Once (2006)

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Released 7-Feb-2008

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Musical Audio Commentary-Director Carney and Cast Hansard and Irglova
Audio Commentary-Musical Hansard, Irglova, Carney
Featurette-Making Of-Making of a Modern Day Musical
Featurette-Making Of-More Guy, More Girl
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2006
Running Time 82:59 (Case: 86)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By John Carney John Carney
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Studio
Distributor
Icon Entertainment Starring John Carney John Carney
Alaistair Foley Alaistair Foley
Catherine Hansard Catherine Hansard
Glen Hansard Glen Hansard
Kate Haugh Kate Haugh
Senan Haugh Senan Haugh
Darren Healy Darren Healy
Gerard Hendrick Gerard Hendrick
Bill Hodnett Bill Hodnett
Markéta Irglová Markéta Irglová
Danuse Ktrestova Danuse Ktrestova
Pat McGrath Pat McGrath
Sean Miller Sean Miller
Case Amaray-Transparent-Dual
RPI ? Music Glen Hansard Glen Hansard
Markéta Irglová Markéta Irglová
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Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None 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 Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

  You only need to look at the musical films released in the last couple of years to know that individualism in musical cinema is alive and well. From the high school "hooray for everything!" of High School Musical, to the pizzazz of Dreamgirls, the retro fun of Hairspray, penguins in Happy Feet to the dark world of Sweeney Todd there is no one musical style that has dominated the box office.

From an entirely different spectrum comes Once , a "modern musical" that may well be the best date movie around. Charming, sincere and very romantic Once was an indie hit of last year at the cinema and, all things being equal, should do even better on DVD. For the more mature amongst us this film is best described as Before Sunrise with singing. This is due to the fact that it presents a couple in an instant when their feelings coalesce into an immediate but perhaps unreachable love.

The Guy (Glen Hansard) is a Dublin busker who yearns for some professional recognition. He also yearns for his girlfriend who has recently left him to live in London. He ekes out less than a living from the strum trade and makes the rest of what is needed to get by working in his fathers vacuum cleaner repair business. He is earnest and caring but his "career" is never likely to take off as he lacks the essential drive to take his talent to the next level.

In the informative directors commentary filmmaker John Carney says that the title of the film carries a dual meaning. Not only does it refer to the fleeting moment in which love passes by to be snapped up or forever missed but it also refers to the way of thinking, not just in Ireland, that once something happens then we will succeed. In other words a motivational lethargy that could see the Guy's talent wasted on street corners.

After an unfortunate incident with a drug addict the Guy meets the Girl (Marketa Irglova). She is a poverty stricken immigrant from Czechoslovakia with a young child. She too earns a meagre income from selling The Big Issue around town. The Girl ( we never learn their names) is struck by the lyricism of the Guy's songs. The two bond in a way that only two lost souls can and so begins an unconventional love story. The Girl is also a musician and the Guy is equally struck at her emotional piano playing.

To detail much more of the plot would probably be a spoiler as this short film contains only a few plot turns. Suffice to say that both the Guy and the Girl are forever changed and enriched by their time together and each is motivated to change and grow.

The film is billed as a modern musical which begs some explanation. For unlike just about every other film the songs in Once rise organically out of the story and comment on the thinking of the characters. Further, they are by and large performed live by the characters as part of the process of playing on the streets and recording in a studio. Therefore the songs are themselves a bittersweet commentary on the on-screen action.

Although enjoyment of the film is dependant upon liking the songs it must be said that there is much to like in the music of Hansard and Irglova. Both are professional musicians. Hansard plays with the Irish band The Frames (director Carney used to play bass for them) and Irglova is a classically trained pianist. Think soulful guitar based songs and you can't go far wrong.

The songs are instantly memorable and integral to the story. One, Falling Slowly has been nominated for an Oscar for Best Song. It missed out on a Grammy for best song and the soundtrack album also missed out (to the Beatles for Love, no less).

As musicians the pair make pretty fine actors. Director Carney explains that he shot as much of the film as possible in zoom mode from a distance to allow the performers to feel free of the intrusive camera. This allows very natural performances to come through and prevents the film becoming too Hollywood. The pair became a real life couple through the filming process and Hansard says in the commentary that whilst most movies require actors to behave as if they know each other this film required them to pretend they didn't know each other. As the film is composed largely of music it is no suprise that both felt more comfortable when performing music. Some of these moments are key scenes that viewing couples may make into "their moments".

The film should not be confused for a West End musical at any time. The relationship between the two is confusing and difficult, the film was shot on a shoestring and there are no stars. What it does have in spades is a freshness and immediacy that could be bottled.

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

Transfer Quality

Video

    Once comes to DVD in a 1.78:1 transfer which is as close as you need to be to the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. It is 16x9 enhanced.

The good news is that the film looks much better on DVD than it did in the cinema. The bad news is that the picture quality is still not all that good. In the directors commentary John Carney talks about the difficulty working within a tight budget as well as shooting on digital video. This was particularly so for the scenes where the couple are walking through crowded streets and Carney didnt want the public to know that they were shooting a movie. The opening shot where a local character makes off with the guys busking earnings was filmed in long shots with a hidden camera.

