A BEAUTIFUL MIND
While Ron Howard’s films have always been very competently directed, I’ve found them to be rather lacking in distinctive visual style. This opinion about Howard’s work has been changed with the release of A BEAUTIFUL MIND ($30), a more mature and visually impressive work that rightfully earned him an Academy Award for Best Director. In addition to being recognized for Howard’s work, A BEAUTIFUL MIND also earned the coveted Oscar for Best Picture, as well as one for Best Supporting Actress (Jennifer Connelly) and one for its screenplay.
A BEAUTIFUL MIND is based upon the life of Noble prizewinning mathematician John Nash, although some dramatic license has been taken with to bring his story to the screen. As the film opens in 1947, we encounter brilliant graduate student and Carnegie Scholarship winner John Nash (Russell Crowe) at Princeton University. Right away one becomes aware that Nash is something of an odd bird; a social outcast who never attends classes- convinced that his intellect is beyond anything being taught in a classroom. Instead, Nash spends his time in pursuit of an original idea- something that will revolutionize some aspect of mathematics. After months of drawing a complete blank, Nash finally comes upon his original idea- one that dramatically changes the face of economics.
With this major achievement under his belt, Nash moves on to become a professor at MIT, in addition to doing classified work for the government at Wheeler Labs. Of course his professorship at MIT comes at a cost, Nash is actually required to teach some classes and there he meets a beautiful student named Alicia (Jennifer Connelly), who takes an aggressive interest in the socially retarded professor. As Nash begins a romance with Alicia, a government agent named Parcher (Ed Harris) approaches him and assigns him the task of deciphering secret messages that are being sent to foreign operatives in America. Eventually all of the cloak and dagger work weighs too greatly on Nash’s mind causing a psychological break, when the audience finally learns how much of the mathematician’s existence is fact and how much is fantasy.
The heart of A BEAUTIFUL MIND is in the outstanding performances, which really draws the audience into the inner and outer worlds of John Nash. Russell Crowe is phenomenally good portraying Nash; in fact, his performance here greatly outshines his Oscar winning work in GLADIATOR. I’m glad to see Jennifer Connelly finally getting the recognition she deserves; I’ve been a fan since her earliest screen appearances. Her performance in A BEAUTIFUL MIND perfectly complements that of Russell Crowe and her honest portrayal of the strengths and frustrations of Alicia Nash richly deserved the Oscar. The first rate cast of A BEAUTIFUL MIND also includes Christopher Plummer, Paul Bettany, Adam Goldberg, Josh Lucas, Anthony Rapp, Jason Gray-Stanford, Judd Hirsch, Austin Pendleton and Vivien Cardone.
Universal Studios Home Video has made A BEAUTIFUL MIND available on DVD in a 1.85:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for 16:9 displays. This is really a beautiful transfer, one that produces a consistently crisp image that is rich in detail. Colors are vibrant and fully saturated, plus the flesh tones are always appealing and quite convincing. Despite the intensity of some of the hues, there are no signs of noise or smearing. Blacks appear completely inky, contrast is terrifically smooth and shadow detail is excellent. Additionally, the beautifully lit image always gives the impression of great depth. The film element itself is virtually perfect without flaws or truly appreciable grain. Dual layer authoring precludes any noticeable signs of digital compression artifacts.
A BEAUTIFUL MIND is offered with a fine sounding Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack. Much of A BEAUTIFUL MIND is dialogue driven, so the mix isn’t overly complex, with the forward soundstage maintaining dominance most of the time. Active sound effects are used judiciously, but effectively in key moments of the film. The surround channels do see some activity for effects, but primarily provide an ambient sense of depth and musical fill. Speaking of the music, James Horner’s score is beautifully recorded and integrated into the mix with good sonic clarity. Dialogue is always cleanly rendered with total intelligibility. A French 5.1 channel soundtrack is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English and Spanish subtitles.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD’s interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplemental materials, which are spread across both discs of this two-disc set. Disc one includes two separate running audio commentaries; the first features director Ron Howard, while the second is with screenwriter Akiva Goldsmith. Both talks are interesting and approach the film from different viewpoints; causal listeners will get more from Howard’s comments- so this is definitely the track to start with. Howard covers multiple aspects of the production, including working with the actors, as well as separating fact from fiction in this screen account of John Nash’s life. By contrast, Goldsmith’s talk emphasizes character development and the screenplay. Also included on disc one are eighteen deleted scenes, which offer optional director’s commentary. As in most films, the footage was removed from A BEAUTIFUL MIND for reasons of pacing and does not make any significant changes to the screen story.
Moving on to disc two, we find the bulk of the supplemental features, which include eleven featurettes and other materials. A Beautiful Partnership: Ron Howard & Brian Grazer runs slightly over five minutes and looks at the team that comprise Imagine Entertainment. Clocking in at over eight minutes is Development Of The Screenplay, which features screenwriter Akiva Goldsmith who discusses the process involved in bringing the story to the screen. Meeting John Nash is eight minutes in length and offers an informal meeting between Nash and director Ron Howard. Accepting The Nobel Prize In Economics is an under two minute clip showing Nash accepting his prize at the official ceremony.
In the five-minute featurette Casting Russell Crowe & Jennifer Connelly, director Ron Howard discusses how he came to select the two actors for their roles. At seven minutes, The Process of Age Progression looks at the makeup and techniques employed to bring the characters from youth to old age. Creation of the Special Effects runs over ten minutes and looks at the seamless digital imagery employed throughout the course of the film. At almost six minutes in length, composer James Horner discusses Scoring the Film. Running over twenty-two minutes is Inside A Beautiful Mind, which a more generalized PR type featurette that covers various aspects of the production. Other disc two supplements include storyboard comparisons for five scenes, clips from the Academy Awards, a soundtrack promo, a theatrical trailer and bonus trailers for other Universal titles. A BEAUTIFUL MIND is also DVD-ROM enabled, with the disc offering access to various on-line content.
I really don’t have to say that A BEAUTIFUL MIND is a great movie- the four Oscars speak volumes about this film. As for the DVD, Universal has produced a first rate disc that offers a great looking transfer and solid soundtrack, in addition to some excellent supplemental materials. If you’ve seen A BEAUTIFUL MIND, you will want the DVD, if you haven’t seen the film, then the DVD is the best way to get acquainted with it outside of a theater.
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