Secondhand Lions is a New Line release, so that pretty much puts the video transfer in its own category. Presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85, this anamorphic presentation from the studio is as close to flawless as they come. (For purposes of my review, I only checked out the widescreen version of the film, as New Line has included a cropped 1.33:1 fullframe version of the film on the disc as well. I cannot accurately speak on the fullscreen version of the film since I never viewed it.)
The widescreen image is up to snuff with New Line standards, as the picture remains consistently crisp, tight, and marvelously detailed. For the vast majority of the film, New Line’s image displays excellent definition and clarity, with superior color saturation and balance. The colors in the film were quite brilliant and worked well with the overall “feel good” vibe that Secondhand Lions fwanted to portray. Scenes shot during the daytime were nothing short of spectacular as the luxurious blue skies and lush green fields worked well against the backdrop of the dusty Texas roads and dilapidated old shack the trio calls home. Fleshtones were very stable and accurate throughout and the black levels in the film were appropriately deep and dense, allowing for excellent shadow detail and delineation. The master print is obviously very new and it became even more evident from the lack of flakes and specks on the image, as Secondhand Lions exhibited all of the positive aspects of being a moderately budgeted film from a major studio.
Flaws with the print were minimal, but surprising by ordinary New Line standards. Grain popped up from time to time in a couple of scenes, but it never adversely affected the picture that much. Edge enhancement was noted in a few areas and it seemed to cause some pretty conspicuous haloing, while a smidgen of compression artifacting caught my eye as well. None of these flaws were severe enough to distract from the film, but like I mentioned earlier, they were surprising given New Line’s track record of nearly perfect transfers.
New Line on an off day is still better than most on their best day, so while the film did display some surprising flaws, they weren’t serious enough to drive the film’s score any lower than an A- … Secondhand Lions remains a great looking film regardless.
New Line gives Secondhand Lions a very impressive Dolby Digital 5.1 EX audio transfer that will impress even the most die-hard audiophiles out there. It’s a meticulously designed soundfield that takes advantage of high-quality and imaginative sound design, as well as all types of environmental cues, in order to create an impressively immersive affair.
New Line has given the film a first rate transfer, with a very active and expansive soundfield that allows for all kinds of distinct environmental effects to be picked up all throughout the film. The vast majority of the film keeps your front surrounds actively engaged, while the rear surrounds do an excellent job of kicking in at appropriate times in order to prop up more lively scenes or provide a bit more punch to the film’s score. The highs are crisp and clean; the lows are very deep and aggressive; and the track comes across as a very enjoyable listen.
Effects come across as clean and natural and they always start and end from their proper place within the soundstage. Dialogue is a major player in Secondhand Lions and it’s always clear and intelligible. The film’s very appropriate score displays excellent dynamics and fidelity and it’s very well-balanced with the rest of the elements. There are times when it comes on a bit too strong, but not enough to be overly distracting. While the film’s audio transfer never reaches action blockbuster heights, it’s not supposed to … and for what it is, Secondhand Lions has received an impressive transfer.
New Line has also included an English Dolby Surround 2.0 track in English, as well as English and Spanish subtitles.
The “movie side” of the DVD contains an Audio Commentary with write/director Tim McCanlies that is about as good as they come. He provides a very animated and thorough discussion of his story/film and he covers a lot of ground throughout his feature-length commentary, as he rarely stops to take a breath. He speaks on every imaginable subject and covers the genesis and development of the script, casting the film, shooting on location in Texas and certain difficulties that arose, and so on and so forth. McCanlies really enjoyed the whole experience and it’s easy to tell from his good-natured and light-hearted discussion. Even if you’re only remotely interested in Secondhand Lions and how it came it be, this commentary is required listening. Good stuff.
