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DVD Review: A Beautiful Mind

By Glenn Abel

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Beautiful Mind
art Ron Howard, avid practitioner of the art of audience manipulation, makes sure you feel his pain on the DVD release of "A Beautiful Mind."

After viewing the drama, viewers immediately are invited to view a half-hour's worth of scenes that Howard excised from his 136-minute film. Almost all add depth to the film -- one even contains the only onscreen explanation of the film's title. Howard tells why the scenes mattered and why they worked, mostly citing running time as the reason they didn't appear.

Then comes the capper: The director even cut his father's big acting moment out of the film. "That's show business," Howard says wistfully.

Universal Home Video has released "Mind" in a double-disc "Awards Edition," making the most of its four Oscars, including best picture. Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly star in the drama about mathematician John Nash Jr., who battled schizophrenia to become a Nobel Prize winner. (Both actors were nominated for Oscars; Connelly won as best supporting actress.)

The DVD comes in widescreen and full-screen versions (both $29.98 retail). The film and deleted scenes ap-pear on one DVD disc; extras on the second. The widescreen version has 16:9 screen enhancement. The aspect ratio adds up to about 1.85:1. Dolby Digital 5.1 is the main audio track; no DTS.

The video looks handsome in its scenes of Eastern academia, fall colors warm but a bit flat at times. The nightmarish Cold War scenes impart a definite chill with midnight-rendezvous blacks and cobalt blues. True flesh tones help sell Greg Cannom's often terrific makeup work. The review disc exhibited some video noise on the main menu screens.

James Horner's swirling, math-inspired music sinks deep subwoofer roots via the Dolby Digital. The dialogue sounds muffled at times. Crowe, in particular, seems to swallow more than a few lines, but it sounds like a mix or production issue. The problem can be mitigated by hiking your center speaker volume -- a fix that's a throwback to the early days of the DVD format. On Howard's commentary, the review disc's center track took a sudden leap in volume (at 1:49). Surround was OK but not much of a factor.

In his commentaries, Howard notes several times how screening audiences helped shape the final edit, an admission rarely heard from directors. He tells how an early screening saved one of the film's "sacred moments" -- of the lead characters falling in love while star-gazing. Some cuts were "heartbreaking."

"Movies have a way of defining themselves in postproduction." Howard says. "You can't know for sure what your movie is until you take it to the editing room."

Howard does not address the various controversies surrounding "Mind" but shares some of the internal debates over the film's tricky "delusional" scenes. He points out clues planted along the way for those working on the movie's mysteries, "wondering if we were going to get caught."

You get the feeling Howard isn't sure if he needs to defend the purely fictional elements of the biographical film. "Many of the specific incidents are inventions -- synthesized versions of what we know occurred in Nash's life," he acknowledges. He cites "lots of research" into similar cases.

(Note to those who have not seen the film: The next two paragraphs contain spoiler information.)

Howard says he was "flexible" on when audiences realize that Nash's "delusional characters" were solely his invention. Howard and writer Akiva Goldsman wanted viewers to experience having their sense of reality shattered, much like those who suffer from schizophrenia.

Howard worked with "rules" governing Ed Harris' spymaster, the cheeky roommate, the loving little girl and other fantasy figures. They were always introduced from Nash's point of view before becoming part of the overall scene. "I just tried to keep the questions alive as much as I could without playing any unfair tricks," he says.

While Howard works hard at being a good host, his understated commentary does become hard to sit through as the movie passes two hours. Goldsman, whose adaptation won the Oscar, seems more at home with the commentary process. He does, however, repeat many of Howard's observations, probably not having heard the director's track.

Howard and Goldsman both are quite complimentary of Crowe's dedication to detail and his improvisational work, clearly seeing him as a full creative partner. Crowe is "a character actor at heart," Howard says. Crowe and Harris were both up for the best actor Oscar two years ago during filming. Connelly was mostly cast on the merits of her work on "Requiem for a Dream," but it didn't hurt that she attended Yale and Stanford -- and looked a bit like Nash's wife, Alicia.

The special features include some interesting shots of Crowe and Nash on the set, looking like bookends of a life. Howard later gets Nash to open up by having him explain some of his theories on camera. Howard says Nash maintained a "healthy distance" from the creation of the film, becoming upset only by watching the scene in which Crowe simulates a seizure during treatment.

Other features include a so-so short on the relationship between Howard and partner Brian Grazer ("the first, most important audience member"); an interesting piece on the collaboration between music man Horner and wordless vocalist Charlotte Church; footage of Nash accepting the Nobel Prize; some nicely done split-screen storyboard demos; a breakdown of Digital Domain's limited but key special effects; a studio promo featurette; and scenes from March's Oscars (Connelly is seen telling the press room how the award wasn't all that big a deal to her.)

The makeup process gets a rare turn, with Cannom -- who worked with Crowe on "The Insider" -- showing off some of the techniques he developed for the film and discussing the challenges of aging characters.

Glenn Abel is Executive Editor, Electronic, at The Hollywood Reporter

Reprinted, with permission, from The Hollywood Reporter

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