Where The Heart Is
(Rental Version)

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Details At A Glance

Category Drama None
Rating m.gif (1166 bytes)
Year Released 2000
Running Time 115:04 Minutes
RSDL/Flipper No/No
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 4 Director Matt Williams
Fox.gif (4090 bytes)
Fox Home Video
Starring Natalie Portman
Ashley Judd
Stockard Channing
Joan Cusack
James Frain
Case Transparent Amaray
RPI Rental Only Music Mason Daring
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Pan & Scan English (Dolby Digital 5.1, 384 Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking Yes
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Annoying Product Placement Yes, vaguely
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    If you ask me now why I volunteered to review this DVD, I can only give you two words: Natalie Portman. Her appearance in The Phantom Menace a few months prior to this film's release date is the only discernible reason why this film was given the green light, leave alone advertised. Based on an Oprah Winfrey book-of-the-month penned by Billie Letts that goes by the same name, Where The Heart Is has managed to sharply divide a lot of film buffs. One camp seems to be praising the film as an inspired melodrama, while others made comments such as "my wife apologized profusely for insisting that we watch this". Myself, I found this film to be watchable, but only because Natalie Portman was in it, playing a character I felt some vague sense of connection with. The rest of the film just makes me wish that I hadn't bothered, although I am still not sure why.

    The film begins with Novalee Nation (Natalie Portman), seventeen years old and pregnant with her first child, leaving a trailer park with her boyfriend, Willy Jack Pickens (Dylan Bruno). Among other strange quirks, Novalee has a major fear of the number five because bad things always happen to her when this number occurs in her life. When she stops at a Wal-Mart to use the ladies' room and buy a pair of shoes, she manages to wind up with exactly five dollars and fifty-five cents in change, which sends her into a sort of knowing panic. Sure enough, when she runs out into the parking lot, she discovers that Willy has disappeared, leaving her without transportation or a place to go. After camping out in the Wal-Mart for an indeterminate period of time, she finds that she is about to give birth, and things don't exactly look too good until Forney Hill (James Frain) breaks into the Wal-Mart in order to help her. We next see Novalee recovering in the local hospital, after having fame thrust upon her as the mother of the "Wal-Mart baby".

    We are next introduced to Thelma "Sister" Husband (Stockard Channing), who teaches Novalee about gardening and gives her a place to stay. Finally, we meet Lexie Coop (Ashley Judd), a woman who had her first child when she was fifteen and has been progressively having more ever since. From there, we follow the lives of Novalee, Willy, and Novalee's daughter, Americus (Mackenzie Fitzgerald) through a period of what seems like about ten years. The result is a string of events that seem rather disjointed and episodic in nature, and numerous references to the passage of time are made in order to bridge the gaps. There is one satisfying moment when we see what becomes of Willy after living it up as a Country And Western star and then hitting rock bottom after arguing with his manager, Ruth Meyers (Joan Cusack), but the rest of the film just flows without any real rhyme or reason.

    It is probably for the best that Where The Heart Is will be released with a six-month rental window, as I strongly recommend taking a good look at the film before committing the forty-odd dollars that the sell-through version will set you back. The transfer is impeccable, and the acting is just fine, but the screenplay really bogs this one down as far as I am concerned.

Transfer Quality


    Once again, I am forced to start this review with an angry rant. Those of you who agree with me will more than likely wish to read the following paragraph so you can quote me when writing your angry letters of protest to Fox Home Video. The rest of you can skip the paragraph at your leisure, although I also advise not emailing your comments to me.


    As you've probably noticed in the technical summary, Where The Heart Is has been Panned And Scanned from its original 1.85:1 ratio in order to fill up those crappy little narrow screens that are now on the technological junkpile at long last. Fox Home Video, I did not spend approximately twenty-two hundred dollars on an eighty centimetre screen with S-video inputs and a selectable 16:9 mode just so idiots who know nothing about cinematography can force me to watch only half the image, or about seventy percent of it in this case. Either give me the whole image as the director and cinematographer intended it to be seen (the opening credits just barely fit on the cropped image), or don't waste my time.


    The sharpness of this transfer is excellent, with plenty of fine details on display for those of us who, like myself, cannot get enough fine details squeezed into a rectangular film frame (yes, I am being sarcastic). The shadow detail is superb, with plenty of details apparent in the night-time scenes at Wal-Mart, among other locations. There is no low-level noise in the picture.

