Practical Magic

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Details At A Glance

Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Dolby Digital Trailer - Rain
Featurette - Making Magic
Featurette - Casting The Spell
Audio Commentary - Denise Di Novi (Producer) Griffin Dunne (Director) Sandra Bullock (Heart's Desire, err Actress) and Alan Silvestri (Composer)
Listing - Cast and Crew
Theatrical Trailer
Year Released 1998
Running Time 99:57 minutes
RSDL/Flipper No/No
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 4 Director Griffin Dunne
Warner Bros
Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Sandra Bullock
Nicole Kidman
Dianne Wiest
Stockard Channing
Aidan Quinn
Case Transparent Brackley
RPI $34.95 Music Alan Silvestri

Pan & Scan/Full Frame No English (Dolby Digital 5.1, 384 Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192 Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking Yes
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    Well, my record is keeping up here - it just took a fair while, that is all. What record? Simply, if I go out and buy a Region 1 DVD, sooner rather than later the DVD will be released in Region 4, no matter how esoteric the effort. This one certainly took a little while to get here, although not quite as slowly as any Paramount releases, and to be honest this is a film that I did not expect to see on Region 4 DVD.

    Practical Magic did not seem to suffer well at the hands of the critics and the general consensus seems to be that this is not much cop at all. But it really has never seemed to me to be that bad a film. Sure, it is not up there as a classic film, and perhaps it could have done with just a little bit more judicious pruning, but I find this an enjoyable enough diversion for 100 minutes. Now how much that has to do with the fact that Sandra Bullock stars...

    Something of a cross between Little Women (coincidentally another Denise Di Novi film) and The Craft, this is the story of the two Owens sisters - sensible stay-at-home Sally (Sandra Bullock) and tempestuous red-haired Gillian (Nicole Kidman). The Owens women for generations have been witches and have been blessed with the curse placed by Maria Owens many many years ago. Said curse is simple really - any man who falls for the love of an Owens woman will find his life slightly truncated as a result. Sally and Gillian had the fate befall their father, and compounded that loss with that of their mother who died of a broken heart shortly thereafter. Sally and Gillian were brought up by their Aunts Frances (Stockard Channing) and Jet (Dianne Wiest) and learned the ways of the craft, too. Sally, in order to forestall the curse of the Owens women as a child cast a spell that demanded such traits from a man as would prevent her from ever falling in love. Gillian did what she had to do, which was not much. Jump forward a little and the sisters are all grown up and Gillian is heading off to explore the wide world. Sally stays home, falls in love with a little help from her aunts, marries and has two daughters herself. Husband promptly dies when run over by a truck. Gillian goes exploring the world, finds a man and gets hurt so that Sally comes to the rescue. The trouble is that her boyfriend dies as a result and in order to reverse this rather tragic event, the sisters attempt to cast a spell to revive him and fail miserably. However things are not all that they seem, and it would seem that the boyfriend is now a spirit determined to exact revenge. Cue Special Investigator Gary Hallet (Aidan Quinn) who is investigating the disappearance of Gillian's boyfriend and ends up on the sisters' doorstep. Guess what qualities he has?

   Hardly the greatest screenplay ever written and apparently the first attempt to bring to the screen one of the best-selling novels of Alice Hoffman. The main problem with the story is that the material does not necessarily sustain the length of the film as perhaps it should, and this could certainly have done with a little more tightening of the story. However, the characters themselves are nicely developed and they are well brought to life by the cast. Whilst all eyes will of course be on the two stars in Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman, much of the real interest is elsewhere. The essence of the story is best captured in the characters of the two aunts and they are wonderfully brought to life by Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest. Some of their little scenes are what make this film worthy of a view. Nonetheless, both Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman do a better than decent job here in bringing the two very different sisters to life - does anyone do the vampish look better than Nicole Kidman at the moment? Both have done better films in the past, but equally have done some rather appalling ones too. Reasonably well directed by Griffin Dunne, it would however have been interesting to see what a really good director could have done with this film.

    Definitely not a great film, but at least an entertaining enough one that has suffered a little more wrath from the critics than it deserved. Fans of the cast should not need much convincing on this one, and it is worthy of investigation by everyone else. Just approach it with a bit of fun in mind and you could do a lot worse.

Transfer Quality


    The transfer falls into that sort of greyish area where it is better than acceptable but you cannot help but feel as if it could be better. Do not get me wrong, there are no inherent faults in the transfer per se, but I just have this niggling feeling that perhaps this could have been a little better. Interestingly the transfer rate for this effort seems to be consistently around the 4.8 Mb/s mark throughout the film and I cannot help but wonder whether that may have something to do with the feeling about the quality here.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and it is of course, being a Roadshow Home Entertainment release, 16x9 enhanced.

    Perhaps I was anticipating this too highly but for a 1998 film this really was not as sharp a transfer as I was expecting. That is not to say that it is poor or anything, for indeed it is not. In general, barring a couple of lapses, this is a quite sharp transfer. However, the depth of field at times is rather limited (most likely intentionally) and this highlights just the hint of softness in the image that seems to be present here. The overall detail as a result is occasionally not as good as I would have liked, but overall remains very good. Shadow detail is also lacking just little on occasions, but this is almost certainly a reflection of the way the film was intended to look. There is little in the way of grain problems here at all and this is overall a very clear transfer. There is no low level noise in the transfer.

    The overall tone here seems to be quite deliberately chosen as far as colours go, with the early historical scene having a distinctly darker edge to it that effectively balances a lighter tone for the scenes around the Aunts' house. Internal shots have a rich tone to them that accentuates the wood of the building very nicely, producing a nice inviting feel to the colours. Overall, the colours are rather nicely rendered with a nice saturation to them that is utterly believable. Whilst I would not in general call this a vibrant transfer, it certainly has an evocative feel to it. There is no problem with oversaturation in the transfer and nor is colour bleed an issue.

