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BELOVED ($30) is such a radical departure from Oprah Winfrey's television show that I can understand why many of her legions of fans were less than enchanted with the film. However, Winfrey's determination to bring Toni Morrison's Pulitzer Prize winning novel should be applauded since it shows her willingness to take risks as she grows as an artist. To the other detractors of BELOVED, let me say this: no film can ever be as detailed as the novel on which it is based. There is no way possible to transcribe everything that appears on the printed page onto film. Compromises will be made, so those who waste time comparing the film to its literary source are going to find fault with the movie.

BELOVED tells a difficult story that is filled with the harsh realities of the life that a runaway slave faced in both pre and post Civil War America. Believe me, this film does not romanticize the era. Life was difficult in the mid-nineteenth century and BELOVED does not shy away from showing the world just as it was. This is not to say that BELOVED is an ugly film, quite the contrary. BELOVED is replete with joyous life affirming moments that make the film truly special. Additionally, the acting is suburb and Jonathan Demme's direction outshines the work he did on THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS.

What first surprised me about BELOVED is the fact that the film tells a supernatural tale- I really wasn't expecting a ghost story. Oprah Winfrey stars as Sethe, a one time runaway slave who is making a life for herself and her daughter in the years following the Civil War. BELOVED also stars Danny Glover as Paul D. Paul D is an old friend of Sethe's, who was once a slave on the same plantation with her. One day, years after the war has ended, Paul D shows up on Sethe's doorstep hoping to spend some time with a very old and very dear friend. Much to his surprise, Paul D discovers that a violent spirit haunts Sethe’s home. After a confrontation with Paul D, the apparition that has been tearing Sethe's house apart seems to vanish. However, Paul D finds that the peace is short-lived when an odd young woman named Beloved enters Sethe's life. BELOVED is the kind of film that really should be experienced first hand, so I don't want to give away any more of the story line. The film unfolds very slowly, but BELOVED proves to be a rich, rewarding cinematic experience. Although, I'm sure that anyone whose tastes run towards ninety minute action movies are going to have some difficulties with this nearly three hour film. In addition to Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover, BELOVED also features Thandie Newton, Kimberly Elise, Lisa Gay Hamilton, as well as an absolutely sublime performance from Beah Richards.

Touchstone Home Video has done a nice job of bringing a Letterboxed edition of BELOVED to DVD. The film is properly framed at 1.85:1, and the only thing that would have improved this otherwise fine presentation is the inclusion of the 16:9 component for wide screen televisions. BELOVED is as sharp and detailed as any new film is likely to be when reproduced under the constraints of standard 4:3 NTSC video. Color reproduction is excellent; the film's warm glowing hues offer good saturation and no traces of chroma noise. Dark sequences have marvelous detail and exquisite, inky blacks that appear very natural. Film grain is held in check for the most part, but there are some sequences where the film stock is pushed to the limit of its low-light capacity. Additionally, there are flashback sequences that have been purposely overexposed and filtered by the filmmakers for effect. These "artistic" sequences really could have been problematic on home video. Fortunately, the DVD format is able to faithfully render them without incident. All traces of digital compression artifacts are well concealed by solid DVD authoring and the use of dual layer technology.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack is very nicely mixed- offering a very realistic soundstage instead of distracting the viewers with overwhelming effects. Dialogue reproduction is superb; everything is very clean and intelligible, plus the actor's voices all have a robust natural timbre. There is good channel separation in the front, while the rear channels provide both ambience and occasional mild effects that maintain the film's intricate, but realistic mix. The bass channel effectively kicks in when required to keep the mix from becoming top heavy. Rachel Portman's beautifully recorded score is fully integrated into the mix, yet it has a presence all its own. A French language soundtrack is also provided on the DVD, as well as English subtitles. The interactive menus are standard fare, allowing access to the scene and language selection features, as well as a production featurette and a theatrical trailer.


Beloved (1998)


DVD reviews are Copyright 1999 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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