Paramount // 2003 // 120 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // October 13th, 2005
"Does anybody realize what life is while they're living it?" -- Emily (Maggie Lacey)
From Our Town:
"Set at the turn of the 20th century, the play reveals the ordinary lives of the people in the small town of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire. At the center of the story is Emily Webb and George Gibbs, young lovers who grow up, get married, and start a family. When Emily dies during childbirth, she joins other members of the town who have passed on and now sit and watch the lives of those left behind unfold. Given the change to go back and relive one day, Emily chooses one of the happiest days -- her 12th birthday. But her excitement turns to disillusionment as she sees the day wasted by trivial preoccupations and petty disappointments that keep her and her family from enjoying life for what it really is -- a precious gift to be savored and appreciated."
The single more important reason to see this particular version of Thornton Wilder's Our Town is Paul Newman. Away from Broadway for over 38 years, watching Newman's easy-going stage persona makes one wonder why acting is so tough when Newman makes it appear so easy. As the Stage Manager in Wilder's classic slice of Americana, Newman is completely at ease in front of a large crowd (and the cameras). It's a performance that reels you in from the start -- Newman opens the show, and closes it as well. He is, by all means, the dominating force, overshadowing such respected actors as Jane Curtin (TV's Third Rock From The Sun) and Jeffrey DeMunn (The Green Mile).
If you shuffle Newman aside, what you get is a good version of Our Town, if not great. Wilder's theatrical play -- somewhat corny by today's fancy standards -- is given the same treatment it was decades ago. The stage is bare of most props, save for tables, chairs and a few other needed amenities (things like newspapers, drinking cups, and horses are left to the viewer's imagination). The theme of the show -- that most folks don't realize life is passing them by as they wade through the mundane details of their lives -- is still fully intact.
Our Town is presented in an attractive 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Though this isn't a fantastically crisp looking transfer -- there are some scenes where the black levels are a bit too dark -- overall I am happy with how this picture turned out. Since this version of Our Town was filmed on stage, often the lighting isn't great. However, the cast, crew, and cameramen all did a fine job of making sure everyone is clearly seen throughout each passing scene.
The soundtrack is presented in what I believe is Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround, though no mention is made on the packaging. The soundtrack does what is needed, and little else. This is a very front heavy mix; then again, a 5.1 remix wasn't needed since Our Town is a dialogue driven theatrical production. All aspects of the mix are free of any major hiss or distortion. No alternate subtitles or soundtracks are available on this disc.
The only extra features included on this disc are some production notes by Joanne Woodward (Paul Newman's real life wife) and director James Naughton.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 120 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Production Notes from Joanne Woodward and James Naughton