About Schmidt (2002)

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Released 1-Sep-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio & Animation
Scene Selection Anim & Audio
dts Trailer-Piano
Dolby Digital Trailer-Rain
Deleted Scenes-9
Theatrical Trailer
Short Film-Woodmen Tower Sequences
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2002
Running Time 120:12
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (74:46) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Alexander Payne
Studio
Distributor

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Jack Nicholson
Hope Davis
Dermot Mulroney
Kathy Bates
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $39.95 Music Rolfe Kent


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
English dts 5.1 (768Kb/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 English for the Hearing Impaired
Greek
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement Yes, Winnebago - but it is central to the plot I guess
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

"What kind of difference have I made"

    Writer/Director Alexander Payne gained attention with his deliciously black comedy Election, starring Reece Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick. That effort was the sort of film that made the viewer unsure whether to laugh or to flinch and he offers more of the same with About Schmidt, a tale about the sorrow of growing old and realising your life hasn't amounted to a d*** thing...or perhaps it has.

    About Schmidt tells the story of...well...about Schmidt! Warren R. Schmidt (Jack Nicholson in a role so far removed from Chinatown, The Shining or A Few Good Men it isn't funny), has just retired from his job of forty years. Schmidt was an actuary at the Woodmen of the World Insurance company in Omaha Nebraska, an organisation he devoted almost his entire life to and within which he rose to the rank of assistant Vice-President. Schmidt was happy enough with his job, but upon his retirement finds he is questioning his very place in the world. Sort of like a mid-life crisis, only he is having his 20 years later than most.

    Schmidt also has problems with his wife of forty-two years, Helen (June Squibb). He has begun to find some of her various foibles annoying and he wakes every night asking himself just exactly who is this old woman who shares his house? His descent into a further depressed state is not helped when Helen suddenly dies and he's left to fend for himself. His daughter Jeannie (Hope Davis) is the one joy in his life. But she lives in Denver, Colorado and is engaged to be married to a complete schmuck (or in Schmidt's words, a nincompoop). Randall (Dermot Mulroney) is a sleazy waterbed salesmen, always on the take for a fast buck and someone who looks like he cannot be trusted. With the house now empty and Schmidt making a poor effort at looking after himself for the first time in several decades, he suddenly finds a purpose in his life. He decides to take a road-trip, and hits the road in style, driving his 35 foot Winnebago Adventurer from Omaha to Denver to supposedly attend the wedding of his daughter, but he is really intent on getting Jeannie to see the error of her ways and call the wedding off.

    It's here Schmidt meets the rest of Randall's family and he's not impressed by what he sees. Kathy Bates is her usual ebullient self as Roberta, Randall's mother, and shocks Schmidt with her frank sexual discussion and wanton behaviour. Throw in a nude scene from Ms Bates, and these encounters are among the most amusing scenes in the film. Can Schmidt make Jeannie see the error of her ways? Can he finally find a purpose in his life, despite his advancing years and all his old insurance statistics telling him he has a 73 per cent chance of dying in the next nine years?

    In an interesting device that keeps the pace of the film travelling along quite nicely, Schmidt narrates letters he continually sends to an orphaned Tanzanian boy, Ndugu, who he has sponsored through an organisation similar to World Vision. In various letters he pours out his heart to a six-year-old who probably does not understand English let alone the troubles of a lower-middle class white retiree in Nebraska USA. But it is these letters which give the film a purpose and a means to wrap up the climax which proves all in life is not lost.

    About Schmidt is a road movie for pensioners, with an unhurried pace that many will see as boring, but that's reality when you wake in the morning and don't really have anything to do for the day. The autumn years are often portrayed as a simple journey filled with bingo, cups of tea, long chats with old friends, and perhaps a cruise on a luxury liner every couple of years. There's none of that here. The stark realisation that after 66 years your presence on Earth has amounted to little hits home like a hammer. You will feel somewhat unsettled when faced with the realisation that a lifetime can effectively amount to nothing and hopefully realise just how short life really is.

    So let this film be a lesson to us all and get out there and do something about it before it's too late - me, I'm going back to my home theatre room - there's more reviews to be done!

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Transfer Quality

Video

    This video transfer is presented in its original theatrical ratio of 1.85:1 and is also 16x9 enhanced.

    The transfer is as sharp as a tack with no annoying edge enhancement, despite there being several instances where you would normally expect to see some - this is a pleasant change. There are no shadow detail issues - the image is too bright and cold for that to be a problem. Grain is visible on a few lighter backgrounds such as the cold blue/grey sky or the drab interior of the Schmidt's home, but it is not annoying. There is no low level noise.