    The colour saturation of this transfer is bright, but also appears subdued due to the emphasis on red, which is in keeping with the rural American settings. Some variance is visible in the colour between different areas of Natalie Portman's skin during the first twenty-five minutes of the film, but since this is obviously an intentional effect, it's nothing to deduct points over. There are no signs of bleeding or misregistration in the picture at any time.

    MPEG artefacts were not readily apparent in this transfer, although I still would have preferred a second layer to allow the highest possible bitrate, since this disc will be distributed on the rental market. Film-to-video artefacts consisted of some minor aliasing that isn't too distracting from the film, and would probably disappear altogether on a progressive display. At 7:30, there is a mild shimmer in the edge of the concrete block that Natalie Portman is seated on. At 2:05, a minor aliasing effect can be seen in a very fine line around a refinery pump, which appeared to be caused by the possible use of edge-enhancement in this area of the picture. Film artefacts consisted of the occasional white mark on the picture that wasn't too distracting, in spite of seeming out of place on such a recent film.


    One of the chief dislikes that is common to the majority of DVD reviewers is a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack that utilizes the surround channels just as much as you'd expect from a Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded soundtrack. While this film doesn't quite fall into those depths, it often seems to be rather front-heavy and monaural in nature. This can be partly blamed upon the fact that the film mainly consists of dialogue sequences, but it is a slight disappointment, all the same.

    There is only one soundtrack on this rental DVD: the original English dialogue, encoded in Dolby Digital 5.1 with a bitrate of 384 kilobits per second. It would have been nice to have a German or Spanish dub in order to give us a break from the appalling Bible Belt accents used throughout the film, but I guess what we have here will have to do for now. The dialogue is clear and easy to understand, within the minor limitations posed by the thick accents that soon become rather irritating to listen to. There are no discernible problems with audio sync. There was one instance of distortion at 39:59, when Natalie Portman says "I'll see you soon", which I seriously doubt is inherent in the source material or the way the film was recorded.

    The score music in this film is credited to Mason Daring, a name I am completely unfamiliar with in spite of the fact that this person has composed music for no less than forty-six films and television shows, including Eight Men Out and Music Of The Heart. The score music of this film is rather sporadic in nature, appearing mostly during dramatic moments in the story such as the birth of Americus, and it succeeds in lending a tense atmosphere to such moments. Overall, I enjoyed the score music in spite of its "now you hear it, now you don't" presence and the fact that it tends to telegraph the next event in the film.

    Now we get into the reason why a Pro-Logic soundtrack might have suited the film just as well. The surround channels are much like the score music, in that they are used only sporadically. Numerous sequences pass by when very little can be heard from the surround channels, and other sequences use the surround channels to support the music, ambient sounds, and various other directional effects. There did not seem to be any serious use of split surround effects or any of the other nice trimmings you'd expect from a 5.1 soundtrack for a film of such recent vintage. This is as much the fault of the film's style as anything else, so it can be overlooked. The subwoofer was occasionally present to support the lower registers during musical cues, pub brawls, and tornadoes, but the lack of serious usage in other sequences made its presence somewhat conspicuous.



    The menu is in the same static style as was used for the rental version of Stir Of Echoes, and it is 16x9 Enhanced (go figure).

R4 vs R1

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;     Ordinarily, I'd recommend waiting for the sell-through version of this film. However, aside from having to sit through two minutes of advertising in order to reach the menu, the quality indicated in Widescreen Review leads me to believe we are really being short-changed here. I recommend that we put our foot down and demand that Fox Home Video quit it with this rental window business, or give us the proper aspect ratio, lest the VHS crowd suddenly come to expect that all DVD transfers will contain only a fraction of the picture.


    Where The Heart Is just happens to be the rental-window concept in its most justified application: simply watch the film once then return it to the place where you've obtained it. Trust me, you will find it rather difficult to watch again.

    The video quality is reasonable, but can we please have the whole movie next time, Fox?

    The audio quality is good, but a Pro-Logic mix could have done the job just as well.

    There are no extras.

Ratings (out of 5)

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 © Dean McIntosh (my bio sucks... read it anyway)
January 11, 2000 
Review Equipment
DVD Toshiba SD-2109, using S-video output
Display Samsung CS-823AMF (80 cm) in 16:9 and 4:3 modes, calibrated using the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built In (Amplifier)
Amplification Sony STR-DE835, calibrated using the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Yamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NS-C120 Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer