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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Deeply
Trimark // Unrated // December 18, 2001
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted January 6, 2002 | E-mail the Author
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The plot summary on the back of the case for Deeply might lead many to expect a knockoff of the critically acclaimed The Wicker Man, substituting crops for cod. I wouldn't have guessed that Kirsten Dunst, who's prominently featured on the poster art in true Easy Breezy Beautiful Cover Girl style, to appear considerably less glamorous or for so much screen time to alternate between her story and that of German indie fave Julia Brendler. As Claire McKay, Brendler is the focus of the framing story, in which the young teenager arrives at the sparsely developed island her mother once called home. Claire has recently suffered some sort of trauma that's slowly revealed throughout the course of the film, leaving her alienated from her well-intentioned mother. Assigned the task of delivering a package from the mainland to reclusive writer Celia (Lynn Redgrave), Claire is spun the tale of an islander curiously named Silly (Kirsten Dunst). The residents of Ironbound Island are among the world's most prosperous fishermen, though a pesky Viking curse causes a fish drought that arrives like clockwork every fifty years. The suffering islanders seek out alternate means of income, and one such opportunity is a visiting admiral interested in constructing a base of some sort. Silly falls head over heels in love with the admiral's son James (Trent Ford), though fate conspires to keep the starcrossed lovers apart. Anyone who has the slightest familiarity with the aforementioned The Wicker Man should have some faint idea how the locals intend to deal with Silly in the hopes of replenishing the sea. Claire realizes that Silly's plight -- minus the fish and crazed islanders, natch -- parallels her own, and she's soon able to thank Celia for teaching her how to laugh about life and love...again.

One of the pitfalls associated with naming a movie Deeply is that the title makes for a pretty easy target. The plot hinges on the Viking curse and the vengeful, unseen spirits of the sea. These elements, whenever they're infrequently referenced, seem quite out of place, as the realm of magic and fantasy doesn't affect any other facet of the plot. This siphons power away from the love story between Silly and James, which could've easily been just as tragic without veering off into a fairy tale. Apologies for making a third reference to The Wicker Man, but a hefty portion of its runtime was devoted to immersing the viewer in its unusual environment. No such effort is made here. Though Sergeant Howie's fate on Summerisle isn't entirely unpredictable, it's a far cry from Deeply, which deems it necessary to telegraph virtually every bend and turn in the plot well beforehand. The origin of Celia's tale could not possibly be more obvious, almost impossible to miss from the moment it begins. Even speaking Celia's name and that of her protagonist outloud should be enough of an indication of what to expect. I'm always racked with guilt whenever I provide any spoilers, even ones as poorly masked as those in Deeply, so I'll avoid going into any further detail on its rampant foreshadowing.

I was previously unfamiliar with Julia Brendler, a gifted actress appearing here in a relatively rare English-speaking role. A quick Google search seemed to indicate that Brendler is known for appearing nude in nearly every one of her films, though her fanbase may be disappointed by the obscured, dimly lit flash offered here. The prolific Kirsten Dunst turns in a passable performance, though I've grown so accustomed to seeing her as a sassy modern teenager that it's difficult to accept her as a cursed islander in the late 1940's. Dunst and Trent Ford don't get a phenomenal amount of screentime together, and possibly because of this, chemistry between them doesn't seem to be quite there. Within a few short minutes of her introduction, Lynn Redgrave's ornery novelist had my roommate doing an impression of Gloria Stuart in Titanic. Redgrave is nearly unrecognizable, and her performance falls short of that in her previous film with Dunst, 1998's All I Wanna Do. There's also the matter of the wildly inconsistent accents, but I've harped on the actors enough for me to feel comfortable moving onto the more successful individuals behind the camera. The visuals are first-rate, though budget concerns presumably preclude it from being on the grander scale of a film like The Wicker Man. Deeply's art direction, production design, cinematography, and editing were all lavished with nominations for upcoming awards. I have no qualms about set design and camerawork being rewarded with statuettes, but I was not particularly impressed by the editing work, as the transitions from Celia's story to the present are awkward and far from seamless. Yes, there are, in fact, seams. Though I personally didn't much care for The Wicker Man, it's not difficult to conceive how it attracted such a large, devoted cult following. I rather doubt the decidedly-average Deeply will be as fondly remembered in decades to come.

Video: Despite being presented at 1.85:1 during various theatrical exhibitions and appearances at film festivals, this DVD release of Deeply is only available domestically in full-frame. This is certainly a disappointment, marring the composition from director of photography Sebastian Edschmid, whose work on the film has been nominated for "Best Achievement In Cinematography" for the 2002 Genie Awards. (Even though its name is less than imposing, the Genie Awards are the main national film award in Canada.) Studio Home Entertainment has released quite a number of anamorphic widescreen titles over the past couple of years, leaving me wondering why they would choose to diverge now. Even the trailer was on the official Deeply site was letterboxed. Apologies all around if it seems as if I'm harping at length about this, but I rabidly support the presentation of films in their original aspect ratio. The full-frame image really isn't all too remarkable taken on its own, appearing more like late-night cable fare than a DVD of a modestly budgeted movie. Certain portions, particularly in the early moments of Claire's arrival to the island, struck me as seeming a bit too soft, and fine detail really isn't present to any great extent at any point throughout the film. The use of color was jarring initially, as all but Claire's last couple of scenes in Deeply are tinted blue (even moreso in her flashbacks). It's not evident that this is intentional until after the film first returns to the framing story. Hues in Celia's tale appear to be accurately reproduced. I didn't spot much in the way of specks or print flaws, though halos from edge enhancement were noticeable on occasion. Some underwater shots aside, the level of grain isn't terribly intrusive or unusual for this sort of movie. Deeply looks okay, but its appearance looks less like what I've come to expect from a five inch disc and more like it's being piped through low-grade coax to my television set.

Audio: The Dolby Stereo audio is fairly run of the mill, driven entirely by dialogue. My rear speakers had a tendency to lay dormant until the vaguely-Celtic score would come to life, along with some scattered ambiance on and around the sea. Any viewers anticipating extensive stereo separation or lively subwoofer activity will likely find themselves sorely disappointed. Deeply doesn't offer a particularly engaging audio experience, but for this sort of low-key, coming-of-age love story, frequent use of surround effects and thundering bass aren't really necessary to get the point across.

Supplements: A full-frame trailer for Deeply is also included on this disc, along with trailers for Uncorked and Sand, both of which are also currently available on DVD.

Conclusion: I suppose every DVD reviewer cluttering the World Wide Web has their own sets of rules and standards, and one of mine is to not recommend any DVD in which the original aspect ratio of the movie has been compromised. In the case of Deeply, this fact probably wouldn't have had much of an effect on the outcome, as I'm not overly enthusiastic about the film itself. Deeply might be worth setting aside an hour and a half some lazy Sunday after it inevitably lurches onto cable television, but its truly inspired moments are too few and far between to warrant a purchase.
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