A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Review by HTQ4

Directed by Ron Howard
Written by Akiva Goldsman, based on a book by Sylvia Nasar
Starring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris, Christopher Plummer, Adam Goldberg, Paul Bettany, Judd Hirsch


Anamorphic: Yes.

My Advice: Own It.

Dr. John Nash (Crowe) is an eccentric mathematician, and quite a fantastic little code-breaker.  His "Truly Original Idea" of Governing Dynamics leads him to a position at MIT where he also works on top secret code-breakings for the U.S. Government during the height of the Cold War.  It is during his tenure at MIT that he falls in love with his future wife Alicia (Connelly).  Their relationship is put to the test as Nash is diagnosed as a paranoid-schizophrenic and they begin the process of rebuilding their lives.  Eventually, later in his life, his "Truly Original Idea" lands him the Nobel Prize for Economics. 

This is arguably Ron Howard's finest work to date.  He has assembled a cast of very capable actors to tell an incredibly inspirational story in a somewhat unorthodox way.  Upon first viewing of this film (and I saw it first on DVD - I did not see it in theatres), there was an aspect of the screenplay that I thought was a weakness, but after reflecting on it a bit, I have decided that it is a strong point of the screenplay: that would be the setup of the World According to John Nash...delusions and all.  I found myself not wanting to believe that the delusions were unreal, I kept hanging on to the possibility that Nash was being manipulated.  But now I believe this speaks to the effectiveness of the very well crafted screenplay. Crowe's portrayal of Nash is rock solid, eccentricities and all.  He is consistent and believable all the way through the film.  Connelly is more than suited to the character of Alicia, and, even though I give her full credit for a very strong performance, I also believe that the character on paper could have been played by almost any actress. 

Again, this is not to downplay Connelly's performance, but to speak mostly to a weakness of the screenplay.  If the movie has another weakness, I would say it would be the aging makeup effects on Crowe toward the end of the movie.  There are several scenes where the old-age makeup almost drew me out of the story rather than enhancing it.  Old-age makeup is extremely hard to pull off on camera, but this is a film produced by DreamWorks and directed by Ron Howard, so I have to say that I expected a little more perfectionism in this arena.

This DVD treatment of the film is also very well put together with a lot of bonus material on the two disc set.  First of all, I think that any director putting together a DVD for their film should listen to any of Howard's DVD commentaries to learn how it should be done.  He has such belief in his work and such a passion for them that it just comes bubbling out during his commentary.  He is able to get all the interesting stuff about the making of the film out while filling it with just enough of the little funny tidbits to keep it fresh.  It's well rounded mostly because it feels so damn conversational.  Goldsman's commentary is almost as good--he discusses some of the more interesting symbolism used in the screenplay--but mostly, it feels like a re-telling or explanation of the film.  In my opinion, it's just not needed.

The Deleted Scenes are presented in one lump without the option to choose them from a menu, however, the Deleted Scenes Menu has an introduction by Ron Howard.  You can watch the deleted scenes both with and without Howard's commentary.  Usually, with deleted scenes, you have a feel for whether or not they should have been cut.  In this collection of deleted scenes, I thought that about half of the scenes that were cut would have weakened the film had they remained in.  Again, Howard is very thorough in his commentary explaining his choices behind why these scenes were deleted, even if it was just for pacing.  I think the idea behind a "text only" Production Notes section of the DVD should be phased out as an acceptable addition to the bonus material.  The information in this section is only mildly interesting and is mostly covered by the other parts of the DVD. 

The second disc is kind of odd right at the beginning.  It has a Main Menu whereby you can select one option: The Bonus Material Menu. Seemed a bit unnecessary to me. Anyway, "A Beautiful Partnership" is an interview montage where Grazer and Howard discuss Imagine, their production company, and how their relationship as friends and business partners shape and inform the choices in their films and what different avenues they take to get the final product.  As nice as it is for insight into their relationship, its relevance to the film is in question.   The interview with Goldsman, however, is involved deeply with his own adaptation of the story and the collaborative effort with everyone involved, including the actors, director and producers.  The take-home from this interview is that Goldsman wanted to tell this story in a way that really made you feel what it's like to have a part of your reality taken away from you the way that Nash did. 

"Meeting John Nash" is an interview that Howard had with Dr. Nash.  Howard wanted Dr. Nash to explain his equilibrium theory to him.  It is shot on home video in a classroom where Dr. Nash proceeds to give a lecture out of his "Game Theory" book.  It's interesting to see what kinds of research Howard did for his film, but the math is deep and thick and the sound quality is...well...a home video, so it's hard to make heads or tails of any of it.  There is also actual footage of Dr. Nash accepting his Nobel Prize in 1994 for Economics and lasts about 5 minutes or so.  Not surprisingly, it looks nothing like it did in the film; he doesn't even have a speech!  There is also a section where Howard and Grazer talk about the process of casting Crowe and Connelly.  I always find it interesting to hear why certain actors were cast over others and even though they don't go into who else was up for the part, it's nice to find out why they were chosen. 

The interview with makeup artist Greg Cannom, was a sticking point for me.  For the most part, as I've stated, I didn't think the aging makeup worked.  The screen tests that they show during this montage look much better than it did in the final product. The interesting part is the development of the silicone appliances they created are pretty amazing.  I just wish it looked better off the paper. 

Storyboard comparisons always seem like wasted space on a DVD's bonus material, because it seems like it's very easy to only put the storyboards that look like the final product on the DVD to show how closely they matched.  For some reason, I didn't get that feeling with this section.  Mostly because it was refreshing to see the subtle changes they made when actually realizing the film.  The special effects section is interesting, for the effects in this film in some cases were very subtle. It's nice to see them in case you didn't catch them in the feature. 

James Horner also discusses his development of the score for the film, the use of Charlotte Church for the solo vocal line that haunts the flim score, and his collaboration with Howard.  This DVD also includes the obligatory 30 minute mini-documentary on the making of the film.  It's no different than any other one that you've ever seen in that it is interspersed with interviews with the director and cast, skimming the surface of the story.  Ultimately, it's an advertisement to get you to go see the movie.  Some of the other features of this DVD I feel are there simply to take up space; for example, The Academy Awards section of the DVD has the press interviews with the winners after the televised ceremony, the theatrical trailer is just that, there is also an ad for the soundtrack CD, a selection of trailers for other Universal DVDs and a section which encourages you to check out various mental health organizations (which only show links to the websites on your TV screen...umm...DVD-ROM content?).  It is also interesting to note that Howard and Grazer introduce almost every section of the bonus material which I found refreshing that the director and producer took the time to show their enthusiasm for this material. 

To access the DVD-ROM content available on this DVD, you have to install the InterActual Player, which I'm not particularly fond of.  As of this writing, there are only two videos available on the DVD-ROM website, and since it's streaming video, it's really best if you have some form of broadband internet access to take full advantage of it.  I'm normally not a fan of DVD-ROM content, because I'd much rather not have to put it in my computer to access it.  However, in this case, they update the online content every two weeks, which means that there's always something new to check out.  I think that's at least a step in the right direction, anyway.  There is a list of the upcoming behind the scenes videos that will be available.  There is one other downside:  you have to "register" with the "Total Axess" website to be able to watch any of these videos.

So, this DVD is worth owning.  When it comes to having a DVD support its source material, I believe it sets a new standard.

Buy it from Amazon!
Buy the book from Amazon!
Buy the soundtrack from Amazon!

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