Fifty million people watched, but no one saw a thing.
Quiz Show was one of my favorite films of 1994. Unfortunately, Disney has tossed us another re-hashed laserdisc transfer in what has become somewhat of an epidemic of late. I really hope they get their act together before they start releasing their animated titles to DVD in the coming months.
Quiz Show tells the story of a rigged television game show called "Twenty One" where contestants battled wits in an effort to win large amounts of cash. One of Robert Redford's best directorial efforts, along with Ordinary People (another films I would love to see on DVD), the film was nominated for Best Picture and Best Director in that year's Oscars.
The story tells the tale of two central characters. John Turturro plays Herbie Stempel, who is the reigning champ on "Twenty one" as the film begins. He has a certain appeal and has been winning for several weeks. Unfortunately for Herbie, the ratings of the show have "plateaued" of late and it has been decided by the muckety-mucks that Herbie must go. As such, he is asked to take a dive by the producer of the show.
It turns out the producer and his sidekick have found the perfect replacement for Herbie in Charles Van Doren, played by Ralph Fiennes. Charles comes from good stock, including a Pulitzer prize winning father and a mother who has also been published. Charles has a Masters in astrophysics and a Ph.D. in literature and he teaches at Columbia alongside his father Mark, who is played wonderfully by Paul Scofield.
Although they interact very rarely, if at all, onscreen, Turturro and Fiennes are perfect in these roles. Turturro as the unlovable misfit who vows to take down the whole show and Fiennes as the good boy lured astray by the corruption of big, corporate money. But this film is truly an ensemble piece where no one actor or character carries the entire film. Other than Rob Morrow's poorly affected Boston accent, the cast is exceptional, including a few small parts played by Calista Flockhart and Ethan Hawke. Hawke's role is an uncredited part where he is discussing Don Quixote with Mark Van Doren (Scofield) in chapter 26, while Flockhart's role is a bit more prominent as she interrupts Morrow's first meeting with Fiennes at chapter 11. In any event, the acting here is really great and carries the story even during its duller moments.
The sound on this disc is quite good, if not terrific. But what would one expect of a movie completely driven by dialogue. The English and French soundtracks are both Dolby Surround only, which is quite okay as surrounds are used quite sparingly and LFE tracks are utilized not at all. The dialogue itself is clear and never grating, which is to be expected in a film of this recent vintage.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The real disappointment here is the video transfer. It seems Disney has hit quite a rut of late whereby they feel that a rehashed laserdisc transfer is quite good enough for DVD, which is really a shame. This disc suffers from many of the same problems we saw in the recent Mr. Holland's Opus disc, to wit: overly sharp edges, too much digital enhancement, color bleeding and rather severe moiré effects. The colors were fairly well saturated and the black level was decent at times, but the problems really outweigh the good points of the transfer. I really hope this is just a phase for Disney and not a habit. As an example of the problems I describe, take a look at the shades in chapter 6 where you will see some really bad problems.
My last complaint about this disc is the complete lack of bonus materials. Despite Disney's attempts to suggest otherwise by placing the theatrical trailer and film recommendations under the "bonus materials" heading in the menu, this disc really has no extras to speak of. This movie so deserved a new transfer and some decent special edition content. I guess an academy award nomination for best picture just don't carry enough weight over at the Mouse anymore. Maybe in a few years this film will get the respect it deserved this time around. We'll just have to wait and see.
This great movie was given short shrift by the creative team over at Disney. I guess it wasn't deserving since it is neither animation like A Bug's Life nor a period piece like Shakespeare In Love. Still, this great movie probably deserves at least a rental, particularly if you have never seen the film.
The film is acquitted. Disney is guilty as usual and moving lower in our studio report card—ever closer to an overall failing grade.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Hollywood Pictures
• Theatrical Trailer
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