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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Emperor's Club
Emperor's Club
Universal // PG // May 6, 2003
List Price: $26.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted May 4, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:


I will admit that warning signs flashed in my head fairly early within my viewing of "The Emperor's Club" (the opening, with an aged Kevin Kline narrating a flashback didn't help). Early indications would lead one to believe that they've seen this movie before - good, rule-following and passionate teacher - in this case, William Hundert (Kevin Kline) - is teaching another year of Western History at St. Benedict's School for Boys when he's introduced to the smart, but troubled kid - Sedgewick Bell (Emile Hirsch). Bell is the overprivileged son of a senator, and doesn't take well to the idea of buckling down for the school year. To make matters worse, he spends his time getting the other students - such as Blythe (Paul Dano), Masoudi (Jesse Eisenberg) and Mehta (Rishi Mehta) - in trouble.

Connect the dots - the kid's a jerk because his father doesn't pay attention to him; Hundert believes that he will eventually get through to Bell; he could be great if he wanted to be (or if someone really believed in him)...you get the point. The only difference here is that this particular picture has the teacher offering a trivia contest to determine the "Mr. Julius Caesar" of the school. Tie in a couple of barely-there romantic subplots, throw in a late-in-the-game twist and you've got yourself something that can be called a movie, if not a good one. The film was apparently based on a short story and, rather than building characters and more interesting situations, it just seems like the story has been stretched thin.

The film is saved slightly by the performances. Kline's character should and could have been more enthusiastic (there's nothing here to really indicate why he's such a popular teacher), but the actor does give a mostly enjoyable, subtle effort. Emile Hirsch, first seen in the very good "Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys", gives a fine performance as Bell - while he starts off seeming like another generic prep-school rebel, he evetually does add some depth to the character, which is more than I can say about the supporting roles, all of which are very thinly written.

The film does start to gain a little steam in the second half when it jumps ahead twenty-five years, but it just never manages to pull enough original ideas (Kline's character says in the final voiceover, "This is a story without surprises," and he's almost entirely right) out to become that involving. "Emperor's Club" does offer a fine performance from Kline - although it definitely won't be remembered as one of his best - but other than that, the movie lacks the ambition to be much more than parts and pieces from other entries in the genre. A disappointment.


The DVD


VIDEO: "Emperor's Club" is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The film's cinematography and locations are rich and luxurious, looking beautiful. However, as stellar as aspects of this transfer were, there were still some issues noticed throughout the show. Sharpness and detail were quite good throughout most of the film, but there were a few instances where the picture seemed somewhat softer in comparison.

Brief, minor flaws were scattered throughout several scenes in the picture. The print, surprisingly enough given the picture's recent theatrical release, was not exactly in excellent condition - I noticed several minor marks and a speck or two. Light edge enhancement was also noticed in a couple of scenes, but not compression artifacts were spotted.

On a positive note, the picture's color palette looked warm and vivid, with nicely saturated colors and no flaws. Black level also remained solid, while flesh tones appeared accurate. A nice transfer, but a few scattered issues keep it from being something more.


SOUND: "Emperor's Club" is presented by Universal in Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1. James Newton Howard's score, while a little manipulative and a little emotional, is still pleasant and low-key enough to be memorable and help the movie along, at least somewhat. Surrounds give Howard's score some additional, pleasing reinforcement, but really don't have much else to do. Dialogue remains crisp and clear throughout, as well. Both the Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks presented the subtle audio equally well.

EXTRAS:

Commentary: This is a commentary from director Michael Hoffman. While I didn't particularly like the movie, I thought Hoffman's commentary was pretty enjoyable. His insights into the production and working with actors are enjoyable, and Hoffman speaks in an enthusiastic, honest manner. There's also some good discussion of how the look of the picture was crafted. Some silent spots can be heard throughout, but Hoffman talks through the majority.

Deleted Scenes: 20 minutes of deleted scenes are offered. Hoffman does make some good points about why he felt he had to cut certain scenes, and his discussion of the editing process is involving. The scenes themselves are okay - nothing I'd think should be in the film, but there are some decent scenes on their own that are watchable. Presented in rough form.

Making Of: This 20-minute featurette starts off with a cringe-inducing discussion of how outstanding the picture is (I'd think even those who like the film would agree that the voice-over does go overboard), and doesn't really get going until some ways in, when a discussion of the film's issues finally starts. There's a lot of clips scattered throughout the running time, as well.

Also: Trailer for "Emperor's Club", trailer for "Seabiscut" (see "Universal Showcase"), bios, recommendations, DVD-ROM weblinks.


Final Thoughts: "Emperor's Club" gets going at times in the second half, but this is mostly a predictable and even rather slow picture that's made somewhat watchable by Kline. The DVD, which offers slightly above-average video, fairly good audio and a nice helping of supplements, is recommended for fans of the film. Those who haven't seen it and are interested should rent first.

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