Life as a House (2001)

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Released 8-Jan-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Dolby Digital Trailer-Rain
Menu Animation & Audio
Audio Commentary
Featurette-Character Building: Inside Life As A House
Featurette-From The Ground Up
Deleted Scenes-+/- commentary
Production Notes
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Theatrical Trailer
Scene Selection Anim & Audio
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2001
Running Time 120:10 (Case: 126)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (77:10) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Irwin Winkler
Studio
Distributor

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Kevin Kline
Kristin Scott-Thomas
Hayden Christensen
Jena Malone
Mary Steenburgen
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $39.95 Music Mark Isham


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
English dts 5.1 (768Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.05:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Kevin Kline is my favourite actor, hence my sole reason for getting hold of this title for review. He is also a quality actor, make no mistake. He is one of the few going around that can effortlessly switch from intense drama to comedic roles with ease, often doing so within the same film. From his Oscar winning role in A Fish Called Wanda to In and Out and one of my all-time favourites Dave, his sense of comic timing is delivered to perfection. His serious roles in intense dramas such as The Ice Storm and The Anniversary Party prove the emotional depths he can reach. The drama Life As A House may be a strange title for a film but it gives him ample opportunity to display his acting prowess. His co-stars include Hayden Christensen (SW EPII - Attack Of The Clones), Jena Malone (Stepmom), and Kristin Scott Thomas (The English Patient).

    Kline stars as George Monroe, an architectural model builder who gets sacked from his job and then after a fainting spell discovers he has terminal cancer and only months to live. Rather than wallowing in self-pity, George decides to rebuild his somewhat neglected life. His ex-wife Robin (Kristin Scott Thomas) while not actually detesting him, thinks he's a bit of a loser. His heavily pierced, rebellious, glue-sniffing son Sam (Hayden Christensen) hates his and everybody else's guts, and his neighbours just wish he'd move. They detest his rundown old shack situated high on a cliff overlooking the Pacific ocean, no doubt bringing down the property values of their more palatial homes. In fact, it is the house where George lives that becomes the metaphor used in the story to convey the rebuilding of his crumbling relationships.

    The house was left to George by his father and is now in such a dilapidated state that it should be condemned. George sets about rebuilding the house into something that he can be proud of. Reluctantly lending a hand for the summer holidays is Sam, a confused and angry young man who would rather be anywhere but with the old man. As the old house is ripped down and the new one constructed, so too is the barrier that exists between father and son and to a lesser extent between George and his ex-wife. Throw in some interesting relationships with the some of the neighbours, such as the clearly frustrated Colleen (Mary Steenburgen) and her charming, sexually awakening daughter Alyssa (Jena Malone) and there are plenty of distractions for George and Sam as they go about their construction.

    The plot is rather predictable. When the main character only has four months to live, you really know what is going to happen, but I won't give away any more of the story. Some skilful direction and gorgeous photography make this an enjoyable and visually appealing film, but it is the acting that lifts it well above the usual 'only-months-to-live' weepy drama. Kristin Scott Thomas effortlessly portrays the upper-middle class snob whose life is somewhat empty. Hayden Christensen is confused and angry. Complete with blue hair and bolts, he is nothing like the piece of wood that he was in Attack Of The Clones. It is Kevin Kline's film though. He is funny, he is pensive, he is emotional, and he is believable. The title of the film may be a little unusual, the metaphor just a little obvious, and the plot designed to tug at the old heart-strings, but you can't help but admire the quality of Kline's acting.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Contrary to the packaging which lists the film as being presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, it is in fact shown at 2.05:1 (The Region 1 version states the aspect ratio at 2.10:1). It also features 16x9 enhancement. Overall, this is a fine transfer that, apart from a couple of minor niggles, is basically flawless.

    The transfer is sharp and detailed throughout with no problems with any shadow detail. There is minor edge enhancement throughout but it really doesn't become that noticeable. There is also some grain, but again it is very minor. There is no low level noise.

    Colours are brilliant; vibrant and solid. Skin tones are perfectly natural. The only problem I encountered was some minor, though quite obvious, colour bleed on the red jacket worn by Kristin Scott Thomas' character at 37:41 and 37:52.

    There are no MPEG artefacts. Film-to-video artefacts were also mostly absent apart from the occasional minor shimmer on a couple of screen doors and check shirts. Film artefacts are pretty much absent, which given the youth of the material is about what I expected.

    There is only one set of subtitles available; English. I watched these during the audio commentary and found them to be mostly accurate.

