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Charlie Kaufman writes the way he lives... With Great Difficulty. His Twin Brother Donald Lives the way he writes... with foolish abandon. Susan writes about life... But can't live it. John's life is a book... Waiting to be adapted. One story... Four Lives... A million ways it can end.

Spike Jonze
Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Tilda Swinton, Chris Cooper
Writing Credits:
Charlie Kaufman, based on the novel by Susan Orlean

One story... Four Lives... A million ways it can end.
Box Office:
Budget $19 million.
Opening weekend $384,478 on 7 screens.
Domestic gross $22.245 million.
Rated R for language, sexuality, some drug use and violent images.

Academy Awards:
Won for Best Supporting Actor-Chris Cooper.
Nominated for Best Actor-Nicolas Cage; Best Actress-Meryl Streep; Best Screenplay.

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
English Digital Stereo
English, French

Runtime: 114 min.
Price: $26.95
Release Date: 5/20/2003

• Cast and Filmmaker Filmographies
• Trailer

Score soundtrack
Search Titles:

TV - Mitsubishi CS-32310 32"; Subwoofer - JBL PB12; DVD Player - Toshiba SD-4700; Receiver - Sony STR-DE845; Center - Polk Audio CS175i; Front Channels - Polk Audio; Rear Channels - Polk Audio.


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Adaptation: Superbit (2002)

Reviewed by David Williams (May 19, 2003)

Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) has written an elaborately convoluted and autobiographical script about a screenwriter named … well, Charlie Kaufman (played in the film by Nicolas Cage) … and he’s having a tough time adapting a non-fiction book about wild orchids into a screenplay. It seems that after the success of Being John Malkovich, the first collaboration between Kaufman and director Spike Jonze, a studio executive approached Kaufaman about adapting New Yorker journalist Susan Orlean’s (played in the film by Meryl Streep) voyage of self-discovery, “The Orchid Thief”, into a major motion picture. The book was originally given life as a feature article in the New Yorker about an “orchid poacher”, John Laroche (played in the film by Chris Cooper), who along with some Native Americans, stole some endangered flowers from a Florida reserve. However, in its final form, the book evolved from a being a simple narrative about Laroche and his exploits into a reflective, soul-searching journey for Orlean herself.

Kaufman tried and tried to create a screenplay based on the novel – always wanting to maintain the integrity of the book – but just couldn’t do it. However, he finally has his epiphany – a way that he can finally motivate himself to write about material that’s inherently unspectacular and unpretentious by its very nature. Kaufman decides that he’ll write about how hard it is to adapt a novel into a screenplay – and he’ll even insert himself into the narrative by blurring the lines between fact and fiction. (Heck, even some reviews I read about the film had reviewers writing about how hard it was to write a review for Adaptation.) Ultimately, Kaufman writes himself into the script and the film becomes his personalized version of the artistic struggle that is his daunting task and he goes off on a wildly absurd and illusory tangent that becomes much more of a violation of Orlean's book than anything anyone else could have ever imagined.

In Adaptation, Charlie gets some screenwriting help and inspiration from his twin brother, Donald (Nicolas Cage). Donald is everything Charlie is not – the life of the party, comfortable around women, and able to write a typical, formulaic Hollywood screenplay without all the baggage that Charlie carries with him. While it’s against everything he believes in, Donald convinces Charlie – already an established screenwriter because of Being John Malkovich - to go to a screenwriting seminar taught by “guru” Robert McKee (Brian Cox). McKee speaks to Charlie in ways he never imagined possible and he leaves with the motivation needed to complete his script – complete with spying, voyeurism, drugs, sex, car chases, shootouts, and murder.

Adaptation is one of those films that calls attention to itself as make believe – giving the viewer a little “wink-wink, nod-nod” as truth and fraudulence merge. Even so, self-awareness in art is nothing new, with roots that can be traced back all the way to Shakespeare, with recent additions to the genre being films like Full Frontal (a movie within a movie within a movie) and television shows like HBO’s Larry Sanders and Curb Your Enthusiasm.

