While Peter Jackson has obviously gone on to become one of the biggest directors in Hollywood, let's not forget that before he brought King Kong to the big screen and before he brought the Lord Of The Rings trilogy to theaters around the world he made some considerably less mainstream films. Of course there are his famous early splatter pictures but arguably his most interesting (and in many ways his most creative) film is 1994's Heavenly Creatures. The film is based on the real life experiences of Pauline Rieper (played by Melanie Lynskey of Coyote Ugly and Ever After) and Juliet Hulme (Kate Winslet of Titanic fame), two teenage girls living in Christchurch, New Zealand who instantly become best friends when they meet at school. The film is narrated by Lynskey reading from the real Pauline Rieper's actual diary entries recorded during the time the events took place.
Both girls share an intense love of almost all things melodramatic and the two quickly become more and more entwined with each other to the point where they develop their own fantasy land, give each other special names, and begin to turn away from the rest of the world, their families in particular. Given the time and setting (New Zealand in the early 1950's), the girls respective families grow increasingly concerned with just how close they're becoming and when they're found holding each other in bed one night, their parents decide that they should be separated. Though the girls protest, this becomes easy enough to do when Juliet becomes ill and is hospitalized for a few months. Once she gets out, however, things are back to the way they were and the girls decide that they're going to take the necessary steps to make sure that they're never separated from each other again.
A complete turnaround from Jackson's earlier gore films like Dead Alive and Bad Taste, Heavenly Creatures is an eclectic film that as at times as touching as it is downright disturbing and it's an interesting evolutionary step on the man's path as a filmmaker. The camera work is solid and the performances suit the film perfectly as the movie shifts back and forth in tone, showing us the 'real world' and the 'fantasy world' that the girls imagine themselves in. Tonal shifts like this can sometimes spell death for a feature, but Jackson guides it all with a steady hand so that none of this ever feels either inappropriate to the narrative or like a visual gimmick. Rather, it all winds up a perfect visual representation of his interpretation of the two leads' respective mental states. Additionally, Jackson effectively uses sepia tones, animation, zooms and a few different filters in front of the camera to create not only the real world in which the film takes place, but also the girl's fantasy worlds as well.
Performance wise, the film holds up very well. Jackson uses an unusual amount of facial close ups on both lead actresses to convey emotion very effectively, and both Winslet and Lynskey in turn are both completely believable in their roles. The supporting cast members are all fine, but Winslet and Lynskey deliver such strong work in this picture that they're the two you'll be talking about once it's over, particularly when you consider that both actresses made their feature film debuts with this picture. It's interesting to see how the two actresses provide contrast in their performances. Winslet's Juliet is happy, creative, and seemingly fascinated by everything around her while Lynsky's Pauline is considerably more morose, moody and introspective.
Heavenly Creatures was nominated for an Academy Award in 1995 for Best Screenplay and won at least four international festival awards during that time as well. It's also interesting to note that whenever possible, Jackson used the real life locations where much of this all played out. All in all, it's a well directed and well acted film with some unusual special effects and a great script based on some disturbing real life events. It should be noted that this Blu-ray contains the uncut version of the film (clocking in at 1:48:53, to be exact), not the trimmed down ninety-nine minute version that was previously available domestically. This cuts adds some more character development bits to the picture, mostly in regards to the relationship the two girls share.
Heavenly Creatures looks very good in this 2.35.1 AVC encoded 1080p high definition widescreen transfer from Lionsgate. The film was shot with a soft look in mind for certain scenes and so detail doesn't quite leap off the screen at you the way it does on other high definition presentations but if you've seen this film before on DVD, you'll notice the improved detail and texture that the Blu-ray allows for pretty much right from the start. WETA's effects work, seen frequently in the fantasy sequences, hold up very well and don't really look dated at all here, while the texture of the outfits that the girls wear shows a lot of intricacies and you can make out a lot of the fibers and what not. Skin tones look good, never particularly waxy or heavily processed but natural, while color reproduction is also generally very strong even when the movie makes use of a somewhat drab color scheme (which is common in the film). Fans of Jackson's film should be quite happy with the results on this release - the movie looks very good.
The only audio option provided is an English language DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo track, though optional subtitles are offered up in English, English SDH and Spanish. While a 5.1 mix might have opened things up more than the stereo track here, you can't fault this 2.0 track as it does sound very good for what it is. The score has some nice resonance to it while the dialogue stays clean and clear throughout. There isn't constant left to right channel separation but there's enough that you'll notice it and the levels remain properly balanced from start to finish. There are no problems with hiss or distortion to discuss, and if this isn't a track that will completely blow your mind, it suits the tone of the movie just fine and provides a noticeable upgrade in clarity over previous standard definition offerings.
Aside from a menu and chapter selections, the only extra included on this release is a theatrical trailer for the film, presented in standard definition.
Heavenly Creatures holds up well and this Blu-ray from Lionsgate, despite the fact that it's severely lacking in the extra features department, offers a really nice upgrade for fans of the film. Sure, it's almost barebones, but the movie is good enough on repeat viewings that this is one you'll want to watch more than once and it comes highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.