With that in mind the film looks pretty much as you would expect a low budget digital movie to look. There is plenty of noise about, particlarly in the night scenes, and the image is generally soft. Colours are alright but it is not a dayglo movie and the palette is muted to begin with. Compression of itself is not a problem and there are no physical problems with the transfer.

The image quality is not offputting. Rather it adds to the enjoyment of the film. This is not, despite a few maudlin scenes, a Hollywood romantic comedy. It is a tale of love at the bottom of the social pile.

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

Audio

    Once is presented with a Dolby 2.0 soundtrack running at 224 Kb/s.

What, I hear you say? 2.0? Again what seems like a deficiency in the transfer is part of the overall charm of the film. Take the first meeting between the Guy and the Girl. It is on a street corner in the evening. He is singing his heart out. The music is recorded live and the guitar has a wonderful raw quality. It seems real and the best accolade I can give the film is that it is a real love story.

Therefore, for all its sonic limitations the DVD has a raw and immediate charm that I feel may have been lost if it was mixed for 5.1 surround sound.

It is worth pointing out that the DVD which features English subtitles has a major advantage over the cinematic release. The Guy has a strong Irish accent and the Girl has a strong Czech accent. Some of the supporting characters are even thicker in their brogues. Therefore much was lost at the cinema trying to work out what they were saying. I watched the film with subtitles this time and felt the richer for it.

The music is the core of the film and there is no doubt that Hansard has one of those soulful voices that goes straight to the heart.

The Special Edition of this DVD contains a copy of the Swell Season CD from the pair (more about this below) which is a great bonus. Try watching the film and not at least humming a few tunes.

Otherwise the soundtrack has no physical flaws. Audio sync is fine. Although it is not a surround mix there is enough bass in the recording scenes to bring the subwoofer briefly to life.

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

Extras

Once contains several extras.

Audio Commentary - Director John Carney and Performers Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova

The first commentary track might as well be called a directors commentary. That is not such a bad thing as Carney is an engaging speaker who gives an entertaining outline of the pre-production hassles and the eventual joy of making the film. Hansard and Irglova are present but they are clearly only happy to be singing when confronted with a microphone. Carney invested a good deal of his heart and soul in the project which was touted to be a vehicle for Cillian Murphy. Carney points out the techniques he used to get the best out his performers as well as how he stretched the film's meagre budget. From time to time the actors chime in with some personal asides.

An interesting commentary.

Audio Commentary: Musical Commentary with Hansard, Irglova and Carney

The musical commentary is a slightly odd affair. Really it is a chance to get Hansard and Irglova together to talk about the songs however they are fairly quiet and don't actually offer the greatest insight. The commentary comes in and out when you least expect it. My view is that this probably would have been better if they were asked to comment on selected scenes. It does pick up towards the end when Carney strays in to offer his thoughts.

Featurette-Making Of a Modern Day Musical 12.36

This featurette is really an on the set look at the making of the film. There is nothing wrong with that and it is a lot of fun to see the small cast and crew work together in sometimes confined spaces to bring the film to the viewer. Carney stressed that from the beginning he felt that, aside from the basic plot outline, the script was really just a guideline and he wanted the actors to feel free to express what ever they felt was right. This is key to the success of the film as we feel as though we are watching the birth of a real relationship.

Featurette-More Guy, More Girl 9.32

The second featurette is just as interesting although it is not really any different. There is just more on the set material and interviews with the key cast and Carney as well as the producer.

Theatrical Trailer 1.59

A nice little trailer for the film.

Extra Album : The Swell Season

The Special Edition of the film comes with the album The Swell Season by Hansard and Irglova. This bears some explanation. The film took a long time to get going due to pre-production issues. The pair had worked together writing songs and the album came out bearing some of the tunes that would eventually find their way into the finished film. This caused some consternation for the Academy who were forced to consider whether Falling Slowly could be nominated for an Oscar if it was originally featured on an album before the film came out - they eventually decided that because it was written for the film it met the criteria for nomination.

The Swell Season contains some of the songs re-recorded and used in the film as well as other soulful ballads. Ironically I found it less compelling than the film music precisely because it is so nicely recorded that it lacks the immediacy of the music from the film.

Still it is a nice album for a cold winters night.

R4 vs R1

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

   This DVD is available in other regions carrying the same set of features. The only exception is a couple of "webisodes" which apparently appeared on the internet during the films run at the cinema. They are apparently brief. I would buy the Region 4 and, if you have fallen in love with the film and cast, the Special Edition.

Summary

    Once is a lovely indie film that captured the hearts of many on its cinematic release.

For lovers of the film there is no question that the DVD is a great buy. It is not spectacular in look and sound but that is half the charm.

The extras are excellent whether or not you go for the edition featuring the album.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Monday, February 18, 2008
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer BDP-LX70 Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output
DisplayPioneer PDP-5000EX. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR605
SpeakersJBL 5.1 Surround and Subwoofer

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