Case Number 16918: Small Claims Court


Sony // 1992 // 124 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Daniel MacDonald (Retired) // July 29th, 2009

The Charge

The Story of an American Family.

The Case

Without having seen Robert Redford's beautiful, poignant film A River Runs Through It, it may be difficult to imagine a topic much less cinematic than fly fishing. Yet this picture makes it so, portraying those who cast their lines as graceful artists, dancers standing still in a moving river, conductors eliciting a symphony with the flick of a wrist. Redford has made an understated masterpiece revolving around the pursuit of trout.

Of course it's not about fishing, not really. It's about a family, and growing up, and finding your path, and letting go. Specifically, it's about brothers: Norman and Paul Maclean, played by Craig Sheffer (Some Kind of Wonderful) and Brad Pitt (Troy) respectively, both very early in their careers. Paul and Norman come of age under the tutelage of their father, a strict but warm preacher (Tom Skerritt, Alien), learning to fish and to be men. While Norman goes off to college, planting the seeds of a career as an English professor, Paul remains in Montana, establishing the life he wants to lead regardless of the personal cost. No matter how far their paths diverge, though, the family bonds remain as strong as ever when they fish together.

A River Runs Through It is lyrical and literary, driven by voiceover narration taken directly from Norman Maclean's acclaimed novella and spoken by an unseen Redford. While it may be light on plot, it has a rich and satisfying story. The film received Academy Award nominations for the Celtic-infused score by Mark Isham (Freedom Writers) and the adapted screenplay by Richard Friedenberg (Dying Young), and a well-deserved Oscar win for director of photography Philippe Rousselot (Big Fish).

Sony's Blu-ray release of A River Runs Through It does great justice to that Oscar-winning cinematography, with pristine image quality and a high bitrate. The majority of the picture takes place outdoors, and every frame is filled with natural beauty. I was surprised by the lack of visible grain -- there's a very fine sheen in some brighter areas, but not nearly as much as other films of a similar vintage -- making me suspect DNR was applied. Contradicting that suspicion, however, is the immense amount of fine detail contained in the image: stitching on hats, brush strokes on the walls of the sets, and the slight gill movements on caught fish are all crystal clear without a hint of smearing or blurring. If DNR was used to reduce the grain, it was done quite skillfully. Objects are naturally sharp without looking artificially enhanced, and no compression artifacts were noticed. The audio is reasonably good, although dialogue sometimes comes across as muffled. There's a pleasing ambience to outdoor scenes, and the music fills the room nicely.

This edition contains a strong assortment of special features that didn't appear on the Deluxe Edition DVD, all impressively in high definition. First off is an informative 30-minute making-of documentary, featuring what appear to be relatively recent interviews with key players like Redford and Sheffer (although Pitt is absent). Tangentially related to the movie are featurettes on rescuing the Blackfoot River and a fun guide to fly fishing. There are also about 16 minutes of deleted scenes. Exclusive to the Blu-ray, and a rather unique feature, is a series of "looping video environments," static-camera shots of the Blackfoot from a variety of angles with accompanying 5.1 sound; clips of the film's score can be toggled on and off. While I'm not sure how often I'll put one of these environments on, I appreciate their inclusion. The disc comes housed in a hardcover cardboard case that also serves as a 34-page booklet, complete with artwork and production notes. The disc is BD-Live enabled.

Many people hold A River Runs Through It as one of their all-time favorite films, treating its warm exploration of family values as cinematic comfort food, and it is encouraging to see the level of care that has been put into this Blu-ray release. Gorgeous picture and passable sound, a full slate of valuable features, and a classy package all add up to a title worth upgrading if you already own it on DVD, and certainly worth purchasing if you don't.

The Verdict

Not guilty, and highly recommended.

Review content copyright © 2009 Daniel MacDonald; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 95

Perp Profile
Studio: Sony
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)

* English
* English (SDH)
* French
* Portuguese
* Spanish

Running Time: 124 Minutes
Release Year: 1992
MPAA Rating: Rated PG

Distinguishing Marks
* Deleted Scenes
* Featurettes
* Video Environments
* BD-Live

* IMDb