Sometimes love and war are the same thing.
Ah, love. That magical, splendid thing called love. Everyone loves love. It's something we can't live without. Unfortunately, the can't be said for director John Madden's (Shakespeare In Love) World War II love-fest Captain Corelli's Mandolin. In a summer filled with rampaging dinosaurs, resurrected mummies, and talking apes, Captain Corelli's Mandolin was lost among the shuffle. I guess folks weren't eager to see stars Nicolas Cage (Con-Air, Leaving Las Vegas) and Spanish bombshell Penelope Cruz (currently starring inside Tom Cruise) roll around the fields while bombs went off around them. Those who missed this dramatic love story now have the chance to revisit it on DVD care of Universal Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
Captain Corelli's Mandolin takes place on a small Greek island named Cephalonia during World War II. Here we meet the resident doctor Iannis (John Hurt, The Elephant Man) and his beautiful daughter Pelagia (Cruz). Pelagia is engaged to Mandras (Christian Bale, American Psycho), a handsome but uneducated fisherman. The lovers are soon torn asunder as Mandras leaves for war; Italy has invaded Albania and Mandras is off to fight for freedom. Upon leaving an Italian group of soldiers arrive to occupy Cephalonia, led by Captain Antonio Corelli (Cage). Corelli's band of soldiers is not exactly the fighting type; they'd rather sing opera songs (which they all do in a rather large choir-like group) and party with prostitutes than do battle on the lines. Corelli is set up in Iannis and his daughter's house, much to their dismay. Bargaining for medical supplies, the good doctor allows Corelli to stay with him for the time being. Not surprisingly, Corelli, a soft-hearted man who plays—what else?—a mandolin, and soon fixes his gaze on the striking Pelagia. At first Pelagia resists Corelli's advances, but soon she finds herself drawn to his charisma and charm. Their romance will not be easy: soon Mandras arrives back from war, and the Germans start invading the island with deadly results. Will Corelli and Pelagia's love survive?
There is one initial, glaring problem with Captain Corelli's Mandolin: Nicolas Cage's horrific Italian accent. Faltering in and out, it's the most distracting speech pattern since Billy Bob Thornton in Swing Blade.
Otherwise, I kind of enjoyed Captain Corelli's Mandolin. I say that with surprise because normally this isn't my cup of tea. I'll be the first to admit that while I'm a hopeless romantic, I don't have much love for hopeless romantic movies. When Harry Met Sally was funny, but only passable. Say Anything is good, but nothing I'd ever need to see again. As you can tell, I'm really partial to things like Night Of The Creeps and Chill Factor—or, as I like to call it, grade-A cheese.
Captain Corelli's Mandolin moved much quicker than anticipated. The love story between Cruz and Cage, while engaging, is sometimes bland compared to the nicely drawn out war scenes. I was also a bit more interested in John Hurt's performance as the kindly resident doctor. Hurt is one of those under appreciated actors who's done everything from drama (The Elephant Man) to sci-fi horror (Alien) to comedy (he spoofed himself in Mel Brooks' Spaceballs). For this viewer, Hurt's performance in Captain Corelli's Mandolin is the best and most fascinating.
As for the story, from what I've read many sections of the novel from whence this sprang have been shortened or deleted altogether. Christian Bale's character Mandras had a substantially larger role in the book, but in the film gets shuffled off to war fairly quickly so Cruz and Cage's characters can get down to some naughty lovin'. Cage and Cruz are fine as the love torn couple, though it's not as if they've got a wealth of sparks flying all around them. Cruz spends much of the film looking torn and angry, while Cage plays Corelli as almost cartoonish. It doesn't help that Cage himself often looks like a goofball with his receding hairline, long face, and sunken, buggy eyes.
Weird eyes aside, I think is well worth seeing. Maybe it's because there were some nice war scenes interspersed throughout the story, making sure that when things got boring there was an explosion or two to wake me up. I can't say that Universal's move to release this in a summer of super blockbusters was a very wise decision (Captain Corelli's Mandolin seems more like a fall or winter release). If you missed this in the theaters, it might be worth a second look on DVD.
Captain Corelli's Mandolin is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is a decent transfer, though not as crisp as one might hope. I spotted a few instances of halo and shimmer during a few scenes, as well as some artifacting and edge enhancement. Aside of a bit of softness, the color schemes and black levels all appear solid and well defined. For such a new release, I was a bit disappointed in this transfer.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 as well as DTS Surround. Both of these soundtracks are very full and immerse the viewer in many different sounds, both ambient and directional. The battle scenes are very full and filled with lots of crashes, bangs, and booms. When the battle scenes aren't raging, there are many instances of background noise through both the front and rear speakers. Personally, I didn't detect much difference between the DTS and Dolby 5.1 soundtracks, though if I had to choose I'd probably go with the DTS mix. Also included on this disc is a Dolby 5.1 mix in French, as well as English Captions.
The extra features on Captain Corelli's Mandolin are slim, though director John Madden did get around to recording a commentary track for the film. This is an engaging track that has Madden talking about the island's history, the condensing of the book, and what it was like to work with Cage and Cruz. If you liked the film, this will be a very worthwhile commentary for you to sit through.
Also included on this disc is a music video by Russell Watson titled "Ricordo Ancor" (Pelagia's Song), some production notes, information about the cast and crew, a theatrical trailer for the film and some DVD-ROM content.
The Rebuttal Witness
WARNING! WARNING! WARNING! There is a scene where Penelope Cruz appears half naked! But that's not the part I am warning you about! When she lifts her arms, she has a big old bushy pit! You can't say that you weren't warned!
While I wasn't crazy about Captain Corelli's Mandolin, it was a lot better than I anticipated. Clocking in over two hours (my personal attention span usually only lasts about 90 minutes), this is a good watch for fans of romance or war. In my parents case, that would be both (I made a funny! Ha ha!)
The movie is free to go, though Universal is slapped with a minor fine for only so-so work on this title.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Director John Madden
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