Reviewed by
Aaron Beierle

Title: The Secret of Roan Inish: Special Edition (1993)
Studio Line: Columbia TriStar - Between land and sea there is a place where myths are real.

John Sayles' most popular movie ever is the magical tale of a girl whose search for her missing brother brings an Irish legend to life. A treat for all ages.

Director: John Sayles
Cast: Jeni Courtney, Mick Lally, Richard Sheridan, Eileen Colgan, John Lynch
DVD: Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9, standard 1.33:1; audio English Dolby Surround; subtitles English, Spanish, French; closed-captioned; dual side - single layer; 28 chapters; rated PG; 102 min.; $29.99; street date 7/25/00.
Supplements: Audio Commentary with director Sayles; Theatrical Trailers; Talent File.
Purchase: DVD | Score Soundtrack - Mason Daring

Picture/Sound/Extras: B/B/B

I think there are few directors more varied in their work than John Sayles. Coming up with everything from Eight Men Out to Lone Star to Secret Of Roan Inish, his subjects and topics vary with almost each effort. You might also hear some of his dialogue in major budget films, as the director reportedly does re-writes on some films other than his own. As for his own films, he often takes on more than one task; in Roan Inish, he not only directed, but wrote and edited the film.

In a world that's often in a rush, his quiet tales may take getting used to for some. Roan Inish is Sayles at his softest, a deliberately paced, subtle fairy tale that adults and even some patient children may enjoy. The movie opens with Fiona's mother's passing, and she learns in the local pub that she's being sent off to live with her grandparents, on the sea coast - just across from the island of Roan Inish, in other words - the island of the seals.

Her grandparents tell her great tales about her family history and ties to the island of Roan Inish. Her little brother drifted out to sea in a storm, but we wonder, are the seals taking care of him? We find out gradually that there may be more connections from the family to the island's inhabitants.

Some might listen to the legends of Roan Inish in disbelief, but it's the matter-of-fact style that Sayles brings to the picture that makes the stories told believable; I would definitely believe that another director might have made a mess of this plot. The actors, especially Jeni Courtney, who's performance as Fiona is her first ever, are all excellent and help carry the film's story.

Some may feel Roan Inish slow at the start, but it certainly doesn't feel that way as the movie goes on, because Sayles really gets the audience involved in this tale. It's a great little film that definitely deserves a look.

The DVD:

I was not quite as pleased with this edition of Roan Inish as I usually am with the work that Columbia/Tristar does. The beautiful cinematography of Sayles's usual cinematographer Haskell Wexler combined with the goregous Ireland locations make for many wonderful shots.

Sharpness is generally pleasing, although varied. Sayles and Wexler seem to have intentionally given the film a slightly soft, "dreamlike" quality that looks good here; never lacking clarity and always at least fairly well-defined. Detail is also usually good.

There are some problems that do appear from time to time; print flaws do appear and are noticable, but only appear in isolated spots and aren't consistent throughout the film. A few trace amounts of pixelation are visible as well, but these aren't distracting. A few smoky scenes aren't terribly smooth either, but this isn't a major complaint.

Colors are magnificent, looking stunning and warm - there are plenty of great colors, from the more basic tones of the buildings to the greens that wash over the countryside. Colors are well-saturated and very pleasing, with no visible flaws. This is a fantastic looking film, and although the presentation from Tristar has a few small flaws, they still can't take away from how wonderful the cinematography is. The flip side offers a pan/scan version.

The Secret Of Roan Inish is presented in Dolby Surround; although most of it is, as one would expect, dialogue - it still remains as one of the more pleasing Dolby Surround soundtracks I've heard in quite a bit.

It's certainly not flashy or agressive, but it presents Mason Daring's folk-ish score with such warmth and clarity that many will find the audio full of pleasing moments. It's not just the score that's pleasing, either. Although most of the audio comes from the front, scenes that take place by the sea do have a very "open" feel to them as waves splash foward.

Again, this is certainly not an active or agressive soundtrack, but the quality of the sound is certainly very good, and deserving of a "B". The english soundtrack is the only one offered.

Commentary: This is a commentary from director John Sayles. His commentary tracks are similar to his movies; he is not as overly energetic as some participants are, but his comments are extremely detailed and quite fascinating. His tone during the track is calm and inviting, and keeps the commentary interesting.

Certainly, the most notable detail that's offered is talk about the seals, and Sayles chats about how a combination of real and animatronic seals had to be found to play the animals portrayed in the film. The other animal problem was with the sea gulls in the movie, who, as one might guess, had minds of their own when it came time to film their scenes.

Much of the rest of the commentary is neatly organized between light technical discussion of the film's cinematography (I would have liked to have heard Wexler on the commentary as well, talking about his work) or story and actors, as well as characters. Impressively, Sayles rarely pauses and is able to talk consistently throughout much of the film, even becoming a little more relaxed and energetic as the film goes on. It's an excellent commentary that's never dull and frequently a fascinating look at Sayles's views on filmmaking. It's definitely a recommended listen.

Also: John Sayles talent file, as well as trailers for Roan Inish, Adventures Of Milo and Otis, Fly Away Home, Matilda and Muppets from Space.

Menus offer film-themed images and the cover art as the background for the main menu. Although this fits with the subtle tone of the movie, it still would have been nice to have the score playing behind the main menu.

The Secret Of Roan Inish is a charming, well-told tale that the whole family can enjoy. As for the DVD, audio/video quality are both good, and the Sayles commentary is definitely worth a listen. Recommended.

Support DVD Movie Guide, visit our sponsors.

Menu: DVD Movie Guide | Archive | Top