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Case Number 00336

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Grey Owl

Sony // 1999 // 118 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge David Rogers (Retired) // February 23rd, 2000

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All Rise...

The Charge

"It's called a Dream Catcher. You hang 'em up for babies, and newly married couples. Bad dreams get caught in the web, good dreams go through."

Opening Statement

Director Richard Attenborough (actor: Jurassic Park, Elizabeth, Miracle on 34th Street (1994), director: Gandhi, Cry Freedom, Chaplin) has a long and distinguished career as an actor and director. His acting roles are typically all over the range, but usually have a sense of feeling to them. His directorial efforts are, however, all vibrant with heart and soul, each probing and presenting a deeply emotional story. His talents come through on the very personal Grey Owl.

The Evidence

Simply described, Grey Owl is the story of an Indian by heart, who comes to the world's attention in the '30s and '40s through his talents as a writer. Living as a trapper and guide in the Canadian wilderness, his articles and books bring to public light the plight of the wilderness and its rapidly diminishing nature (modern encroachment, over hunting of wildlife, et cetera…) We follow him as he travels the world as a lecturer and exhibitor, pushing the issues so dear to his heart. And we follow his heart as he finds love.

Though at first glance Irish actor Pierce Brosnan (The World is not Enough, The Thomas Crown Affair, Lawnmower Man) seems like a shocking choice for a role as a native Indian, he comes through quite nicely. The character isn't actually Indian, though you have to watch the film or know the background before you understand this. Grey Owl was a native-born British citizen who emigrated to Canada as a young man, and became an "Indian citizen," for lack of a more concise term, through choice and life.

In fact, Brosnan's considerable acting talents are put to good work in the role, portraying Grey Owl as he was first moved into the public eye, and then as he continues through his life. He brings a depth to the character, a sense of resolute purpose, quiet discontentment with The Way Things Are (were). Through Brosnan and Attenborough's efforts, we are left with a true sense of Grey Owl's life and his focus. The film leaves you thinking, and that's a good thing when it comes to serious, real subject matter such as this.

The rest of the cast aptly supports Brosnan's efforts, though they are all unknowns. With any luck, as is the Hollywood way of things, perhaps one or two of them, at least, will find greater exposure, and thus have the chance to make future appearances.

The video is well done, presenting the beauty and majesty of the film's many natural locations without detracting from the experience. Edges remain crisp, colors strong and without bleed. There are a few isolated instances of pixelation and degradation on difficult patterns, but they're not overwhelming, and ultimately don't alter the overall impact of the video transfer.

This is an utterly loaded disc, a real red carpet treatment with no holds barred. Two audio commentaries. The first is with director Richard Attenborough, the other with producer Jake Eberts. Text biographies on both cast and crew. Two featurettes; the first an extended trailer that might be shown as an advertisement on a cable movie channel; the second a behind the scenes look at the filming, a true behind the scenes, not just a catchy way of describing a selection of interviews. Then there are real interviews, five (Brosnan, Annie Galipeau, Richard Attenborough, Jake Eberts and Donald Smith). The trailer and teaser trailer, both presented full frame. A slide show of production storyboards, showcasing first the production design, then the actual set and shot location.

Going even further, there are two 1930s movie newsreels that were filmed with the actual Grey Owl, a text biography, and a screen of web links to Grey Owl sites.

Finally, there's a trivia game on Grey Owl, and a credits scroll for the disc's production. To top it all off, the disc uses extremely well done interactive menus that load quickly, are attractive, use full surround sound as a backdrop while in the menu screens, and do nothing to detract from the menu experience. While that may sound odd, discs with poor menus create viewer aggravation and cause needless delay while poorly laid out sequences load.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

As well done as the disc is overall, the soundtrack is not nearly so properly laid out. Surrounds are sparsely used, but this is not uncommon in dramas. The dialogue, however, is weak and unfocused, faded and difficult to discern. You're left with two options, crank the volume up enough to cause spikes when the overly loud music comes up, and to cause distracting background hissing, or strain to decipher the characters' words. A non-action film has only one critical task when it comes to the soundtrack transfer, and that's to ensure the dialogue is understandable and clear. This disc fails in that effort. It is inexcusable.

Closing Statement

Grey Owl is a biographical film, presenting a simple story in a simple, yet hauntingly beautiful, way. Cast and crew deliver wonderful efforts, and the studio serves up a disc that so many titles richly deserve. If not for the sound problems, this would be a near reference quality disc. As it is, except for the sound, it's still a pretty good showcase effort.

The Verdict

Columbia TriStar should pay more attention to the sound stage. However, they need to take detailed notes on everything else they put on this disc, and start doing it for others. It's just that simple. If not for the sound problems, they'd get a well earned "atta-studio!." As it is, they still get a "not bad." Case dismissed.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 85
Audio: 48
Extras: 100
Acting: 82
Story: 83
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile

Studio: Sony
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 118 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
• Biographical
• Drama

Distinguishing Marks

• Text Biographies on Cast and Crew
• Commentary Track with Director
• Commentary Track with Producer
• Two Featurettes
• Trailer and Teaser Trailers
• Cast and Crew Interviews
• Two Vintage Shorts on the Real Grey Owl
• DVD-ROM Capabilities


• IMDb

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