    This is a dual layered disc with RSDL formatting. The layer change occurs at 77:10 and is barely perceptible.

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

Audio

    The inclusion of the dts soundtrack that is also present on the Region 1 title is pleasing, despite this really not being the sort of film that can truly make the most of it. There are a total of four audio soundtracks available. In addition to the dts soundtrack (which is encoded at a bitrate of 768Kb/s), there is a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo soundtrack, and a Dolby Digital 2.0 commentary track. I listened to both 5.1 tracks and the commentary track.

    Dialogue is clear and easily understood. There are no audio sync problems.

    The score is credited to Mark Isham. It's quite unique and the recurring theme pops up throughout. There's also quite an eclectic mix of songs used throughout. These include artists such as Marilyn Manson, Joni Mitchell, Limp Bizkit, and Radiohead.

    There is plenty of surround channel use, but it is used almost solely for ambient effects such as wind, rain, and waves. It is very enveloping at times and adds a nice touch to the audio. This is a primarily a weepy, dialogue-based drama that doesn't really call for aggressive surround presence.

    The subwoofer likewise offers support occasionally, but I never really expected much and it is pretty seamless in its integration and never draws undue attention to itself.

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

Extras

    A reasonable collection of extras have been included in the package.

Dolby Digital Trailer - Rain

Menu Animation & Audio

    Slowly moving stills and slow motion images from the film

Audio Commentary - Irvin Winkler (Director), Rob Cowan (Producer), Mark Andrus (Writer)

    This is quite an informative commentary track. All three are in the same room together and share much information about scene set-ups, camera shots, character development, and the like. They talk for the whole film and keep things moving along at a steady pace and often change the topic to maintain interest. One of the better commentaries I have heard.

Featurette - Character Building: Inside Life As A House

    This featurette runs for 23:58 minutes and while being mostly a promotional piece with the actors all saying how wonderful it was to work with so-and-so, it does offer some reasonable behind-the-scenes footage, although not much new is learnt from watching this. Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 it is also 16x9 enhanced.

Featurette - From The Ground Up

    This is a far more interesting featurette than the promotional piece. Running for the shorter time of 10:08 minutes, this quickly outlines exactly how the house that features in so much of the story was actually built and the filming problems that it presented. The whole street in fact had to be constructed in this quite picturesque location and the house made in a series of modules that could be removed and inserted at will.

    Presented in aspect ratios of 1.78:1 and 2.05:1 it is also 16x9 enhanced.

Deleted Scenes

    Four deleted scenes are available to view with or without commentary from the same crew that recorded the main commentary track. The first two scenes are essentially the same scene, but were filmed twice when the actor selected to play the police officer injured himself and had to be replaced. The scenes run for between 1:58 minutes and 4:00 minutes. All are presented in an aspect ratio of 2.05:1 and are 16x9 enhanced. The inclusion of commentary on why they were removed is always an added bonus and makes these scenes worth a look.

Production Notes

    Comprehensive notes about the whole production. These are easy to read screens of text that provide a wealth of information about the project.

Biographies-Cast & Crew

    The usual biographical (albeit somewhat more brief than usual) details about cast and principal crew.

Theatrical Trailer

    Running for 2:17 minutes this trailer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is also 16x9 enhanced. Audio is provided in full Dolby Digital 5.1. Not the greatest trailer around, as it really plays the family/love angle a bit too hard.

Scene Selection Animation & Audio

R4 vs R1

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

    The Region 1 disc features substantially different artwork on the cover, but it does come in one of those horrible snapper cases which is a major disappointment. Other than the addition of some pointless DVD-ROM content it is exactly the same as the Region 4 version in every respect including the menus and dts soundtrack. A draw in content terms, but I'll favour the Region 4 for superior PAL formatting and lower price.

Summary

    Overly sentimental? Certainly. But it's supposed to be. If I only had four months to live I sure as hell wouldn't be building a house from scratch! The acting lifts this film above the usual tear-jerker. Kevin Kline is a master and is well supported by the rest of the cast.

    The video is excellent, with only a couple of very minor problems to report.

    The audio likewise is excellent, with the inclusion of the dts soundtrack an added bonus.

    The extras are comprehensive and of excellent quality.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Darren Walters (It's . . . just the vibe . . . of my bio)
Tuesday, January 07, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDLoewe Xemix 5106DO, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Calida (84cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationHarmon/Kardon AVR7000.
SpeakersFront - B&W 602S2, Centre - B&W CC6S2, Rear - B&W 601S2, Sub - Energy E:xl S10

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