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Straight Story, The

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Review by Aaron Beierle | posted November 13, 2000 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

David Lynch threw audiences a change, and they certainly responded very warmly to it. The filmmaker, known for his darker visions such as "Twin Peaks" or "Lost Highway", offered a G-rated tale of heart and soul, and it's hard not to be charmed by this entertaining and enjoyable movie. Veteran actor Richard Farnsworth, who recently passed away, does a fantastic job playing Alvin Straight, a 73-year old man who finds out early in the film that his brother has fallen ill.

He's not in the best of shape himself, but he absolutely wants to see his ill brother once again. And so, he packs up his things and doesn't get in his car. His mode of transit: an John Deere lawnmower with a little trailer attached. Slowly but surely, he sets off across the midwest. Based on a true story, it's a credit to Lynch as well as the fine performances that we're watching an old gentleman on a lawnmower going along, and we're engaged. There's something about Farnsworth's nature that makes us want to see him succeed.

He meets various people along the way, helping them in various ways to see their situations in a different light, the first being a girl who's runaway from her family. The whole movie has such a natural, real feeling to it that we find ourselves pulled in, just to see what's going to happen to Alvin next, or who he might run into. There are also a couple of things that help further bring us into the tale; the wonderfully peaceful score by Angelo Badalamenti is really beautiful, and the excellent cinematography captures the landscape perfectly as Alvin passes slowly through.

Lynch lets us know early on in the film that the pace is not going to be fast, and we accept it because we like the characters. It's not completely slow, either, as Lynch consistently gives us little events along the way; Alvin meets folks, barely makes it when his mower goes out of control, and other moments along the way. We learn even more about Alvin along the way, and appreciate him even more. It's truly a magnificent performance by Richard Farnsworth, and the fact that he didn't win the award for best actor is a shame because I really haven't been as impressed with a performance in quite some time. It's deeply saddening that he passed away recently, although I believe it's good that his last performance was the highlight of such a special movie.

"The Straight Story" is a great movie, which makes the DVD treatment from Disney all the more dissapointing.


VIDEO: Most won't find anything to really complain about with Disney's 2.35:1 anamorphic presentation of "The Straight Story", although I did find a few flaws that were worth mentioning. Sharpness seems to vary a bit, as some indoor scenes look a touch on the soft side, but in general, the picture looks nicely defined. Some of the outdoor scenes look especially vibrant, with bright sun bathing the pleasant scenery. Detail is good, as well.

Although I didn't notice any pixelation, there are a few instances now and then when light shimmering is visible. I found this noticable, but not to the point where it took me out of the movie. Print flaws also appear in the form of a few minor marks, but the majority of the movie looks crystal clear.

Colors are also very good looking, with the surrounding scenery looking natural and solid, with various shades of greens and browns as well as other colors coming through very well. While there are some flaws that I noticed with this presentation, overall, it's an enjoyable one from Disney.

SOUND: The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is not without some subtle and one or two not so subtle pleasures. The first instance of real use is a lightning storm about 14 minutes (and there's another fine sounding storm about 50 minutes in) into the movie that comes in so suddenly and sharply that I nearly jumped out of my seat. The thunder and rain sound wonderfully realistic and put the surrounds to use as well.

Other than that, the movie's audio delivers what I'd expected from it. The majority of the movie is dialogue, which sounds clear and easily understood. Music, for the most part, stays within the front speakers, although there are a few times when the surrounds subtly offer the score as well. A couple of times a car or truck passes by the mower, and convincingly passes through the listening space. Outdoor sounds such as the soft chirp of insects also enters nicely. Last but not least, the wonderful score also comes through very well. All-in-all a very pleasant listening experience.

MENUS:: Menus are non-animated, with very basic images serving as backgrounds.

EXTRAS: Here is the area where I'm rather furious with Disney, to put it lightly. They delay the release of the DVD for months, giving them plenty of time to come up with supplemental materials, and they give us...the trailer. Not even a short promotional featurette, not even bios. Just the trailer. For a film that a lot of people loved and were touched by, this is a very big mistake on their part. They could have even put in a short insert booklet about the career of Farnsworth...anything. And with no chapter stops (according to a note in the inside cover, this was a request by the director), this pretty much defines a "movie-only" disc, which is saddening.

Final Thoughts: I have to say that, while I found this to be a fantastic movie , I was completely dissapointed in the DVD presentation from Disney. While David Lynch has requested that there be no chapter stops, could he maybe have also remembered to request some extra features? For a DVD that was delayed for quite some time, it's really unfortunate that all we're given is the trailer (especially since the price is a $32.99, which is absurd for a movie-only disc).

A lot of people were really looking forward to this DVD, and after watching it I can see why. This is really a beautiful, well-done little movie that I liked quite a lot. There are a few flaws with the video quality, but the audio was quite good for a movie that isn't exactly too "busy".

In terms of a recommendation, I think I'd be willing to give this a total recommendation had Disney done a better job with the DVD presentation and gave us something more for $32.99. Still, I must say that this is a phenomenal picture and it's worth seeing, even if you rent it first. Personally, I'm glad I own it because I think it's a very special film that I believe I'll be watching it again soon. A great film though, and if you haven't seen it - at least give it a try as a rental. As for grades, the film recieves a "A", and the DVD a "C".

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