The Review at a Glance: (max score: 5 )
Audio/Video total rating:
( Max score: 100 )
Studio and Year: Magnolia - 2008
MPAA Rating: R
Feature running time: 109 minutes
Disc Format: BD-50
Encoding: AVC (MPEG-4)
Video Aspect: 2.35:1
Audio Format(s): English DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio, Spanish Dolby Stereo
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Starring: Elijah Wood, John Hurt, Leonor Watling, Julie Cox, Jim Carter
Directed by: Alex De La Iglesia
Music by: Roque Banos
Written by: Alex De La Iglesia & Jorge Guerricaechevarria
Region Code: A,B,C
Blu-ray Disc release Date: October 5, 2010
"Numbers do lie"
When an elderly woman is viciously murdered in Oxford, her body is discovered by two strangers whose lives are immediately changed forever: Arthur Seldom (John Hurt), a prestigious professor of logic, and Martin (Elijah Wood), a young graduate student who has just arrived at the university hoping to be Seldom's pupil. It quickly becomes clear that hers is the first in a series of increasingly bizarre murders, with each victim's corpse marked by strange symbols. Professor and student join forces to try and crack the code, setting into motion an elaborate game with the killer with ever-increasing stakes.* As Martin gets closer to the facts, he grows increasingly unhinged from his grasp on the world around him.
Based on Guillermo Martinez's award-winning novel The Oxford murders is a mystery thriller that takes place in the village of Oxford England. Martin (Wood) is a budding mathematician/grad student who is eager to work with his idol, Professor Arthur Seldom (Hurt), enrolls at the university and moves to England. He arranges to stay at a boarding house owned/operated by Mrs. Eagleton a disabled widow whose late husband was best friends with Professor Seldom. Mrs. Eagleton is cared for by her daughter Beth (Cox), who is a cellist in a local orchestral ensemble. Martin is very interested in Mrs. Eagleton's past/connection to Prof. Seldom whom he has learned is no longer in an advisory/teaching capacity at the university. Martin can't help but notice that Beth and her mother have an unusual rapport and a rather strained relationship. When Martin learns that Prof. Seldom is going to be lecturing nearby he attends in the hopes of meeting him. When the opportunity presents itself his attempts at making an impression on the professor fail which leaves him frustrated.
While taking his frustrations out alone on the squash court he meets Lorna (Watling), an attractive young nurse who he has much in common with. At the university Martin discovers that fellow mathematician and student Yuri (Gorman) seems to be peculiar in more ways than one and shares an interest in Professor Seldom's theories. One afternoon Martin and Prof. Seldom inadvertently (or perhaps not) and simultaneously arrive at the same destination and discover the dead body of a mutual acquaintance. In looking around while waiting for the police to arrive the two men surmise that the death was no accident. While speaking to the police they share their theory that it would appear, based upon evidence at the scene, that more deaths are to follow and that, whomever, is behind it is using mathematical symbols as clues. Martin and Professor Seldom find themselves thrust into a game of cat and mouse as suspects, all of whom seem to revolve around Seldom, emerge. With each step forward there is two back. With the discovery of new victims the two men find that nothing is what it seems in this elaborate puzzle where the truth eludes and numbers lie.
Going into this review I hadn't previously heard of the novel or film. This is a fairly typical mystery thriller in that it sets up a series of characters and provides each with motive and opportunity for the killings. Use of the main characters in Martin and Prof. Seldom as a pair of Holmes/Watson sleuths trying to decipher the code/clues left by the killer isn't original but the mathematical basis behind them proved interesting initially. I didn't find the cache of suspects to have the depth or credibility necessary to completely draw me into the story as most felt more like diversions than potential perpetrators. The lone exception and my personal favorite is Beth a noticeably conflicted woman with excellent potential. Seldom and Martin aren't drawn nearly as well but are developed well enough to keep their true intent/status as suspects in question. I like the integration of Lorna as a romantic distraction but that dramatic aspect of the plot never really gets off the ground which is a shame because the subplot might enhance the story rather than feeling like an add on. This isn't a gory film although there are some images that I would classify as disturbing. Intrigue is average but the interplay among the characters help to keep interest going.
