Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Renée Zellweger, Eileen Atkins, Brendan Gleeson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Natalie Portman, Giovanni Ribisi, Donald Sutherland, Ray Winstone
Charles Frazier (book), Anthony Minghella
Find Your Way Home.
In the waning days of the American Civil War, a wounded soldier (Law) embarks on a perilous journey back home to Cold Mountain, North Carolina to reunite with his sweetheart (Kidman). Based on the novel by Charles Frazier.
$14.574 million on 2163 screens.
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Runtime: 154 min.
Release Date: 6/29/2004
• Audio Commentary with Director Anthony Minghella and Editor Walter Murch
• DVD-ROM Content
• “Climbing Cold Mountain” Documentary
• “A Journey to Cold Mountain - The Making of Cold Mountain”
• “Words and Music of Cold Mountain” Special
• Deleted Scenes
• Sacred Harp History
• Storyboard Comparisons
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Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.
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Cold Mountain (2003)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 28, 2004)
Before it hit the screen, 2003’s Cold Mountain looked set for Oscar gold. With recent Best Actress winner Nicole Kidman plus prior nominees Renee Zellweger and Jude Law as well as director Anthony Minghella - whose English Patient took home nine Oscars, including Best Picture - all in play, most folks expected to see Mountain represented heavily when they handed out the trophies.
Nope. The Academy didn’t totally ignore the flick; Zellweger snared an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress for her work, and it garnered an additional six nominations. Nonetheless, given the movie’s pedigree, it seemed destined for greater things.
Set during the Civil War, Mountain starts with the siege of Petersburg in 1864. We meet WP Inman (Law), a Confederate soldier whose relationship with Ada Monroe (Kidman) seems distanced. A surprise attack from the Yankees leaves Inman wounded, and the movie flashes back three years earlier. We see Ada as she arrives in Cold Mountain, North Carolina with her father, Reverend Monroe (Donald Sutherland), and she starts to get to know Inman.
From there we return to the battle and see what happens with Inman and the armies. The movie continues to intercut between the events of the war and the earlier moments. Back in 1861, Ada and Inman slowly start a chaste romance. When war arrives, many of the locals greet it eagerly, but Inman seems more reserved. Nonetheless, he goes to fight with the rest.
Back at Cold Mountain, Ada and her father struggle to survive with no help left in town. It gets tougher for her after the Reverend passes, and she clings to her unanswered communication with Inman to keep her sane. The injured Inman receives her request to return to her. When this occurs, Inman decides to go AWOL and head back to her despite dangers of death as a deserter. We watch his efforts to survive, which eventually come to include a disgraced preacher (Philip Seymour Hoffman).
In the meantime, Ada meanders along and comes to get help from Ruby Thewes (Zellweger), a gritty gal who offers to shape up the farm for room and board. With Ruby’s influence, Ada toughens and learns to fend for herself. A variety of obstacles confront both as all of this builds toward a potential reunion of our lovers.
Boy, does Anthony Minghella like to move slowly! Between Mountain and Patient, he may prove himself the master of the plodding period chick flick. Were it not for the thriller The Talented Mr. Ripley between flicks, one could think that Minghella can’t do anything other than this sort of movie.
To be fair, the two movies differ in many ways, but they share a core sentiment that relates to “true love”. Mountain seems significantly less distasteful than Patient, a flick that bothered me due to its easy handling of adultery, but that doesn’t make it any more effective. I questioned the obsessive passion between Almasy and Katharine in Patient, as I felt the movie never made it clear why they felt so strongly about each other.
That issue multiplies in Mountain since its romantic leads barely know each other. Their devotion to each other after only minor and brief encounters feels like a stretch, though at least Minghella has the good sense to recognize this; both Inman and Ada occasionally refer to the lack of logic behind their obsessions. That doesn’t make them any more believable, but it’s good to know the movie manages to recognize its absurdity.
For Minghella, it’s another day, another tragic romance, this time set among the misery of the Civil War. Minghella delves deeply into the nastiness of the period. Boy, does the director wallow in the crude elements! Everything seems dirty and ugly in an attempt to seem “real”, and Minghella displays tons of violent acts aimed at animals. The flick presents more graphic attacks on critters than 100 PETA public awareness campaigns. Ever since Saving Private Ryan, movies seem to go out of their way to avoid sanitized takes on historical events, but this is getting old. In Mountain, it all feels like an attempt at cheap authenticity.
It doesn’t help that Minghella continues to overt manipulation seen in Patient. Most of this happens due to the portrayal of Inman’s journey. He goes through way too many close calls, all of which occur just to illustrate his devotion to Ada. After all, he needs to suffer to prove his love, right? It seems cheesy and false much of the time, mostly because the film relies on these techniques too frequently.
