Nell (1994)

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Released 14-Nov-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Production Notes
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1994
Running Time 108:00
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Michael Apted

Magna Home Entertainment
Starring Jodie Foster
Liam Neeson
Natasha Richardson
Richard Libertini
Nick Searcy
Robin Mullins
Case Click
RPI $34.95 Music Mark Isham

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
Not 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 No

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

Plot Synopsis

    Nell is not based on a true story, but it could be.

    An old woman who lives reclusively is found dead by the boy who delivers groceries. Her cabin is quite isolated, and it is pure luck that she was found so soon after she died. The sheriff (Nick Searcy) takes the local doctor out to check. The doctor, Jerome Lovell (Liam Neeson), is curious about how the body is laid out, and checks the rest of the cabin. He discovers a young woman hiding in the rafters. She panics at the sight of him, and screams out in a language neither he nor the sheriff understand. He looks in the family bible, and finds a short note asking whoever reads it to look after Nell. He comes to the conclusion that the young woman is Nell (Jodie Foster) - he's right.

    The doctor consults "the experts" - specialists at a psychiatric hospital in the nearest large city. Dr Paula Olsen (Natasha Richardson) takes a particular interest, backed up by a respected specialist, Dr Alexander Paley (Richard Libertini). The experts want to drag Nell into their hospital so they can study her like a bug under a microscope. Dr Lovell feels responsible for Nell - he found the note, after all - and his empathy for her situation makes him disagree.

    The sheriff tips him off, a day or so later, that the experts have gotten a commitment order to put Nell into the psychiatric hospital; the sheriff gives him a few hours in which to work. The doctor manages to get his own court order to say that they cannot seize Nell without her informed consent - kinda difficult if they can't speak her language... In court the judge gives them 3 months to observe Nell, and gather more information about her.

    The doctor arranges someone to cover his practice, and camps out near Nell's cabin to observe her. He is a bit surprised to see a houseboat turn up (Nell's cabin is on a lake shore), with the lovely Dr Paula Olsen aboard, also planning to study Nell.

    The movie has a number of themes: what is best for Nell? Should she be "educated"? Should she be taken away? Is she better off in the hands of someone who cares about her, even if that person is less skilled in helping? Or should she be a lab rat for the experts? (yeah, that's a biased way of putting it, but I'm allowed to have opinions, too). One theme they don't much explore is that she is heir to a considerable amount of land - who gets that if she is judged incompetent? Who knows what's best for her? 

    There are one or two unlikely events in this movie, but they are OK, because so much of it is quite credible. Jodie Foster is at her best, even when she can't use English to enchant the audience. Liam Neeson is excellent, and Natasha Richardson is very good.

    The director, Michael Apted, is well known for his 7-Up series of documentaries. What I hadn't realised was that he was also responsible for Gorillas in the Mist, and a number of other excellent films. He was a good choice for this film.

    If you don't mind a "thinking" movie, I can recommend this one.

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Transfer Quality


    The picture is presented in an aspect ratio of about 2.35:1, but is NOT 16x9 enhanced. That's a crime. This movie has some spectacular scenery, and it cries out for 16x9 enhancement to show it off to full advantage.

    The image is nice and clear, perhaps a little soft, with reasonable shadow detail. It's hard to tell if there's any low-level noise.

    The colour is marvellous, with lush greens, clear blues, and good skin tones. There's neither oversaturation nor colour bleed to mar the image.

    There are a few tiny film artefacts, but they are not troubling. The huge bug-bear is continual aliasing and shimmer, greatly exacerbated by the lack of 16x9 enhancement. Consider just one small portion of the film: at 20:44 we get major shimmer, while at 21:36 we have serious aliasing (even worse at 25:05, on window blinds - it flickers distractingly). There's horrible Gibbs effect in the credits (again, because of the lack of 16x9 enhancement). There's some light grain.

    There are no subtitles.

    The disc is single-sided and single layered. That means no layer change, but it may mean that they used a bit more compression than was desirable - perhaps some of the artefacting would have been reduced if it had been spread over two layers.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There is one soundtrack: English Dolby Digital 2.0, not surround-encoded. Lots of choice in soundtracks....

    The dialogue is very clear and easy to understand (at least, the English is - Nell's language is near incomprehensible at the start). There are no visible audio sync problems.

    Mark Isham's score is beautifully suited to the calm of the wilderness around Nell's cabin, and the way Nell approaches life.

    The soundtrack is not surround encoded, so the surrounds and subwoofer get to take a break.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



    The menus are static, with the theme music behind the main menu.

Production Notes

    Forty pages of notes about the production of this movie.

Cast and Crew

    Biographies, not filmographies


    Six pages providing translations of Nell's language to English.

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 version of this disc is yet to be announced - looks like we have the first release - I just hope they choose to give 16x9 enhancement to other versions when they appear.


    Nell is a fascinating film, presented nicely on DVD, except for the lack of 16x9 enhancement.

    The video quality is poor, mostly because of the lack of 16x9 enhancement.

    The audio quality is fine.

    The extras are interesting, but limited.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Tony Rogers (bio-degrading: making a fool of oneself in a bio...)
Monday, December 31, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDArcam DV88, using Component output
DisplaySony VPH-G70 CRT Projector, QuadScan Elite scaler (Tripler), ScreenTechnics 110. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVC-A1SE
SpeakersFront Left and Right: Krix Euphonix, Centre: Krix KDX-C Rears: Krix KDX-M, Subwoofer: Krix Seismix 5

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DVD Net - Michael C - Darren R (read my bio (fun for the whole family))

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