The finale is designed to keep you off balance and I guess it succeeds in a sort of full circle culmination that ultimately doesn't prove overly inventive or rewarding. The performances by the cast range from good to middling to annoying. John Hurt is a fine actor that routinely comes across as genuinely credible. Elijah Wood is a pretty one dimensional actor although his performance here worked well even though I didn't sense true chemistry between him and the two female actresses he worked with. Which is too bad because both are quite attractive and give decent performances (with Julie Cox being the stronger actress). Alternatively Wood and Hurt gelled nicely which added to the film's appeal. Burn Gorman as Yuri is pretty bad as he consistently overacts which proves quite distracting every time he is on screen. I appreciate the director's use of the camera to help draw the audience into the film. There is a terrific sequence where the camera closely tracks along a street, then toward a bookstore while cleverly touching upon each primary character before coming to rest outside the location of the first murder right when Martin and Prof. Seldom simultaneously arrive there. When the credits rolled on The Oxford murders I felt it didn't reach its full potential and ultimately resulted in a watchable but average mystery/thriller that left me wanting.
The rating is for language, sexual content/nudity, and some violence and disturbing images.
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.**
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
- Low frequency extension:
- Surround Sound presentation:
- Dialogue Reproduction:
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
- Black level/Shadow detail:
- Color reproduction:
The Oxford murders comes to Blu-ray Disc from Magnolia HE featuring 1080p AVC encoded video that has an average bitrate of 18 Mbps and lossless DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio that has an average bitrate of 2.5 Mbps.
This film uses an intentionally muted chromatic palette to help set the tone/setting based upon the mood and locations of specific scenes and the characters within them. Colors can vary from being sullen and inanimate to warmer with a golden splashed aesthetic. Skin tones appear fairly natural with limited descriptive variation among the cast. Images onscreen are exquisitely detailed and sharp with superb depth of field and discernible texture. This is essentially regardless of the camera's perspective. Contrast is strong and blacks are punchy with revealing delineation that provides excellent perceptibility during scenes shot at night or in lower lighting. The video has a clean, pristine quality that enhances dimension while offering the looking through a window effect that looks terrific on my large screen.
Magnolia's Blu-ray Disc releases consistently offer high quality DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks and this one is no exception. This isn't the type of film that consistently requires extended dynamic range or room shaking bass (although the opening war segment sounds fantastic) but it does rely on purposeful atmospherics and mood setting music to help drive the story's components and the result here is excellent. Dialogue is full bodied with defining tonal characteristics and discerning soundstage position. High level detail is readily apparent as subtle sound effects, and music score is rendered with superior clarity and depth. There is some discrete surround activity (listen during the opening credits before the war segment) however the mix primarily uses the rear soundstage to create and ambient rich aural environment that envelops like a warm blanket on a cool evening. The integration of the front and rear soundstages to replicate the various interior and exterior venues enhances is spot on and sounds excellent. Use of low frequency effects isn't constant however when applied lends weight to the music score and on a few occasions jolted me out of my chair.
- The making of The Oxford murders - 17 minute featurette
- Criminal math of Oxford - 10 minute featurette
- The Oxford Murders: Interviews with John Hurt, Elijah Wood, Leonor Watling - 13 minutes
- The Oxford murders: At Abbey Road - 2 minute featurette
- The Oxford murders: Waiting for Alex - 18 minute featurette
- The Oxford murders: Professor Kalman - 4 minute featurette
- The Oxford murders: Set design - 3 minute featurette
- The Oxford murders: Kalman's makeup - 4 minute featurette
- (HD) HDNET: A look at The Oxford murders - 4 minutes
- Behind the scenes of The Oxford murders - 6 segments totaling 8 minutes
Based on the novel by Guillermo Martinez The Oxford murders makes for a watchable albeit unremarkable mystery/thriller that starts well enough but fails to deliver the suspense and well defined characters necessary to make it a thoroughly engaging film. On the plus side its high definition presentation from Magnolia HE is a typically strong one that features excellent audio/video quality. The supplied bonus supplements offer an inside look at the production via behind the scenes footage and interviews by the cast and crew but none prove overly entertaining. Not bad for a rental but keep expectations in check.
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