The sale of most of Miramax's library to Lionsgate has proved a bit of a match made in heaven for both studios. Lionsgate spent years doing most of their business on DVD rather than in theaters, packing their vault with thousands of titles meant for Blockbuster shelves...many of which were not very good. With the Miramax buy, Lionsgate gets hundreds of true prestige titles that they can sell at bargain-bin prices, resulting in a long list of high-profile, low-cost Blu-Rays, and quadruple features like this, the Nicole Kidman 4-Film Collection, which pairs two of LGF's own movies (Rabbit Hole and Dogville) with two of their new purchases (Cold Mountain and The Others).
Kidman's demeanor has an icy quality to it -- not a flaw or complaint by any means, but likely a factor in her landing a higher rate of period pieces than some big-name actresses. As such, her participation in both of the true period pieces here (the Miramax titles) feels less like perfect casting and more like pigeonholing. Although her Cold Mountain character allows her to hit some comedic notes and even be a bit of a badass when it comes to defending her family farm, her longing lover Ada is a pretty generic "epic romance lead," and casting her is a pretty generic casting. Jude Law, playing Ada's would-be other half Inman, gets a much wider range of notes to play, and he gets to do so with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Giovanni Ribisi, and Natalie Portman, among others. The film itself looks beautiful and is frequently engaging thanks to strong pacing and gorgeous visuals by the late Anthony Minghella, but Cold Mountain never feels like it called out to be a movie for any reason other than the existence of other films just like it.
Her role in The Others is even thinner, playing the paranoid mother of two children with a deadly aversion to bright light. To keep them safe, she keeps them locked up and behind the wall of curtains lining her cavernous mansion home. Just like Cold Mountain, The Others has a missing soldier lover, played here by Christopher Eccleston. Kidman shares a few big dramatic scenes with Eccleston, but they come off like unnecessary emotional baggage grafted onto a simple ghost story, full of creaking floorboards and opening doors. No doubt director/writer Alejandro Amenábar thinks he's up to something more than a fun haunted house movie, but the film is at its best in creating a creepy atmosphere, not digging deep into its characters.
The other two films in the set are a different story. Lars von Trier's Dogville is a harrowing, heartbreaking account of the ways in which the morality of a small town is tested. There's no denying it has a certain level of pretension: von Trier shoots on a nearly empty soundstage, with the outlines of invisible buildings drawn on the floor, and the narration by John Hurt is almost as unnecessary as it is frequently overwritten. At the same time, it builds into a wonderfully complex conundrum, and von Trier's casting of Kidman in the main role seems to consider the things she's typecast for in order to play to and also subvert them. Playing out over an epic 177 minutes that are packed with emotional cruelty, it's a tough film even before it really sticks the knife in.
Still, the best of the set is Rabbit Hole, the 2010 film that scored Kidman a well-deserved Oscar nomination. The story, about a couple (Kidman and Aaron Eckhart) still grieving over the loss of their young son, sounds like a melodramatic award ploy at its most obvious and shameless, but it's Kidman's unpredictable, live-wire emotional state that brings the movie to life, especially when she begins to build a surprising and tentative friendship with the young man (Miles Teller) whose distracted driving caused her son's death. Echkart is also fantastic, matching Kidman's performance beat for beat with an entirely different realization of grief, and director John Cameron Mitchell finds subtle ways to bring their emotional bonds to the surface even as the uneven alignment of their emotional recoveries causes painful friction.
Cold Mountain: ***½
Rabbit Hole: *****
The Others: ***
A slightly eerie Photoshopped picture of Kidman is front and center on the "template" artwork Lionsgate is using for their "4-Film Collection" releases (Kidman gets a purple color scheme). The back lists technical specs and provides short summaries, but the extras are not listed. The package comes in a single-width, heavy-duty four-disc case that houses the four discs on two flap trays, and there is a small flyer for Lionsgate BeFit DVDs inside the case.
The Video and Audio
Cold Mountain, Rabbit Hole, The Others, and Dogville are presented in 2.35:1, 1.78:1, 1.85:1, and 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, respectively, and the quality is...a bit lacking. Three of them (Rabbit Hole being the exception) are roughly a decade old, and kind of look like they could use another pass. Dogville looks the worst, for reasons both intentional (ghosting, low detail, weak colors, all inherent to the digital cameras used on the low-budget production) and uninentional (aggressive posterization on all of the chapter cards). Posterization is also noticeable on Rabbit Hole, and the film is stuck with that dull, modern look (where only highlights are true white and all other colors are covered in a light gray). The Miramax transfers, comparatively, look stronger overall but each has their own issues: noise or artifacting inside some particularly inky blacks prove to be a struggle for Cold Mountain (potentially issues with the overall contrast, which looks okay sometimes and off at others), while colors on The Others feel a bit flat, and I even spotted a speck or two on the print, which seems like an oddly old-fashioned defect for a relatively recent movie.
All four films are offered in Dolby Digital 5.1. Cold Mountain sounds the best, with several incredible battle and also musical sequences highlighting the aural experience. The Others, comparatively, is strangely quiet, with the dialogue practically at a whisper. Rabbit Hole's soundtrack has an appealingly present and raw feel to it, whereas Dogville is the rawest of the raw, with purposefully unrealistic sound effects, crisp narration, clear dialogue, and very little other audio to speak of. Aside from The Others' volume problem, all four feature presentation tracks sound pretty good to my ears.
Rabbit Hole and Dogville retain their original extras, which include an audio commentary and trailer for each (the commentary is under the setup menu on Dogville), plus deleted scenes for Rabbit Hole. However, the Miramax titles were both originally available as 2-disc DVDs, and none of the extras for those two films have been carried over (although the disc for The Others has the trailer for Cold Mountain. Bummer.
For anyone who is not interested in high-definition A/V or special features, this set contains two great dramas and two imperfect but interesting successes at a low price. Recommended.
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