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post #1 of 4 Old 08-12-2014, 06:18 AM - Thread Starter
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The Normal Heart (Blu-ray) Official AVSForum Review



This HBO Films drama tells the dramatic and poignant story of the early days of the HIV-AIDS crisis in New York City in the early 1980s, taking an unflinching look at the nation's sexual politics as gay activists and their allies in the medical community fight to expose the truth about the burgeoning epidemic to a city and nation in denial.




The Review at a Glance:
(max score: 5 )

Film:

Extras:

Audio/Video total rating:
( Max score: 100 )

83



Details:

Studio and Year: HBO - 2014
MPAA Rating: TV-MA
Feature running time: 143 minutes
Genre: Drama

Disc Format: BD-50
Encoding: AVC (MPEG-4)
Video Aspect: 1.78:1
Resolution: 1080p/24

Audio Format(s): English DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio, French DTS 5.1, Spanish DTS Stereo
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Julia Roberts, Taylor Kitsch, Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons, Alfred Molina
Directed by: Ryan Murphy
Music by: Cliff Martinez
Written by: Larry Kramer based on his play “The Normal Heart”
Region Code: A

Blu-ray Disc release Date: August 26, 2014


"To win a war, you have to start one"


My Take:

When writer Larry Kramer hosted a gathering of gay men at his home in 1981 to discuss the "gay cancer" that was plaguing their community, he effectively launched a series of events that would change the face of the Gay Rights Movement and American activism. The Normal Heart tells the story of the onset of the HIV-AIDS crisis in New York City in the early 1980s. This important film mirrors the struggles that playwright Larry Kramer and his friends faced as they grappled with the deadly epidemic and a government and public who were too slow to respond to what they saw as a gay disease. In 1985, he immortalized the events in the groundbreaking play The Normal Heart, which was later revived on Broadway in 2011, garnering five Tony Award nominations.

Three decades after its Off Broadway debut, Kramer's dream of a film version to bring his urgent and pivotal story to an even wider audience came to fruition in this compelling, poignant and powerful film. It explores the nation's sexual politics as gay activists and their allies in the medical community fight to expose the truth about the epidemic to a city in denial. Mark Ruffalo portrays Ned Weeks, who witnesses first-hand a mysterious disease that has begun to claim the lives of many in his gay community and starts to seek answers. Matt Bomer plays Felix Turner, a reporter who becomes Ned's lover. Taylor Kitsch plays Bruce Niles, a closeted investment banker who becomes a prominent AIDS activist. Jim Parsons plays gay activist Tommy Boatwright, reprising his role from the 2011 Broadway revival. Julia Roberts plays physician Dr. Emma Brookner, a survivor of childhood polio who treats several of the earliest victims of HIV-AIDS and quickly realizes the nature and seriousness of the disease. Rounding out the all-star cast are Alfred Molina, Joe Mantello, Jonathan Groff, Denis O'Hare, Stephen Spinella, Corey Stoll, Finn Wittrock and B.D. Wong.

The Normal Heart is anything but an uplifting film although it certainly isn’t meant to be. It’s small in scope as you might expect from a film based on a play and focuses on a small group of people and their story. The subject matter is difficult as the depiction of AIDS related illness/death is graphic but again I think the point is to present as real a portrayal as possible. This isn’t done simply for shock value but is designed as an homage to those that suffered through those terrible events while trying to cope with something that added an additional layer to the persecution that they were already feeling.

As someone that tends to enjoy films based on real events I was drawn in by the recollection of the early 80’s time frame as well as recalling fragments of some of the events depicted in the news in those early days of the AIDS epidemic. At its heart the film is about the trials and tribulations of the people in NY City who were fighting to gain support from both the local and federal government in recognition of the new disease and its impact but it’s also a very personal story about a lack of societal acceptance and the pain associated with the loss of loved ones. I would say that while both topics have been covered before what makes this telling so engaging are the riveting performances by the ensemble cast beginning with but not limited to Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer and Julia Roberts. There are several sequences that are so well played that it left my wife and I shaking our heads at the incredibly raw and powerful emotion each conveyed.

Adapted for the screen by Larry Kramer and directed by Emmy Award® winner Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Horror Story), The Normal Heart was nominated for 16 Emmy Awards® including Outstanding Television Movie, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie (Mark Ruffalo),4 for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie (Matt Bomer, Joe Mantello, Alfred Molina, Jim Parsons), Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie (Julia Roberts), Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special (Ryan Murphy) and Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special (Larry Kramer).

As I eluded to earlier this isn’t a feel good film and the graphic nature of the subject matter and sexual explicitness may not be for everyone. However it tells an important and relevant story that is underscored by excellent direction and superb acting. I am not sure that I could sit through it again but I am glad to have had the opportunity to experience it.


Parental Guide:

The film contains adult subject matter, thematic material, pervasive language, graphic nudity and sexual content.


