Angela's Ashes: Collector's Edition (1999)

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Released 24-Oct-2000

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Teaser Trailer-(1:54)
Featurette-Making Of-The Making of Angela's Ashes (26:30)
Interviews-Cast & Crew-(16:41)
Audio Commentary-Frank McCourt (Author)
Audio Commentary-Alan Parker (Director)
Theatrical Trailer-(2:14)
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1999
Running Time 139:52
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (85:54) Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Alan Parker
Studio
Distributor

Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Starring Emily Watson
Robert Carlyle
Case Soft Brackley-Transp
RPI $36.95 Music John Williams


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary 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 English
French
German
Dutch
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    If you haven't heard by now, Angela's Ashes is Frank McCourt's memoir of growing up poverty-stricken in depression era Ireland. It was the sort of novel that was a safe bet to buy your Mum for Christmas (if she hadn't read it already), as for a while there, it was the talk of the tennis and bridge clubs around the nation. In fact, it snowballed into something of a worldwide phenomenon, being translated into a squillion languages, and selling a gazillion copies. This was enough reason for me to avoid it. My partner, though, loved it, but didn't manage to persuade me to see it at the cinema, so it was with an ironic smile that we sat down to watch this one, and I was ready to hate it, on principle.

    The McCourt's are a typical Irish Catholic family: God-fearing, plenty of children, and immigrants to the New World. But when the troubles of their old world have followed them to the new, they return to Limerick - to the squalor, disease and poverty that they sought to leave behind, and the English legacy of a class system of which they are now at the bottom.

    Told as a series of connected vignettes representing the early memories of the author until he reaches adulthood, the story is held together by a voice-over by the now adult eldest child, Francis (consecutively played by Joe Breen, Ciaran Owens and Michael Legge, and voiced for the narration by Andrew Bennet). Not much of it is pretty: his father, Malachy (Robert Carlyle) is a serially unemployed but loveable drunk, and this leaves his mother, Angela (Emily Watson) to struggle through on her wits and on charity to try and raise a family as it is ravaged by the consumption (tuberculosis). Reminding me of a sequence from The Meaning Of Life (without the comedy), children seem to appear every time that Angela and Malachy even think about sleeping together, and in the depression, this meant one thing: more mouths going without. Young Frankie also has to step up to the plate in the providing department, and the only thing of sustenance available to him is the cinema, and his dreams of going back to America.

    Although the story belongs to Frank McCourt, the movie belongs to Emily Watson (Hilary and Jackie), whose brilliantly understated performance is the rock around which the remainder of the actors base their performances, a lot like Angela seemed to be for the McCourt family. Her dreamy, melancholy manner perfectly reflected the almost unbearable anguish of Angela. Robert Carlyle (Trainspotting), although not as notable, still manages to do a fantastic job portraying a good man in a bad life, although he was a little limp at times. The various Franks all do fantastically well in light of their age and the complexity of the character they were required to represent, and the transitions between the three are almost seamless.

    Director Alan Parker (The Commitments) managed to bring the cobbled streets of Limerick to life, with the assistance of some wonderful production design, costumes, and cinematography (by Michael Seresin) that was all shades of grey in the rainy, starkly lit streets of 1930s Ireland that were recreated in Dublin for the movie.

    At the end of it all, though, I just couldn't help but feel that the finished product was not greater than the sum of its parts. I really liked much of Angela's Ashes, and the final third of the movie (once Michael Legge takes over as Frank) is quite enthralling indeed. There is no real resolution to the story, though, and I couldn't help but think that there is quite a bit more there with respect to the motivations and reasons for the behaviour of many of the other characters, especially Frank's parents. I then realized, though, that the first two thirds of the story was told from the point of view of a child, and to a child, things happen without rhyme or reason, and the actions of adults are often accepted without question. Bearing this in mind upon viewing the movie a second time, I enjoyed it a lot more. The story could not have been told any other way without skewing the point of the book, and this is one of those films where to do that would have been suicide for the movie.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and is 16x9 enhanced. With the exception of a sprinkling of film artefacts, and some minor instances of aliasing, this really was a superb transfer from some fairly difficult source material.

    This is a clear, sharp transfer, displaying an abundance of detail throughout, including in the almost constant shadow generated by the dim, dark and rainy settings. Such dark shots on occasion produced some grain, but this was only apparent upon close inspection, and was probably intended for style reasons in any event. Low level noise was not a problem.

    Heavy filtering and film processing by the makers of this movie have been applied to give the film a dark, Dickensian feel, with greys and blacks dominating a drab, dreary, depression era colouring. There is the occasional splash of colour (such as some green grass, and Angela's red coat) but these instances are by no means vibrant, and are quite rare. The blacks are deep and solid, and the transfer faithfully represents what was present in the source.

    Film artefacts were a reasonably regular intrusion, and although they were by no means distracting, their presence on such recent source material is a little inexplicable. The worst example is at 27:20 where there is a sprinkling of black and white flecks, but the remainder of the instances were fairly isolated. I noticed no MPEG artefacts, however, there were a number of instances of aliasing, including at 11:25 on a striped shirt, at 19:40 on a tweed coat, at 26:05 and 45:35, on a brick wall, and at 118:06 on some roof shingles.