It’s toward the last 30-40 minutes of the film where fact and fiction blur and viewers are left to figure out what’s real and what’s not. (Trust me, it’s not that hard.) As the film comes to a close, the screenplay becomes more absurd than even Kaufman could have ever imagined and Adaptation does a good job of deconstructing screenwriting conventions, as well as the mindset of a Hollywood screenwriter with pressures placed upon him to create another in a long line of cookie-cutter, audience-friendly films. It uses a witty subtext comparing the adaptive approaches of screenwriters with the beautifully adaptive abilities of the orchard and its thousands of species. Adaptation is a brilliant exercise that challenges the boring and bland conventions of Hollywood filmmaking and it managed to be an enjoyable romp in the process.

The DVD Grades: Picture A- / Audio B+ / Bonus D+

Columbia presents Adaptation in a marvelously done anamorphic widescreen transfer in the film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. While many of Columbia’s “Superbit” titles contain negligible differences over their “regular” counterparts, their version of Adaptation simply looks grandiose. While there’s no other version to compare it to, it’s doubtful that the studio could do much better than they’ve done here. There were a few flaws noted here and there in the transfer, but they were very minimal all things considered.

Adaptation contained a very sharp and vivid image throughout the entire film, without any noticeable hints of softness at any time. There was a slight amount of grain and shimmer noted in a few scenes (usually in darker scenes, as well as ones that contained highly contrasted areas like apartment walls), but it was very insignificant and trivial in the grand scheme of things.

The film contained a very vibrant color palette and there were times where it was intentionally subdued and washed-out for dramatic effect. The scenes in the Florida swamps and Everglades looked very warm and inviting, while the indoor scenes in the film maintained a very generic and nonspecific look-and-feel to them. Any time shots of orchids are shown, they are lovingly and masterfully composed and the beauty of the flower literally leaps off of the screen and into your living room. Smearing and bleeding never presented any concerns and save for the aforementioned intentionally restrained scenes, everything was properly balanced and saturated at all times – fleshtones included. Black levels in the film were solid for the most part and allowed for acceptable, if not above-average shadow detail and delineation.

The only other flaws I noted in the film were a couple of quick instances of edge enhancement, as well as some occasional flakes and flecks that when the film was over, could be counted on both hands. Adaptation was only a few flaws short of perfection and Columbia has presented viewers with one fine looking transfer.

Adaptation gets some really nice audio transfers from Columbia, as viewers have the choice of viewing the film with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, as well as a DTS 5.1 mix. While the majority of the film is dialogue-heavy and forward-driven, both mixes thankfully take liberty with the quite open soundstage and present some really impressive moments scattered throughout the film.

While I normally extol the virtues of DTS over Dolby, Adaptation was one of those rare instances where the tracks, for all intents and purposes, were practically identical, as both presented the material at hand quite nicely. While surrounds weren’t as active as they might be in an action blockbuster, there were a few memorable occasions where the soundstage opened up and really immersed us in the proceedings. The opening voiceover dialogue is playfully ambient and dances in your surrounds, while scenes shot out in the Floridian swamps engulf us with realistic, environmental racket. Dialogue in the film was always front, center, and easily understood and Carter Burwell’s score, while low key and unassuming, received nice treatment from Columbia’s transfer.

Other audio options for Adaptation include an English and French Dolby Surround transfer, as well as English and French subtitles for those who need and/or want them.

Being a “Superbit” title, there’s not much in the way of extras, as all Columbia gives us here is the film’s Theatrical Trailer (in Dolby Digital 5.1 and widescreen) and a selection of Filmographies for the stars. It ain’t much, but Columbia’s “Superbit” titles have been around long enough that most of you probably already knew that the space on the disc is reserved for maximum throughput for the audio and video presentations – not supplements.

Adaptation won 2 Golden Globes (Best Supporting Actress for Streep and Best Supporting Actor for Cooper), an Oscar (Best Supporting Actor for Cooper), and was on more critics’ top ten lists than you can imagine … and it’s all for good reason, as Adaptation was one of the more inventive, unusual, and entertaining films of the past year. It features Cage and Streep at the top of their respective games and finally gives Chris Cooper a long overdue role that he can sink his teeth into to show why he’s one of the best supporting players working today. This is a great sophomore effort from the team of Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman and I can’t recommend this film, or Columbia’s high-quality DVD, favorably enough.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5 Stars Number of Votes: 72
3 3:
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