The Virgin Suicides (1999)

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Released 10-Aug-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Menu Audio
Featurette-Making Of-(23:04)
Music Video-Playground Love-Air
Theatrical Trailer-1.78:1, not 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0 (2:19)
Gallery-Photo-1.78:1, 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0 (1:18)
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 1999
Running Time 93:06 (Case: 97)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (58:42) Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 4 Directed By Sofia Coppola
Studio
Distributor

Paramount Home Entertainment
Starring James Woods
Kathleen Turner
Kirsten Dunst
Josh Hartnett
Scott Glenn
Michael Pare
Danny DeVito
Giovanni Ribisi
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $39.95 Music Air


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

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

Plot Synopsis

    Your father is Francis Ford Coppola, responsible for some great films as a director and as a producer. As a result, you have spent much of your life hanging around the film industry and even been responsible for shooting the odd behind-the-scenes featurette about your father's films. I suppose it is pretty much inevitable that the bug will be caught and your involvement in the industry in a more direct manner is pretty much unavoidable. But then you have that big stumbling block - your old man is a big player in the industry. Still, even that has some possible assistance when you come across a book that you just have to make into a film. "Hey daddy, can you buy me the rights" type stuff. Oops, they are already owned by others. Still, you go ahead and write a screenplay that even impresses your old man, who probably sees dozens per week. So off you go to convince a studio about your screenplay and your desire to make the film. You succeed and thus the true labour of love starts.

    So that pretty much describes the situation of Sofia Coppola and her deep interest in the book by Jeffrey Eugenides. Her father might be a master film maker, but on the evidence of The Virgin Suicides, the talent in the family is not confined to him. Whilst this is by no means a perfect film, it is definitely a strong first effort and a most interesting one to boot.

    The Virgin Suicides is set twenty five years ago in a small community in Michigan, and revolves around the household of the Lisbons. Ronald Lisbon (James Woods) is a mathematics teacher at the local school, and lives in suburbia with his wife (Kathleen Turner) and their five lovely daughters - Cecilia (Hanna Hall), Lux (Kirsten Dunst), Bonnie (Chelse Swain), Mary (A.J. Cook) and Therese (Leslie Hayman). Mrs Lisbon has a rather heavy-handed approach to raising her daughters and this includes severe restrictions upon what they can and cannot do, which for teenagers is not a great thing. The other significant part of the story is the neighbourhood boys who find themselves bewitched by the beautiful Lisbon sisters. Indeed, the story is told from the perspective of those neighbourhood boys and in the form of a retrospective narrative as they look back those twenty five years in search of an answer for what happened to the Lisbon sisters. And that is as much of the plot as I intend to divulge, other than to say that as the title suggests, suicide is involved.

    I went into this review with no inkling of what the film was about, having selected it purely because of the presence of Kirsten Dunst. Having now seen the film, I believe that it is one where the fewer expectations one has going in to the film, the better the understanding that will result. And that is not to suggest that this is a film that is really deep, but rather that it is a story that has no real end and no real answer, merely more questions. In that respect it is a most satisfying story that has been created by Sofia Coppola, and thankfully she did resist the temptation to wrap everything up nice and neatly.

    Like so many a labour of love, it shows in every beat of the film. Whilst obviously lacking the dynamics of an action film, The Virgin Suicides has this wonderful pace to it, which never drags but never rushes you anywhere. Sofia Coppola has taken the time to let us appreciate the despair, the puzzlement, the wonder and the joy of the experiences in the film. She has allowed the actors the space to bring their characters alive and the whole thing is up there on the screen to see. James Woods is as steady an actor as you could wish for, and this is another fine effort from him. The reactions to the situations he sees are terrific and he brings a solidity and believability to the role of a father trying to cope with situations that are basically beyond coping with. It has been a while since Kathleen Turner has graced our screens, at least in my recollection, and this is no Kathleen Turner of Romancing The Stone fame. This is a much more mature actress and she brings a terrific bland veneer to the role of the mother who can see no wrong in the way she has brought up her daughters.

    Kirsten Dunst is proving to be something of a moderate surprise as an actress, and she has a bit more depth than the mere good looks that seems to be driving the adolescent market rather mad. Whilst still a long way short of being a great actress, she brings a delightful coquettishness to the role of Lux, the pivotal lust interest of the film. However, her fellow sisters are no less believable throughout, and as a group this family, whilst a tad unusual, is easily believed and accepted. Josh Hartnett plays the obligatory young male hunk, the guy all the girls swoon over, pretty well and it would seem that this is a role that suits him well enough. He is, however, perhaps the least believable character here for me. Scott Glenn and Danny De Vito make virtual cameos here, and neither are especially memorable.

    With a nicely crafted story, and an obviously sympathetic director, the result is a fine film. Whilst I am not going to proclaim Sofia Coppola the second coming of her old man, there is every indication here that if she so chooses, she might well be a director to watch given the right sort of material. Approach this with an open mind and you too might find something here that engages. It might not be pure entertainment, but it is a film that rewards the viewing.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Okay, this is a recent film and therefore we have every right to expect a fine transfer. We get it, and I would suggest that of all the Paramount DVDs I have seen thus far, both reviewed and watched for pleasure, this has the best transfer yet. The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and it is 16x9 enhanced.