    This disc is RSDL formatted, with the layer change occurring at 85:54, and although it occurs precisely at the moment of an extremely unattractive still shot of a whole cooked lamb's head, the shot was still and silent nonetheless, and the brief pause caused only a minimum of distraction.

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

Audio

   There are five audio tracks on the DVD: I listened to the English track, as well as the two commentary tracks, giving the German and French tracks a miss. Being a dramatic period piece, mostly set indoors, there wasn't any real opportunity for the soundtrack to fully utilize the properties of the Dolby Digital 5.1 format, however, the track was appropriate for the material which it accompanied.

    Quite a few of the lines of dialogue throughout the feature could be considered to be difficult to understand, but this is always due to the thickness of the accents (especially amongst the actors of Irish origin), and is not a transfer issue. Audio sync was not a concern

    Legendary composer John Williams (Star Wars), who amazingly, has been nominated for Oscars 38 times (winning five) over 32 years provided the score, which was a beautifully broad orchestral piece, wonderfully suited to the movie. At times, however, I felt that it telegraphed the emotional content of the story without allowing the viewer to find those emotions for themselves, and was at times grandiose when something a little more personal was occurring.

    The main features of the soundtrack are the music, dialogue and voice-over, so accordingly, the surrounds weren't heard from much at all, and a very front-heavy mix resulted. There was a real lack of atmospheric effects, although the major action from the surrounds came in this guise. I thought that with the almost constant rain throughout the feature that the immersion value of the track could have been increased, but unfortunately, it wasn't, and the only time I really heard rain from the surrounds were at the 64:30 and 96:00 marks. Other rare but good uses of the surrounds for atmosphere occurred in the pub at 60:08 and at the train station at 74:45, in church around the 90:00 mark, and very occasionally in some of the outdoor scenes.

    There also wasn't much of an opportunity for the subwoofer to be utilized, however, it did make itself known to support the lower end of the sweeping score, as well as for the reasonably regular banging of feet on wooden floors.

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

Extras

    A excellent selection of extras are on offer, with the added bonus of a commentary from the author.

Menu

    The menu is static and silent featuring a still from the movie.

Teaser Trailer (1:54)

    This is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded sound. It is of excellent quality, however as with many films without American accents, there is no dialogue whatsoever to avoid scaring the American public into believing that they are not the only country in the world.

Theatrical Trailer (2:14)

    Presented in the same formats as the teaser above, this is also of excellent quality, and a good trailer in that it sets the scene of the movie without spoiling the plot.

Featurette - Ashes to Ashes: The Making of Angela's Ashes (26:30)

    This featurette is presented at 1.33:1 (with clips from the movie at 1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded sound. It is centred around interview clips with the director, but it also contains pieces from the author and the two adult stars. The fact that there were more clips from the movie than interviews or production footage means that it plays more like an extended trailer than a making-of.

Cast & Crew Interviews - Reflections on Angela's Ashes (16:41)

    The interviews presented here appear to be cut from the same footage as those appearing in the featurette above, and accordingly, are presented in the same format, as well as covering some of the same material. As well as the director, author, Emily Watson and Robert Carlyle, there are some very short clips with the three actors playing the author at various ages. Although the subject matter progresses well from discussions of the book, to the script, to the actors and on to the movie itself, again, there are too many clips from the movie in light of the relatively short length of this feature.

Commentary With Author Frank McCourt

    As with all of the accents in the movie, the author's Irish lilt is very easy on the ears. He speaks almost constantly throughout the feature, however the pauses became a little more regular as the feature continued. Unfortunately, he basically discusses what was apparent on the screen, and does not seem recognize the fact that listeners will have already seen the movie (as well as the other extras for that matter), rather than watching it the first time "with" him. Occasionally, he would lapse into some excellent background information (he obviously has a wealth to draw on), but otherwise, his comments were fairly tedious, and disappointing in light of the treat that I was expecting.

Commentary With Director Alan Parker

    Alan Parker's soft English tones are also extremely easy to listen to. There are a few pauses, however, almost all of the comments offered are worthwhile, without any deviations onto irrelevant tangents. The director covers a wide range of topics, from production information to the actors, and the construction of the movie from the novel. I would have liked a little more on the technical side, though, especially with respect to the cinematography and related topics to accompany the excellent information provided concerning the production design. A worthwhile addition, and a pleasure to hear, especially if you enjoyed the feature.

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 releases appear to share identical features, and accordingly PAL formatting tips the balance in favour of the Region 4 release over the NTSC formatting of its Region 1 counterpart.

Summary

    I enjoyed Angela's Ashes a lot more than I thought that I would - it was a faithful rendition of a book that has captured the imagination of readers worldwide. A brilliant performance from Emily Watson helped overcome some of the shortcomings that are inherent in a movie that is mostly from the perspective of a child, as did all of the performances in a technically fantastic movie. The video quality is excellent, despite some extremely minor problems, and the audio is flawless, however, not drawn from an overly dynamic source. Despite the volume of extras attached to this Collector's Edition, they are a little lacklustre, and an excellent commentary from the director saves the package from being considered by me to be pedestrian. Fans of the book, though, should have a field day.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Anthony Curulli (read my bio)
Thursday, February 01, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 2109, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre.
AmplificationPioneer VSX-D608
SpeakersFront: Yamaha NS10M, Rear: Wharfedale Diamond 7.1, Center: Wharfedale Sapphire, Sub: Aaron 120W

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