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Details At A Glance

Category Drama Theatrical Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - 1.78:1 non-16x9, Dolby Digital 5.1
Rating Other Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - Dolby Digital City
Year Released 1998 Commentary Tracks None
Running Time 120:02 minutes Other Extras Featurette-Behind The Scenes (5:20)
Filmographies-Cast & Crew
RSDL/Flipper RSDL (71:39)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 2,4 Director Chris Columbus

Columbia Tristar
Starring Julia Roberts
Susan Sarandon
Ed Harris
Jena Malone
Case Transparent
RRP $34.95 Music John Williams

Pan & Scan/Full Frame None MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Dolby Digital 5.0
16x9 Enhancement Yes Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 5.0, 384Kb/s)
French (Dolby Digital 5.1, 384Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking Yes
Subtitles English
Annoying Product Placement Yes, some real shockers in this one
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    IN SHORT: Julia Roberts without the cheesy grin.

    Regular readers of my reviews will realize that I am no fan of Julia Roberts. Her horsey grin and grating laugh do nothing at all for me. Accordingly, it was with grim determination that I sat down to watch Stepmom, with neither Ian nor Paul putting their hand up for this movie.

    Guess what? Much to my surprise, Julia Roberts can get through a movie without flashing her pearly whites incessantly and braying incessantly. In fact, I was very impressed with her performance in Stepmom, though no small credit for this goes to the entire ensemble cast, who all turn in superb performances.

    Ed Harris (Luke Harrison) and Susan Sarandon (Jackie Harrison) were married, but are now separated. Luke has fallen in love with Isabel Kelly (Julia Roberts), a much younger woman than his ex-wife and she has moved in with Luke. Luke and Jackie have two children; twelve-year-old Anna (Jena Malone) and Ben (Liam Aiken).

    The story focusses on the interactions between Isabel, Jackie, Anna, Ben and Luke, and the development of the relationships between the five of them. In addition, some urgency is injected into the scenario via Jackie.

    The most impressive aspect of this movie is the very strong female lead characters. Both Susan Sarandon and Julia Roberts hold their own alongside each other. All the characters have good and bad sides, which prevents this movie from sliding into syrupy-sweet Hollywood cliché-dom, though the movie does come perilously close to doing this several times (such as during the bar scene with Jackie and Isabel). Another oddity is that Ed Harris more-or-less falls out of the movie at around the half-way point, only to make a brief appearance towards the very end, which is a pity, since his contribution during the first half is very strong, and not merely window-dressing.

Transfer Quality


    This transfer is presented at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. It is 16x9 enhanced.

    The transfer is very sharp and very clear, except for some sequences during the opening titles which were a little bit grainy compared with the movie proper. This marred the transfer sufficiently for me to mark the video quality of this movie slightly down - the great majority of the movie is superbly transferred and of reference quality. Shadow detail is superb, with subtle nuances being revealed in all of the lower-lit shots. There was no low level noise.

    The colours were vibrant and clear, sometimes to the verge of oversaturation, but never quite getting to the definitely oversaturated point. There was one very brief problematic shot, from 69:58 to 70:02 where colour saturation varied up and down slightly during the course of the shot.

    No MPEG artefacts were seen. Film-to-video artefacts were essentially not seen. There was one very impressively transferred segment, which was a scene where Julia Roberts buys a dog for the children. In the background of this scene are some very fine venetian blinds, normally a dead-set certainty for severe aliasing. In this transfer, there is basically no aliasing whatsoever to be seen in this shot - well done to the technical team who transferred this title. Film artefacts were extremely rare and extremely minor, as you would expect for a contemporary transfer.

    This disc is an RSDL disc, with the layer change at 71:39, between Chapters 16 and 17. It is unobtrusive and well-placed, though Ed Harris does seem to fall off the DVD at this point.


    There are two audio tracks on this DVD - the default English Dolby Digital 5.0 soundtrack, and a French Dolby Digital 5.0 soundtrack. Note that PowerDVD reports the French soundtrack as a 5.1 soundtrack, whereas my DVD player reported the soundtrack as a 5.0 soundtrack - there is no subwoofer information encoded in the .1 at all.

    Dialogue was clear and easy to follow at all times.

    Audio sync was marginally out early on, but I suspect that most people will not notice this at all.

    The score by John Williams is lush and orchestral. It is suitable dramatic without being overly saccharine-sweet, and is a nicely immersive score.

    The surround channels were used for music, which created a nicely enveloping effect, and for the occasional sound effect. Despite this only limited use of the surrounds, the soundtrack was actually quite immersive, and the style of soundtrack suited the movie nicely, giving it a very intimate feel.

    The .1 channel had no encoding on this soundtrack, and I felt that the music was somewhat lacking in bottom-end as a result of this. It would have been nice to have had a little more bass in this soundtrack with the help of a .1 track, but this is not a major complaint.


    This disc has a basic selection of extras, with nothing stand-out about them at all. A director's commentary track or actors' commentary track would have been an excellent addition to this movie.

Menu - 4:3

Trailer - 1.78:1, not 16x9 enhanced, DD 5.1

Dolby Digital City Trailer

Featurette - Behind The Scenes (5:20) - 4:3, Dolby Digital 2.0

Filmographies - Cast & Crew

R4 vs R1

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;     There is nothing compelling here to prefer one version over the other.


    Stepmom was a very pleasant surprise for me - I thoroughly enjoyed it, contributed to in no small part by the very strong ensemble performances on offer.

    The video quality is very good.

    The audio quality is good.

    The extras are limited.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Michael Demtschyna
30th November 1999

Review Equipment
DVD Toshiba 2109, using S-Video output
Display Loewe Art-95 95cm direct view CRT in 16:9 mode, via the S-Video input. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Denon AVD-2000 Dolby Digital AddOn Decoder, used as a standalone processor. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Amplification 2 x EA Playmaster 100W per channel stereo amplifiers for Left, Right, Left Rear and Right Rear; Philips 360 50W per channel stereo amplifier for Centre and Subwoofer
Speakers Philips S2000 speakers for Left, Right; Polk Audio CS-100 Centre Speaker; Apex AS-123 speakers for Left Rear and Right Rear; Yamaha B100-115SE subwoofer