New Line // 2004 // 124 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Christopher Kulik (Retired) // February 2nd, 2009
Behind every great love is a great story.
Yes, The Notebook has a great story, which is ultimately about a great love. Taking its passionate cue from a novel by Nicholas Sparks (A Walk to Remember, Message in a Bottle), this is one of those old-fashioned weepers that women will love while also dragging their disgruntled men along to share their emotional reactions. What's amazing is, despite its thoroughly conventional narrative, men actually warmed up to the film too. Part of this is because it spoke to both genders without taking the easy way out and making one suffer more than the other. For once, a tearjerker actually jerked, and now romantics can capture The Notebook in high def...but is this "limited edition gift set" really worth it?
Told in revisionist fashion, the film alternates between the present-day and the 1940s. In the modern story, we meet Duke (James Garner, Maverick) who reads a "notebook" to a fellow nursing-home patient (Gena Rowlands, The Skeleton Key). His story concerns a love that blossomed decades before in the South between Noah (Ryan Gosling, Lars And The Real Girl) a poor, working class boy, and Allie (Rachel McAdams, Red Eye), a rich, college-bound girl. Despite their obvious differences and their penchant for fighting, Noah and Allie generate a romance, exploding into a deep, desiring love. However, her mother (Joan Allen, The Contender) doesn't approve, and after Allie leaves for college, she withholds all of Noah's letters. Allie eventually finds a new beau in soldier Lon (James Marsden, Enchanted), but when she crosses paths with Noah once again, their love is rejuvenated.
Eloquently told from start to finish, The Notebook miraculously works even when its blueprint has been used thousands of times. What grabs you is the journey of Noah and Allie, as well as all the conflicts that are tossed at them. We are charmed by them, grow to care about them, and simply want them to be together. Director Nick Cassavetes manages to avoid soppy sentimentality as much as possible, only going the distance to choke us up at the right time (along with an exceptionally poignant, Oscar-worthy score by Aaron Zigman, no less). This may not be Gone with the Wind or Dr. Zhivago (in fact, it's more like Somewhere in Time), but it pleased enough people to appear on many "great screen romances" lists. Cynics may not give a damn, but then again they won't give a damn about any love story which they cannot identify with.
What really sets The Notebook apart from other would-be love stories is the chemistry between its lead actors. Sure, veterans Garner and Rowlands (the director's mother) carry the emotional weight of the piece, but Gosling and McAdams own the film. We fall in love with them as they fall in love with each other. McAdams, especially is so lovely and illuminating in her role she almost makes us forget how ingratiating Gosling is. They, alone, make the film worth watching, regardless if you are a fan of the genre or not.
Several months ago, the romantic favorite Casablanca was given a Blu makeover with a limited edition gift set. Fans of the The Notebook may walk away disappointed that this set is no more special than the previous one. Technically speaking, the film looks glorious in high def, as the setting-sun opening sequence and McAdams' glistening hair come through without so much as a speckle or scratch. Presented in a 2:40:1 Non-anamorphic print in 1080 resolution (with VC-1 encode), The Notebook surely has never looked better, as the colors, flesh tones and particularly black levels are all superlative. As far as the sonic options are concerned, I didn't detect much of a difference in terms of speaker action in either the TrueHD or DD 5.1 tracks. Dialogue is perfectly heard and Zigman's score soars no matter which way you go; 5.1 tracks are also available in German and Russian. Subtitles are available in all previous languages including Spanish.
Now we come to the part that will literally make or break a consumer's decision for a purchase. This limited edition gift set has all the extras ported over from the standard release from 2004, including two commentaries (by Cassavetes and Sparks, both terrific), four featurettes, McAdams' screen test, and 12 deleted scenes totaling about 28 minutes. What's new? Well, how about a 46-page photo/scrapbook album, which not only provides highlights from the movie (quotes and pics), but also blank pages where you can record your own idealized romance in real life. Anything else? Yep, you also get some decorative stickers, bookmarks, and notecards with envelopes. In short, you get a stationary set that has tokens from The Notebook all inside. The good news is this set is available for $28 on Amazon, which is a decent price considering this is a Blu-ray. Obviously the folks at New Line are gearing up for Valentine's Day and while the scrapbook and stationary are indeed nice, I think we expect so much more. How about a copy of Sparks' book? Or some input from Gosling and McAdams, who've had their own on-and-off relationship for the past five years?
Put it simply, The Notebook is one of the few effective love stories to come out since 1986's Children of a Lesser God. The cast is believable and appealing, the story is familiar but moving, and the Blu-ray set is, well...it's reasonable but not credible in the slightest. If you want to upgrade for tech specs alone, be my guest, or if you consider this a perfect gift for V-Day around the corner, go for it. Otherwise, I recommend sticking to the standard DVD.
Review content copyright © 2009 Christopher Kulik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (German)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Russian)
Running Time: 124 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes
* Screen Test
* Scrapbook Album
* Stationary Set