Lorenzo's Oil (1992)

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Released 24-Dec-2001

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1992
Running Time 129:38
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (64:15) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By George Miller
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Nick Nolte
Susan Sarandon
Peter Ustinov
Zack O'Malley Greenburg
Case ?
RPI $19.95 Music Various


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
German 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
German
Dutch
Swedish
Norwegian
Danish
Finnish
Smoking Yes, Augusto apparently is a heavy smoker
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, pictures of children "saved" by Lorenzo's Oil

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

Plot Synopsis

    Lorenzo's Oil is a powerful, moving, and inspiring film based on the true story of how two loving parents search for a way to prevent their only son of dying of a rare hereditary disease. Directed, co-produced and co-written by Australian George Miller (Mad Max series, Witches of Eastwick, Babe: Pig In The City) with cinematography by fellow Australian John Seale, the film was nominated for two Oscars (Best Actress, and Best Screenplay) but did not win any. The film also raises some interesting questions about the politics of medicine and scientific research.

    Augusto Odone (Nick Nolte) works for the World Bank and his wife Michaela (Susan Sarandon) is a linguist as well as mother of Lorenzo (played by various actors including Noah Banks and Zack O'Malley Greenburg). At the beginning of the film, we see a young, happy and precocious Lorenzo in Africa with his best friend Omuori (Maduka Steady), where the family has been stationed for the last few years. However, Augusto's job now calls for him to relocate to the United States and so Lorenzo bids farewell to his friends.

    Pretty soon, Lorenzo starts developing some worrying symptoms, including throwing wild tantrums, losing his hearing and losing his co-ordination. His parents seek medical advice, and eventually are told the worst possible news that a parent can hear: Lorenzo has been diagnosed as suffering from adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD) - a rare, inherited, degenerative nerve disease that destroys "myelin" (the white matter that insulates the nerves). Losing myelin will eventually inhibit the brain's ability to control the body and the person eventually dies: blind, deaf, mute and paralysed. The disease once diagnosed is fatal within two years.

    Augusto and Michaela initially react pretty much as you or I might faced with a similar situation. Shock, anger, blame, despair - the film shows them cycling through all these emotions. However, they refuse to give up. When told that the disease was so rare that little or no research was being done to cure or prevent it, they set themselves the task of reading as much about it and absorbing as many medical texts as they can, even though neither of them has a medical or scientific background.

    Eventually, through sheer perseverance plus a miracle or two, they manage to find a treatment which halts the development of the symptoms, called Lorenzo's Oil. In the process, they adopt a do-it-yourself approach to medicine that raises the ire of scientists and even other parents of children afflicted with the disease.

    Other characters in the film include Dierdre (Kathleen Wilhoit), Michaela's sisters, as well as Professor Gus Nikolais (Peter Ustinov), the ALD researcher who helps the Odones. It also includes a cameo role by Don Suddaby who plays himself - the retired English chemist who managed to synthesize erucic acid - a key component of the treatment.

    I won't spoil the film by revealing exactly how they found the treatment and the development of their understanding of the disease. Let's just say that it is very interesting watching and even exciting. George Miller, himself a trained medical doctor, does a great job explaining the biochemical theory behind the treatment in a way that even I - who struggled through biochemistry during my first year at uni - understood and appreciated. The film does not "dumb down" any explanations, nor resort to unnecessary jargon.

    I must admit that I thought this film would be boring, but surprisingly it is very tightly edited and very few scenes are superfluous. It is also well-balanced, and devotes equal time to the parents, Lorenzo, the science and the politics of scientists and other parents. It steers away from sentimental clichés without losing any of the emotional impact of the situation.

    The real life events in the story took place from 1984 to 1987 and the film provides actual dates. The film itself was made in 1992. Lorenzo was in an advanced stage of the disease by the time the treatment was developed. Although it saved his life, it is unable to reverse his loss of speech and motor functions. However, the treatment has saved many other lives as well as prevented the onset of symptoms for other sufferers of the disease. The film ends showing healthy children who are able to avoid the symptoms of the disease by taking Lorenzo's Oil.

