Review for A Life Less Ordinary
Loving movies and TV as I do, it didn’t take me long before I became a stickler for OAR, or original aspect ratio. When I started collecting movies on VHS, it wasn’t long before I was looking for the widescreen versions, although given VHS’ low resolution, that’s a lot of detail you’re sacrificing for authenticity. It got to the point that once I had digital TV, I’d videotape anamorphic versions of films. I’m the person who got mad because the people across the street, a) never bought net curtains, and b) insisted on stretching 4:3 TV to fill their 16:9 screen. But then there are those films and shows that muddy the waters, only serve to confuse, especially those early nineties shows that were broadcast in 4:3 but were shot as widescreen safe. Do you watch the first four seasons of The X-Files in widescreen or in 4:3? Babylon 5 was shot as widescreen safe, but its effects shots weren’t! Aaargh! Then there is A Life Less Ordinary, the point of this review, which was distributed theatrically in 2.35:1 widescreen, but was released on DVD as 1.85:1 and 4:3. I wanted the original aspect ratio, but it turns out that all three ‘are’ the original aspect ratio. Note that at this time, this film is only available on Blu-ray from Germany.
Heaven is in a state of turmoil, as true love seems to be a dying phenomenon on Earth. Despite the best efforts of Gabriel and his celestial police force, fewer and fewer people are falling in love. News of this reaches the ‘boss’ and soon a new incentive scheme is put in place. Succeed in making two mortals fall in love on Earth, or don’t bother coming back. Gabriel reluctantly gives the assignment to two of his best angels, O’Reilly and Jackson and sends them to Earth to help two mismatched individuals fulfil their destiny.
These two unsuspecting individuals are Celine and Robert. Celine is a bored rich kid whose father is a ruthless business tycoon, Naville who dictates her life and belittles her. Robert meanwhile is a cleaner who works at Naville industries while trying to write his trash novel masterpiece. When Robert is fired from his job in favour of a robot, dumped by his girlfriend in favour of an aerobics instructor and evicted from his house, the strain is too much and he storms off to get his job back from Mr Naville. He interrupts Naville berating his daughter and things get out of hand. He ends up kidnapping Celine and together they escape. However, when it comes to kidnappings, Robert is hopelessly inept while Celine is more than experienced.
Many widescreen films are shot as anamorphic, but A Life Less Ordinary was shot on Super 35, which is a 1.33:1 format. From this master, the release prints are created, 2.39:1 and 1.85:1 widescreen, and a 1.33:1, all cropped. The film is shot and edited in a way that takes advantage of what aspect ratio is required. If it was a widescreen feature, half of the frame would essentially be discarded, and any subsequent television version would be pan and scanned from that widescreen print. This isn’t what happened for A Life Less Ordinary. Instead they created all three versions from that master, and on this disc you can compare and contrast all of them.
The version I’ve been waiting for, and the whole point of this Blu-ray release is presented at 2.35:1 widescreen 1080p, preceded by Universal and 20th Century Fox logos. It’s not a great transfer, and my initial reaction was that there was less information to work with from the Super 35 format than an anamorphic print, but other Super 35 films presented on BD like the Back to the Future trilogy put the lie to that. The image is soft, lacking in fine detail, and flecks of dirt on the print suggest that no restoration of any kind, no new scan has taken place. You might be forgiven for thinking that it only looks as good as an up-scaled DVD, but there is a richness of colour, a tad more detail, and a lot more clarity. There are a couple of scenes that suffer from overwhelming grain, but the bottom line is that this Blu-ray transfer is a breathtaking improvement over the old DVD release.
You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English and German, with English and German subtitles. The audio is fine, the dialogue is clear throughout, the action comes across well, and the film’s music soundtrack really has a chance to shine.
You get one disc in a ridiculously yellow thin BD Amaray case, and the sleeve is reversible if the large German ratings logo offends.
This release lifts most of its extras from the DVD release, including nine soundbite interviews with the cast and crew that barely run to 14 minutes. There is a 6½ minute Making Of, and a 3½ minute Behind The Scenes reel, all of which are in 576i PAL format. The Theatrical Trailer is in 480i. Press play and they default to German subtitles, which you will tire of switching off in interviews that last less than a minute.
There is a slideshow image gallery which is in HD, but don’t be fooled by the odd repeated images, there are a lot more than just 14 pictures to look at.
Of most interest will be the other versions of the film, prefaced with some German text regarding aspect ratios which I cannot understand without use of a pause button and a German-English dictionary. Prefaced by the Polygram logo, both versions seem to be taken from the DVD release, presented in 576i PAL, and running to 99:22. Comparing the 1.85:1 and 1.33:1 versions with the main 2.35:1 feature on the disc, you can see how they’ve been framed to make the story work, without losing any essential picture information. You can also see just how bad the DVD versions are compared to the HD release, with heavily blown whites, crushed blacks, and drained colours. The heaven sequences are a blinding mess. Here are some comparison shots.
I love A Life Less Ordinary. After Trainspotting, the idea of a romantic comedy made in America may have seemed like a sell out by the producers, but A Life Less Ordinary is a wonderful, almost surreal fantasy of a film with a rich vein of black comedy at the heart of it. The idea of angels meddling in the affairs of mortals to make sure that true love wins the day is an ancient one, but here the use of film noir references that inform the celestial characters provides an inventive and tantalising twist. The story is light, frothy hokum as many rom-coms are, but the way that the film veers between the real and surreal, with artful flights of fancy is something that Hollywood rarely even contemplates. The script is good too, staying sharp and witty throughout and never once lapsing into the saccharine, even during the big music number.
The casting is great with Ewan MacGregor once again returning to the Danny Boyle stable. He plays Robert with an earnestness and disingenuousness that is at once disarming and charming. Cameron Diaz is stunning as Celine and the two leads work together well. Ian Holm is the nefarious Naville and he relishes the role of irredeemable bad guy. The stars of the film have to be the two angels O’Reilly and Jackson played by Holly Hunter and Delroy Lindo. O’Reilly is a sex kitten of an angel who always does the unexpected. Her partner Jackson is a warm hearted and empathic man who has hidden depths. That these two angelic characters have to do the most devilish things to achieve their aims is one of the more delicious things about the film. Tony Shalhoub has only a brief appearance as a bar keeper, but has one of the best lines in the picture.
A Life Less Ordinary’s particular blending of genres isn’t to everyone’s tastes. This isn’t the kind of romantic comedy that you would expect to see Hugh Grant and Meg Ryan in with the body count just a little too high. It’s also a little too light and frothy a thriller for those expecting another Trainspotting. But put your preconceptions to one side and give A Life Less Ordinary a try. It’s a great comic fantasy with some inventive imagery. It’ll leave you feeling better about yourself and the world and that’s the best recommendation I can give any film.
This is another case of a Blu-ray that is good enough to watch, but will only really do until something better comes along. The likelihood of A Life Less Ordinary getting a better Blu-ray release is remote though, but there is solace to be had in just how much of an improvement the Blu-ray is over the original DVD release.