Partly a comedy, partly a serious drama, "Life Is Beautiful" stars Roberto Begnini in a tale about a man who uses humor to lift himself and those around him out of the horrors of the Holocaust. Benigni plays Guido, a man sent to a concentration camp along with his wife and son. While there, he plays games with his son to shield him from the horrors that are going on around him.
Although at first this may seem like an odd or awkward premise for a movie, all of its elements are balanced well and it is respectful of its subject. The character is using humor simply as a means of surving, of keeping his spirit alive for another day. Benigni's performance is wonderfully sharp, full of heart and humor. The conversations between him and his child as they continue to play their "game" are both humorous and heartbreaking.
It's a touching and very well acted film but unfortunately, as you'll find out, Disney has produced this DVD. And that's rarely never a good thing.
VIDEO: Suprisingly, this turns out to be done of the better non-anamorphic transfers that has come from Miramax. It goes without saying that I would rather have had an anamorphic presentation for $39.99 (and since this is an Oscar winner, one would think that Miramax would give it the same treatment it gave Oscar winner Shakespeare in Love, but apparently not.) Colors are pure and natural throughout, and flesh tones are natural as well.
Although colors are enjoyably presented, there are also a few instances where the picture seems to be slightly on the soft side. On the positive side though, there are none of the usual flaws- no shimmering, pixelization, etc. The print used is also free of defects. Where this is not be as good as it could have been, I still found it watchable and pleasant. Again though, if "Shakespeare In Love" was anamorphic, why isn't this?
SOUND: The audio for "Life Is Beautiful" is pretty much exactly what I expected; it's not terribly active, but its highlight is certainly the score, which sounds crisp, clear and wonderfully enveloping. You can choose between the Italian 5.1 audio or the English 5.1 dubbed audio.
MENUS:: Basic menus built around the cover art.
EXTRAS: Where the "Good Will Hunting" Collector's Edition from Miramax certainly seemed like it wasn't quite packed enough with extras to justify the $39.99 price tag, "Life Is Beautiful" has much less in the way of added features, but the $39.99 price tag returns again. I think that their efforts on not only this disc, but on their new animated features, signals a Disney that has not yet begun to head in the right direction on their DVD releases. There is no excuse for this film to not be anamorphic, and there is no reason for the extra content featured here to justify the disc's price. There's not even enough here to have this disc be called a "Collector's Edition". Hopefully, the upcoming "Shakespeare In Love" Collector's Edition from the studio will begin to redeem this Miramax Collector's Edition idea that has, so far, been a big failure.
TV Spots/Trailer: The "Collector's Edition" for Miramax's "Good Will Hunting" had 17 or so TV spots, if I remember correctly. What was so pleasant about that disc was the ability to choose any of the ads out of a menu. On "Life Is Beautiful" we do get 11 different TV spots, but unfortunately, they all play one after another. The film's trailer is also included.
"Making Life Beautiful": A nicely done, although not terribly in-depth documentary that mainly contains interviews with a lot of the cast and crew involved with the movie and even some people who were not part of the production. Although there are certainly some interesting moments, one can't help but feel this is more of a promotional item than something that takes an in-depth look at the making of this movie. The majority of the running time seems to take a look at all the awards the picture won, while I would rather have seen more of an in-depth look at the production of this film. If anything, this seems like more of a documentary on Benigni than it is about the film itself. Not an awful documentary, but really, does it justify the price tag? No.
Final Thoughts: I've almost prepared myself for the dissapointment that comes with nearly every Disney DVD release lately. Although the image quality on this disc was passable, for $39.99 list price I expect more than "passable". The line on the back of the disc- "A delxue edition that takes you inside the movie" made me particularly angry; a bunch of trailers and a decent documentary gives me an insight in the movie? Not really. This is certainly a great movie, but this is absolutely not the way that it should have been presented. With the great work that studios like Tristar are doing, one can only wonder what kind of special edition they, or maybe Warner Brothers, would have been able to present to us of this great movie.