AUDIO/VIDEO - By The Numbers:
REFERENCE = 92-100/EXCELLENT = 83-91/GOOD = 74-82/AVERAGE = 65-73/BELOW AVERAGE = under 65

**My audio/video ratings are based upon a comparative made against other high definition media/blu-ray disc.**



Audio: 80
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)

  • Dynamics:
  • Low frequency effects:
  • Surround Sound presentation:
  • Clarity/Detail:
  • Dialogue Reproduction:
  • Low frequency extension * (non-rated element): NA
[/b]


Video: 86
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)


  • Resolution/Clarity:
  • Black Level/Shadow Detail:
  • Color Reproduction:
  • Fleshtones:
  • Compression:



The Normal Heart comes to Blu-ray Disc from HBO Home Entertainment featuring 1080p AVC encoded video that has an average bitrate of 32 Mbps and lossless DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio Sound that has an average bitrate of 3.4 Mbps.

This video presentation delivered satisfactory overall quality that included appreciable refinement and subtle degrees of delineation that resulted in a gratifying high definition viewing experience. Colors and fleshtones appear natural with ample saturation and vivid textures. Black levels are respectable and depth of field/delineation during low light sequences is rarely a problem. I didn’t detect any noteworthy anomalies or artifacts.

The audio presentation is solid and like the video renders the elements present in the soundtrack as intended. Dialogue is clearly articulated through the center channel as the film’s music holds sway over the front soundstage. Aural perspective is one dimensional and leans toward the front channels however spatial venue replicating effects and diffuse ambience is fed to the rear channels which provide a limited but effective sense of envelopment.


Bonus Features:
  • To start a war: Making of featurette – 9 minutes



Final Thoughts:

Based on the play of the same name by Larry Kramer (who also penned the screenplay) The Normal Heart drama tells the dramatic and poignant story of the early days of the HIV-AIDS crisis in New York City in the early 1980s, providing an unflinching perspective at the nation's sexual politics of the day as gay activists and their allies in the medical community fight to expose the truth about the burgeoning epidemic. It comes to Blu-ray from HBO Home Entertainment featuring gratifying high definition video and sound mated with a brief making of documentary that looks behind the scenes and includes insights from the cast and crew. The Normal Heart is hard to watch at times but it’s a relevant, significant and wonderfully enacted film that is well worth seeing.







Ralph Potts
AVS Forum Blu-ray Reviews



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post #2 of 4 Old 08-12-2014, 07:55 PM
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Ralph -- To my surprise I see that I am first poster to respond to your, as always, excellent review of The Normal Heart. I am a semi-imposter here in that I neither bought nor rented the BD but instead, thanks to your review, watched the film on HBO Go. As you observed, the film's large ensemble cast was out of this world, especially Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, and Julia Roberts. Thanks to wall to wall great performances, there were scenes in the film that were incredibly moving. On the down side, I thought it got a little over the top and "stagey" in its last act, so some of the drama left me a bit cold.

Despite my reservations about the nature of the storytelling, I recommend The Normal Heart because of the many wonderful performances it contains. 7 Stars out of 10.
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post #3 of 4 Old 08-13-2014, 04:24 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gwsat View Post
Ralph -- To my surprise I see that I am first poster to respond to your, as always, excellent review of The Normal Heart. I am a semi-imposter here in that I neither bought nor rented the BD but instead, thanks to your review, watched the film on HBO Go. As you observed, the film's large ensemble cast was out of this world, especially Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, and Julia Roberts. Thanks to wall to wall great performances, there were scenes in the film that were incredibly moving. On the down side, I thought it got a little over the top and "stagey" in its last act, so some of the drama left me a bit cold.

Despite my reservations about the nature of the storytelling, I recommend The Normal Heart because of the many wonderful performances it contains. 7 Stars out of 10.
Agreed. It was an interesting lesson on sort-of-modern history for much of the movie, but over-dramatized at the end. The production value was good, although this is not a movie that I was watching for production value. I watched it off of HBO, and it looked since, even at 14mbps MPEG-2 or whatever Comcast is giving HBO.
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post #4 of 4 Old 08-14-2014, 10:17 AM
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I watched this on HBO and was deeply touched by it. I knew several gay guys who were taken by AIDS and was a supervisor of a Social Security Disability Claims Unit in California that handled many of the early HIV claims in San Francisco. We all got a quick education in the disease and what, at the outset, it likely meant in terms of outcome. The Normal Heart and HBO's older "And the Band Played on" are bookends for the same era of the early AIDS crisis and both tell the story as it happened. The performances in The Normal Heart were all superb. Matt Bomer actually lost 40 lbs. for his role. Joe Mantello, who played Mickey Marcus in the film, played Ned Weeks in the Broadway production and was nominated for a Tony Award. He is one of the most successful Broadway directors of the modern era. The actor who impressed me the most was Taylor Kitsch. He has come a long way since his Friday Night Lights TV days and displayed some serious acting chops here. This is a very worthwhile production although I'm not sure about it's being a keeper if you've already seen it.
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Last edited by Cal1981; 08-14-2014 at 12:41 PM.
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