The Review at a Glance: (max score: 5 )
Audio/Video total rating:
( Max score: 100 )
Studio and Year: New Line - 1998
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Feature running time: 124 minutes
Disc Format: BD-50
Encoding: AVC (MPEG-4)
Video Aspect: 1.85:1
Audio Format(s): English DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio, Spanish Dolby Stereo
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Reese Witherspoon, Joan Allen, William H. Macy, Jeff Daniels, J.T. Walsh, Paul Walker, Don Knotts
Written & Directed by: Gary Ross
Music by: Randy Newman
Region Code: A,B,C
Blu-ray Disc release Date: February 1, 2011
"Nothing’s going to change my world"
In the black-and-white ’50s sitcom realm of Pleasantville, mom always has a yummy meatloaf in the oven, the home team never loses and romance is a shy peck on the cheek. Until now as modern real-life teens David (Tobey Maguire) and Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) are mysteriously zapped into that TV world. With them come ideas and passions that turn the town’s cozy perfection into something more challenging and colorful. From Gary Ross (Big, Seabiscuit) comes an imaginative fantasy that maintains its humor even as it reveals its own true colors about embracing life in all its messiness and unpredictability. Don’t touch that dial. Stay tuned to life in Pleasantville.
I blind bought Pleasantville when it was first released on DVD and haven’t looked back. It is a film that holds up well under repeat viewings thanks to its multi-faceted narrative that touches on social themes that make for great coffee table discussion.
David (Tobey Maguire) and Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) are twins and attend the same high school. Jennifer is concerned mainly with her appearance, relationships and popularity, while David watches a lot of television, has few friends, and is socially awkward. One evening while home alone the twins begin to fight over the use of the downstairs TV; Jennifer wants to watch an MTV concert while David hopes to watch a marathon of his favorite show, “Pleasantville”’. Pleasantville is a black-and-white '50s sitcom that centers around the idyllic Parker family — George (William H. Macy), his wife Betty (Joan Allen), and their two children, Bud and Mary Sue. During the fight between David and Jennifer, they break the TV’s remote control. Almost simultaneously a mysterious TV repairman (Don Knotts) shows up unsolicited and provides an old style remote control as a substitute. After he leaves David and Jennifer continue to struggle over possession of the remote during which they inadvertently press one of its buttons and are suddenly transported into the television, ending up in the Parkers' black and white Pleasantville living room. Seen by the inhabitants of Pleasantville as Bud and Mary Sue Parker, Jennifer and David decide to try and blend in until they can figure out a way to get back. The idea of “blending” in sounds simple enough but what David and Jennifer discover about themselves and the seemingly utopian world of Pleasantville is anything but simple.
I think the thing that I like most about Pleasantville is its originality. Conceptually speaking the idea of exposing the dark underbelly of what many would see as an idyllic society isn’t new however writer/director Gary Ross does a superb job of integrating the film’s morally effecting story with enriching characters, intelligently crafted dialogue/situations and purposefully engaging special effects. The use of black and white/color as a metaphor within the film’s thematic context is perfectly executed while also adding a visually stimulating element that probably works on a subconscious level as well. There are a host of interesting topics that arise over the course of the film. Many of which you would never expect to see addressed in 1950’s TV suburbia. Societal topics such as freedom of expression, civil rights, and oppression are tackled while the effects of loss of innocence, the power of change, and the discoveries of self/worldly awareness abound. While this seems a lot to cram into a two hour film, and it is, the script is surprisingly well balanced. Pleasantville is most definitely a dramatic undertaking however it’s also a wonderfully satirical expose that is ethically relevant while representing a rapid digression from the utopian visions of a bygone era.
I love the cast in this film. William H. Macy, Joan Allen and the late J.T. Walsh as Bob the town mayor (“we’re safe now thank goodness we’re in a bowling alley”) are perfectly placed. Reese Witherspoon, Jeff Daniels and Tobey Maguire give solid performances as well although not quite up to the level of Allen, Macy and Walsh. There are memorable moments, some funny, some moving, and some poignant all of which are enhanced by the cast as an ensemble. Pleasantville is a thought provoking, well crafted and thoroughly entertaining film. I have been a fan since first seeing it and find that it never loses its luster. I am glad that it has come to Blu-ray Disc (thanks New Line/Warner!) and must admit that seeing it for the first time in high definition was a very “Pleasant” experience (corny, but I couldn’t resist).
