I wasn't able to catch "The Cider House Rules" at the theater, but I find that it makes a good home viewing experience. The film offers an interesting story and extremely good performances. The story is certainly dramatic and emotional, but I felt the film keeps from going "over-the-top" or becoming manipulative, letting the audience make their own conclusions about the film's events.
The film stars Tobey Maguire as Homer Wells, a young man who was adopted by his own orphanage. The boy has been raised by the head doctor, Wilbur Larch(Michael Caine), to one day take over the place. The two have an equally strong knowledge of medicine, but the difference is that Homer doesn't actually have a degree in medicine. Yet, he helps in deliveries and medical proceedures while there. The doctor will perform abortions, but Homer will not. Although the doctor and Homer have come to have a father/son relationship, it becomes obvious from the begining that Homer yearns to be free and see the world.
Although he can't join the army due to a heart problem, he gets a ride from a solider(Paul Rudd) and his girlfriend Candy(Charlize Theron). Homer gets a job picking apples at the orchard owned by the parents of the soldier. While the soldier is overseas, Homer finds himself falling in love with Candy, while the doctor writes him, urging him to return to the orphanage. While he works at the orchard, he learns more about the outside world from the workers, and he teaches them things as well.
The film is certainly not speedy, but I felt that it moved at a particularly enjoyable pace. While many films move deliberately to build characters and never really do so in a satisfying way, "The Cider House Rules" was and is effective in showing Homer's quest to learn more about the world around him.
The film contains many solid performances. The group of children who live at the orphanage are particularly good, and make the audience believe that Homer is essentially their Father figure that takes care of them. As for Maguire, I think he's a good performer, but he always seems to play characters similarly. He's good here, but he just doesn't seem like a performer who becomes a character. Also good are Theron as Candy, and Delroy Lindo, as one of the orchard workers. Maguire and Theron have good chemistry, which is interesting since the two reportedly did not get along during filming.
I didn't feel that "The Cider House Rules" was perfect, or an outstanding film, but I certainly thought it was very enjoyable. Performances are enjoyable, and although the film does have a slow moment or two in the second half where I wondered where it was headed, I never found it boring.
VIDEO: Miramax offers "The Cider House Rules" in a beautiful 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer, and although the picture has a few tiny flaws once or twice, the stunning photography by Oliver Stapleton("Restoration", "One Fine Day") and scenery makes the slight flaws fairly easy to overlook.
Sharpness is strong; the picture sometimes intentionally a little bit soft, but for the most part this is a smooth, crisp image that is very "film-like". There is the occasional speckle on the print used, but other than that, the print used remains clear and free of marks or scratches. There are a couple of instances of trace amounts of pixelation, but these are hardly noticable and not distracting.
Darker interior sequences are well-defined and never murky, and daylight scenes both indoor and outdoor have a warmly lit feeling that is pleasing visually. The interior scenes aren't terribly colorful, but many of the outdoor sequences contain fall colors that are very pretty. Black level is strong, and flesh tones are natural and accurate.
This is a very pleasing transfer from Miramax, and aside from a couple of minor flaws, presents a very pleasing viewing experience.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.0 soundtrack isn't terribly active, and that's pretty much to be expected from a film like this one, which is mainly dialogue-driven. The score is the main element that opens up the soundtrack; the marvelous score sounds warm and well-recorded, and fills the listening space well. Surrounds are used lightly for the music and subtle background sounds, but that's about it. Dialogue is clear and natural, easily understood throughout.
MENUS:: For the second time ever, Miramax offers subtly animated menus with film-themed images. There is also light animation on the sub-menus that keeps nicely with the tone of the film.
EXTRAS:EXTRAS:Commentary: This is a commentary from director Lasse Hallstrom, screenwriter John Irving and producer Richard Gladstein. It's not always the most entertaining commentary, and mainly keeps with the low-key tone of the movie. It mainly serves as an informative tour of the making of the movie, from the process of writing from Irving's perspective, to Hallstrom's views on the story and technical problems that came up along the way during the production.
The commentary does have some small pauses now and then, but these are hardly distracting since the comments that are shared are informative and do offer an interesting viewpoint on each aspect of bringing the story to the screen. I'm glad that all three of the speakers chose to participate, because they all bring something different to the table during the discussion. I'm also glad that this group never really simply states what's on-screen, and are able to offer opinions and information about the majority of the film's scenes.
Cider House Rules: The Making Of An American Classic: This is the thing that I have a little bit of trouble with. I thought "The Cider House Rules" was a good film, but I don't think that it was "an American Classic" - that's definitely a little much. Miramax has done quite a few "long-form" documentaries for films in the past, and this is a fairly good one. These longer documentaries (this one in particular lasts about 20 minutes) sometimes walk the line between being informative and a little too "promotional", and this one does that as well.
The interviews are quite interesting, and we get to hear from most of the crew and cast on their opinions on the story and their characters. These interviews are insightful and informative, but I can't help but feel that I would have liked a bit more balance between all of the clips from the movie and actual information; it just feels like there's a bit too many clips and not enough interviews/information at times.
Deleted Scenes: This section plays the deleted scenes in a clip, one-after-another for a total of about 8 minutes worth of footage. These scenes are not earth-shattering, but are an interesting addition to see what was taken from the film.
TV Spots/Trailer: 16 TV Spots and the theatrical trailer(Full Frame/Dolby 2.0)
Also cast&crew bios. There are actually no forced ads on this disc, which has been a problem with Disney/Miramax's releases.
Final Thoughts: I liked the "Cider House Rules" as a film, and found the quality of the DVD to be enjoyable. The extra features aren't quite as numerous as some of Miramax's Collector's Editions, but the commentary is a particularly good one, and worth a listen. Recommended.