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Fox // R // April 1, 2014
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Neil Lumbard | posted May 1, 2014 | E-mail the Author
Once Blu-ray Review

There are sometimes little films that come along that find ways to surprise and amaze in almost every way imaginable. Once is that kind of film, and it's something one rarely gets a chance to experience. This particular film is a genuinely rare gem in a sea of works that are less inspiring, moving, or memorable. The unexpected hit was a hugely successful film at the Sundance Film Festival in 2007 and it went on to win several awards during the year including the Academy Award for Best Original Song for Falling Slowly, which catapulted the careers of musicians Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova.

Once is a simple but powerful film. It's not something that was overly concerned with a long and drawn out plot-line. Yet it is incredibly effective in its execution of the story. The concept of the film is to explore love of music and love through music and it does so through the two leading characters. The story opens with 'him' (Gen Hansard) performing music on the streets. Early in the film he has a friendly encounter with 'her' (Marketa Irglova), who gives him a few cents for his performance. Initially thinking that she is shortchanging his performance, the two quickly become chatty with each other and begin to learn about the other. It isn't long before both are discussing making music and their love of it. It turns out that she needs her vacuum cleaner fixed, and he does repairs. They agree to meet again the next day. He helps her with repairs (alongside his dad, whom he introduces to her). In hardly any time the two are connecting.

Before long the two of them find themselves inside of a music shop where she demonstrates skills with the piano. They begin to create beautiful music together. Over the course of the remaining of the film, they begin collaborating and making more music together and they contribute towards performing in a studio recording session with some fellow band mates (members of Hansard's band The Frames). She encourages him to be invested in working towards a recording deal. They get a loan to do the recording session and with the success achieved from getting the loan secure a few days of quality recording time.  The rest of the storytelling surrounds the intimate recording of their songs with friends and a final bow that simultaneously feels beautiful, sad, and bittersweet.

Once stars two musicians, then little known, named Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. Hansard was part of the band The Frames and Irglova had made a prior album with him under the title 'The Swell Season', which later became adapted as the name for their group. Both had no real acting experience before making the film, which was written (although much was reportedly improvised) and directed by John Carney, a fellow musician and filmmaker who used to be bassist for The Frames and was already familiar with Hansard and wanted him for the part. Deciding to make the film with Hansard and Irglova was the first step towards telling his fascinatingly simplistic but profound story.

The musicians had so much soul and heart: it was clear that the film meant a great deal to them and that they were fully invested in their roles. The inherent charm of these people was greatly realized through these roles. It was a match made in heaven. After the two musicians got their chance to look over the story and script they went to work making the incredible songs that appeared throughout the film. The songs were done in stages: before, during, and after production of the filming itself and it all had a great impact on the tonality of the film.

At the core of the film are the songs themselves. The songs make up the heart of the story, including the remarkable Falling Slowly. The songs each tell a part of the story and were impeccably placed within the framework established by Carney. Call it luck, call it fate... collaborating between these incredible three musketeers is one of the things which was so important to the success of Once.

The filmmaking style is quite beautiful and it feels so intelligent. The rhythm of the directing, from the encounter of the two lead characters at the beginning of the film to their spiritually powerful musical collaborations, is something that made the film feel so authentic and so joyously uplifting. It feels almost like a documentary but it encapsulates the best elements realized with movie-magic and this makes the film feel all the more special.  It's almost as though it glows. The film is a true inspiration to anyone who has ever worked on any artistic endeavor and a large part of this is the directing brought forth the best from these musicians, demonstrating the sheer power of collaboration and of a determination to have an artistically included voice be shared with the world. This is something that I am fully confident speaks to so many different artists in a variety of fields.

From the moment I first saw Once, I knew I experienced something of great personal importance to my life. I walked away feeling like this was film was "one for the books"; filmmaking that had had a great impact on me. I am a massive fan of music and feel it is one of the essentials of life. I don't know what life would feel like without music in it, the idea of that is haunting. While I'm a music fan and not a music-maker (though I was actively involved in Choir for seven years during school) the idea of a movie surrounding the immense importance music can have on a person's life was highly affecting. The fact that the movie was also about people connecting through a appreciation and love for music was something that made this film feel so powerful, resonate, and essential.

The title of the film is both a metaphor for the once in a lifetime opportunity to reach for a career and dream where the opportunity is sometimes something that  only comes 'once' and it is also for the moment in which one finds that one person who seems to fully understand them and connect to them as a person. This is something that usually only happens 'once' as the title suggests. There is so much to be moved by even in the film's title and in its significance.

The film went on to become a massively successful indie hit. It was initially produced for only $160,000 but it ended up making over 7 million in the box-office and it was a huge hit before release when it played to great enthusiasm at the Sundance Film Festival. The funding by the Irish Film Board had paid off big time. The film was followed with some more collaborative music between the musician pair (who began a relationship after the film's release) and it led, perhaps most notably, to the creation of a hugely successful Broadway show adaptation. The success of Once is remarkable. I am so glad for its continued successes as it means more will discover the story, the music, and the wonderful soul it expresses. This is moviemaking at its absolute best and the fact that it feels so immensely genuine and does so much with so little makes it a truly stunning cinematic achievement.

