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Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?

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Review by Aaron Beierle | posted June 15, 2001 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

I must admit that the appeal of the Coen Brothers latest feature is lost on me. Although "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" has its moments, the picture remains my least favorite of the Brothers' pictures. The film stars George Clooney as Everett McGill, who's just broken out of jail as the film opens, accompanied by associates Pete(John Tuturro) and Delmar(Tim Blake Nelson). The tale of these three that's about to be told is supposed to be based on Homer's "The Odyssey" - although the problem is, the Coens admit they've never read it. Anyways, the three are attempting to try and get across the state to retrieve 1.2 million dollars that Everett had buried before he got sent to prison. Certainly, there's no easy way to get there when they keep running into the police that are on their tail - and into other odd events, such as a trio of sirens in a local river.

The trio also run across Mississippi bluesman who claims to have sold his soul to the devil at a crossroads, interrupt a Klan rally in wacky fashion, run into a one-eyed Bible salesman and become instrumental in a political race. In the middle of it all, they find themselves recording stars after being paid to record a tune called "Man Of Constant Sorrow", which sweeps across the surrounding states.

Easily the best part of the plot has the boys becoming local music stars after they end up coming up with "I Am The Man Of Constant Sorrow" with their "group" the Soggy Bottom Boys. T-Bone Burnett's marvelous score is a consistent pleasure, as well as one other element - Roger Deakins' cinematography. I've long said that Deakins is definitely one of the best in the business, and he proves that again here, providing some absolutely, almost impossibly gorgeous shots of the Southern scenery.

The performances aren't bad, but I would have liked to have seen things be a bit more subtle. Clooney can do comedy quite well, as can his two associates in the film, but the comedy here is played mostly as slapstick. The three don't provide much interest in their characters and "Oh Brother" moves along from episode to episode at such a relaxed pace that even the 105 minute film does feel rather draggy at times. The film has moments of inspired oddness and some decent performances, but can't seem to figure out a way to pull things together in a way that doesn't feel aimless.


VIDEO: Ever since I saw "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" in the theater, I was eager to see how well the stunning cinematography of Roger Deakins would translate to DVD on this edition from Buena Vista. I'm pleased to say that the studio has done a superb job with this release - the film looked nothing short of terrific throughout. Although I will discuss how the film was digitally altered for it's golden-toned "look" when I discuss the featurette included, I must say that the general quality impressed me. Sharpness and detail are exceptionally good throughout the film - a smooth, film-like presentation that looked crystal clear, often with good depth to the image.

I really didn't notice anything in the way of problems - at least enough to cause any concern. I noticed nothing in the way of pixelation or and only a very light hint or two of edge enhancement. Literally, I only saw a two or three minor speckles on the print used. These minimal flaws were so minor and infrequent that I hardly found them worthwhile of comment. The film's sepia-toned color palette looked rich and well-saturated. Scenes that were not presented in such fashion looked excellent as well, with vibrant colors. Black level was also strong and flesh tones looked natural and accurate. This is a wonderful effort from Buena Vista. The layer change is located at 1:27:14.

SOUND: "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" is presented with both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 audio editions for this DVD. Although I remember the film being a pleasing sound experience when I saw it in the theater, listening to the picture on DVD provided an even more detailed sound than I remember hearing theatrically.

What I was reminded of while watching many scenes in the film is sound designer Gary Rydstrom's terrific mix for "The Legend Of Bagger Vance". Neither film provides much in the way of action, but both provide suprisingly convincing ambient sounds of the outdoors. Crickets, birds, wind, running streams are all very well used and surrounds merge well with what the front speakers offer to make for a very impressive audio environment. Surrounds also do get some use for other subtle effects - they seemed to be almost constantly offering some sort of subtle audio, from the music to voices to ambient sounds.

Audio quality is remarkably good throughout the film. The classic songs especially benefit from terrific warmth, richness and clarity. When the three sing "Man Of Constant Sorrow", it carries wonderfully into the listening space. There's another scene early on when the boys come across a congreation in the woods singing; the voices come across sounding so natural and beautiful that I was qiute impressed. Surrounds also carry these voices during the scene, and the viewer becomes enveloped. There's some light bass on occasion, but the material doesn't call for much of a rumble. Last, but not least, dialogue sounded natural and remarkably clear. Both the Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 presentations sounded excellent, although the DTS presentation provided a somewhat better level of clarity and detail, with the music sounding subtly warmer and richer. Either way you play it, "Oh Brother" sounded wonderful.

MENUS:: Although the menus themselves are not animated, with basic film-themed images, there are animated transitions between menus.


Painting With Pixels: The Coen Brothers wanted a certain golden-toned, dry and dusty look for the picture. Previously, chemical processes have been used to attain a look for a film, but for "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" the film actually used digital manipulation to achieve this look. We are taken through the entire process of coloring the picture, showing how the film is taken from computer into the digital world, manipulated, and then brought back as film again. It's stunning to see a before/after presentation of how the film looked as shot and after it was manipulated for the look the filmmakers were seeking. This featurette runs 9 minutes.

Production Featurette: Promotional in some ways, I found it informative in others. There are some interesting interviews with the actors and the crew, and we learn more about the details of how the film was made as well as how the Coen Brothers work together. This featurette runs 8 minutes/20 sec.

Storyboard/Scene Comparison: This is a storyboard-to-scene comparison for both "The Flood" and "The Klan". The first angle shows the scene in the film, the second shows the storyboard and the third is a comparison between the two, with the storyboard on top and the scene playing at the bottom.

Also "Man Of Constant Sorrow" music video, Trailer (1.85:1/2.0).

Final Thoughts: My opinion of the film is still mixed, but I must say that Buena Vista has done a terrific job on the DVD release, which offers wonderful audio and video quality as well as a couple of decent extras.

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