    Given that this is a true story, where are the characters now? Is Lorenzo still alive? Can he talk? According to a recent interview with Augusto Odone published in the New Scientist on 26 January 2002, Lorenzo is still alive and is twenty three years old. However, he is still bedridden and his condition has not changed much from where we left him at the end of the film. Augusto received an honorary doctorate in medicine as a result of Lorenzo's Oil. He still holds hopes that Lorenzo will one day regain his faculties through the regeneration of myelin and Augusto has founded the Myelin Project to try and accelerate research into this. Sadly, Michaela Odone died of lung cancer in June 2000 at age 60. Augusto still plays tapes of her reading stories for Lorenzo to listen to.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    This film is presented in widescreen 1.78:1 with 16x9 enhancement, which is pretty close to the intended aspect ratio of 1.85:1.

    The years have done their deed on this film, and the film source, although reasonably clean, shows some signs of low level grain. Similarly, colour levels although good tend to veer towards the reds indicating some signs of colour fading subsequently corrected during the telecine process. Similarly, black levels are okay but contrast is slightly below par.

    The transfer is on the soft side.

    In terms of artefacts, the presence of shimmering during the opening and closing titles lead me to suspect this is an NTSC transfer upconverted to PAL. Either that, or a non-16x9 enhanced transfer which has been upsampled.

    A moderate level of edge enhancement has been applied leading to halos around the titles. Finally, there is a slight amount of telecine wobble during the opening.

    Apart from all that though, the film is watchable but will not win any awards for video quality.

    There are a number of subtitle tracks on this disc and I turned on the English subtitles briefly. Interestingly enough, the film normally subtitles dialogue spoken in Italian, but if you turn on the English subtitles the film will transcribe the Italian dialogue literally and offer no translation.

    This is a single sided dual layered disc (RSDL) and the layer change occurs at 64:15 during a natural pause in between scenes in which the screen is blank so it is virtually unnoticeable (apart from the slight interruption in background ambient noise).

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

Audio

    There are two audio tracks on this disc: English and German, both in Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s). I listened to only the English audio track.

    Interestingly enough, the DVD packaging indicates that the audio tracks are in mono, but on listening the English track at least is definitely in stereo. Moreover, even though the Dolby surround flag has not been turned on in the audio track, engaging the Dolby Pro Logic decoder revealed that the track has retained the Dolby Stereo encoding as background music and some of the ambient noises have been distributed to the rear channels.

    Apart from that pleasant surprise, the audio track is very average. The film is of course very dialogue-focused but background music (particularly operatic selections as well as a number of other classical music pieces) are used quite effectively in the film. I did not detect any issues with dialogue synchronisation. The dialogue was fairly easy to understand and I did not have to engage the subtitle track to catch low level conversation.

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

Extras

    This could have been a great special edition DVD. Can you imagine extras such as background information on ALD and the latest research findings, featurettes and interviews with the real Odones, photos of Lorenzo today, a featurette on scientific opinion on the treatment, cast and crew commentary on the scenes ... Well, tough, we don't get any of that on this bare bones disc. All we get is a trailer.

Menu

    The menus are static but are 16x9 enhanced.

Theatrical Trailer (2:18)

    This appears to be in 1.33:1 pan & scan, and also features a Dolby Digital 2.0 track that is surround encoded even though the surround flag has not been turned on. The trailer seems somewhat soft and grainy.

R4 vs R1

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

    This title does not appear to have been released yet in Region 1.

Summary

    Lorenzo's Oil is well worth watching even if you do not like sob stories or pseudo documentaries. It is well filmed, and I was surprised it did not receive more critical acclaim.

    The video transfer is average and reflects the film's age.

    The audio transfer is surprisingly not only in stereo (despite what the back cover says) but seems to be surround encoded as well (even though the surround flag is not set).

    Extras are limited to a theatrical trailer.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Christine Tham (read my biography)
Thursday, February 07, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-626D, using Component output
DisplaySony VPL-VW11HT LCD Projector, ScreenTechnics 16x9 matte white screen (254cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationDenon AVR-3300
SpeakersFront and rears: B&W CDM7NT; centre: B&W CDMCNT; subwoofer: B&W ASW2500

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Lorenzo -
Lorenzo Died the day after is 30th birthday in 2008 -