I hope it continues to inspire and move a appreciate audience. Once will always hold a special place in my heart and I hope that it is something that lasts for many generations to come. It is simultaneously one of the best music movies ever made and one of the most romantic films I have ever seen.

In telling it's story more with music, it manages to achieve a completely rare feat as a new kind of independent spirit musical unlike anything that has been made before (or that has been seen since). Once truly is a once in a lifetime movie experience. Even if there ends up being a large number of successful indie musicals someday in the future, this film is one that I will always treasure. It's a sort of gift of a film that should be shared with others.

The Blu-ray:


The High Definition 1080p presentation of Once on Blu-ray is much more impressive than many are likely expecting to find on this release. The MPEG-4 AVC encoding runs at 40mbps and is stunning from a technical standpoint. There aren't any technical limitations on the transfer in terms of what went into the production of this Blu-ray release.

To anyone considering an upgrade: this is a massive improvement over the former DVD edition. For owners of the Region Free United Kingdom Blu-ray release that came out several years ago, the film is preserved on a 50 GB (as opposed to the former 25 GB release) disc which helped to increase the bit-rates of the video somewhat dramatically. This makes a difference for anyone viewing on a larger television. The transfer itself also seems a bit different with notably warm colors. The image does not appear to have been artificially tinkered with in any way so it seems this encode is simply more accurate (if only by a smidgen). I was especially impressed with that aspect of the video presentation.

Viewers will need to keep in mind Once wasn't a film made with a large budget and that it was actually made using HD digital cameras of 2006, which were not of the highest quality as the technology wasn't quite as impressive as it is today. Nor was the budget there for the film to visually be as splendid as larger productions.

There are many moments that are soft and some that seem a bit out of focus. This is partly due to the photography involved in the filming and some of it is simply a result of the equipment used. However, without a question, this transfer retains the look of the film with a highly accurate presentation quality. I actually saw this film in the theater in 2007 and I am certain that this presentation is equally (if not more) impressive than it's theatrical run. The video drawbacks related to sharpness are absolutely related to the source. Far shots are notably less vivid and close-ups are more detailed and show the better benefits of the High Definition presentation.

Once has finally received a clean appearance free from compression artifacts. The film feels surprisingly organic and it has a genuinely 'film-like' presentation despite it's obvious digital production origin. If there is any minor gripe or concern it is that the transfer is still slightly window-boxed (but I imagine most viewers will not notice or find this too distracting). In my estimation, this transfer is likely the best that Once will ever look on home media or otherwise.


The audio presentation is the best reason to upgrade to the Blu-ray edition (or even to toss the old region free UK Blu-ray disc in favor of this one). This Blu-ray release presents the film with 24 bit audio for the first time. This allows for a deeper and more immersive soundstage that is so much smoother and more listenable. (The former UK Blu-ray edition included 16 bit audio).

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo track is remarkably beautiful, vibrant, and well-defined. There are no elements of distortion to report on this release. Given that the music is one of the main things that helps Once be so magical it's a real splendid thing to find it has been given a stellar audio presentation with crystal-clear vocals. The music songs have never sounded any better to me than they do on this release. Basically, this Blu-ray is worth buying for the audio alone. (The fact that the PQ is significantly improved almost feels like icing on the cake here.)


Good news: the extras previously available on the DVD edition have been ported over in their entirety and nothing has been left out. There is nothing new to this release but at least nothing was lost in the transition to Blu-ray.

This release features both a musical commentary and film commentary with writer/director John Carney and actors/musicians Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. This is the prime attraction of what is included in the supplemental department.

The release also contains a few other bonuses: the Making a Modern-Day Musical featurette (13 min.), the More Guy, More Girl featurette (10 min.), and the animated Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy webisode (1 min.).

Final Thoughts:

Once is one of the most moving and heartfelt films ever made about music and love. The film explores the relationships of the characters through their affections for making and sharing in music. For anyone who has ever cherished the experience of listening to music: of hearing a special song that is just right, Once somehow manages to perfectly embody that feeling and utilize it in telling one of the most magical film romances ever seen. There is a good reason musicians Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova have had such success with this film and the musical creations they have made together. The effort is beautiful, resonant, and it is absolutely genuine.

This is one of the best films of the 2000's and it has finally received a stellar Blu-ray release. Fans will surely appreciate this high quality presentation. For newcomers or those who have experienced the Broadway rendition but not the film that started it all: please don't overlook experiencing the masterpiece that started it all. Please seek out and enjoy this wonderful and essential film about love and music. It will provide a experience you will long cherish in life.

DVD Talk Collector Series.

Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.

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