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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Neil Gaiman's A Short Film About John Bolton
Neil Gaiman's A Short Film About John Bolton
New Video // Unrated // December 7, 2004
List Price: $26.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted December 30, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

Neil Gaiman is one of the most creative and entertaining writers alive today.  He took the comic world by storm with his series Sandman, won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for his 2002 novel American Gods and is currently working on a film adaptation to his mini-series Death: The High Cost of Living.  In 2003 this multi-talented individual turned to film, by writing and directing A Short Film about John Bolton.  This film which premiered at the San Diego Comic Con is now available for home viewing in a feature packed DVD.

John Bolton is an artist that has painted many comic book covers, but also does canvases.  He specializes in painting sexy erotic female vampires often in unpleasant situations.  He has the unique ability to make disturbing images appealing and even sensuous.

The film starts with the opening of an art show of John's work.  Bolton, a quite and soft spoken individual, examines the way the paintings are displayed before the public arrives.  You can almost feel his anxiety at the thought of being in public and having to talk to the rich people who buy his expensive paintings.  After the successful opening of his show, the narrator/interviewer travels to John's home where the artist talks, very sparingly about his life, and the fact that he lives in the same house that he was born in.

The highlight of the film is where John takes the interviewer into his studio.  This is the first time he's let someone see how he operates, and is a little nervous about the prospect.  It turns out that he paints in the basement on an ancient abbey nearby his home, with candlelight the only illumination.  With bones and swords for props and inspiration, it is easy to see how John comes up with such eerie images.

This was a fun film on a lot of levels.  It was wonderfully funny to see the fawning art agent gushing over Mr. Bolton, agreeing with just about everything he said.  She never realized that her exuberant personality was just pushing him more and more into his shell.  Likewise when the interviewer asks John to comment on the pretentious and flowery prose an art critic has used to describe his work.  "What does that mean?" John replies.

While I did enjoy the film a great deal, I didn't think the way Neil Gaiman chose to end the picture totally worked.  While I realize what he was trying to do, it felt a little too much like it was mimicking other works, one in particular.

In one of the interviews or on the commentary Mr. Gaiman states that he started this project because whenever he's seen his work adapted for TV or film, he doesn't feel that the people who adapt it get the work totally right.  He wanted to have enough control so that his vision was what appeared on the screen.  He was able to do that with this film, and that alone make it worth watching.

The DVD:


Audio:

The two channel audio fit the subject matter.  It wasn't very dynamic but this is a dialog based film and there wasn't any need for a large range.  The dialog was clean and easy to hear, and there weren't any audio defects.  There are no subtitles.

Video:

The widescreen image is not anamorphically enhanced, but still looks good.  It has that documentary look to it, of course, but Bolton's pictures come through nicely.  The scenes in John's studio, which is lit by candle light, is excessively grainy of course but that was the look the creators were going for.  Overall a typical looking documentary. 

Extras:

This disc is packed with good extras that really enhance the entire package.  First off is an audio commentary by writer/director Neil Gaiman and actor Marcus Brigstocke.  It's an average commentary, with the pair talking about the way shots were arranged and relating some behind the scenes anecdotes.

The Making of John Bolton is a ten minute conversation with the director about the filming of the movie.  He talks about the genesis of the project, and even reveals why he grew a beard.

Live at the Aladdin:  An Evening with Neil Gaiman is a 103 minute film that chronicles an appearance that Neil made in support of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.  A very entertaining and interesting speaker, this is a great film.  He reads several of his stories and answers questions from the audiance.  This feature wasn't of the same quality as the Bolton film, the image wasn't as crisp and bright, and the audio was pretty bad.  There was a hum throughout Neil's performance, and the audio was out of synch with the picture during at least part of the show.  Even with these flaws, it was well worth watching.

Neil Gaiman also reads the afterword that he wrote for John Bolton's book Haunted Shadows.  This was the piece that inspired the film, and it was fun to hear the author read it.

The photo gallery features 12 John Bolton paintings that you can cursor through at your leisure, and the text biographies are very amusing and shouldn't be missed.  

Final Thoughts:

This was an interesting short.  Neil Gaiman is an immensely talented writer, and he does a very good job with his first effort at directing.  While I was a little disappointed at the way he chose to end the film, the rest of the work is wonderfully amusing.  A very high Recommendation.
 

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