Judge Gordon Sullivan hoped this would be a movie about competitive ice cream eating.
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Hollywood is a business. The industry's job is to get butts in seats or move DVDs. While they may have had a genuine start as a means of rewarding the hard work and talent of those involved in moviemaking, awards and award shows are now giant cash cows. Even a nomination in one of the big categories is enough to significantly increase ticket and disc sales. That means it's no surprise when Hollywood actively aims for an award-winning movie, breeding the genre of Oscar-bait. We're all pretty familiar with the formula: take a love story (out of a popular novel), set it against the backdrop of some major tragedy (preferably historical), and turn a large-scale story of danger and daring-do into a small-scale human story of love and triumph. It worked so well for Miramax when they made The English Patient that they followed up that film a few years later with Cold Mountain. It's another epic love story set against a war, though it wasn't quite as lauded as its predecessor. With this cheap new Cold Mountain (Blu-ray) disc, it's easy to give the film a second chance.
In the small town of Cold Mountain, North Carolina, a pastor (Donald Sutherland, The Italian Job) brings his young daughter Ada (Nicole Kidman, Eyes Wide Shut) when he takes up a position there for his health. There, she meets the quiet Inman (Jude Law, The Holiday) and the two fall in love. However, it's the eve of the Civil War, and Inman must go fight. The film treats us to Inman's journey several years into the war he travels back to be with his love at Cold Mountain.
In my mind, there is one reason, and one reason only, to watch Cold Mountain: The cast. Even if you hate the Civil War, period romances, war films, or the very idea of a formulaic, award-baiting epic, the cast makes up for it. Nicole Kidman and Jude Law are obviously at the center of this epic, and the story requires both their characters to go through tremendous changes. Both their performances are strong and subtle, leading the way for the rest of the film. However, they are only two of the dozen or so actors and actresses who dot this story. Because the film is structured somewhat like an epic, with smaller episodes filling out the main storyline, there are numerous opportunities for smaller roles to pop up. People like Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Natalie Portman, and Ray Winstone have slightly larger roles, while Cillian Murphy, Jena Malone, and Giovanni Ribisi have slightly smaller ones. The overall effect is that I was consistently surprised by the actors and their excellent performances so that even when the plot flagged over its two-plus hour trajectory, the actors kept me riveted.
This Blu-ray release is pretty strong as well. It appears to be a direct port of the previous Collector's Edition DVD. The 2.35:1 AVC-encoded transfer is good, but not the blowout I was expecting of the film's lauded cinematography. Part of that is the source itself. It looks like director Minghella went for a softer, lower light look to the film, with a muted color scheme. That means that close-ups and midshots in daylight can look fantastic, with sharp detail and strong colors. However, longer shots tend to look a bit soft, and dark scenes aren't as clear as I'd like. The look of the film is pretty heavy on the grain, which is usually rendered well with a few exceptions. It's a thoroughly watchable transfer that probably does justice to the source, though. The audio, on the other hand, is great from start to finish. Dialogue is clean and clear out of the center channel, the surrounds get a workout during battle scenes, and the score sounds sweet from high to low frequencies.
The extensive extras from the previous DVD have been ported here. Things start with a fairly technical track featuring director Minghella and editor Walter Murch, then continue with a feature-length making-of documentary. That's followed by a more promotional fluff-piece that also covers the film's production. Despite the film's 154-minute runtime, there are 20 minutes of deleted scenes, many of which add significant depth to the story. Finally, there's a short featurette on the songs used in the film.
Cold Mountain can feel like a formulaic tearjerker in places. The whole "war doesn't matter as long as I can go home to my love" plot is tired, and there are definitely those who will feel manipulated by the sentiments found in Cold Mountain. While I found the cast compelling enough to make the two-and-a-half hours worth it, this kind of epic running time will certainly challenge some viewers.
This is a budget-priced HD upgrade, and based on those merits it's hard to deny the quality of this release. Though not perfect from an audiovisual standpoint, for the price this set is perfect for fans of the film. For those who missed it, this Blu-ray is an excellent opportunity to check out the film, and the supplements add real value.
Epic, but not guilty.
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