House of Sand and Fog (2003)

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Released 19-Aug-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Menu Animation & Audio
Dolby Digital Trailer-Rain
Audio Commentary-Vadim Perelman (Director)
Deleted Scenes-5, With Optional Director's Commentary
Featurette-Behind The Scenes
Featurette-Shohreh Aghdashloo Audition
Gallery-Photo-Slide Show With Audio
Gallery-Photo-Stills
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Production Notes
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2003
Running Time 121:00
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Vadim Perelman
Studio
Distributor

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Jennifer Connelly
Ben Kingsley
Ron Eldard
Frances Fisher
Kim Dickens
Shohreh Aghdashloo
Jonathan Ahdout
Navi Rawat
Carlos Gómez
Kia Jam
Jaleh Modjallal
Samira Damavandi
Matthew Simonian
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $39.95 Music James Horner


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/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 for the Hearing Impaired Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    In this country, thousands of families plunge themselves into debt in pursuit of that often elusive dream of owning their own home. Whether of historical, cultural or personal genesis, Australians seem to feel an obligation to themselves and their loved ones to secure a place to call their own. Having watched last year's House of Sand and Fog, it seems that Americans also share such aspirations. In the film, the house, a modest timber place nestled on a dune with views of the Pacific Ocean, becomes the very symbol of survival. It becomes the American dream - the means by which people's very lives are sustained, or destroyed. As the film slips into focus at the beginning, amidst the dark of night, a uniformed police officer asks a woman, "Is this your house?"  A simple enough question one would think but the next time it is asked it could not be more difficult to answer.

    This is the finest American film of last year. Only the extraordinary maritime epic Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and the hauntingly poetic Girl With a Pearl Earring, which could not be more different, held me in similar entrancement at the cinema. It was adapted by debutant writer-director Vadim Perelman from the acclaimed novel of the same name by Andre Dubus III, son of the author whose short story "Killings" was adapted into the heart-wrenching masterpiece In the Bedroom. Dubus III obviously inherited his father's understanding of the darker workings of the human psyche, which Perelman expertly translates to the screen. It is fundamentally the story of two people who drag all around them into a bitter struggle for the house and, more importantly, what it represents. Kathy (Jennifer Connelly in a devastating performance) is a recovering drug addict who inherited the house from her father. Her boyfriend left her months ago and she now lives alone, divorcing herself from her family on the east coast. Without warning the sheriff arrives to evict her from her home for non-payment of taxes. It is, however, a bureaucratic bungle, but before Kathy, with the help of her lawyer (Frances Fisher), can sort out the mess the house is sold at a quarter of its worth to an Iranian Colonel, Behrani (Sir Ben Kingsley), who fled his country with his wife (Shohreh Aghdashloo) and children after the fall of the Shah. He and his family are unaccustomed to the relative poverty of their new life, and Behrani sees the house as a means of securing their future, particularly the college education of their sun Esmail (Jonathan Ahdout). Kathy will not accept that she has lost the house, however, and tries desperately to win her house back, needing to prove to herself that she has recovered and that her life is not a failure. Behrani is equally unbending, and in spite of attempts by Kathy's new love, the local police officer Lester (Ron Eldard) to intimidate him, he refuses to compromise.

    The great strength of this magnificent film is how at every turn it refuses to take sides. All the characters are flawed and often act in ways we would ordinarily find reprehensible. Yet their motivations are almost inevitably noble which makes the struggle between them all the more devastating. It is a testament to the wonderful acting and creative bravery of the director that the film never opts out of difficulty - rather, it confronts it unapologetically. The performances of the entire cast are note perfect. Both Kingsley and Aghdashloo were rewarded with Oscar nominations for their work but the whole ensemble is captivatingly good. Admittedly bleak and unrelenting, there are nonetheless moments of quite staggering beauty. House of Sand and Fog is a film I don't think, for good reason, one can easily forget.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The transfer afforded this 2003 production is uniformly excellent if not quite reference quality. It is presented at an accurate aspect ratio of 1.78:1, with 16x9 enhancement.

    Sharpness is excellent, with fantastic levels of detail. Shadow detail is always of a high standard. Blacks are clear and free of any low level noise.