Minghella doesn’t seem to trust the romance as much as he did in Patient. The characters of Ruby and the preacher exist mostly as comic relief, and the director uses Ruby to undercut the passion. She tosses out wisecracks when the lovers embrace, which means they lose some life. Oddly, a lot of Minghella’s choices feel like reactions to the excesses of Patient; between the discussions of the romantic lack of logic and the comedic elements, Minghella’s choices often come across as direct responses.
I fail to see how Zellweger won an Oscar for her portrayal of Ruby. I guess this was one of those “body of work” awards and she got it more as a reaction to prior losses, for she doesn’t make Ruby much of a real personality. She makes Ruby such a cornpone hick that I half expected her to break into “Anything You Can Do”, and she feels like a stereotypical country gal. Yeah, she grows as the movie progresses, but she never becomes a genuinely three-dimensional personality.
Mountain features an oddly episodic structure. It displays characters who come and go without much reason other than to give our leads - particularly Inman - something to do. One minute he meets the preacher, then he goes on to a lonely widow. Lather, rinse, repeat; it all seems like filler to display content while he plods toward his “ain true love”.
The level of contrivance becomes tough to take. The movie doesn’t include much of a basic story, as the self-contained episodes fill most of the time. This seems like little more than an attempt to elongate the basic story, and these events don’t tell us all that much about the characters. The villains appear cartoony as well, and they often feel superfluous. Their presence comes across as little more than a ticking clock to make Ada need Inman even more.
Ultimately, Cold Mountain moves painlessly, but it fails to fire on too many cylinders. At times it comes across as an echo of The English Patient, and it doesn’t improve on that flawed model. The movie offers some entertainment but suffers from a number of issues.
The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B+/ Bonus A-
Cold Mountain appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. As one would expect of a new, big-name flick like this, the picture largely looked solid.
Sharpness mostly appeared positive. Occasionally I noticed a little lack of definition in wider shots, but those didn’t occur frequently or seem severe. Instead, the movie generally appeared distinctive and crisp. I noticed no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, but a little light edge enhancement created a few distractions. Print flaws remained absent, as the film suffered from no signs of grit, specks, or other concerns.
The palette of Mountain stayed somewhat restricted much of the time, but the tones came across well. Scenes at Cold Mountain tended to seem light and airy, as they veered toward soft greens and pastels. War footage went down a darker path, with rude reds. Whatever the disposition, the colors were firm and vibrant. Black levels seemed pretty solid, and low-light shots appeared appropriately delineated. Ultimately, the image of Mountain worked well.
In addition, the audio of Cold Mountain seemed satisfying. The DVD presented both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. As I compared the two, they seemed virtually identical, as I detected no differences between them.
Much of the film remained fairly low-key and didn’t tax the soundfield. Nonetheless, it presented a natural feeling throughout the action. Music offered nice stereo delineation, and effects appeared well placed and blended neatly. Surround activity kicked in mainly during the occasional action sequences. Battles used all five channels quite well, while a few other louder bits also featured good material from the surrounds. The track worked extremely well when necessary.
Audio quality seemed terrific. Speech consistently came across as concise and crisp, with no issues connected to intelligibility or edginess. Effects seemed distinctive and accurate. They presented fine dynamics and clarity, with clean highs and firm lows. Music fared best of all. The score was bright and bold. Low-end response was very strong, as bass seemed deep and tight without any boominess. The soundtrack of Mountain fell short of “A” level due to inconsistent ambition, but the mix seemed fine for the material.
For this two-DVD release of Cold Mountain, most of the extras reside on the second disc. DVD One solely presents an audio commentary from director Anthony Minghella and editor Walter Murch, both of whom sit together for their running, screen-specific chat. As was the case with the group commentary on The English Patient, Minghella heavily dominates this discussion, as Murch chimes in fairly infrequently. This isn’t because the director’s a space hog; instead, it seems to occur naturally, simply because Minghella’s such a rich and effective speaker.
Despite Minghella’s dominance, Murch’s presence means the track tends toward technical and storytelling topics. We hear about issues like Minghella’s fondness for ADR, color correction, locations, the international cast, music and sound. I especially like Minghella’s contrast of the acting styles displayed by Jude Law and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Most of the track gets into editing and story related matters as well as the adaptation of the novel. We get an excellent treatise on the portrayal of the characters and the methods used to depict the tale. Minghella helps bring the thin material of the movie to life through his embellishments, and I actually appreciated the flick much more once I heard his explanations. It’s a fine commentary.
