Gods and Monsters (1999)

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Released 23-Jan-2001

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Awards
Audio Commentary-Bill Condon (Director)
Featurette-The World Of Gods And Monsters
Production Notes
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1999
Running Time 100:53 (Case: 105)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (74:19) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Bill Condon
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring Ian McKellen
Brendan Fraser
Lynn Redgrave
Lolita Davidovich
Case Soft Brackley-Transp
RPI $34.95 Music Carter Burwell


Video Audio
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
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 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

    Gods And Monsters is an eloquent fictional portrayal of James Whale's final days on this earth. Set in 1957, the ageing director of movie classics such as Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, and The Old Dark House is 15 years into his divorce from Hollywood. Cranky, senile, and all-but-pooped from the effort of living, the gay old gentleman (played brilliantly by British thespian Sir Ian McKellen) is drawn to yardsman Clayton Boone (Brendan Fraser), a muscular ex-Marine who engages Whale's hedonistic palette on more than one level. Through the course of their friendship, Boone triggers three bouts of nostalgia in Whale: the lost love of a World War One soldier, his childhood years in England, and of course Frankenstein's monster. Devoutly heterosexual, young Boone nevertheless tantalizes Whale's homosexual urges in a series of episodes that finally reveal Whale's underlying motives. Confused and yet enlightened in some vague way, Boone carries his brush with glamour well into his otherwise prosaic life.

    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.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Shot in Super 35, Gods And Monsters has been given a pleasing transfer on DVD. Widescreen Review quotes a theatrical ratio of 2.40:1, while the IMDB mentions 2.35:1 as the intended ratio. On this disc the frame measures 2.35:1 and is 16x9 enhanced.

    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.

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

Audio

    Gods And Monsters comes with a lively Dolby 2.0 surround-encoded soundtrack compressed at 256 kb/s.

    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.

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

Extras

Menus

    16x9 enhanced, not animated, with background music. These menus are elegantly designed and easy to navigate.

Making of Featurette (28:55)

    Skal does well to canvas everyone involved in the production, from the Executive Producer Clive Barker (whose life parallels Whale's life, being that he is gay, a writer, filmmaker, painter, and an Englishman living in LA), through to the main cast members, writer-director Bill Condon, and Christopher Bram, who liked the movie adaptation of his novel very much. It was amusing to hear the story of how various Hollywood types were shocked at hearing that Bram was actually happy about how his book was treated in its journey to the silver screen. Will they ever learn?

    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.

Audio Commentary by Bill Condon (Director)

    A lumpy, but very informative commentary. Condon was obviously enthusiastic about doing the commentary. In his attempt to cram everything in – the struggle to get the movie made, cast and crew anecdotes, thematic concerns – he jumps around and interrupts himself quite often, which makes it hard to follow sometimes. He was very conscious of time passing and wanting to discuss scenes unfolding on screen. It would have been better to record two tracks: a formal one by himself, and another more relaxed  pass with Ian McKellen, Brendan Fraser, and Christopher Bram perhaps. But this is what we have and it's still a bloody good effort for a first timer. With more practice and better preparation, Condon will have no trouble reaching the ranks of David Cronenberg , Ridley Scott, and Oliver Stone. I found it touching that Condon had to pause during the scenes from Bride of Frankenstein, apologizing that he just could not talk over it despite the obvious pressure of time.

Production Notes (9 pages)

    These notes repeat much of the information revealed by Condon's commentary and David Skal's featurette. Spaces are missing between a handful of words in this essay, creating nonsense words such as "Whaleand". Clive Barker also admits to modelling his professional and artistic life on Whale's, although I don't think Barker has had the success he is capable of yet.

Cast and Crew Notes

    Brief biographies and filmographies are provided for Ian McKellen, Brendan Fraser, Lynn Redgrave, and Bill Condon. The filmographies are impressively current. McKellen's credits include the yet to be released Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Theatrical Trailer (2:24)

    Presented 4:3 and letterboxed to 2.35:1, with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. The quality of the image is poor

Awards Listing

    This is one page listing some of the Awards Gods And Monsters has picked up since its debut at the Sundance Film Festival.

R4 vs R1

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

    The Region 4 DVD misses out on:     The Region 1 DVD misses out on:     It is clear that the PAL region 4 DVD is marginally superior unless you need to avoid the PAL speed-up or know that the Region 1 disc looks better.

Summary

    Gods and Monsters is a labour of love crafted by a number of talented individuals. If you have any interest in classic horror movies, Hollywood of yesteryear, or cracking good drama, then this film will satisfy any of those urges.

    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.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Rod Williams (Suss out my biography if you dare)
Saturday, February 10, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDSony DVP-S7700, using Component output
DisplayLoewe Ergo (81cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderDenon AVD-2000 Dolby Digital decoder.
AmplificationArcam AV50 5 x 50W amplifier
SpeakersFront: ALR/Jordan Entry 5M, Centre: ALR/Jordan 4M, Rear: ALR/Jordan Entry 2M, Subwoofer: B&W ASW-1000 (active)

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