Far from Heaven (2002)

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Released 9-Jul-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Menu Animation & Audio
Scene Selection Anim & Audio
Featurette-Anatomy Of A Scene
Featurette-Making Of
Featurette-The Film-Maker's Experience
Theatrical Trailer
Audio Commentary-Todd Haynes (Director)
Production Notes
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2002
Running Time 102:57 (Case: 98)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (73:02) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Todd Haynes
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Julianne Moore
Dennis Quaid
Dennis Haysbert
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $39.95 Music Elmer Bernstein


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Auto Pan & Scan Encoded English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    Far From Heaven is a film in the style of classic 1950s Hollywood domestic melodrama, a genre that is now long forgotten and for many of us was hardly even known. Director Todd Haynes' intention with this film was to replicate this style of Hollywood filmmaking, preserving, at least on the surface, a storyline in the context of the typical "utopian" 1950s American household, but then also delving a little deeper to expose the various personal dramas taking place just beneath that thin veneer. For the director, this classic but now largely forgotten period of American cinema is best epitomised by the Hollywood filmmaker Douglas Sirk. Far From Heaven is an open and unashamed homage to this filmmaker. For those of us who don't know (this included me before reviewing this DVD), Douglas Sirk was the filmmaker responsible for creating such influential 1950s romantic melodramas as All That Heaven Allows, Written On The Wind, Imitation Of Life and Magnificent Obsession. While all of these films have been referenced in Far From Heaven to some degree for style and mood and characters, it is the first of these four films that has been drawn upon most heavily by Todd Haynes.

    The idea of re-creating the setting of this classic 1950s American household in a modern film is an interesting and refreshing one, as it provides a window into a period of cinema, and a period of recent history, that is largely overlooked by many of us. The setting alone should be enough to pique the interest of many in this film, even if the genre of domestic/romantic melodrama does not have wide appeal anymore. There is no denying that Far From Heaven achieves its objective of educating a modern audience about a time and style in recent history that is now well and truly gone. The film is refreshing for displaying a period and lifestyle of innocence, naivety, simplicity and lack of swearing!  In this sense it is a period far removed from modern day life. However under the surface, this 1950s period also thinly disguised a time of domestic oppression, bigotry and prejudice. Some of these things may have changed over the years but others have certainly not. Indeed, the very reason Todd Haynes saw relevance in telling this tale now is to ask the question: how far have we come from the outmoded, very conservative 1950s American culture portrayed on the screen? And herein lies the importance of this film.

    I will have to admit that romantic melodrama is not my favourite style of film. In fact, far from it, and I suspect many other film goers of our generation may also be turned off by the very mention of the word "melodrama". It is unfortunate, but perhaps understandable, that melodrama is not a popular style with today's audiences. I say understandable because the very context for this style of entertainment is outdated and grates against the less innocent, less naive, more forthright and more complicated fabric of modern life. In other words the style simply does not translate as well to a modern context. But placed back in the context of yesteryear, this genre works and is very entertaining indeed. It also provides a great vehicle with which to highlight and contrast the social issues of prejudice and bigotry that lurk just below the surface of the "ideal" American life.

     The story of Far From Heaven revolves around Cathy (Julianne Moore), the 1950s Connecticut housewife of successful advertising executive husband Frank (Dennis Quaid). Cathy appears to have it all, a happy marriage and loving husband, two beautiful children, a circle of friends and a busy domestic social calendar. Cathy and her family are indeed the quintessential all-American household, right out of the society pages. Well, not quite. When Cathy unexpectedly drops in to deliver a home-cooked meal to her hard working husband at the office one night, she is shocked to discover him kissing another man, and so her cosy little world slowly begins to unravel. Cathy finds unexpected solace in the kind and educated African-American gardener Raymond (Dennis Haysbert). Despite Cathy's struggle to keep her marriage in tact, both on the surface, for appearances, and emotionally, the reality of Frank's homosexuality and her feelings for Raymond see her emotional desires pitted against rigid societal conventions. The tagline used for the promotion of this film is most apt: "What imprisons desires of the heart?"  Far From Heaven is a literal title. It is contrasting the naive and idealistically happy lifestyle of the 1950s and stating that, despite the external appearances, this lifestyle is far from heaven.

    This is undeniably an actor's film. The hard work of the director and the crew to so closely emulate the style of Douglas Sirk is acknowledged (more discussion of cinematography and style when we discuss the video transfer below), however ultimately, this is a personal tale and one that can only be successful in drawing the audience in if the acting is genuine and the portrayal of the characters emotionally engrossing. This film was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Julianne Moore for Best Actress, and deservedly so. The strong performances of both Julianne Moore and Dennis Haysbert in this film are absolute standouts for me. Dennis Quaid's performance is also strong.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    We are presented with a beautifully vivid video transfer on this DVD, befitting the effort put into the cinematography. If anything though, the quality of this video transfer only serves to highlight the limitations of the original photographic style.