When we move to DVD Two, we open with a documentary called Climbing Cold Mountain. It runs 74 minutes and three seconds as it offers the standard complement of movie clips, behind the scenes materials, and interviews. The latter category includes remarks from Minghella, Murch, producers Albert Berger, William Horberg, Ron Yerxa and Sydney Pollack, Civil War consultant Brian Pohanka, dialect coach Tim Monich, gaffer Mo Flam, director of photography John Seale, publicist Larry Kaplan, special photographer Brigitte Lacombe, and actors Nicole Kidman, Jude Law, Renee Zellweger, Jack White and Giovanni Ribisi.
We learn about adapting the novel and Minghella’s writing habits, location scouting, production design, researching and staging the battle, the cast, the characters and rehearsals, shooting the film and connected issues such as weather and being in Romania, publicity elements, editing, music, the preview process and premieres. While the information in “Climbing” seems quite good and we learn a number of nuances not covered in the commentary, the behind the scenes elements stand as the highlights here. Much of the time, it comes across more as a production diary than a documentary, and I mean that as a positive. We see many intriguing instances of shots from the set and other locations, and these add to the program’s depth. It’s a rich and valuable examination of the filmmaking process.
In the Deleted Scenes section we locate 11 cut segments. When viewed via the “Play All” option, these use up 20 minutes and 50 seconds. These almost uniformly consist of fairly subdued character moments. Nothing of particular interest happens here, though a scene in which the returning Inman meets Georgia has potential, and we also see some shots mentioned in the commentary. These are minor character moments that would have slowed an already overly long movie.
Next we fiind The Words and Music of Cold Mountain - Royce Hall Special. It fills 93 minutes with a mixture of elements from a live event. After a performance from Jack White, we get an introduction from filmmaker Sydney Pollack. The program then includes an interview between film critic David Thompson and Minghella as well as film clips. Once that part concludes, it alternates among movie snippets, music, and readings. For the music, we get performances from Tim Erikson, Cassie Franklin, Stuart Duncan, Dirk Powell, Alison Krauss, Riley Baugus, Tim O’Brien, Sting and the Sacred Harp Singers. As for the readings, Sting, Brendan Gleeson, Nicole Kidman, Jude Law, Kathy Baker and Minghella all read from the novel of Cold Mountain as well as from Ann Carson’s The Glass Essay and the Book of Job. It’s an interesting event and it adds a cool piece for the DVD.
A promotional special, A Journey to Cold Mountain goes for 29 minute and 39 seconds as it touts the flick. We get the usual elements and hear from Mingella, Kidman, Law, Zellweger, Yerxa, Gleeson, White, Pollack, author Charles Frazier, UC-Santa Barbara Associate Professor of History John Majewski, executive music producer T-Bone Burnett, singer Sting, and actors Natalie Portman and Philip Seymour Hoffman. “Journey” covers the same information found elsewhere but does it in a fluffier and more insubstantial manner. Actually, we do hear a little about costumes that I don’t recall in other programs, and there’s a little more about the music, but that’s it. Otherwise this superficial piece lacks any reason for fans to watch it, as they’ll get all the material presented better in other areas.
A four-minute and nine-second featurette covers Sacred Harp History. We hear from musicians Tim Eriksen and David Ivey plus T-Bone Burnett. They relate some details about the style and we watch a performance of this supremely annoying music. It’s a fairly bland piece that doesn’t tell us a ton about the music.
Lastly, Storyboard Comparisons lets us examine three segments. We see “The Siege of Petersburg” (three minutes, 56 seconds), “The Swanger Torture Scene” (2:36) and “Sara’s Cabin” (3:45). These show the boards in the top two-thirds of the frame with the movie at the bottom. It’s a passable presentation, though the movie becomes so tiny that it can be tough to compare the two images.
Disc Two opens with ads for Miramax’s 25th anniversary as well as Shall We Dance?, The Alamo and Hero. Those promos also appear in the Sneak Peeks domain along with pieces for City of God, The Human Stain, The English Patient, People I Know, and The Barbarian Invasions plus the Mountain soundtrack.
I can’t say that I felt surprised that I didn’t think much of Cold Mountain, since I didn’t care for the same director’s The English Patient. Since I did enjoy his Talented Mr. Ripley, I figured all wasn’t lost, but Mountain is much closer in spirit and story to Patient, and it also seems fairly sappy and inane. The DVD offers very good picture and audio plus a mostly informative and well-executed set of extras. As a DVD, Cold Mountain excels, but my disenchantment with the movie itself means my recommendation is limited to already-established fans of the flick.
Viewer Film Ratings: 3.5714 Stars
| Number of Votes: 42