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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Singing Detective
The Singing Detective
Legend Films // R // September 23, 2008
List Price: $14.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ryan Keefer | posted September 21, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

I'm no dummy, for the most part anyway. But studio politics and business needs seem to dictate when one film results in mass success, when said film is released on DVD, the younger neglected cinematic brothers and sisters usually get another look somehow. So after Robert Downey Jr.'s appearance in Iron Man made Paramount loads of cash, and since that little production is about to come out on DVD, another Paramount film starring Downey is being re-released just ahead of it, which is where The Singing Detective comes into play. The Downey film was released by Paramount way back in 2004 shortly after the film's release, and now we're seeing it again as a bit of a cash grab release of sorts.

Dennis Potter, who wrote the material that the original 1986 BBC miniseries was based on, returned to write the screenplay for this film, which Keith Gordon (The Chocolate War) directs. Downey plays Dan Dark, a novelist who is in the hospital with a severe skin condition. While he is infirmed, he starts to develop story ideas and developments based on those who grace his hospital bed each day. His nurse (Katie Holmes, Go) is made into a ravishing beauty; his wife/girlfriend Nicola (Robin Wright Penn, Forrest Gump) is secretly scheming with another gentlemen, so that Dan's screenplay fortunes are co-opted by the pair. The one person who isn't transformed by Dan's visions is Dr. Gibbon (Mel Gibson, Downey's Air America co-star), who serves as Dan's therapist of sorts and helps him to flush out some memories of his childhood, which might explain things like Dan's hatred of women and his other issues.

Throughout the film, you experience lots of noir-influenced images, lots of things going on in the dark, and the character that Dan plays, or more to the point, imagines in his mind, says a lot of '40s and '50s era inspired dialogue, but when he's not, you know, detecting, he's also singing. To put it more exactly, he's lip-synching to the rock classics that are prominent through most of the film. But in Dark's persona, Downey portrays a man who is more than a little distrustful, and not all that likable. Considering his circumstances, it might be hard not to understand, but the difficult part is that your feelings on the film hinge on the character. That's probably why people didn't come out to the film in droves, and probably why not many people will come to it now, in its second DVD release from Paramount and its third overall.

The Disc:
Video:

On a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation, The Singing Detective looks pretty good. Film grain is present through most of the feature, and in some of the dream sequences (like the Downey-Holmes one), whites are shown a little on the hot side intentionally, so the dedication to the original work is commendable, but the overall print doesn't look all that pristine to me. For a standard definition disc, it looks OK.

Audio:

A choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 sound mixes, neither of which is all that immersive, which is a disappointment when you consider just how many songs are playing during the feature. Equally problematic is that the dialogue is weak and uneven through large portions of the film, which leads to quite a bit of receiver adjustment and was a pain in the butt after a while.

Extras:

Yeah, the extras here are the same as the earlier releases, which means trailers for Northfork, And Now, Ladies and Gentlemen and the MTV adaptation of Wuthering Heights, along with a commentary with Gordon. To his credit, he's pretty active and informative through the feature, discussing his inspiration for doing the film, speculating on how he was able to get so many stars for it, going into some shot breakdowns and style choices while pointing out actual locations for the feature, and how the production process went as a whole. If you like the film, you'll appreciate the track.

Final Thoughts:

I really didn't enjoy The Singing Detective all that much as you can probably tell. Despite Downey, Wright, Holmes, Gibson and Adrien Brody (The Pianist) in a smaller role to list a few, the performances don't seem to have any real emotional resonance to speak of, and when you compare 110 minutes of this against the BBC miniseries (which I haven't seen either) that's extensively longer, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that when choosing between the two, go for the British acting. If you're really interested in this, check it out on rental first before pulling the trigger, and those who have earlier versions of the disc don't have any reason to double-dip.

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