in a film of this age.

    The general colour palette on offer here is quite muted, again the result of what would appear to be a deliberate choice by the director. Even when there was the opportunity for some nice, bright, vibrant colour - such as during the bicycle ride in the woods - the colours remain quite subdued. This results in almost undersaturation in skin tones for instance, that I find just a little less than believable. There is certainly no hint of oversaturation here. Once you adjust to the style however, the artistic choice does not really hamper the film at all.

    There were no MPEG artefacts noted in the transfer. Film-to-video artefacts mostly consisted of some noticeable and distracting aliasing throughout the film: at times it really was most off-putting - just check out the trombone at 41:37 as an example. Hampering the transfer too are some rather obvious black circles in the upper right corner of the transfer on a number of occasions: these are reel change markings I believe and are indicative of the fact that this transfer has been mastered from at least a third generation source, which may account for the overall lack of quality here. Film artefacts were quite prevalent during the transfer, at times quite noticeable and mildly distracting.

    The disc is an RSDL format disc, with the layer change coming at 62:47. Whilst this is not during a scene change, it is not too badly placed and it is during a still shot of a sheet of paper, and is barely noticeable and completely non-disruptive to the film.

Audio

    Coupled to the rather second rate video transfer is a rather mundane collection of soundtracks.

    There are six soundtracks on this DVD: English, German, French and Italian soundtracks in Dolby Digital 2.0 (surround-encoded), Spanish in Dolby Digital 2.0 and Polish in Dolby Digital 1.0. The latter is actually a lot more akin to an interpreter giving an interpreted reading over the English soundtrack, so there is only the one voice throughout. I got a tad bored with the film to be blunt so indulged in rather extensive sampling of all of the soundtracks, as well as combinations with assorted subtitle options. Those samplings would indicate that the surround encoding is not exactly brilliant on any of the tracks.

    Dialogue was clear and generally easy to understand at all times.

    There were no audio sync problems during the film.

    What little original music there is in the film comes from Mark Adler, but really it is quite minor stuff. There really is little use of music in the film, and most of what is there is extracted from French sounding music from the era.

    Whilst the packaging suggests that there is surround encoding on the English, German, French and Italian soundtracks, what there is is quite minimal and not overly effective. However the film is rather dialogue heavy (apart from the extended sequences of silence) so the lack of real surround presence is barely noticed. The overall sound picture across all the soundtracks is quite front and centre, with the vocal track being just a little too present in the mix for my liking. Still, all soundtracks seem to be free of any distortion and are quite clear, although a bit more space in the mix would have been a bit of a benefit in general. Obviously the bass channel gets no work here at all. Overall, the soundtracks (excluding the rather excruciating Polish effort - really why bother with this sort of interpreting rubbish soundtrack?) are at best serviceable and nothing really much more.

Extras

    Not exactly an inspiring collection here to round out a quite disappointing DVD.

Menu

Theatrical Trailer (2:10)

    A rather poor quality effort technically, not especially clear and suffering from film artefacts. Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

Biographies

    The usual comprehensive efforts that we have come to expect from Universal.

Production Notes

    The usual comprehensive effort that we have come to expect from Universal.

Web Links

    Don't get me started on these accursed things again, please.

R4 vs R1

    The Region 4 version misses out on:     The Region 1 version misses out on:     Call it even then, although from my readings it would seem that the overall quality of the video transfer is better on the Region 1 release.

Summary

    Not my cup of tea at all, and I really cannot see the point in forking over $39.95 to buy a decidedly second rate, non-16x9 enhanced transfer anyway. There are far better ways of spending the money than this effort, and only real die hard fans of the film need bother with this one.

    A second rate video transfer.

    A serviceably good audio transfer.

    A poor collection of extras.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (have a laugh, check out the bio)
7th May 2000

Review Equipment
   
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 84cm. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built in
Amplification Yamaha RXV-795. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL