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Robert Altman
Emily Watson, Derek Jacobi, Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott Thomas, Kelly Macdonald, Clive Owen, Stephen Fry, Ryan Phillippe, Jeremy Northam, Helen Mirren, Michael Gambon, Alan Bates, Richard E. Grant, Eileen Atkins, Bob Balaban, Charles Dance, James Wilby
Julian Fellowes

Tea At Four. Dinner At Eight. Murder At Midnight.
Box Office:
Budget $15 million.
Opening weekend $395,162 on 9 screens.
Domestic gross $41.3 million.
Rated R for some language and brief sexuality.

Academy Awards:
Won for Best Original Screenplay.
Nominated for Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actress-Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration; Best Costume Design.

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English, Spanish

Runtime: 138 min.
Price: $26.98
Release Date: 6/25/2002

• Audio Commentary With Director Robert Altman, Production Designer Stephen Altman, and Producer David Levy
• Audio Commentary With Screenwriter Julian Fellowes
• Deleted Scenes With Optional Commentary
• ďThe Making of Gosford ParkĒ Documentary
• ďThe Authenticity of Gosford Parkď Featurette
• ďCast and Filmmakers Q&A SessionĒ
• Trailer
• Production Notes
• Coming Attractions

Score soundtrack

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Gosford Park (2001)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

As proof that not all of his glories remain in the past, 77-year-old Robert Altman achieved strong critical success with his 2001 release, Gosford Park. After a mixed reaction to 2000ís Dr. T and the Women, Altman returned to form with Gosford. The movie didnít make a substantial sdas box office impact, but that doesnít come as a surprise; this sort of quiet piece usually doesnít reach a mass audience. Nonetheless, the movie got seven Oscar nominations. It received nods for top prizes like Best Picture and Best Director, and it took home the award for Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen.

Despite his stellar reputation, I must admit Iíve never been especially enamored of Altmanís work. I like M*A*S*H quite a lot but I think Nashville remains an extremely overrated film. I strongly disliked Dr. T but was interested to check out the much-praised Gosford and see if it fared better.

Yes, it did, but that wasnít difficult. Gosford Park offered a somewhat erratic experience. The movie had some interesting elements, but as a whole it seemed a little drab and bland.

Packed with an enormous cast, Gosford examines a social gathering at the rural English estate of Sir William McCordle (Michael Gambon). Set in the 1930s, the movie initially presents amusingly crotchety Constance, Coutness of Trentham (Maggie Smith) and her personal assistant Mary (Kelly Macdonald), we soon meet a wide variety of privileged guests, their servants, and the house staff.

Of course, a few of these receive more attention than others, but the film presents them in a relatively democratic manner. That makes it tough to concisely discuss the plot, especially since the movie doesnít really offer a tight storyline. Instead, it focuses more heavily on the events of the period, through dinners and a bird hunt.

The film stays with these interpersonal interactions for most of the first half until a dramatic event finally occurs. Someone murders Sir William, and the police enter the situation. During the rest of the movie, bumbling Inspector Thompson (Stephen Fry) deals with the slaying and the others sort out their own relationships.

Really, the murder seems like something of a MacGuffin. The movieís plot appears to revolve around Sir Williamís death, but in reality, the flick doesnít devote much energy on it. Blurbs that relate the filmís plot may make Gosford appear to be a murder mystery, but that concept could scarcely be farther from the truth. The flick provides no sense of tension or drama in regard to the killing, as it comes across as an afterthought much of the time.

I donít mean this to sound like a complaint, but I do mention it more as a warning. Iíve read other reviewers who intensely disliked Gosford due to its ambling pace and lack of strong storyline. Indeed, almost nothing ďhappensĒ during the movie. For some, that seems like a major weakness, but others will regard the more vague and character-oriented emphasis as a strength.

I fall somewhere in between the two camps. I didnít mind the lack of tight plotting, but I didnít fully embrace the manner in which Altman told the story. Nonetheless, I did find Gosford to offer an intriguing experience that remains interesting after it ends.

Actually, that latter thought conveys probably the strongest aspect of Gosford: its depth. The movie really demands additional viewings to pick up on all its textures and nuances. It tosses so many characters and situations at you that you canít take in all of them at once; with another screenings, youíre sure to discern many new tones and elements that passed you by the first time.

Altman usually utilizes a seemingly loose attitude throughout his movies, and that occurs here as well. While I didnít think this worked well in something like Nashville or the abysmal Dr. T, Altman exhibits greater tightness here. I received a great deal of negative e-mail about my general dislike of Nashvile, but I stand by my thoughts that it was more interesting as an experiment than as a film.

In Gosford, however, Altman shows that he developed the multi-character formula greatly over the years. Gosford features more roles than the much touted ď24 major charactersĒ in Nashville, but it manages to develop them more fully and treat them like humans, not props. It also retains the seemingly loose and casual tone of many other Altman flicks without appearing like they just made it up on the spot.

In other words, Gosford comes across as a well thought out film, not just a cinematic experiment. Julian Fellowesí script deserves much of the credit for the increased structure, as it gives Altman a solid framework upon which to build, and the excellent veteran cast also allows the material to breathe. As seen in the rambling and self-indulgent George Washington, bad films become even worse with weak acting. Gosford provides a terrific group of actors who anchor the piece and make sure it doesnít go astray.

If anything, I thought Gosford had too many plot-driven moments. Though most of the film remained detached and cool, it tied together a little more tightly than Iíd like. It seemed to violate its own rules at times, though these occasions remained infrequent.

I canít say that I feel great enthusiasm toward Gosford Park, but I definitely like it more than many other Robert Altman movies. The movie provides an intriguing experience that should become even more rewarding upon additional viewings. Altman provides a clever twist on the standard murder mystery that manages to be different without seeming self-conscious.

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

Gosford Park 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. Overall, the picture seemed fine for what the filmmakers intended to do.

Altman and the others clearly wanted a slightly murky look to Gosford, but this caused no significant problems. Sharpness appeared good for the most part. A few wider scenes appeared slightly soft, but those didnít create any big concerns. Most of the film looked nicely detailed and distinct. Jagged edges and moirť effects presented no issues, but I did notice some light edge enhancement at times. In regard to print flaws, I detected mild grain on occasion, and I also saw a few examples of speckles and grit. However, most of the movie remained clean.

Due to the style of the film, the palette remained fairly subdued through most of the movie, and it also took on that vaguely golden tone typical of period flicks. I found the colors to appear solid despite these choices, however. The hues came across with good clarity and definition throughout the movie. Black levels seemed nicely deep and rich, while shadow detail usually appeared appropriately heavy without excessive opacity. On a few occasions, some interiors looked a bit muddy, but those examples seemed rare. Ultimately, Gosford Park presented a good image that seemed to represent the filmmakersí intentions for the most part.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Gosford Park provided a serviceable but unspectacular presentation. Not surprisingly, the soundfield remained heavily oriented toward the front channels. The surrounds rarely added much; even during a thunderstorm scene - the kind of element that usually spices up this kind of mix - the audio stayed largely anchored in the front. Since Gosford focused so strongly on speech, I didnít find this orientation to be a problem, but I felt the integration of the elements could appear off to a certain degree. Music displayed good stereo presence, and effects spread well across the front. However, those latter elements didnít always blend together very naturally. For example, dinner scenes seemed somewhat awkward and artificial.

Sound quality appeared acceptable. Speech showed the main problems. Some of that came from the many accents, which could be difficult to understand at times. Altmanís style of overlapping speech also made intelligibility difficult at times. However, I didnít consider those to be flaws, since theyíre inherent to the movie. I did feel that dialogue occasionally seemed somewhat metallic and rough, however; the lines remained decent but lacked the definition I expected.

The rest of the track seemed fine. Effects were reasonably clean and accurate, and they showed no issues related to distortion. Music worked quite well, as the score and songs appeared bright and vivid. Low-end didnít create a substantial presence during the film, but the track showed good fidelity and dynamics. In the end, the soundtrack of Gosford Park had some flaws, but it seemed fairly satisfying for this sort of film.

This DVD release of Gosford Park packs a mix of extras, including two separate audio commentaries. The first involves director Robert Altman, production designer - and son of the director - Stephen Altman, and producer David Levy. All three were recorded together for this running, screen-specific track. Oddly, the DVD never formally introduces Levy or the junior Altman. The menu simply lists a ďdirectorís commentaryĒ, and none of the participants states his name during the track; I had to figure out their identities for myself.

Iíve heard Altman commentaries for Nashville and M*A*S*H and found both to offer pretty weak discussions. Altman occasionally provided some interesting remarks, but that material popped up infrequently; the tracks suffered from many empty spaces. I hoped that the presence of the other two filmmakers would make this commentary a more active affair, but unfortunately, it shows many of the flaws found on those other pieces.

On the positive side, the Altman boys and Levy occasionally provide some interesting remarks. For example, we learn about the directorís desire to get an ďRĒ rating instead of a ďPG-13Ē, and he also chats about period details, casting, and a few other moments. Djl Altman and Levy chime in on similar topics, though they donít do much more than reflect the directorís material.

As with the other Altman tracks, Gosford flops because so much of it passes without information. Scads of time passes without remark, and even when someone does speak, the details usually seem fairly lackluster. This track succeeds better than the prior Altman commentaries, but not by much; overall, it seems fairly boring and tedious.

The second commentary comes from screenwriter Julian Fellowes, which sits alone for this running, occasionally screen-specific piece. I feel Fellowes offers a strong piece, but others may disagree for one reason: he devotes relatively little time to the subject of the movie itself. To be sure, Fellowes does cover some issues particular to Gosford, such as the cast and the writing process. However, most of the track relates to the facts behind the movie. Fellowes provides a terrific chat about the reality of the various situations, and he even tosses in his own experiences with upper-crust relatives and his upbringing. For me, Fellows seems chatty, engaging, and very informative; I like this commentary quite a lot. However, folks with no patience for tracks that donít deal exclusively with the movie - and I know youíre out there - will probably not care for it.

Next we find The Making of Gosford Park, a 19-minute and 50-second documentary about the film. It offers the usual mix of behind the scenes shots, snippets from the movie, and interviews with participants. We hear from director Altman, screenwriter Fellowes, producer Levy, and actors Emily Watson, Alan Bates, Richard E. Grant, Bob Balaban, Stephen Fry, Eileen Atkins, Ryan Phillippe, Helen Mirren, Michael Gambon, Kristin Scott Thomas, Kelly Macdonald, Clive Owen, Jeremy Northam, and Derek Jacobi.

The documentary starts well. We learn nice facts about the genesis of the project and Altmanís working style, such as his loose reliance on the script. However, before too long the show degenerates into a fairly generic promotional piece that does little more than relate some basic plot and character points. It picks up again toward the end, and we even get to see bits of the Golden Globe ceremony and the announcement of the Oscar nominations. In the end, the documentary has enough moments to merit a look, but it seems fairly insubstantial.

After this we get a collection of deleted scenes. We find 15 of these in all, and they last for a total of 20 minutes. Unfortunately, itís tough to access individual snippets; they run as one long piece without chapter stops. I found the scenes interesting to watch, and those who donít like the loose nature of Gosford will wish some of them made the cut, as they add structure and plot elements to the tale.

We can watch the clips with or without commentary from Robert Altman, Stephen Altman, and David Levy. As with their longer track heard during the movie, their remarks here appear sporadically. Sometimes we learn why the snippets didnít end up in the film, and sometimes we donít. Iíd estimate that they explain the deletion of about half the material, and virtually all of those shots got the boot because they were either too plot-driven or too sentimental. Otherwise, the commentators do little more than describe the scenes.

The Authenticity of Gosford Park provides an eight-minute and 40-second look at the facts behind the fiction. These consist of movie clips, shots from the set, and interviews with Robert Altman, Fellowes, Levy, actors Bates, Jacobi, and Mirren, butler technical advisor Arthur Inch, cook technical advisor Ruth Mott, and parlour maid technical advisor Violet Liddle. Although Fellowes already covered many of these issues during his commentary, ďAuthenticityĒ seems interesting due to the participation of the technical advisors. All served in their various capacities back in the Thirties, so they bring a nice level of depth to the show.

During Cast and Filmmakers Q&A Session, we get a 28-minute and 58-second interview period taped in March 2002, only a few weeks prior to the Oscars. Moderated by Pete Hammond, this chat includes Robert Altman, Fellowes, Levy, and actors Bob Balaban, Kelly Macdonald, Helen Mirren, Jeremy Northam, and Ryan Phillippe (who enters after about 11 minutes). Overall this offers a good conversation. Hammond asks questions for the first 12 or so minutes, and then audience members chime in with their queries. We hear some of the information conveyed elsewhere, but the program still offers some useful material.

After this, a few more standard features appear. In addition to the filmís theatrical trailer, we get a Coming Attractions area. The latter advertises the movieís soundtrack CD as well as some other Universal DVDs. The booklet adds some decent production notes, and Cast and Filmmakers Filmographies gives us more information. For the 16 actors listed, we get straight filmographies plus a few remarks about their characters. The entries for the 11 crewmembers act as annotated filmographies; they provide no charts of their work but instead give us a prose examination of their careers.

While I doubt Iíll ever be a real fan of Robert Altmanís work, I thought Gosford Park worked well. The movie provided an unusually dispassionate take on the murder mystery genre and offered a clever and nicely subdued experience. The DVD gives us acceptable but unspectacular picture and sound, and it also packs a good roster of supplements. I canít recommend Gosford Park to everyone, for many clearly will be bored to sobs by it. However, if this form of material intrigues you, I encourage you to give it a look.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.0789 Stars Number of Votes: 38
5 3:
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