Miramax // 1995 // 96 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Nicholas Sylvain (Retired) // October 11th, 1999
A romantic comedy about a town that wouldn't give up. A man who couldn't get out. And the mountain that brought them together.
A low-key, charming tale of a Welsh town and the struggles of its inhabitants to defend their honor that runs headlong into a horrendous defect.
This is the first time I find myself unable to do a complete review, and that is because of a horrible video problem that I can only ascribe to a defect in the manufacturing process, which I will discuss below. I have not seen any other reviews online, so I cannot say whether this appears to be a defect in a batch or the whole pressing of discs.
Well, let me do what I can.
The story begins on a Sunday in 1917 when two Englishmen, George Garrard (Ian McNeice) and Reginald Anson (Hugh Grant) drive into the sleepy Welsh town of Ffynnon Garw, with the purpose of carrying out a survey of the terrain. Specifically, the pair is engaged in the business of determining the heights of various landmarks for maps in the United Kingdom, and this day brings them the task of determining the height of the local mountain, . While the rest of the town was in chapel, including a large number of women with ginger haired babies, being preached to by the passionate Rev. Robert Jones (Kenneth Griffith), the local ginger haired innkeeper, Morgan the Goat (Colm Meaney) meets the interlopers.
The town is all abuzz with the talk of the Englishmen and their strange task, particularly when they learn that their mountain will only appear on the maps if it is over 1,000 feet high. Aside from being the town's namesake, the mountain represents a source of great tradition and pride in the locals, who are most indignant at the mere suggestion that their mountain might only be a hill. After much celebration and wagering, the town is stricken when Mr. Anson sorrowfully announces that Ffynnon Garw is a mere hill, being only 984 feet high.
Needless to say, the town, led by polar opposites Rev. Jones and Morgan the Goat, decides that all they need to do is add sixteen (or so) more feet to the top of Ffynnon Garw, while convincing (by means fair and foul) the Englishmen to stay long enough to do a re-measurement. Unfortunately, it is about in this area of the story that problems prevented further viewing.
The video, as far as I was able to see, is fairly typical for a recent Buena Vista release. It is of course a non-anamorphic transfer, with the usual affliction of shimmering from digital "enhancement," most visible in the roofs of the town buildings. The picture is reasonably free of most flecks of dirt and blemishes, and decently saturated in its colors. Blacks seem to be solid, with adequate shadow detail, but I caution that the portions of the film that I was able to view did not include the low-light and night-time parts of the film.
Audio is a low-energy 5.1 mix, as you might expect from the subject material. The front soundfield is fairly centered, but there is some use of channel effects. Your subwoofer gets a night off here, as it adds a touch of bass support to the cheery score, but does little else. Dialogue seemed to be recorded at a lower reference level than is typical, as I needed to set my receiver's level several notches higher than I usually do for typical movie watching.
From what I could see, this is a very sweet and charming movie. There is no sex, no violence, and no bad language, which means that it is unlike most movies these days. The inhabitants of the village, who you probably have never heard of, are utterly convincing and quirky, far more interesting than the pleasant but somewhat bland Hugh Grant. The story builds slowly, drawing you in, until you are captivated and want to see how it all unfolds.
When I first tried out the disc, I played the theatrical trailer, and upon the conclusion of the trailer my player ejected the tray, and I was nowhere near the remote or the player! When it didn't do this a second time, I chalked it up to a fluke and proceeded to run through the movie. Sadly, this was not a fluke. The movie played correctly through the first ten chapters (about forty minutes into the film), but after that point the problems start. At about that point, but never quite the same place each time, the picture begins to dissolve into large blocky patches, blurred areas, strange blobs of color, and all manner of video disaster, of course with intermittent or absent audio, and occasionally the player ejected the tray for no discernible reason. Skipping chapters sometimes left the player hanging, unable to find the right location, or able only to play briefly before the problems reasserted themselves. I could only get the movie to resume proper playing with about ten minutes left in the movie, so essentially I was unable to watch nearly half of the movie.
I replicated the errors numerous times, which persisted despite making very sure that the disc was clean and properly seated in the tray. When I looked very closely at the disc at an angle under a good light, I could see a strange sort of spotty pattern in the disc material which was not due to any sort of visible damage, as it was far too consistent across the entire surface of the disc. In fact, there were no spots of damage that I saw, or scratches of any kind, and the disc had not broken free during shipping.
Extras are limited, as usual, with only a full frame (ick!) trailer and those terminally stupid film recommendations. Yecch!
A promising film cut short in the prime of its viewing, I would exercise extreme caution before renting or buying this disc, especially at the horribly high price of $30.
The Court is compelled to grant a mistrial, as it cannot make a fair determination of the film under the present conditions. Buena Vista is still guilty of indifference to the format, as even if the whole movie had been playable, the transfer was typical non-anamorphic fare and with only a lousy trailer as extra content.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 1995
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Theatrical Trailer