A Prairie Home Companion (2006)

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Released 4-Apr-2007

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Musical Featurette-Making Of-A Prairie Home Companion
Interviews-Cast
Gallery-Photo
Teaser Trailer
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 2006
Running Time 100:59 (Case: 105)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Robert Altman
Studio
Distributor

Magna Home Entertainment
Starring Woody Harrelson
Tommy Lee Jones
Garrison Keillor
Kevin Kline
Lindsay Lohan
Virginia Madsen
John C. Reilly
Maya Rudolph
Meryl Streep
Lily Tomlin
Marylouise Burke
L.Q. Jones
Sue Scott
Case Alpha-Transparent
RPI ? Music None Given


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Audio Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Audio dts 5.1
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 None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes

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Plot Synopsis

    Running for more than thirty years, A Prairie Home Companion is an old fashioned live country variety show that is filled with an eclectic mix of live music and comedy. This film's take on the show presents the action on stage and back stage during a completely fictionalised version of their last ever show.

    The show itself is little more than an excuse for another heavily improvised ensemble backstage drama come comedy from film-making legend Robert Altman, in much the same vein as his previous films Nashville, The Company and Pret-a-Porter. In some ways it is fitting that this was Altman's final film as it is a very typical exercise in his tried and true style - exactly what his fans would have ordered if they knew it was to be his last film.

    The show is compéred by Garrison Keillor (playing himself and who also wrote the basic screenplay) and features a diverse range of characters on and off stage. On stage at various times, as well as many of the real show's musicians and effects guys, are the Johnson sisters Yolanda and Rhonda (Meryl Streep and Lilly Tomlin), Yolanda's daughter Lola (Lindsey Lohan), and two cowboys Lefty and Dusty (John C. Reilly and Woody Harrelson). Off-stage is film noir detective throwback come doorman Guy Noir (Kevin Kline), the Axeman (a very brief appearance form Tommy Lee Jones), pregnant line producer Molly (Maya Rudolph) and a mysterious woman in white (Virginia Madison). The ensemble do a great job of holding the film together and each gets a moment to shine on their own - though few shine as well as Lefty and Dusty in their finale.

    The film is good humoured throughout and filled with some colourful characters and spot-on performances. Despite these good aspects, it is ultimately a fairly hollow affair. Short of being a tribute to the long running show, there is little raison d'etre for the film. There is no real plot, just a concept that the characters act around.

    A Prairie Home Companion will not appeal to all audiences. Anyone that can appreciate the light-hearted spirit of the movie will be in for a treat, but anyone that can't enjoy the characters and music alone will find the film rather dull. Anybody interested in the work of Robert Altman would do far better to watch Nashville (Altman's opus) and Gosford Park (Altman's last truly exceptional film) before diving in to A Prairie Home Companion, though his existing fans will not be disappointed.

    The film will likely hit a home run with fans of the radio show that it is based on as it does an excellent job of capturing the charm and spirit of the legendary show. If this sounds like you, add an extra star to my rating!

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The film is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and is 16x9 enhanced.

    The image is a little on the soft side, but this is more to do with the look of the film than a poor transfer. Dark scenes are quite clear, although a little bright. The film has a deliberate brownish tint to add to the flavour of the show. This has translated well to DVD, although the slightly high brightness level is more evident as a result of this tint. There is no noticeable grain or low level noise in the film.

    There are no noticeable film artefacts. A small degree of macro blocking is occasionally noticeable, particularly in the background behind microphone cables and the like, but not enough to provide a real distraction. Thankfully there is no aliasing or similar video nasties visible, as the camera pans around the stage frequently.

    This disc contains no subtitles. This is rather disappointing as versions in other regions do have English subtitles.

    This is a dual layer disc, but the feature is entirely on one layer of the disc (so, no layer change during the movie).

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

Audio

    There is English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448 Kbps) and DTS 5.1 available for the feature.

    Both audio tracks appear to be a few milliseconds out of sync, and consistently so throughout the feature. Though it can be ignored for most of the speaking parts, this is rather irritating during the musical numbers as it gives a somewhat unnatural feel to them - particularly with things like handclaps.

    The dialogue levels are good and speech can be clearly understood at all times. The surround channels get a good workout throughout the film and add an excellent dimension to the movie, particularly during backstage scenes where the "live show" can be heard off in the distance. The LFE track gives the subwoofer an good workout during the musical numbers and the bass is crystal clear, particularly during the DTS track.

    One of the crowning achievements of the film is it's celebration of the music of the radio show, although it helps if you can get into old time country music! The music is rendered beautifully in both the DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks, though the DTS track adds a magnificent level of clarity and warmth.

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

Extras

    The disc comes with a modest number of extras, although many fans of Robert Altman are likely to feel that the extras are a bit lacking given that this was his last film.

The Making of A Prairie Home Companion Featurette (11:56)

    A brief, but fairly thorough making of featurette that focuses primarily on the acting side of the production. This is definitely the right focus as, like many of Altman's ensemble films, much of the film was improvised. Also of note was the "one take and no post production" rule for the musical pieces in the film, which worried a few of the cast!

Cast Interviews (9:15)

    A series of press kit interviews with many of the cast. Each is asked more of less the same couple of questions, "Were you aware of the radio show before making the movie?" and "What was it like working with Robert Altman"

Photo Gallery

    A series of 20 still production shots that can be navigated with the remote.

Theatrical Trailer (2:10)

    A generic theatrical trailer.

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 and Region 4 editions of the film are considerably different, but it is difficult to make a firm judgement between which is the better version. The technical presentation, particularly the sound, of the feature on the Region 4 version is superior to Region 1, but there are more extras on the Region 1 disc. The extras on each disc are almost entirely different, so serious fans may consider getting both editions. I favour the Region 4 Edition for its DTS soundtrack (although the slight sync fault is a tad frustrating), as it is well suited to this music focused movie, but anybody looking for Robert Altman's take on the film or subtitles may prefer Region 1.

    The Region 1 edition contains the following features not found on the Region 4 edition:

    The Region 4 edition contains the following features not found on the Region 1 edition:

Summary

    Robert Altman's final film is not his best, but it is quite typical of his work. It is tailor-made to please his fans and fans of the original A Prairie Home Companion radio show, but is unlikely to convert anybody familiar with either that is not already a fan.

    The disc comes with a modest assortment of extras.

    The video transfer is good, but a tad brighter than necessary. The audio transfer sounds great, but is a shade out of sync throughout.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Adam Gould (Totally Biolicious!)
Thursday, March 08, 2007
Review Equipment
DVDLG V8824W, using S-Video output
DisplayLG 80cm 4x3 CRT. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderPioneer VSX-D512. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials.
AmplificationPioneer VSX-D512
Speakers150W DTX front speakers, and a 100W centre and 2 surrounds, 12 inch PSB Image 6i powered sub

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