As I Lay Dying (2013)

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Released 13-Nov-2013

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Theatrical Trailer-(1:51) Behind the Candelabra : 1.78:1
Theatrical Trailer-(2:00) Gambit : 2.35:1
Theatrical Trailer-(2:20) Salinger : 1.78:1
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2013
Running Time 105:23
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (46:35) Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By James Franco
Studio
Distributor

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring James Franco
Logan Marshall-Green
Jim Parrack
Tim Blake Nelson
Ahna O'Reilly
Beth Grant
Case Amaray-Opaque
RPI $24.95 Music Tim O'Keefe


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (448Kb/s)
English Descriptive Audio Dolby Digital 2.0 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, Title only at beginning.

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Plot Synopsis

†††† Currently starring in the Broadway revival of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, James Franco tackles another great of twentieth century American literature with his directorial debut feature, in which he also stars. This is Franco's 2013 effort to translate to the medium of film William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. First published in 1930, Faulkner's novel employed the technique of stream of consciousness, with fifteen different characters acting as the writer's voice through the fifty-nine chapters. Franco, as director and co-author of the screenplay, with fellow student Matthew Rager, has to be admired for attempting to translate this literary conceit to film, though the attempt is not always successful. Nevertheless, there is much to admire, if not actually enjoy, in this earnest attempt to film what is considered one of the great novels of the last century.

†††† In Mississippi's Yoknapatawpha County, Faulkner's fictional creation, Addie Bundren (Beth Grant), mother of three boys and one girl, is dying. Outside, her eldest son Cash (Jim Parrack) is building her coffin, while husband Anse (Tim Blake Nelson), second eldest son Darl (James Franco), third eldest Jewel (Logan Marshall-Green), daughter Dewey Dell (Ahna O'Reilly) and youngest of the brood Vardaman (Brady Permanter) group around Addie's bed. The matriarch's dying wish is to be buried in the town of Jefferson, Missouri, and the film follows the family as they attempt to carry out her dying wish, their motivations ranging from the noble to the selfish. On their journey, their mother's coffin borne in a horse-drawn wagon, family wounds come to the surface in this faithful adaptation of the novel. Scenes from the novel are translated to the screen, but it is not the plot itself that is the achievement of the novel. It is Faulkner's literary technique which places his work amongst the greats of the last hundred years. Employing stream of consciousness, each chapter is told by alternating characters, with the dead Addie even adding her voice.

†††† Franco has to be admired for his earnest attempt to be faithful to the concept of the novel, and uses a variety of techniques throughout the film. There is direct cinematic story-telling, straight-to-camera narration, voice-overs from varying characters and split screens. At times these artistic devices do assist in capturing the essence of Faulkner's work, with the isolation of each character, despite their being involved in a journey which should have brought them closer together. At other times, however, we become far too conscious of the technique itself, and this gets in the way of our true involvement in the themes of the original work.

†††† There can be no criticism, however, of Franco's casting, nor his handling of his actors. Performances are excellent, including Franco's own characterisation. Possibly most outstanding is the work of Tim Blake Nelson. Virtually toothless, and with a mostly impenetrable accent, the actor is totally immersed in his character. This is a depressing tale, and there are scenes of great physical and emotional violence along the way. Just as the characters are isolated from each other, so we, as observers, are also distanced from their circumstances. Perhaps this was the director's intention, but Franco's film does leave you with a sense of despair. On the other hand, Faulkner's writing may elicit despair, but the art in the writing is of itself uplifting. Perhaps that is why the work is generally described as being "unfilmable".

†††† James Franco is a Renaissance man of modern cinema. His involvement in so many projects, both on screen, behind-the camera, on stage and in academia is mind-boggling. Any admirer of the still-young man, at whatever level, should make a point of seeing this sincere effort to commit to film a great piece of modern literature. Later this year we should see Francoís take on another Faulkner work, The Sound and the Fury. Here's hoping this new film is more successful than Martin Ritt's 1959 version for Fox.

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Transfer Quality

Video

†††† Roadshow have given As I Lay Dying a very attractive DVD release. Most importantly, the film is presented at its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and 16x9 enhanced. The Region 1 release has cropped the film to 1.78:1, thus losing the sides of the original image, which must have played havoc with the split screen sequences.

†††† The photography (Christina Voros Child of God) is assured and classical, often employing the most extreme close-ups. The image is sharp and clear, with interiors and wardrobe rich in period detail though the darker scenes tend towards a graininess. Blacks, though, are deep and inky and free of noise. The rural landscape is attractively leafy and green, with the palette emphasising the browns and greens. Skin tones are generally excellent, with extremely sharp close-ups abounding. In the few shots which leave one half of the screen blank, the empty screen is solidly black with no distracting flecks.

†††† The layer change (46:35) is marked by a momentary pause and is very smooth.

†††† Subtitles are in white and centred at the foot of the screen. Resist the temptation to "read" Tim Blake Nelson's dialogue. I do believe that his almost unintelligible speech is part of his character's isolation.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

†††† There are three audio streams; English Dolby Digital 5.1 Encoded at 48 kHz, English Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround Encoded at 48 kHz and English Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround Encoded with Descriptive Narration.

†††† The film is also given a very pleasing soundtrack. Dialogue is front and centred and always clear, though not always easy to understand. This, though, is just one aspect of the isolation of these characters. There are no sync problems. The surrounds almost constantly place us in the physical world of this family, with environmental noises adding a real sense of atmosphere. The wind, rain and rustle of trees all contribute, mainly subtly, to this physical world. There are however instances, such as the raging river and the thunderstorm sequence, when the audio becomes vibrant and exciting. Also adding to the atmosphere and period is the music from Tim O'Keefe, here working on his first original score. O'Keefe, supported by four other musicians, delivers a score that is spare, sensitive and haunting, with excellent use of a plaintive guitar. This fresh, young composer will also be featured in Franco's The Sound and the Fury.

†††† The descriptive narration is up to the usual high standard. The narration begins by meticulously describing the use of the split screen, but as the film progresses not every instance of this technique is described. The direct to camera dialogue is consistently noted.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

†††† There are no extras on this release, apart from three trailers at start-up.

Menu

†††† The menu screen is very basic, employing a collage of stills with music from the score.

Censorship

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R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

†††† As I Lay Dying has been released in the US with these extras:

†††† But, and this is a VERY BIG "but": The Region 1 release is presented at the ratio of 1.78:1, evidently with the image cropped at the sides in order to fill the screen. This has been lamented by US reviewers, and would make the local release, presented in what the IMDB assures us is the original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, vastly preferable. You can always check interview material on the internet, so go for the local release which preserves the original aspect ratio.

Summary

†††† As I Lay Dying is an informed, sensitive attempt to film a novel which many consider unfilmable. James Franco is obviously a great fan of William Faulkner, and seeing this film will probably be responsible for many taking the plunge into Faulkner's literary world. This is not an involving family saga, but it is a worthwhile film that deserves to be seen and assessed along with the rest of the output from the remarkable Mr Franco. Excellent performances, no extras - but we do get the full anamorphic image, which is denied to purchasers of the Region 1 release.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Garry Armstrong (BioGarry)
Friday, July 18, 2014
Review Equipment
DVDSONY BLU RAY BDP-S350, using HDMI output
DisplaySamsung LA55A950D1F : 55 inch LCD HD. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-DS777
SpeakersVAF DC-X fronts; VAF DC-6 center; VAF DC-2 rears; LFE-07subwoofer (80W X 2)

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