    Colours are really quite interesting. Cold almost to the point of being clinical, you get the feeling they are supposed to come across as a little depressing, but I think they are simply trying to portray an everyday person's home and surroundings. Blacks are perfect, as are the skin tones. Check out the extreme close-ups of a dishevelled and unshaven Schmidt for a pasty and light starved complexion. Beautiful.

     There are no major MPEG artefacts, but some quite obvious noise is apparent during the conversation at the dinner table between 81:20 and 83:18. The painted deep red wall appears very noisy and sometimes excessively grainy during this period.. Film-to-video artefacts are limited to the tiniest bit of aliasing present on an outside air-conditioning unit at 43:16-43:21 and a slight case of telecine or camera wobble at 69:28 on the scene featuring the phone box. There are no substantial film artefacts to worry about.

    I sampled the English subtitles for a good part of the film and found then accurate and well placed on the screen.

    This is a dual layered disc that is formatted RSDL. The layer change occurs at 74:46 and while quite obvious is tolerable.

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

Audio

    For some reason there are an abundance of soundtracks on this disc, and given the nature of the film, I consider it a little bit of overkill, but I guess we shouldn't complain too much.

    There are three audio soundtracks available for your listening pleasure. A Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is joined by a dts soundtrack encoded at the lower bitrate of 768 Kb/s. Another Dolby Digital soundtrack rounds out the selection, this time a 2.0 stereo track encoded at a bitrate of 224 Kb/s. I listened to both surround soundtracks. There is basically nothing separating either of the surround tracks. Neither are what I could describe as even approaching demonstration material, and as this is primarily a dialogue focused film, virtually everything you need to hear will come from the centre speaker, with some effects and panning of background sounds coming from the left and right channels.

    Dialogue is extremely important to this film - after all, it is what basically drives the entire plot. It comes across clear and beautifully balanced in the overall soundstage. Jack Nicholson's off-screen narration is particularly well delivered.

    There is not a great deal of music here. The score is credited to one Rolfe Kent, and it is extremely minimalist in nature, mirroring the mundane nature of Schmidt's existence.

    Surround channel use is limited to a little streetscape style fill in at opportune moments. It really isn't missed.

    The subwoofer barely raises a rumble at all.

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

Extras

Scene Selection Animation & Audio

Menu Animation & Audio

    The menus are themed around the opening scene where Schmidt is waiting for the clock to count down the seconds until 5pm on his last day. Nicely done and very colourful.

Dolby Digital Trailer - Rain

dts Trailer - Piano

    My wife's favourite - I have to play it twice whenever it appears.

Deleted Scenes

    A series of nine deleted scenes, all with a text-based introduction from the director. While there is no optional commentary track, the text introduction usually runs to a couple of screens for each scene and provides plenty of detailed information as to why that particular scene got the chop. There is the ability to play each scene individually or all of them via a play-all option. Total running time is 29:21 minutes.

Theatrical Trailer

    This is a really neat trailer. It runs for 2:18 minutes, is presented in the proper aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is even 16x9 enhanced. It even gets a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. A couple of key plot developments are not spoilt in the trailer even though they are hinted at. I like that.

Short Film

    This is a little bizarre, but the text-based introduction provides ample explanation of what is going on. Director Alexander Payne wanted his editing people to practice their skills so he had five of them each make a short film based on the opening sequences of the film showing the Woodmen of the World building. The second unit apparently shot so much footage there was ample left over for each crew member to construct their own two-three minute short piece on the building.

    Each film can be selected individually or there is a play-all option. Total running time is only 13:36 minutes.

R4 vs R1

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

    Apart from a minor subtitle difference, the Region 1 disc is identical to the Region 4. I'd favour the local product for PAL formatting and a cheaper price.

Summary

    About Schmidt is a sad, often tragic look at how life can pass us by in an instant. Jack Nicholson is superb as the title character, truly playing against almost every type he has ever done. It is worth taking a look at how one of this generation's finest actors has seemingly embraced moving into the autumn phase of his career with grace, dignity, and a little humour. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, due to the somewhat slow nature of the film, but those that find appeal in the tragicomedy genre will find this entertaining and thought provoking.

    The video quality is mostly excellent with only mild shimmer on a couple of surfaces and a little noise on some solid red walls.

    The audio is functional. A dts soundtrack is perhaps a little overkill, and either of the surround soundtracks will please.

    The extras are quite basic.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Darren Walters (It's . . . just the vibe . . . of my bio)
Thursday, August 21, 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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