Flipping the disc over, we get to the rest of the Special Features, with the first being Deleted / Alternate Scenes. There are a lot of sequences we can check out here and thankfully, New Line has included a –PLAY ALL- selection for us if we want to use it. There’s also some optional director commentary for all of the scenes that we can turn –on- or –off- at our leisure. Scenes included are; “Walter’s First Fantasy” (1:22), “First Day Alternate Edit” (7:32), “The True Story of the Salesmen” (3:53), “More Helen and the Santa Suit” (3:53), “Burying Santa” (2:02), “The Sheik Rewind” (1:40), “Battle on Horseback” (1:03), “Corn, Corn, Corn” (5:09), “Alternate May and Stan” (5:15), and “Original Ending” (9:27). There’s some decent stuff here … the Original Ending was particularly interesting … but nothing earth-shatteringly great that would have made the film any better than it already was. There’s a lot of material to cover here and this was a really nice inclusion in New Line’s set.
The first documentary on the flip side of the disc is entitled Secondhand Lions: One Screenplay’s Wild Ride In Hollywood (26:08). This is a really interesting supplement that features writer/director Tim McCanlies as he takes us through the very personal development of his story and screenplay and then, how it got shopped around Hollywood and eventually optioned by Warner Brothers. Once optioned, the studio wanted to make some changes that McCanlies vehemently disagreed with. We become privy to some rather harsh e-mails that went back and forth between studio execs and McCanlies as we learn that the studio had all kind of crazy ideas for the story (Redford/Newman would star and Secondhand Lions would serve as a sequel to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid … or … they would use the script as a sequel to Grumpy Old Men). McCanlies let the option on the film lapse and decided that he would make the film on his terms only. The remainder of the supplement deals with McCanlies’ journey to get the film made and how Haley Joel Osment’s name being attached to the project actually helped the film get made. This was a really incredible and unique supplement that I enjoyed immensely. Fans of the film definitely don’t want to pass on this one. Make sure you check Wild Ride out … it’s more than worth the investment.
On The Set With Secondhand Lions (26:06) is next and this serves as our typical, run-of-the-mill “Making Of” or “First Look” type documentary. It’s full of the standard information we’ve all seen and heard on these types of supplements before, as the cast and crew discuss what it was like shooting on location in Texas, creating the farmhouse that served as the centerpoint of the film (which was an actual couple’s home that was converted to look older), the characters in the film and the actors who played them, shooting the film in actual script sequence, and so on. There’s obviously a lot of praise and back-slapping going on in the supplement, but that’s to be expected. Which one of these types of supplements doesn’t do this? Even so, if you’re interested in how Secondhand Lions came to be and you just want to get the surface information, On The Set is a good way in which to do just that.
Next we find Haley Joel Osment: An Actor Comes Of Age (12:38), a quick and fluffy biographical sketch on the young actor. We get an interview with the actor himself, as he reminisces about his beginnings in the industry (a Pizza Hut commercial), mentoring with his father and how they work together to prepare for films, and so on. Osment then goes on to discuss a little bit about the specifics of preparing for Secondhand Lions and what it was like working with Robert Duvall and Michael Caine. Ultimately, this was a decent documentary, but nothing you’d really watch more than once.
Finishing off the disc are a couple of Visual Effects Comparisons (nothing really worthy of mention), the film’s Theatrical Trailer, as well as seven TV Spots.
Secondhand Lions has some impressive DVD-ROM supplements that include weblinks, a nicely implemented script-to-screen viewer, an expansive library of stills, and some “Scene Medleys”. There’s also a pretty cool feature entitled “Commentary Digest” that allow you to access some of the director’s actual handwritten notes and thoughts on particular scenes and moments in the film. While I’m not, nor have I ever been, a big fan of DVD-ROM material, New Line has added some really nice features for their release of Secondhand Lions.
A profitable venture for New Line, but far from being a blockbuster, Secondhand Lions presents a feel-good film that the entire family can sit down and enjoy together. The film doesn’t hide from or apologize for the fact that it’s a syrupy-sweet affair … and it shouldn’t. It’s a rarity these days that outside of Disney or Pixar, there’s a mainstream film that the entire family, young and old alike, can watch as a unit and all feel good about when it’s over. Well, Secondhand Lions is that kind of film and New Line has provided the perfect vehicle for families to enjoy the experience over and over again in the comfort of their own homes.
With New Line’s excellent audio and video transfers, as well as the inclusion of some moderately entertaining extras, Secondhand Lions comes highly recommended … warm fuzzies included.