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Details At A Glance

Category Comedy Theatrical Trailer(s) None
Rating Other Trailer(s) None
Year Released 1989 Commentary Tracks None
Running Time 118:37 minutes Other Extras Biographies-Cast & Crew
Production Notes
RSDL/Flipper RSDL (62:11)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Movie
Region 2,4 Director Ron Howard

Columbia TriStar Home Video
Starring Steve Martin
Tom Hulce 
Rick Moranis 
Martha Plimpton
Keanu Reeves
Jason Robards
Mary Steenburgen
Dianne Wiest
Case Transparent Amaray
RRP $34.95 Music Randy Newman

Pan & Scan/Full Frame Pan & Scan MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None Dolby Digital 2.0
16x9 Enhancement No Soundtrack Languages
Region 4
English (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192 Kb/s)
Soundtrack Languages
Region 2
English (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192 Kb/s) 
French (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192 Kb/s) 
German (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192 Kb/s)
Italian (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192 Kb/s)
Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192 Kb/s) 
Czech (Dolby Digital 2.0, 192 Kb/s) 
Hungarian (Dolby Digital 1.0, 96 Kb/s)
Polish (Dolby Digital 1.0, 96 Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio ??1.85:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking Yes
Region 4
English Annoying Product Placement No
Region 2
Action In or
After Credits

Plot Synopsis

    Long before they collaborated on the marvellous EDtv, the team at Imagine Entertainment (Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, along with writers Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel) put together this little effort, with what amounts to an all-star cast.

    Basically the story of the Buckman family, with all the ups and downs that goes with any family. Gil (Steve Martin) had what he believed was a lousy father in Frank (Jason Robards), and with the help of wife Karen (Mary Steenburgen) is determined to be the best father he can be in raising three (soon to be four) kids. Sister Helen (Dianne Wiest) had a less than successful marriage and is now divorced and suffering with two difficult kids, notably Julie (Martha Plimpton) who marries young to lover Tod (Keanu Reeves). Sister Susan (Harley Jane Kozak) is also having difficulties in her marriage to control freak Nathan Merrick (Rick Moranis), much relating to his very fixed ideas upon how their daughter should be brought up (although another child will be forthcoming, presumably owing to certain surgery to a diaphragm). Add into the mix the proverbial black sheep of the family and inveterate (unsuccessful) gambler in younger brother Larry (Tom Hulce) and his recently acquired son, and you have a fairly typical family. This is the story of their relationships, their ups and downs (mainly downs by the look of it) and their battles to find something remotely close to happiness in that job without end (and little tangible reward) - parenthood. Sounds like my family to a tee.

    This is a nicely interwoven complexity of a story that is brought to life by some wonderful performances and some slick direction. Steve Martin brings his own unique brand of humour to the lead role, but every role is a little gem to behold. None however is better than that of Dianne Wiest as the barely coping divorcee, who copped an Oscar nomination in 1990 for best supporting actress for this performance. The often sadly underrated Mary Steenburgen does a wonderful job as the somewhat optimistic wife, nicely counter pointing Steve Martin's slightly pessimistic husband role. All in all, this is some great casting by Ron Howard, and his direction is quite marvellous - at no time does this drag nor lag, which would have been entirely possible given the multiple levels of the story on offer. The only problem is that repeated viewing has not been kind to the film over the years, and whilst there is still much to enjoy here, it does seem to have lost the sparkle over the years.

Transfer Quality


    Okay, just hang on a second - I know that my review of Kindergarten Cop is around here somewhere. Ah, here it is. Right, well may as well repeat it verbatim - "Well their widescreen transfers have in general been to a high standard, but their non-widescreen releases have been less than stellar - and unfortunately this is another poorer effort from Universal".

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1. Whilst I am not sure of the correct aspect ratio, I do recall seeing this at the cinema in what I believe was 1.85:1. Therefore, just why we have not got a widescreen transfer?

    Whilst this is clearly a lot sharper than the VHS tape, this is by no means a particularly sharp nor well defined transfer, and it is anything but a clear transfer. At times definition is quite poor, lacking any sort of depth to the transfer. Overall shadow detail is at best reasonable. Minor low level noise appears to be a problem throughout the transfer, which compounds what appears to be a slightly grainy picture.

    Whilst I have not in this instance done a direct comparison with the old VHS tape, the colours seemed to be very similar to my recollection of the tape. The colours are quite rich in tone and a little dark, and they are not especially vibrant. The colours seemed to be a little oversaturated throughout, although colour bleed does not appear to be a problem at all.

    There did not appear to be any significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer, but video artefacts were quite prevalent throughout - mainly in the form of minor aliasing and shimmer (especially in the titles), although there was one section with minor telecine wobble between 69:28 and 69:30. There were film artefacts throughout the film, but in general these were not especially distracting to the film.

    Subtitles can be selected via the remote control, and all subtitles are available via the remote, no matter what Region the DVD player is set to. The subtitle menu, however, is dependent on which Region the DVD player is set to.

    This is an RSDL disc, with the layer change at 62:11. The layer change is not especially noticeable, as it comes during a black fade between scenes. It is not at all disruptive to the flow of the film.


    The audio tracks available on this DVD are dependent on the Region that the DVD player is set to in the same way as for subtitles. They are selectable via the audio menu, and via the remote control. All audio tracks are selectable via the remote control at all times.

    There are eight audio tracks on this DVD: English Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded, French Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded, German Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded, Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded, Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded, Czech Dolby Digital 2.0, Hungarian Dolby Digital 1.0, and Polish Dolby Digital 1.0. I listened to the default English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack.

    Dialogue was always clear and easy to understand.

    There were no audio sync problems with this disc.

    The score by Randy Newman is a fairly typical example of his work, and instantly recognizable as such. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, I do not know, but I do wish that he would occasionally throw out something other than that piano-based music (mainly derived from the rags music of the twenties I believe) which seems to be his staple. Not memorable, although it does support the film reasonably well. The theme song did cop an Oscar nomination in 1990 however.

    This is not an especially detailed soundtrack, with minimal use made of the surround channels. The film is of course very much dialogue driven so the lack of surround presence is not especially missed. The resultant overall sound picture is quite believable however.

    No use at all is made of the bass channel.


    First - the bad news. The reference to a trailer on the DVD is completely false - it does not exist, so we have packaging errors to add to the rest of the problems. Great, and by the way - this is not a Collector's Edition, just in case you might get confused (not).


    Pretty poor looking, but at least themed to the film although lacking any enhancement.

Production notes

Biographies - Cast and Crew

R4 vs R1

    It would appear that the Region 1 and Region 4 releases are identical, therefore apart from the PAL versus NTSC argument, there is no reason to prefer one over the other (this was an early Universal release in Region 1 so they also suffer a Pan and Scan version too).


    To be honest, another very disappointing effort from Universal of what is actually a quite good film. No widescreen option, a poorish video transfer, Dolby Digital 2.0 sound and hardly an inspiring extras package, all for $35. Lets see, from the same stable you can get the more recent and thoroughly enjoyable EDtv, complete with a truckload of extras, on a fine transfer, also for $35. Guess which DVD I recommend you get? Universal, you can do better than this so why should you expect people to buy this package? If you have the tape, don't bother to upgrade.

    The video quality is average at best.

    The audio quality is also average.

    The extras add nothing to a poorish package, plus we are stiffed on one missing extra too.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris
28th December 1999

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