Mystery, Alaska (1999)

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Released 25-Sep-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Comedy None
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1999
Running Time 114:02
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Jay Roach
Studio
Distributor

Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.
Starring Russell Crowe
Hank Azaria
Mary McCormack
Lolita Davidovich
Ron Eldard
Colm Meaney
Maury Chaykin
Burt Reynolds
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $36.95 Music Carter Burwell


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/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
French
Spanish
Dutch
Norwegian
Danish
Swedish
Finnish
Portuguese
Spanish Titling
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    From the pen of television drama/sit-com creator David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal, The Practice, Boston Public) and directed by Jay Roach, the man responsible for the Austin Powers trilogy comes this tale of a remote northern town and their ice hockey team who set out to prove to those in the big smoke that they are not just a bunch of snowbound country hicks.

    The town of Mystery in Alaska is a cold out-of-the-way place where the small population, almost all of whom can skate very well, entertain themselves by playing ice hockey. Unfortunately they don't have anyone to play against, so every Saturday they split the only team the town has into two and they play each other. This game, known officially as the 'Saturday Game', has been played like this for many, many years. It is almost a rite of passage to make the team, so when the senior player, who also happens to be the town's sheriff, John Biebe (Russell Crowe) is told his services are no longer required because he has become too slow, tensions start to rise. To make matters worse, the town has gained some national notoriety. Former resident, and now journalist in New York, Charles Danner (Hank Azaria), has written an article for Sports Illustrated about the town, the team, and their unabashed enthusiasm for the sport of ice hockey. The article creates amusement when it is first seen. But it is about to create a whole lot more for the town than they could possibly imagine.

    Danner wasn't universally liked since he abandoned the town for the city and when he arrives back in Mystery it creates added tension since Sheriff Biebe's wife Donna (Mary McCormack) and Danner were old flames back in high school. Danner is a bit of the sly-scheming type, so when he drops the bombshell that the NHL has seen the Sports Illustrated article and wants to stage a pre-season ice hockey match between the rag-tag Mystery team of amateurs and the mighty professional New York Rangers, all in the name of promoting the sport, the locals are a little sceptical. Sheriff Biebe is of course the player with the most to lose, since he no longer has a place on the team, and his wife has been acting a little strange ever since Danner arrived.

    There is also much debate amongst the good folk of Mystery. The somewhat eccentric group of townsfolk are split as to whether to let the game proceed. Sure it will result in a large economic windfall for the town, but what if they get absolutely thrashed - which is the likely event considering the Rangers are complete pros - and they skate for the fun of it and play the game on a pond. Seeing the team and the town humiliated and turned into the laughing stock of the country is not what anybody wants to see. Eventually of course the townsfolk agree to let the Rangers come to the town to play and preparations begin in earnest to get things ready.

    What follows is an odd assortment of shenanigans and sub-plots as the town prepares for the big challenge. Much like a television drama/comedy there are so many characters doing all manner of things here that it could be quite easily to get lost in the whole convoluted plot. You almost get the feeling at times that David E. Kelley was sort of prototyping the story with the thought of turning it into a weekly drama - there is certainly enough material here. Thankfully for this film though, things are kept pretty simple, with the looming ice hockey game being the main focus of all the townsfolk. Even the grumpy old Judge Burns (Burt Reynolds) sees the light and grudgingly gets into the spirit of the coming game.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    All up this is a very fine transfer with basically no problems. It really should please everyone.

    Presented in the original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1, this is also 16x9 enhanced. It really is quite remarkable to see this in its proper aspect after only having seen the pan & scan video version before now. Many shots use the entire frame to convey the sense of space in Alaska, and much was lost in the hacked down version. Another point scored for the widescreen versus pan & scan debate.

    This is a nicely detailed and sharp picture throughout, with few problems to report. Shadow detail is handled well extremely well and grain is minimal to the point of being non-existent. There is no low level noise.

    Colours are remarkably well rendered. They are a little bleak at times (which matches the almost constant snow and ice which naturally enough abound in the town). Skin tones are excellent with plenty of detail. Blacks are also very solid and true.

    There are no MPEG artefacts and I noticed no instances of aliasing anywhere in the transfer. A handful of the most minute film artefacts were all I spotted, and they are effectively the only blemish on the image.

    There are heaps of subtitles on this disc. English and English for the Hearing Impaired were the ones I sampled. I found them mostly accurate with only a couple of sentences abridged.

    This is a dual-layered disc but I was unable to spot any layer change.

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

Audio

    There are three audio soundtracks on this disc. All are Dolby Digital 5.1 efforts with the languages being English, French, and Spanish. I naturally listened the English soundtrack. It is a reasonable soundtrack that offers clear separation across the front channels with plenty of directional effects, front and rear during the ice hockey games.

    Dialogue is precise and very well mixed. There are certainly no audio sync problems.

    The score is by Carter Burwell. It has all the elements of a sports theme down pat and a bit of drama thrown in for good measure. Quite rousing in the climatic game scenes.

    There is surprisingly little surround channel use, and what does come through sounds a little weak. They are mostly utilised for the action during the ice hockey games and a little bit of the score.

    There are no such problems for the subwoofer, though. It gets plenty to do when the teams hit the ice (and each other).

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

Extras

    There are no extras.

R4 vs R1

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

    The region 1 disc has been available for several years, and contains a couple of extras which the Region 4 misses.

    The Region 4 disc misses out on:

    The Region 1 disc misses out on:

    The making-of featurette is, from all reports, incredibly brief and hardly worth the bother. Ditto for the trailers, so I really can't recommend either disc as the preferred option, especially without having seen the Region 1 transfer, which is now more than three years old. From the reviews I can find the transfer sounds similar to the Region 4 version. I'll call it a draw and recommend you pick the disc up wherever you can get it the cheapest.

Summary

    Mystery, Alaska is a good fun film that, while not all that original, and a tad weighed down by an excess of characters, will provide an easy night's entertainment. It has all the elements that make a sports movie a fun-filled romp.

    The video transfer is excellent and without flaw aside from a handful of film artefacts.

    The audio is hardly what I would call spectacular, but it has ample separation and some decent low-end thump.

    There are no extras, which given the high recommended retail price of the disc begs the question - why not?

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Darren Walters (It's . . . just the vibe . . . of my bio)
Thursday, November 13, 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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