"The Dust Factory" is sometimes rather odd, but it's an occasionally effective family feature that serves as something of an alternative to "Finding Neverland", the bigger-budget fantasy feature that comes out the same week. In fact, "Peter Pan" is mentioned here, as well. The film focuses on Ryan Flynn, a young teen who has been mute ever since he witnesses his dad killed while trying to save Ryan and the rest of his family. Since the accident, he keeps to himself, only hanging out with his friend, as they fish or ride down the streets.
When Ryan falls through a rotten bridge and into the water, he emerges into an alternate reality where his grandfather (Armin Mueller-Stahl, a great actor who deserves more work) plays the guide and he makes a friend, Melanie (Hayden Panettiere), who somehow skates on the unfrozen water nearby. She takes him up to a circus on a hill, where people who want to "move on" must take a leap on a trapeeze, often missing and falling into the dust below.
But, Ryan is not yet ready to "move on", and he and Melanie have their rather low-key adventure, with Grandpa as their guide. For a fairly small picture, the movie employs some surprisingly good visual effects. Although it's well-intentioned that the film tries to discuss dealing with the grieving process, it sometimes gets a little bogged-down in trying to show visuals and create the fantasy world. Unfortunately, the film never really establishes the rules for its world, which may make some younger viewers confused, and some of the imagery may be a little frightening for some kids. Even I was a little mystified by some of what was going on in the picture. The other issue is that some may find Melanie's character a little too flirty early in the movie.
The film's performances are good, though: the child stars are quite engaging, and Mueller-Stahl is wonderful, as always. Despite all the oddness of some of the film's fantasy sequences, at heart it's a pretty well-intentioned movie about grieving and moving on pass loss while always keeping that one person in your heart with you.
VIDEO: "Dust Factory" is presented by MGM in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality is quite good for a direct-to-video release, with excellent sharpness and detail. Although not consistently visible, small object details are often quite apparent on this crystal-clear transfer.
Slight edge enhancement was visible in a couple of scenes, but the image otherwise remained crisp and free of faults. No pixelation or print flaws were visible. Colors looked rich and well-saturated throughout, with no smearing or other faults. Black level looked solid, while flesh tones appeared accurate.
SOUND: "Dust Factory" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. Mild surround use is occasionally present, but this is mainly a subdued, front-focused track. Audio quality is good, with pleasant, crisp highs and lows. Dialogue remained clear and easily understood, while effects seemed well-recorded.
EXTRAS: There's a brief "making of" with rather lackluster sound quality, a music video featuring actress Hayden Panettiere for a sappy ballad that raises the cheese level to 11, deleted scenes and promos for other MGM titles.
Final Thoughts: "The Dust Factory" is a well-intentioned movie about trying to cope with loss, and the performances are good. The fantasy elements are well-done technically, but there's not enough structure to them, which results in some confusion about just what's going on. MGM's DVD offers very good image quality, fine audio and a couple supplements. Rent it.