The rating is for mild violence, language and some thematic elements emphasizing sexuality.
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:
Pleasantville comes to Blu-ray Disc from Warner Home Video featuring 1080p AVC encoded video that has an average bitrate of 22 Mbps and lossless DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio sound that has an average bitrate of 4 Mbps.
I always found Pleasantville’s 1.85:1 framed image to look good on DVD. It has been a number of years since I have seen it and the stark contrast between its black and white elements versus the richness and variety of its colors, which I always found visually pleasing, hasn’t changed. Overall this is a decent looking high definition presentation for a 12 year old catalog title but it doesn’t compare to the best catalog releases I have seen on Blu-ray. It boasts vibrant, well rendered colors that offer a varied mix of secondary hues that mate well with the source material but don’t always appear natural. Skin tones are noticeably warm with pinkish complexions that don’t stray too far from natural depiction. The black and white sequences exhibit noticeable gradational stages so that images appear dimensionally satisfying. Blacks have ample dynamic range and consistency which plays well against the various shades of gray. Contrast is spot on which provides crisp, detailed whites and lively colors. Shadow detail and visibility in low light or dark areas is discerning. High definition resolution is estimable with predominantly sharp images and varying degrees of fine rendering that can be scene dependent. Grain is intact and moderate in texture however it does become heavier at times which can be a little distracting. I noticed some low level digital noise during some of the effects shots which is more than likely innate to the digital post processing. I didn’t find it to be problematic. The end result is a pleasing high definition viewing experience that easily improves upon the standard definition DVD.
The lossless soundtrack is presented in a front oriented mix that is highlighted by Randy Newman’s eclectic score and the great period music featured in the soundtrack. The music is spread across the front of the room with subtle articulation that blends the recorded elements to create an evenly balanced, dimensional presentation where the music supports the story. Dialogue has discernible intonation, with distinctive clarity and above average room penetration. The soundstage opens up for the first time in the scene where the tree in the Parker’s yard bursts into flames and then later during the driving rain storm. Dynamic range is noteworthy and envelopment is tangible as the sound emanating from the rear channels washes over the listening position in support of the front soundstage. Surround activity isn’t frequent but when applied comes in the form of spatial ambience coupled with subtle discrete sounds that fill in front to rear directional pans. The LFE channel is similarly used to add impact to the lower bass frequencies associated with the film’s active elements and music score. I didn’t do a comparison between this lossless mix and the Dolby Digital sound on the DVD. My impression is that this is an excellent audio presentation which exhibits high quality that faithfully renders the elements contained in the film’s soundtrack.
- Behind the story:
- Commentary by writer/director Gary Ross
- Isolated music score with commentary by composer Randy Newman
- The art of Pleasantville - 32 minute featurette that looks at two special effects shots, shooting the film, printing the film, storyboards and the mural
- Music video by Fiona Apple – “Across the universe”
- Theatrical trailer
Pleasantville is a thought provoking, well crafted and entertaining film that I find never loses it luster. I am happy to report that its debut in high definition on Blu-ray appears to be a faithful one that offers a discernible improvement over the original 1999 DVD release while including the same set of bonus features. If you’re a fan of Pleasantville this Blu-ray Disc offering from Warner Home Video is a must have and comes recommended.
AVS Forum Blu-ray Reviews
Reference Review System:
JVC DLA-RS50 3D Ready 1080p High Definition Front Projector
Stewart Filmscreen - Studiotek 130 G3 100” 16x9 Screen
Anthem AVM50v THX Ultra 2 Preamp/Video Processor
Sherbourn Technologies - 7/200 Seven Channel Amplifier
Oppo BDP-83 Universal disc/Blu-ray Player (HDMI Audio/Video)
Samsung BD-C7900 Blu-ray Player (HDMI Audio/Video)
Toshiba HD-XA2 HD DVD Player (HDMI Audio/Video)
Sony Playstation 3 Blu-ray disc Player (HDMI Audio/Video)
System Controller: Apple iPad/iRule HD Universal Remote Control
Canton "Ergo" Series speakers
Axiom Audio QS8 Quadpolar speakers
SV Sound PB-13 Ultra (Rosenut finish)
APC AV S15BLK Power Conditioner/Surge Protector
Furman SPR-20i Stable Power Regulator
Wireworld, VizionWare, Audioquest, Better Cables, Best Deal Cables - Audio/Video/Speaker Cabling
Cool Components - CP-CP102 cooling package