Harriet the Spy (1996)

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Released 3-Dec-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Family None
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1996
Running Time 97:22
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (55:46) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Programme
Region Coding 4 Directed By Bronwen Hughes

Paramount Home Entertainment
Starring Michelle Trachtenberg
Gregory Smith
Vanessa Lee Chester
Rosie O'Donnell
J. Smith-Cameron
Robert Joy
Eartha Kitt
Charlotte Sullivan
Teisha Kim
Cecilley Carroll
Dov Tiefenbach
Nina Shock
Conor Devitt
Case ?
RPI $24.95 Music Jamshied Sharifi

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English 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

    Harriet the Spy looks like a kid's movie, so it's all fluff and bubblegum, nothing serious, right? Wrong. Leaving aside the disturbing image of mixing fluff and bubblegum, this is a fairly serious movie, dealing with problems that you don't normally see in a movie starring an eleven-year-old.

    I was drawn to this movie because of Michelle Trachtenberg. I'd watched her in three seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and that made me curious about her first feature film. I wasn't expecting a whole lot, what with this film being made four years before she joined the Buffy cast, but how bad could it be? At least she was an eleven-year-old playing an eleven-year-old. It's interesting to note that one of the screenwriters was Douglas Petrie, later to become a fixture on the Buffy writing team.

    Harriet M Welsch (Michelle Trachtenberg) is the somewhat neglected child of fairly well-to-do parents (J Smith-Cameron and Robert Joy). She is looked after by Golly (Rosie O'Donnell), her nanny since birth. Golly has encouraged her to write, and what she writes is what she sees. To make sure she sees stuff to write about, she's a spy. She wanders about town, staring through windows, hiding behind crates, looking at all sorts of things going on in her neighbourhood and writing them all down. She doesn't limit herself to writing about the stuff she spies on, though — she writes about everyone around her, too. Her writing is warts-and-all, although she restricts some of her most acerbic comments for the princess of her class, Marion Hawthorne (Charlotte Sullivan). She even writes about her best friends, Janie (Vanessa Lee Chester), and Sport (Gregory Smith).

    This seems like it's going to be a fairly straightforward, and modestly entertaining, slice-of-life film (and that wouldn't be a bad thing), until disaster strikes: Marion Hawthorne gets Harriet's notebook. And she reads selections out loud. To everyone in the class. Including Harriet's best friends. This is the end of Harriet's life...

    In a conventional children's film, there'd be a little awkwardness, an apology, and that would be all. Not this time. Things get rather complicated.

    There's a bit more to this film than a normal children's film. It's sugar-coated with comedy, but there are some interesting points made about what makes a good parent, and how a perfectly healthy child can still be a neglected one. How cruel children can be. How revenge can be less than fulfilling. And how it's way too late to wait until your child needs help before paying attention to them.

    This film would not have worked without a good performance by the lead actress, and Michelle Trachtenberg provides that performance (it's no surprise that she won the Young Artist Award for her effort). The other children provide good performances, too.

    It's not a perfect film, and some scenes don't really work (the scenes with Eartha Kitt, for example) but it's a lot better than it might seem at first sight. You have to stick with it, but it's worthwhile.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


    The DVD is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and is 16x9 enhanced. The original theatrical aspect ratio was 1.85:1, so that's close.

    The picture is fairly sharp, and quite clear. Shadow detail is not good, but it will do. There's no visible film grain. There's no low-level noise. There's no visible edge enhancement.

    Colour is well-rendered, and there are some bright fully-saturated colours on display. There's no over-saturation or colour bleed.

    There are a few tiny film artefacts, but you have to look very hard to find them.

    There's a little aliasing here and there, but it is never troubling. There's one moment of light moiré. There's a little bit of background shimmer, if you look closely for it, but nothing else in the way of MPEG artefacts.

    There are subtitles in 23 languages, including English, plus English for the Hearing Impaired. I watched the English subtitles; they are a bit abbreviated, but well-timed, accurate in intent, and easy to read.

    The disc is single sided, dual-layered, formatted RSDL. The layer change lies at 55:46, at a scene change, but it's fairly obvious due to the picture freezing momentarily; there's an odd little sound at the break, too — I suspect it's part of the sound for the following scene, and wouldn't be a problem except for the short pause.

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


    The soundtrack is provided in four languages, one of which is English Dolby Digital 5.1 (at 448kbps). I only listened to the English. Much of the soundtrack is confined to the frontal soundstage, using only the centre, left, and right channels, but the surrounds leap into life in a vital scene — it's very effective, and their previous (near-)silence gives it more impact.

    The dialogue is clear and comprehensible. There are no blatant audio sync issues, although there are a couple of moments where the sync looked very slightly off.

    The score is credited to Jamshied Sharifi. It's not at all bad, especially considering this was his first film score. The theme song, under the closing credits, is Secretive Life, sung by Jill Sobule — a good voice match for Michelle Trachtenberg (I thought it was her at first). Unfortunately, there's some nasty crackling just before the theme song starts playing — maybe they are faking the start of a record playing; I'm not sure, but I don't like it.

    The subwoofer isn't used a lot, but it does get called upon occasionally. It's not particularly required given the general absence of gunfire, earthquakes, and explosions.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    There are no extras at all.


    The menu is static and silent.

R4 vs R1

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

    This film was released on DVD in Region 1 some months before Region 4. It is just as extra-less as the Region 4 disc, though. Reports make it sound like their transfer is on par with ours, so I think this is yet another case of being able to buy either version without worry.


    A movie that takes a while to get going, but is ultimately rather worthwhile, presented well on a bare-bones DVD.

    The video quality is good, but lacking in shadow detail.

    The audio quality is very good.

    The extras are conspicuous by their absence.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Tony Rogers (bio-degrading: making a fool of oneself in a bio...)
Saturday, August 14, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony VPH-G70 CRT Projector, QuadScan Elite scaler (Tripler), ScreenTechnics 110. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVC-A1SE
SpeakersFront Left, Centre, Right: Krix Euphonix; Rears: Krix KDX-M; Subwoofer: Krix Seismix 5

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