Review for Pleasantville
Hopefully I’ve ended a pattern with this purchase. I watched both The Truman Show and Pleasantville when they were released theatrically, films with similar premises, and I enjoyed the Truman Show, but loved Pleasantville. You’d think that would make my home video choice simple, but as The Truman Show made a bigger splash commercially, and it had the bigger name star, the VHS of the Truman Show was an instant purchase. Watching it reminded me of Pleasantville, so I then picked up that video. When it came to upgrading to DVD, I bought the Truman Show first, and only after watching it was I reminded to buy Pleasantville. A few months ago, I reviewed the Truman Show on Blu-ray... One quick import later, here’s my review for Pleasantville on Blu-ray. I don’t intend to double dip again...
David is a massive Pleasantville fan so when the cable channel announces a Pleasantville marathon, David prepares for 10 hours of simple, down to earth family values from his ideal, black and white, fifties world. Unfortunately, his sister Jennifer has other ideas. She has a hot date and an evening planned watching a concert on MTV. Fighting over the remote seems to result in disaster when it is destroyed, but salvation arrives in the form of a mysterious TV repairman, who upon seeing David’s fascination with Pleasantville, gifts him with a magic remote control. As soon as the repairman leaves though, the siblings start fighting again.
A flash of light later, and David and Jennifer find themselves in the monochrome world of Pleasantville, assuming the roles of Bud and Mary Sue Parker. David, desperate to maintain the world he loves, persuades his sister to play the role she has fallen into, and vows to maintain the integrity of Pleasantville. Jennifer has other ideas, when she is attracted to the leader of the school’s basketball team. Soon colour starts to appear on the monochrome streets of Pleasantville, as its population are introduced to new ideas and ways of thinking. Then comes the inevitable monochrome backlash.
Pleasantville gets a pleasant transfer on Blu-ray, presented at 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p. The all important aspect here is dark detail, contrast and black levels, given that the film is partially monochrome, and it comes up a treat here, rich and vivid, with the representation of the colour sections and the monochrome sections equally well done. The image is clear throughout, detail levels are excellent, there’s no sign of print damage or dirt, even though I do suspect that this print was taken from the same source as the DVD. It’s also a nice, filmic presentation, with none of the processing applied to make the film look HD ready, no de-graining, DNR or sharpening.
The world of Pleasantville is initially presented in a strong monochrome. It’s a clear, sharp black and white picture that establishes the world. It is therefore that much of a shock when the colour images first appear. Rather than be obvious effects shots, they are often quite subtle, pastel when they could have chosen neon. This subtlety of effect makes the reality of the film even more convincing. These effects are so well done, that you often don’t know they are there and the story benefits strongly as a result. That said, the summer colours of 1950s Pleasantville still contrast with the drab colours of 90s suburbia.
You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 5.1 English, DD 2.0 Spanish (two flavours), and Portuguese, with these subtitles plus Japanese, Finnish, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Greek and Hebrew. It’s a nice, fairly immersive audio track, although given the comedy drama nature of the story, it’s a fairly front-focussed affair. The dialogue is clear throughout, and the real vibrancy to the audio comes from Randy Newman’s score for the film. There are moments of surround envelopment, but they are subtle rather than strident.
Pleasantville comes in one of those annoying eco-cases that have holes cut in them. The disc boots to a silent, static menu.
The extras are the same as on the US DVD release, although we get an extra commentary compared to the UK DVD.
The commentary with writer-director Gary Ross is present and correct, as is the Art of Pleasantville featurette, here presented in 480i and running to 32:37. You get the Fiona Apple music video for Across the Universe 4:30 480i, and the theatrical trailer is here too in 480i 1.85:1 format.
What the UK DVD missed out on was the isolated music track with commentary from composer Randy Newman. It’s a nice track to listen to, more agreeable than the director’s commentary, and hearing a composer’s perspective on a film offers something different from the usual commentary.
I appreciated Pleasantville even more now than I did the last time I watched it. I’d like to say that it’s because it’s a film that improves with age, that it’s destined to become a future classic. Alas, it’s probably more because it’s actually more relevant now. We live in a world that needs the message of Pleasantville even more than it did back in 1998 when the film was released, or the early 2000s when I bought the DVD. That’s a sorry indictment on the state of humanity.
It’s still a delightful satirical comedy, an elegant story, and a brilliant idea. Just like the Truman show, it holds up a mirror to society through the ubiquitous medium of television. The Truman Show was an enjoyable cry for freedom, urging us to remove the shackles of our broadcast overlords, although it got downright biblical in its character dynamics. Pleasantville is a little subtler than that, using its adventures in the world of television to change the lives of its protagonists for the better, David and Jennifer, an escapist vintage TV fan, and a superficial girl, but it also offers some commentary on society, with I have to admit a rather obvious allegory for the civil rights movement.
At least I thought it was obvious when I last watched Pleasantville. It turns out that the racism allegory is just the surface layer to the film, and you can read a lot more into it regarding freedom of thought, freedom of expression, tolerance and diversity, and the responsibility that we all bear as citizens to hold our leaders to account. And given the way society is today, where people are becoming more insular, more conformist, and where any dissenting opinion tends to be drowned out with vitriol, then a film like Pleasantville offers a bit of nostalgia for when people used to be nicer to each other. The irony is that I’m not thinking about the 1950s, it’s the 1990s that I’m starting to pine for.
So either Pleasantville is getting better with age, or society is getting worse. Either way, watching the film again last night was a delight. In terms of content, the Blu-ray offers nothing more than the original DVD, but then sometimes all you really need from the double dip is the HD video and lossless audio. You certainly get that from this Blu-ray disc, and it’s well worth the import, although given the UK copyright warnings at the end of the disc, I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets released here some time soon. Until then it can be imported from the US or most European countries.