Sommersby (1993)

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Released 29-May-2000

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama None
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1993
Running Time 108:50
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Jon Amiel

Warner Home Video
Starring Richard Gere
Jodie Foster
Bill Pullman
James Earl Jones
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $29.95 Music Danny Elfman

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/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 English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    Sommersby looked good enough on paper to attract Hollywood names such as Jodie Foster, Richard Gere and the ubiquitous Bill Pullman, who chews the scenery here like a pro, and while every inch the authentic character piece these actors probably hoped it would be, Sommersby felt drawn out even at 109 minutes. The film lacked that all-important mystery ingredient that is so vital for maintaining viewer interest, and as a result too little plot was spread over too much time. I also found both the premise and the melodramatic denouement rather difficult to swallow, the later being a contrived attempt to wring a drop or two of poignancy from a saga that ran dry long before the final reel unspooled.

    Basically the story involves the return of John Sommersby (Richard Gere) after a six year absence fighting in the American Civil war. Like many soldiers emotionally scarred by the experience of combat, ‘Jack’ Sommersby is no longer the man he once was. Eventually the truth is revealed during the course of events and, like a Faustian pact, the debt incurred by gaining his new lease on life must be cleared sooner or later. Is Sommersby's dream of a productive bucolic existence in the wilds of Virginia with the love of a Good Southern Woman worth the price he pays? You can judge for yourself by running this Warner Home Video DVD through your system.

    Gone are the days when mediocre movies suffered the added indignities imposed by home video formatting. Sommersby at least escapes the dreaded telemovie look with its matted cinemascope presentation, giving the story the best possible chance of engaging the viewer's imagination. Unfortunately, Sommersby ultimately fails on that count, and one explanation may have something to do with the fact that the screenplay was actually based on a French film called Le Retour de Martin Guerre (1982) starring Gerard Dépardieu and Nathalie Baye. This acknowledgement is buried deep in the end credits, much like the secret Sommersby himself carries for most of the movie. Another reason is the miscasting of Richard Gere in the lead. Like Tom Cruise, Gere is best at playing roles, not characters; he lacks the emotional range and everyman quality needed to be a truly convincing Jack Sommersby. The audience can believe that two unrelated men may look alike, but there is only one Richard Gere!

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Transfer Quality


    Framed at the correct theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and 16x9 enhanced, this is another naturalistic Warner Home Video transfer. However, in this case a more aggressive approach may have yielded an image that was more engaging than the one presented.

    The level of sharpness was quite good throughout, although dark interior scenes suffered from softness and low contrasts, perhaps done intentionally to simulate the gauzy effect of gas-lamp lighting. As a result, shadow detail was also compromised. Indeed, it became difficult to judge what was intended and what was a fault of the transfer process, as I never saw the film theatrically. Given that Sommersby dates from 1993, ageing of the source materials could have produced these problems.

    Not surprisingly, most colours shown indoors or on overcast days appeared muted. Sunny outdoor scenes fared much better, such as the tobacco crop sequences, which exhibited a pleasing level of sharpness, detail and colour saturation. At the very least, the look of Sommersby suits its hard-hoeing rustic backdrop, and one can well imagine the director of photography's hand guiding the telecine process.

    Film grain was kept to a bare minimum, which is a blessing considering the amount of photography undertaken in low-level lighting. As a consequence, I watched for digital noise reduction artefacts (a pet hate of mine), but saw none.

    I noticed no MPEG compression artefacts. I did, however, notice some aliasing, which was usually a problem whenever straight edges appeared, although for me they were only a minor distraction. The Warner Bros logo at the start of the movie wobbled badly, but the rest of the film seemed fine.

    Actual film artefacts were infrequent enough to ignore - the result of a generally spotless source print.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The accompanying audio soundtrack complements the perfunctory video transfer. Presented as a Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded soundtrack in your choice of English, French or Italian, this is essentially a stereo mix embellished with a few rear speaker touches.

    Dialogue was intelligible at all times, and there were no audio sync or dropout problems. My only complaint concerns a lack of overall punch to the sound, a symptom perhaps of recording technology choices the producers made at the time.

    Danny Elfman's generic and forgettable score captures some of the on-screen drama but by and large it adds little to the action - the material he had to work with was hardly the stuff of inspiration. At any rate, it was presented clearly, with the imaging restricted to the forward sound stage.

    The surround channel got a low-impact aerobic workout and mainly consisted of crows cawing, tree noises, and so forth. Switching my decoder to stereo mode gave marginally more focus to the proceedings. The subwoofer only came to life to deliver a handful of ominous hums to emphasize some grim on-screen business. In my lounge room, these bass effects sounded a tad woolly.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



R4 vs R1

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

    It seems as if the Region 1 version of this DVD is similar if not identical to ours. Note that the German release reportedly has a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack in German and English.


    With great costumes and set design, Sommersby is nonetheless a maudlin affair that is passable entertainment one time through. The acting is competent enough, with Foster giving another transparent performance, and the well-meaning Gere out of his depth in the titular lead role. Throw in the mandatory Ku Klux Klan stand-off and a completely facetious courtroom episode (Americans do love their courtrooms) and you have yet another average Hollywood remake of a more highly regarded foreign film.

    In keeping with the limited aspirations of the film-makers, the DVD offers an adequate video transfer married to an unambitious soundtrack.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Rod Williams (Suss out my biography if you dare)
Thursday, July 13, 2000
Review Equipment
DVDMarantz DV-7000 (European model), using RGB 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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