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MOVIE INFO

Director:
Scott McGehee, David Siegel
Cast:
Richard Gere, Juliette Binoche, Flora Cross, Max Minghella, Kate Bosworth, Corey Fischer, Sam Zuckerman, Joan Mankin
Writing Credits:
Myla Goldberg (novel), Naomi Foner

Tagline:
Words may define us, but it's love that connects us.

Synopsis:
Based on Myla Goldberg's best-selling novel, this absorbing drama concerns the turmoil created by a man's obsession with his daughter's spelling bee accomplishments, while his wife slowly loses her grip on reality, and their son falls prey to a cult.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$120.544 thousand on 21 screens.
Domestic Gross
$1.177 million.

MPAA:
Rated PG-13

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
Fullscreen 1.33:1
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby 2.0
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
French
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 104 min.
Price: $27.98
Release Date: 4/4/2006

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel
• Audio Commentary with Producer Albert Berger and Screenwriter Naomi Foner Gyllenhaal
• Deleted Scenes
• “The Making of Bee Season” Featurette
• “The Cutting Room Floor” Featurette
• “The Essence of Bee Season” Featurette
• Trailer
• Previews


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RELATED REVIEWS


Bee Season (2005)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 15, 2006)

Imagine my disappointment when I realized 2005’s Bee Season wasn’t a sequel to 1978’s The Swarm. Instead of a flick about killer insects, this one focuses on kids who can spell well. Bee introduces us to sixth grader Eliza Naumann (Flora Cross), a youngster with an aptitude for spelling. She starts to win local bees and progresses to the state contest.

Eliza’s demanding father Saul (Richard Gere) decides to become her coach and he pushes her to study constantly. In the meantime, the rest of their family starts to disintegrate. Mother Miriam (Juliette Binoche) displays signs of mental illness connected to the childhood death of her parents, while teen son Aaron (Max Minghella) experiences a spiritual crisis. Raised Jewish, he questions his faith and latches onto the Krishnas when a babe named Chali (Kate Bosworth) recruits him. The movie follows these threads along with Eliza’s march through the various spelling bees.

Bee goes down as a film with Tries Too Hard Syndrome. Everything about it attempts to be more than it really is. Rather than offer a concise tale about the pressures of spelling bees and their effect on kids, this flick aspires to take on a much broader spiritual focus. It grasps at some big issues in its 104 minutes.

All that is fine, but the filmmakers lack the skill to make this work. The story never becomes challenging in any way. Instead, its odd exploration of spirituality muddles along without much coherence. The movie thinks it has something to say and it really wants to communicate with us, but it fails. The elements don’t coalesce to make matters provocative or enlightening.

The movie’s visuals don’t help. For one, it uses a lot of silly computer graphics to show how Eliza deals with spelling. For instance, when she thinks about spelling “dandelion”, spores float around her to illustrate the letters. This never adds up to anything more than a cheesy gimmick. In fact, it actively detracts from the storytelling, as it looks like the pretentious move it is.

Bee boasts some awkward editing and camerawork as well. If you watch a movie and notice the cuts, then the editor probably failed. I definitely became too aware of edits during Bee, as the movie jumped at odd times. The camera distracts as well since it can’t keep still. This isn’t a flick that needs flashy visuals, but the filmmakers couldn’t leave it alone.

I respect the attempts to make Bee Season more than just a look at the pressures of academic competitions, but the movie’s exploration of various issues remains decidedly unsatisfying. It delves into a mix of spiritual domains with no clarity or depth. The film ends up as a collection of weak metaphors and characters that goes nowhere.


The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B/ Bonus B

Bee Season appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 and in a fullscreen version on this double-sided, single-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed picture was reviewed for this article. Some minor issues cropped up, but the transfer remained generally positive.

A few concerns connected to sharpness occurred. At times the movie became a bit soft and indistinct. However, it usually remained reasonably concise and accurate. I saw no jagged edges or shimmering, but a little edge enhancement occurred. Source flaws never appeared during this clean transfer.

Colors looked natural but subdued. The movie favored the slightest hint of stylization, and it went for slightly greenish/gold tones. These didn’t stand out as terribly prominent, though, as the hues were usually lively and accurate. Blacks seemed deep and dense, while shadows were fairly clear. The moderate softness dragged my grade to a "B”, but the image was mostly satisfying.

Given the subject matter, I expected little from the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Bee Season. Though it didn’t dazzle, it offered more information than I anticipated. The soundscape usually remained modest and focused on gentle environmental information. However, the conceptualized spelling sequences managed to open up matters. They used the rear speakers well to broaden the movie’s scope. A few other sequences presented decent five-channel audio, but most of the film stayed restrained.

Audio quality was positive. Speech seemed natural and crisp, with no edginess. Effects were clean and accurate, while music sounded smooth and concise. Low-end response was perfectly adequate. This was a more than acceptable mix for a low-key movie.

For such a modest little flick, Bee Season offers a surprisingly broad range of supplements. We open with two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific track. The directors cover the expected topics. They go over cast, characters and performances, story issues and changes from the original novel, sets and locations, cinematography and other visual choices, and a few other production issues. This turns out to be an average commentary. Siegel and McGehee dig into the material with decent depth but the track never quite turns compelling. Some of that comes from their low-key tone; if they can’t muster enthusiasm for the flick, why should we? Despite the moderately dull nature of the discussion, it includes enough useful information to be worthwhile.

Next we get an audio commentary with producer Albert Berger and screenwriter Naomi Foner Gyllenhaal. Both sit together for their running, screen-specific piece. This chat looks at changes from the novel to the script, themes and topics explored in the film, cut and altered sequences, the film’s path to the screen and basic production topics. Don’t expect much of the “nuts and bolts” information, though, as the track mostly goes over interpretive subjects.

It does so very well. At times it almost feels like narration, but the conversation proves far too illuminating to be seen that way. I think the directors don’t deliver the movie’s underlying themes well, so this examination of characters, subtext and story is quite useful. Despite a little happy talk, there’s more than enough good introspection to make the commentary very worthwhile.

Six Deleted Scenes fill a total of six minutes, 25 seconds. We see more between Eliza and Aaron here, and Miriam also gets a little more time. Nothing particularly interesting occurs in any of these, though. We can watch the scenes with or without commentary from McGehee and Siegel. They give us some basics about the clips and let us know why they cut them.

A featurette called The Making of Bee Season runs five minutes, 30 seconds. It includes movie clips and comments from actors Richard Gere, Juliette Binoche, Max Minghella and Flora Cross. They give us basic notes about the characters and that’s it. There’s nothing useful or interesting in this promotional piece.

The Cutting Room Floor goes for three minutes, 44 seconds. It offers one of the odder features I’ve seen. It consists solely of little trims from the movie set to music. It doesn’t exist as a blooper reel, and these aren’t really deleted scenes. They come as a strange montage that seems pointless to me.

The Essence of Bee Season fills six minutes, 24 seconds. It includes notes from Columbia University Director of Undergraduate Studies/Professor in the Graduate Film Division of the School of the Arts Annette Insdorf, Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop and Primate Rev. Frank T. Griswold, Makom Jewish Community Center in Manhattan Director of Spiritual Programs Susie Kessler, and National Foundation for Jewish Culture Executive Director Richard A. Siegel. They discuss some of the movie’s spiritual elements but don’t do much more than talk about how terrific they think the film is. The second commentary is a much better exploration of these subjects.

The DVD starts with some ads. We get previews for In Her Shoes, Little Manhattan and Fox Searchlight Pictures. The disc also includes the trailer for Bee Season.

I admire the ambition of Bee Season but don’t think the movie remotely lives up to its goals. Instead of a compelling look at spirituality and a family, the flick meanders and doesn’t manage to draw in the viewer. The DVD offers good picture and audio plus some extras highlighted by two useful commentaries. If you know you like the movie, this DVD is worth your while. I wouldn’t recommend the flick to anyone else, though.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2.3333 Stars Number of Votes: 3
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