    Colours are sombre but realistic. Shot by Roger Deakins, in my opinion the best cinematographer working today, there are moments of quite stunning visual poetry, as when the house is enshrouded in fog, but most of the time the photography is deliberately undemonstrative and expertly captures the realism of the film. Skin tones were beyond reproach.

    In spite of the prevalence of fog in many of the establishing shots the transfer is remarkably free of many compression artefacts. The filmmakers have obviously used the best quality film stock and the results are clear. This is a pristine, almost totally grain free transfer.

    Film to video artefacts were absolutely minimal.

    Film artefacts are negligible.

    The solitary subtitle track is English for the Hard of Hearing.

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

Audio

    We have a choice of English Dolby Digital 5.1 or Dolby Stereo 2.0 tracks, both of which are well presented.

    Dialogue is at all times easily understood.

    There were no reportable instances of distortion.

    Audio sync was brilliant.

    The surrounds and subwoofer are not used particularly often, even when the 5.1 track is selected, although James Horner's subtle score (my only criticism of the film is that I thought the score a little too insistent at times, but it is a fine effort) is voiced impressively throughout and given some extra depth by the LFE channel. There are some moments when the sound cuts through, and the relative quiet of the soundtrack normally emphasises such moments perfectly. This is one film where overt surround channel use would have been entirely misplaced.

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

Extras

    The extras presented are of excellent quality and fine quantity.

Audio commentary with writer-director Vadim Perelman, star Ben Kingsley and author Andre Dubus III

    This is a relaxed yet informative track that features good contributions from all three participants. It is especially good to hear a master thespian such as Kingsley sharing his thoughts on film acting and the construction of a character. As is perhaps to be expected there is some occasional backslapping and 'that's just wonderful' speak, but for a film such as this I didn't really mind. There is certainly enough valuable insight to forgive the enthusiastic praise heaped on the film. Hearing an author speaking glowingly of an adaptation of their own novel is also a rare treat.

Making of featurette

    This fifteen minute piece dispenses with most of the traditional promotional fluff and delves into the filmmaking process from script writing to filming. It features interviews with all the major cast and creative team. The only drawback is its 1.33:1 presentation.

Deleted scenes (with optional commentary)

    The five deleted scenes are amongst the best presented on DVD, with clear sound and clean visuals, complete with 16x9 enhancement. Totalling about eleven minutes, they can be played with or without commentary from the same team featured in the main track. All are individually interesting but Perelman's reasons for cutting them are well explained.

Shohreh Aghdashloo's Audition Tape

    I am always fascinated to see audition tapes and this six minute example is excellent. Aghdashloo's performance was one of many jewels in this film and to see her going through a huge array of emotions in the audition is quite extraordinary. Presented at 1.33:1.

Slide Show/Picture Gallery

    You can select to view a montage, lasting about six minutes, which features a series of excellent still photographs intercut with additional interview footage with the cast and crew, or scroll through a collection of eighty odd stills, all of terrific quality. This is the best photo gallery I've seen on a DVD release thus far.

Cast and Crew Synopses

    All the major cast and crew are included, with comprehensive notes and filmographies.

Production Notes

    More excellent notes on every aspect of the production of the film, including personal insights from director Perelman, himself an immigrant to America, who describes his affinity with the material.

R4 vs R1

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

    On the information available the Region 4 misses out on:

    The Region 1 misses out on:

    I would opt for the cheaper local product with its inherently superior transfer.

Summary

    I have run out of adjectives to describe House of Sand and Fog. It is superb in every respect.

    The video is almost of reference quality.

    The audio is a model of subtlety.

    The extras are excellent - far better than those offered on many so called 'special editions'.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Scott Murray (Dont read my bio - it's terrible.)
Monday, October 04, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDYamaha DVR-S100, using Component output
DisplaySony 76cm Widescreen Trinitron TV. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD Player, Dolby Digital and DTS. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationYamaha DVR-S100 (built in)
SpeakersYamaha NX-S100S 5 speakers, Yamaha SW-S100 160W subwoofer

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Cheaper local product? - PhildG REPLY POSTED
Re: Cheaper local product. - wolfgirv