    The feature is presented in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and is 16x9 enhanced. (The transfer also comes encoded with auto pan & scan information.) 

    Sharpness and shadow detail is above average, but not outstanding. Not that there are any noise issues to detract, it's just that a priority has been placed by the director and cinematographer on a bold use of colour, in keeping with the style of the 1950s films. Whilst being visually complementary to the style,  this is achieved at times at the expense of resolution (see discussion of colour and photographic techniques next paragraph). While the sharpness in many of the outdoor scenes is indeed breathtaking, with fine detail on display in the autumn leaves and trees, there is a definite softness in many of the indoor scenes, especially those shot as night-time scenes using the "blue midnight" effect. Pause and zoom in to check out the detail in any number of the indoor scenes and you will see what I mean. I appreciate that the soft focus and diffused facials are an intended visual effect in line with the 1950s cinematic style, or perhaps an unintended consequence of it, but this does detract from sharpness and contrast nonetheless.

    Colouring is almost faultless. Almost. This 1950s style that the film is emulating draws upon a very bold use of colours, with the household furnishings and interior decorations awash with juxtaposed colours. Add to this the bright society dresses and you have a very rich colour palette for the indoor scenes, where the greater portion of the film action takes place. The outdoor scenes, too, draw on a vivid colour palette, highlighting beautifully saturated yellows and reds and greens. As the director explains in the featurette extras on this disc, the bold use of colour in this film has been achieved by the cinematographer using optical techniques - there has been no digital grading or other post production effects on colour at all. Colours have been accentuated using good old fashioned photographic techniques, such as filters and screen gels. The "midnight blue" look for the night-time scenes is a great example of this; this look is achieved using a special blue gel on a screen in front of the camera lens. Photographic techniques such as these certainly do draw out and accentuate the boldness of the colours to astonishing effect, yes, but is achieved at times at the expense of resolution, as commented above. In addition, I also noted the occasional scene where skin tones became unbalanced because of the use of filters. As an example, have a look at the scene in Cathy's front garden, from  17:30-18:12. This scene was shot with a red filter in order to portray a late afternoon sunlight effect, and with noted visual style. However it also renders a reddish glow to the skin tones in this scene as a by-product.

    The video transfer is relatively clean of artefacts, with only one or two critters to note. Digital pixelisation is apparent in several images in the transfer, most particularly in facial close-ups as the best examples. Film-to-video artefacts are restricted to instances of minor edge enhancement, whilst film artefacts are restricted to the occasional and minor film fleck here and there.

    There are no subtitle options on this disc at all. This is surprising and not very satisfactory for a modern DVD release.

    The disc is RSDL-formatted, with the layer change poorly placed, mid-scene at 73:02.

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

Audio

    The audio requirements of this film are far from demanding and well served by the transfers on this DVD. There is a choice of two audio tracks on this disc, a default English Dolby Digital 5.1 (at 448kb/s) and an English Dolby Digital 2.0 (at 224kb/s). I reviewed the 5.1 mix and found it to be perfectly satisfactory.

    Far From Heaven is a dialogue-intensive film and dialogue quality is therefore crucial. The audio transfer delivers, with all dialogue being clear and full. I did not note any audio sync issues.

    The score is by veteran composer Elmer Bernstein. Elmer Bernstein has been composing music for films and TV since the 1950s - although not on any Douglas Sirk films, to my knowledge. He has a catalogue of almost 250 music scores spanning a period of half a century - wow! Mr Bernstein's most memorable score, for me, would be the chilling score for Cape Fear in 1991 (probably not the best example to quote, as admittedly this one was actually an adaptation and re-orchestration of the original 1962 Bernard Herrmann score, but still, the differences between old and new adaptations are notable). In one of the featurette extras on this disc, Mr Bernstein admits how taken he was with the opportunity to score Far From Heaven and how refreshing he found working on a  melodrama film score compared to modern pieces, given that the use and emphasis of the score is different. His passion for this project shows, as he has delivered a wonderfully rich score here. The audio transfer on this DVD captures it well, with ample dynamic range and nice use of the surrounds to enrich the impact of the swelling score. It certainly helps to tug at the heart strings.

    In keeping with the style the film is trying to imitate, there is not a lot of sound design in this movie. Surround activity for directional sound effects  is minimal. The surrounds are used to swell out the film score and for some ambient effects like birds and cars in the background, but in line with the 1950s dialogue-intensive nature of this film, what we have here is a front-heavy and centre-focused soundstage, with minimal directional or panning effects for audio queues. Despite this, to the credit of the audio transfer on this disc, it still manages to sound relatively dispersed and refrains from collapsing completely into a dead flat listening experience.

    There is minimal subwoofer use.

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

Extras

    The extras on this disc include an audio commentary and a few featurettes that together explain, in the director's own words, his influences and intentions for this film.

Menu

    All menus are in the appropriate aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and 16x9 enhanced, commensurate with the feature presentation. All menus are animated and also contain audio underscoring. All menus are well themed and are clear and bright.

    The featurette and trailer extras detailed below are presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1 (full frame) and have 2 channel audio. All extras are of high quality video and audio.

Director's Audio Commentary

    An interesting commentary, with the director obviously very passionate about his film and wanting to explain in detail his influences and his intentions. It is more of a general talk-around type of commentary than a technical or scene specific analysis. Todd Haynes quotes heavily throughout the commentary from various interviews and other sources dealing with the films of the 1950s director Douglas Sirk, as a means of illustrating his own intentions or highlighting comparisons and structure of his own scenes with those of his idol's 1950s films, as and when these relevant scenes crop up.

    I wouldn't put it down as one of the best commentaries I've ever heard, and by the end of it I must say I was sure sick of hearing about Douglas Sirk, but the commentary does hold the interest for the most part and you certainly can't deny Todd Haynes' passion and his attention to detail.

Featurette 1: Anatomy of a Scene (27:28)

    This is an episode from the US cable TV series on filmmaking, this one dedicated to dissecting the party scene, about 40 minutes into Far From Heaven. The party scene is an important scene in the film as it marks the first scene in which Cathy's idyllic life begins to slowly fall apart. It is an important scene both from a plot perspective and also for director Todd Haynes if he is to successfully capture the mood and style of the Douglas Sirk films he desires to emulate.

    This featurette gives an interesting overview of what inspired the film in the first place, as told by the director himself, and then talks through various aspects of this particular scene in detail, from set design to scene composition to lighting to costumes. The featurette will be of particular interest to film students.

Featurette 2: The Making of Far From Heaven (11:32)

    This featurette is in fairly predictable format, showing some behind the scenes stuff but providing little depth of analysis.

Featurette 3: The Filmmaker's Experience: Q&A With Todd Haynes and Julianne Moore (4:54)

    A short extract from an interview conducted in front of a cinema audience, evidently just prior to the screening of the film at some premiere or film festival. A fairly shallow and self-congratulatory interview all round.

Trailer (1:08)

    Described incorrectly on the menu as "theatrical trailer", but clearly, being so short and presented in 1.33:1 (pan and scan), it is a TV trailer instead. It is disappointing indeed that we didn't receive the theatrical trailer. Still, as with the other extras, you couldn't complain about the quality.

Production Notes

    8 pages of clear, interesting text on the production. The still used here are great colour and resolution and highly complimentary.

Bios, Cast and Filmmakers

    5 of them. Clear text providing interesting background.

R4 vs R1

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

    Compared to the Region 1 release of this DVD, the only thing the Region 4 release misses out on is a dts 5.1 channel audio track option, in addition to the Dolby Digital 5.1 track. We do not miss out on any extras. As this film is a relatively sedate, dialogue-driven feature which is already amply served by the Dolby Digital 5.1 track, I would not rate the lack of the dts audio as anything really to cry about. I would call these releases relatively even in this particular case, and personally would prefer to stick with the Region 4 for its superior PAL resolution.

    This film has not been released in Region 2 yet and I cannot find any scheduled release date.

Summary

    Far From Heaven is a refreshing film. What at first appears to be an outdated social context and a forgotten style of filmmaking is highlighted by the director as having resonance to today's audience. This is a stylistic and visually compelling film, as well as one that is emotionally moving, dragging you in to the melodrama whether you intend to be drawn in or not. Above all, this is a film that is carried by the strength of some great acting performances.

    The video transfer on this DVD delivers, with above average resolution, vivid colours and minimal artefacts. The audio transfer is also successful, within the confines of this style of film. Extras including a commentary and featurettes provide further insight and are worthwhile.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Sean Abberton (read my bio)
Friday, June 13, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 2109, using Component output
DisplayToshiba 117cm widescreen RPTV. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderYamaha RXV-1000. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre.
AmplificationElektra Home Theatre surround power amp
SpeakersOrpheus Aurora III mains, Orpheus Centaurus 1.0 centre, Velodyne CT150 sub and B&W DM303 rears

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