Inventing the Abbotts (1997)

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Released 4-Feb-2005

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama None
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1997
Running Time 102:38
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (59:39) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Pat O'Connor

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring Liv Tyler
Joaquin Phoenix
Billy Crudup
Jennifer Connelly
Joanna Going
Barbara Williams
Will Patton
Kathy Baker
Michael Sutton
Alessandro Nivola
Nicole M. Vassallo
Amanda Sherman
Shawn Hatosy
Case ?
RPI $19.95 Music Michael Kamen

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/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 Dutch
English for the Hearing Impaired
French Titling
German Titling
Italian Titling
Spanish Titling
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

   “My mother once told me that if the Abbotts didn’t exist, my brother would have had to invent them

    Set in a small Illinois town in 1957, Inventing the Abbotts is the story of two teenage brothers from the wrong side of the tracks and their relationship to Pamela, Elanor and Alice, the three daughters of successful business man Lloyd Abbott (Will Patton). Jacey Holt (Billy Crudup) is the older and more charismatic brother who has more success in wooing the Abbott girls. Doug Holt (Joaquin Phoenix), who provides the retrospective and reminiscent voiceover (actually provided by Michael Keating), is his younger and more introverted brother who has feelings for Eleanor (Jennifer Connolly) but really likes Pamela (Liv Tyler). There is a dark secret from the past connecting the two families concerning an invention by Doug’s late father that has been responsible for the success of the Abbott’s business. Doug is convinced that Mr Abbott somehow forced his mother Helen (Kathy Baker) to sign over the rights to the invention in an underhanded way.

    It has been observed that Inventing the Abbots is not only set the 1950s but could very well have been made in the 1950s with the removal of the occasional nudity and 4 letter words. I think this is certainly true. The story, script, and look of the film are all very much of the style typical of the 1950s. As I’ll discuss a little further in my discussion of the transfer, the use of colour is very typical of the look of films from this period. The set design is particularly good and the atmosphere of an idealised 1950s is well achieved.

    Despite the stellar talent in the film the performances sadly don’t ever live up to the promise of the cast. Joaquin Phoenix seems to sleep his way through the role of Doug. His character lacks any sort of depth or variety. Liv Tyler seems to try too hard with her role as Pamela Abbott and she seems awkward with her character throughout and completely lacks the depth and subtlety she exhibited the previous year in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Stealing Beauty. Unfortunately the two seemed to lack any of the real chemistry needed for successfully underpinning the emotional core of this movie.

    The rest of the characters essentially seem to be there only to support the story of Doug and Pamela and are all rather poorly formed. While the cast are all quite good in their respective rolls, there really is very little they can do with the poor script.

    I can’t help but feel that there was a great film lurking somewhere in there. Director Pat O’Connor was just never able to fully realise it. A combination of poor script, bad pacing and acting performances that just don’t quite match the potential of the cast all combine to produce a film that, while somewhat enjoyable, just doesn’t live up to its promise.

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Transfer Quality


    The video quality of this DVD is quite good but a bit on the soft side.

    The transfer is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The transfer is 16x9 enhanced.

    The image is nicely detailed but has a fairly soft appearance. This may well be a deliberate attempt by the director to give the film a more period and dreamy look. Shadow detail is well handled and the transfer is free from low level noise.

    Colours were well saturated but there was a tendency towards slight oversaturation which I think may well be an attempt by the director to give the film a period, almost Technicolor, look. For example, white shirts almost glow off the screen in some scenes (12:21) and red lipstick really stands out at times (60:07). Skin tones were generally fairly natural although the oversaturation sometimes gave skin tones a slightly unnatural orangey appearance.

    No MPEG artefacts were observed and aliasing was also not an issue with the transfer. Some very minor edge enhancement was noticed on close observation but was never distracting. I did, however, observe some fine vertical telecine wobble at times throughout the transfer. This was most noticeable on long shots such as at 41:39 and I found it a little distracting. The film print used is very good for the most part and I only noticed the occasional small specks of dirt and some small marks such as at 38:13 on the print. These were quite minor and I really had to look to find them.

    I sampled the English subtitles which are white and easy to read. They match fairly well to the onscreen dialogue but tended to summarise it a bit.

    The DVD is dual layered and RSDL formatted. The layer change occurs at 59:39 during a cut between scenes.

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


    The soundtrack is quite reasonable although very front oriented.

    The English soundtrack on this DVD is Dolby Digital 5.1 encoded at 448 Kb/s.

    Dialogue was always clear and easy to understand with no noticeable audio sync issues.

    The original orchestral score by Michael Kamen is quite subtle and used in a few scenes to underpin the emotional context of the on screen action. It's actually fairly modern in styling and about the only thing not in keeping with the 1950s style of the rest of the movie.

    As mentioned above the soundtrack is very front oriented with only very modest use of the surround channels, such as at 8.00 where a crowd claps during a party. Otherwise the surrounds are utilised only for subtle ambience.

    Like the surround use, subwoofer use was quite modest and never really drew any attention to itself.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    This a bare bones DVD release featuring only the movie and nothing else.

R4 vs R1

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

    The R1 release features a short featurette and trailers. Reviews of the R1 disc indicate the featurette includes promotional type interviews and clips from the film. While none of the features on the R1 amount to much their presence still makes the R1 DVD the preferred release.


    Inventing the Abbotts invokes the feelings of an idealised 1950s very well but is let down by some bad pacing, average acting performances and a rather pedestrian script resulting in a movie that never really seems to live up to its promise.

    The video transfer is quite good, if somewhat on the soft side, and even looks like a 1950s film.

    Despite being a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack this one is very front oriented.

    There are absolutely no extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Michael Gauntlett (read my bio if you're bored.)
Sunday, October 16, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDSony DVPNS575-S Progressive Scan, using Component output
DisplaySony KVDR29M31 68cm PROGRESSIVE SCANNING. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderLogitech 5500 THX. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationLogitech 5500 THX
SpeakersLogitech 5500 THX

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