    Practical Magic is yet another well-authored DVD from Roadshow Home Entertainment with the only noticeable problem of any kind in the transfer being some very slight aliasing in one shot during the "circle" scene late in the film. Otherwise there are no MPEG artefacts and no film-to-video artefacts. There are a few white flecks dotted here and there in the transfer, but that was the extent of the film artefacts and they were only noticeable for the fact that a couple pop up against dark-coloured backgrounds.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-to-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    As is quite common for these Region 4 only releases from Roadshow Home Entertainment, there is only the one film dialogue soundtrack on the DVD, which naturally enough is an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. There is however a second soundtrack, being an English Audio Commentary in Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded sound. I listened to the default 5.1 soundtrack as well as the Audio Commentary for as long as I could stay awake.

    The dialogue comes up very clear and easy to understand in the transfer, and there is no problem with audio sync in the transfer.

    The music score comes from one of the better known names in the business at the current time, Alan Silvestri. This score is a good indication as to why he is sought after nowadays for film work - this is a very nicely done piece of work that more than ably supports and to some extent carries the film. Whilst it is not an utterly memorable effort, you are certainly aware on a number of occasions of how the music is helping the film. Some nice contemporary songs flesh out a good soundtrack.

    The film has been blessed with a rather nice soundtrack indeed and in some ways this is a nice demonstration of subtlety in sound. There is some especially nice little detail ambience out of the rear channels that really does do a great job of engrossing you and immersing you in the sound picture being created. The front surround channels have been quite nicely handled as well with a rather nice open sound to the whole transfer that I find quite appealing. The bass channel does not get exactly an overdose of usage, but when it was called upon it certainly kicked in quite nicely to support the action. A very nicely mastered soundtrack, even if it does not have a huge presence - which obviously is not what this film would need in a soundtrack.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    Bearing in mind that this is a single layer, single sided DVD, there is a decent if unspectacular collection of extras on offer here.


    Whilst the main menu, which is themed differently than the rest, has some minor audio enhancement, the only other enhancement to be found is 16x9 enhancement across all menus. The presentation is not too bad, but hardly likely to get the blood flowing quickly.

Featurette - Making The Magic (5:58)

    A fairly typical six minute extended promotional video where everyone involved basically says how wonderful it was to work on the film and with everyone else in the film. Whilst they might have had a lot of fun making the film, there are no really great insights to be found here and the behind-the-scenes stuff is fairly so-so. Presented Full Frame, not 16x9 enhanced and with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

Featurette - Casting The Spell (9:51)

    Take your typical six minute promotional video and add four minutes more video and you have your fairly typical ten minute extended promotional video. Whilst the patting of everyone else's back has been reduced here, the extent of the insightful behind-the-scenes look at the film has not really increased. Presented Full Frame, not 16x9 enhanced and with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Basically, not much to get excited about.

Audio Commentary - Denise Di Novi (Producer), Griffin Dunne (Director), Sandra Bullock (Actress) and Alan Silvestri (Composer)

    Well this sounded like an impressive effort on paper but the reality is something different. It sounds as if this is a combination of a couple of dialogue tracks with other stuff tossed together. The sound levels for Griffin Dunne, Denise Di Novi/Sandra Bullock and Alan Silvestri are distinctly different, and this is what suggests that this is not a single commentary but rather bits of several joined together. It would sound as if only Denise Di Novi and Sandra Bullock were actually recorded together, since they seem to talk over each other. Some of Griffin Dunne's contribution sounds as if it is interview material and he is responding to specific questions. At no time did the commentary seem to really correlate to the on-screen action other than during Alan Silvestri's contribution at the start of the film. The overall effect is quite tedious and I have to confess that I gave it away after about forty minutes as I could just not stand to listen any more. Not to be ranked amongst the best around by a long shot.

Listing - Cast and Crew

    Exactly what it says. I am presuming that the lack of full filmographies and/or biographies is due to lack of space on the DVD, as the menu looks exactly like the Region 1 release including candles for highlighting the selection you want (which obviously don't work here).

Theatrical Trailer (1:43)

    A fairly typical example of the genre, albeit one that does not give quite so much of the film away. Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, it is 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

Dolby Digital Trailer - Rain

R4 vs R1

    The Region 4 release misses out on:     The Region 1 release misses out on:     The above would suggest that the decision is miles in front for Region 1, but looks can be deceiving. The interactive game, which is not really exciting stuff, rewards you for correct potion mixing by giving you the two featurettes that are on the Region 4 release. The production notes are hardly essential, the theatrical trailer on the Region 1 release is a 37 second teaser as opposed to the full theatrical trailer on the Region 4 release, and the Region 1 release is a dual sided DVD to boot. The three television spots are hardly essential either. Direct comparison between the Region 1 and Region 4 releases would indicate a very similar transfer, suggesting that any problems here are a source related matters and not mastering problems. Basically there is not an awful lot to choose between the two releases and at least the extras missed out on by the Region 4 release are not wholly exciting or essential, except for perhaps the filmographies/biographies. I would suggest the Region 1 release is the minor winner here but really there is little essential difference between them.


    Practical Magic is a reasonably entertaining film that has suffered somewhat at the hands of the critics in my view. Worth a view but really only an essential purchase for fans of the main cast members. Unfortunately I cannot help but feel that both the Region 4 and the Region 1 releases of the film have been somewhat hamstrung by the space constraints of the single layer DVDs they are presented on.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris (have a laugh, check out the bio)
30th November 2000

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 80cm. 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 C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL