Gods and Monsters (1999)
Main Menu Audio
Audio Commentary-Bill Condon (Director)
Featurette-The World Of Gods And Monsters
Biographies-Cast & Crew
|Year Of Production||1999|
|Running Time||100:53 (Case: 105)|
|RSDL / Flipper||RSDL (74:19)||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||1,2,3,4,5,6||Directed By||Bill Condon|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Auto Pan & Scan Encoded||
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (256Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (256Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||2.35:1|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||2.35:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
Scoring a respectable 7.8 on the Internet Movie Database user poll, Gods and Monsters is both a masterful character study and an exercise in economy. Christopher Bram's factional novel Father of Frankenstein was adapted for the screen by director Bill Condon, whose past credits include writing Strange Invaders, Deadly Kids (two 80s horror flicks) and FX2, along with directing Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh and a host of TV projects. Condon won an Academy Award for this screenplay and it is well-deserved. At times overt and at others ambiguous, Gods and Monsters encourages many different readings of this little drama between an important cultural icon and a simple-minded labourer. Condon exploits the story's thematic potential at every turn by layering references and visual in-jokes into the narrative, although not at the expense of his actors' performances, which are uniformly superb.
Ian McKellen as James Whale is totally convincing. Little nuances and vocal inflections add volumes to the already competent dialogue. The talented Brendan Fraser, who shot this picture before George Of The Jungle gave his career the boost that landed him in movies like The Mummy, gives a quirky interpretation of the Clay Boone character...someone who exhibits curiosity for this old fossil despite his homophobia, yet lacking the cerebral candlepower needed to understand the complexities of a artiste like Whale. Lynn Redgrave (Shine) is marvellous as Whale's dotty, immigrant housekeeper. She, like Boone, fails to grasp the magnitude of Whale's inner clockwork, even once remarking that Whale's much celebrated Bride of Frankenstein was simply not her "tea cup". With her hunched appearance, Hanna is an obvious double for the good Doctor's lab lackey, Igor.
Movies like Gods And Monsters are gifts for reviewers. I could ramble on for another dozen paragraphs about the meanings and emblematic cues that Condon and his cast have built into this little gem of a film. And, like most artistic triumphs, they make it look so effortless.
Overall this is a nice, sharp presentation. The opening credits – white text superimposed on footage of Clayton Boone arising from his decrepit trailer home ‐ show nasty double lines from edge enhancement. The lines are only present when the text is not shown on a black background. Strangely, Region 1 reviewers gushed over the picture quality of the NTSC release. While there are a myriad of foreground and background details to savour throughout the movie, there is also a brittle quality to the image, similar to Warner's transfer of Tango And Cash. Some edges are a little too keen and fine, high contrast details a touch too flinty. This DVD fared better on the Sony DVP-S7700 than on my new Pioneer DV-S737 which, with its new generation 10-bit 54MHz video D/A, is rather unforgiving of substandard compression, leaning away from the film-like presentation of the old Sony. Anyway, with good shadow detail and solid blacks, Gods And Monsters should look rich and glorious on most set-ups.
Colours are for the most part balanced and natural: all of the gaudy hues of a decadent 1950s Hollywood are very much evident here. James Whale's red woollen vest showed signs of colour bleed, although as I've said before, my Loewe display can smear deeply saturated reds into neighbouring colours, so this is not considered to be a major flaw. Skin tones were excellent: the numerous close-ups bring the actors right into your living room.
As far as artefacts go, film grain is visible during most of the movie, and I spotted a speck or three along the way. There are also places where the image is over-exposed so that details are whited-out, as they were in The Fifth Element and Titanic. This may be a problem with Stephen M. Katz's cinematography; budgeted at $3 million with a 24 day shooting schedule, there would not have been time to reshoot scenes to correct technical glitches such as over-exposure. The opening credits also wobbled slightly.
The layer change at 74:19 is well placed between the rain storm at George Cukor's garden party and an interior shot of Whale's house. Curiously, the new Pioneer took three seconds to negotiate it. I almost missed it on the Sony. Note that there are no subtitles.
Dialogue was fine overall. I thought I heard some distortion here and there, for example during the exchange in the kitchen between Boone and Hanna, but other loud outbursts sounded okay, say when Boone blows up after Whale rhapsodizes about "hard arrogant pricks" in his studio. The dialogue was always prominent in the mix – not at all surprising for a talking heads film like this one.
The memorable original score by Carter Burwell (Fargo, Three Kings) integrates beautifully with the other sound elements. His main theme in particular captures the poignancy of James Whale's life slowly fading to black. The simple melody also matches Clay Boone's childlike curiosity and innocence.
While this is only a surround-encoded mix, the execution makes full use of the format's potential. The surrounds come alive to spread rolls of thunder around the viewer and make Burwell's music swell beyond the front sound stage at select moments. The subwoofer did its usual job of supporting the bottom end of a surround mix, hence there was never any lack of warmth, which helped to make up for the additional dynamics a 5.1 soundtrack would have delivered. Although the fidelity was not always up to scratch, this audio mix contributed more to this film than some recent big budget examples I have experienced lately.
|Surround Channel Use|
The only gripe I have about David Skal's featurette is the annoying habit of running clips of the movie to illustrate a blindingly obvious remark someone makes on camera. If you have seen the movie and care enough to watch the documentary, there's not much point wasting time on dredging up the scene being discussed unless it is obscure or difficult to recall. Sorry, I'm just venting a pet hate of mine, and Gods And Monsters just happens to be unlucky enough to receive the salvo!
Narrated by Clive Barker (who last made an appearance on the Psycho special edition documentary), the featurette is presented crisply in full frame with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. All round this is an excellent documentary, fittingly stitched together by the man who made the documentaries for Universal's horror classics series on DVD, which may explain the minimal 'promo' factor.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
With a great video transfer that suffers from a few niggling problems, an effective Dolby surround audio mix, and the same cool extras from Region 1, this DVD from Siren Entertainment proves that they are serious about presenting films from their catalogue in the best possible manner. This is not so much a good business strategy (it is), but rather a clear mandate to respect the works of film-makers enough to show them as they were intended to be seen and heard. Well done.
|DVD||Sony DVP-S7700, using Component output|
|Display||Loewe Ergo (81cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Denon AVD-2000 Dolby Digital decoder.|
|Amplification||Arcam AV50 5 x 50W amplifier|
|Speakers||Front: ALR/Jordan Entry 5M, Centre: ALR/Jordan 4M, Rear: ALR/Jordan Entry 2M, Subwoofer: B&W ASW-1000 (active)|