    Comments upon the transfer are quite short in all respects. A very nice transfer, wonderfully sharp and wonderfully detailed, with nothing much in the way of anything to blemish it. Clarity is wonderful, and as far as I can see there is nothing here in the way of grain. Shadow detail is pretty fine and there is no place where I could really fault what was given to us. There is no low level noise in the transfer. In my view, this is very near reference quality throughout.

    A number of artistic choices have been made with the colours here, and some shots have been given a deliberate steely blue look to them. Within the context of that look, the colours here are very good indeed, very nicely saturated and nicely vibrant. Some of the daytime scenes have some gorgeous vivacity to them, and the whole thing (apart from the deliberately steely looking bits) looks utterly believable. There is no hint of oversaturation as far as I can see and colour bleed is a non-issue too.

    There did not appear to be any significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer. There did not appear to be any significant film-to-video artefacts in the transfer, although some minor and inconsequential aliasing is possibly apparent here and there. I think there might have been one or two film artefacts in the whole film that I can recall, and they were not at all disruptive to the film. Really excellent stuff in general.

    This is an RSDL formatted DVD with the layer change coming at 58:42. This is where reference quality goes out the window. It is poorly placed as it comes during motion (of balloons) and is very obvious even if it is just before the scene change. Within one minute either side of the chosen point, there are a number of places where I believe the layer change could have been inserted and been far less noticeable, most obviously at 59:14 during a still shot of the car radio.

    There is just the one subtitle option on the DVD - English. I was going along thinking it was a pretty good effort, with a decent font size and quite sharp and clear. Then it started to go awry a little: bits of dialogue missed (not good in a dialogue driven film), incorrect subtitling (defence cornerback subtitled as defence quarterback) and plain spelling errors (King and Queen of the prom became Kind and Queen of the prom).

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

Audio

    Another DVD where there is just the one soundtrack on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack.

    Being a very dialogue-driven film, it is important that the dialogue comes up well in the transfer. Broadly speaking it does, but there are some wide variances in the dialogue level at times, and unfortunately sometimes the off-screen spoken dialogue from the neighbours does not come over too well. You might want to edge the volume up just a little on this one. There are no problems with audio sync in the transfer.

    The original music comes from Air, and a suitably ethereal sounding effort it is at times. I thought it a fine effort in all respects. It is accompanied by some rather good popular music from the 1970s too, although I might be biased since one of my favourite bands gets two songs in the film! I would not mind getting the soundtrack CD for this film, and that probably says as much as I need to say about it.

    Whilst it is a dialogue-driven film, we have still been given the full Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, albeit one that does not make that much use of the bass channel. With the higher bitrate, this is a wonderfully clear and open sounding effort that makes good use of the surround channels. Whilst some of the off-screen dialogue could perhaps have been handled a bit better through the rear channels, the overall soundscape is encompassing and quite engrossing. It picks up just about every little nuance in the dialogue, and presents it without any sort of significant problem. Indeed, the only real note of complaint I have about the whole DVD is that there is a slip blip in the sound at 53:05, but even that is more than likely in the source material. Excellent stuff in general.

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

Extras

    Something of an improved package from Paramount on this release, which is nice to see. It even has a picture disc, so much nicer than those plain old printed lettering ones. Mind you, I cannot help but feel that a commentary here might have been most interesting.

Menu

    Nothing especially terrific about them, but reasonably themed in accordance with the opening credits of the film. Unusually, the main menu is devoid of any audio enhancement, but the special features menu is so enhanced. All menus are 16x9 enhanced.

Featurette - The Making Of The Virgin Suicides (23:04)

    Not an especially terrific contribution to the genre, but at least it does give an insight into the making of the film. Some of the cast interviews are a bit too much in the vein of "the director is great" cloyingness, but otherwise pretty worthwhile. Shot by Sofia's mom, sometimes the video recorder goes a little wonky and the transfer descends into shadow detail hell, but overall the quality is quite decent if not anywhere in the league of the main feature. It is presented in a Full Frame format with film excerpts in the correct ratio. It is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with at-times ropey sounding Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

Music Video - Playground Love - Air (3:21)

    Quite nice in a slightly bland sort of way, the video itself is far more interesting than the song. It is presented in a Full Frame format and is not 16x9 enhanced. The Dolby Digital 2.0 sound is very decent.

Theatrical Trailer (2:19)

    One of the better trailers I have seen in recent times, mainly because it does not give away every major plot point in its two minute length. Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Nothing wrong with this at all.

Gallery - Photo (1:18)

    Self-running, this comprises two photos to a page and runs to about 36 photos of cast and crew. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, this time being 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 musical accompaniment.

R4 vs R1

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

    This Region 4 DVD would seem to be pretty much equivalent to the Region 1 release. Whilst I had trouble locating reliable reviews, owing to Internet access problems, in the absence of any significant differences, the Region 4 would have to be the way to go since it is so good in the transfer department.

Summary

    I would hardly call The Virgin Suicides mindless entertainment, but if you don't mind a bit of thought in your films, then this is right up your alley. It helps that the film has been given an excellent transfer in virtually every respect, and the extras package is above the norm from the source. I would strongly recommend you check out what Sofia Coppola can do as a director, rather than just dismissing her as Francis' little girl. I would really love to see what she follows this up with.

    One little point that Paramount are going to have to improve - just about every DVD from them that I have shows incorrect timings on the slick. The timings used are the US timings and have not been adjusted to account for the 4% speed up of PAL formatting it would seem. Small point but one that needs to be addressed in my view.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Monday, September 03, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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