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Life as a House Print E-mail
Tuesday, 26 March 2002

Life As A House

New Line Home Entertainment
MPAA rating: R
starring: Kevin Kline, Kristin Scott Thomas, Hayden Christensen, Jena Malone, Mary Steenburgen
release year: 2001
film rating: Five Stars
sound/picture: Five Stars
reviewed by: Mel Odom

In the movie "Life As A House," Kevin Kline becomes a force to be reckoned with. There is no way to escape or avoid Kline’s character George as he goes about rebuilding his own life. Everyone around him gets swept into the change that has been hammered into him with the discovery of his terminal illness.
In Chapter 1, the viewer is introduced to the musical score that moves throughout the movie. The music both lifts and drags down the viewer at different times, sharpening the emotional experience. The intro music throbs from the subwoofer and lights up the center, front, and back speakers. Then George’s alarm clock goes off, shattering the mood. We see that his trailer home is part of a set, designed and built for the movie before filming began. The effect is totally amazing because the neighborhood feels real. Obviously, from even casual viewing, George has real life-style issues.

Chapter 2 has a nice bit showing George’s son Sam (Hayden Christensen) sitting at school. As Sam talks with his friend, music blares from the surrounding cars, playing through the front speakers as the conversation funnels through the center speaker. The viewer is also given a glimpse of George at work at the architect firm where he is obviously very unhappy and under-appreciated.

When George’s truck pulls into his ex-wife’s driveway, the sound rolls through the center and front speakers in Chapter 3. The rasp of carrot peeling is another good sound conveyed by the surround sound system. In this chapter, Sam reveals that he hates George, and his mother, Robin (Kristin Scott Thomas).

Chapter 4’s opener with the passing train is well done. After being fired from his job, George goes on a rampage. The sound of the model houses being smashed rolls through the speakers, thumping out through the subwoofer. Outside the building, George’s footsteps ring on the sidewalk before he collapses, and the sound comes across as lonely.

In Chapter 5, George comes to amid a basso rumble that definitely echoes the confusion he feels about where he is. Although the viewer is not present for George’s news about his illness, the audience is quickly and subtly clued in, a gentle effect that is somehow more crushing than listening to the doctor. Faced with the sudden grim reality of his situation, George decides to build the house that he’s always dreamed about building. More, he decides he’s going to enlist the unwilling Sam in this project.

As George pursues Sam, the crashing surf at the bottom of the cliff becomes an undercurrent to their conversation. Their voices are carried through the center speaker while the surf crashes through the front speakers. Later, when Sam meets Alyssa (Jena Malone), the throbbing beat of the music rattles the subwoofer to life and the viewer knows that something special is taking place. Cricket sounds flare through the night only a short time later, and again the viewer is treated to the sound of the pounding surf. When Alyssa’s boyfriend, a pimp trying to recruit Sam, drives up, the horn honks, coming through the left front speaker then roaring up into the center speaker.

Chapter 8 again treats the viewer to surf sounds, which come during one of the several emotional high points in the film. George talks to Robin, and they turn over the past, drawing the audience into the love story that had been, and shows the glimmer of the love story that may yet be.

Crickets start off Chapter 9, making a sharp counterpoint to the argument between George and Sam. Later, a Porsche roars to an out-of-the-way spot for a rendezvous, and the sports car’s engine races through the front and center speakers. When Sam gets out of the car, the door slams shut in the left front speaker. The basso thump of music lights up the subwoofer as Sam goes to his clandestine meeting.

Chapter 10 brings the audience back to the crashing surf and the sound of crowbars and hammers as George continues tearing down the shack. The falling debris rolls through the surround sound system, making the viewer feel as though he or she is in the middle of the destruction. The later arrival of the building inspector echoes through the speakers, the tires whirring across the pavement. When George and Sam start working together a short while later, the sledgehammer thumps as they finish tearing down the house thud through the surround sound and push through the subwoofer. The house falling down as they work through the structure resonates and mixes with the soft music.

Morning greets the viewer as well as George and Sam in Chapter 11, brought in by the crickets and carried out on the surf. The shower scene between Sam and Alyssa is somehow innocent despite the inherent sexuality, and the music beats through the front speakers as the center speaker carries the conversation. Robin and George meet again, and the birds chirping in the background help bring out the love story building between them again. This time, Robin brings along her two small children (by her second husband). As they begin building again, the kids’ voices and the cry of the seagulls in the background bring about the feeling that they’re actually at a family event rather than some construction feat. Later, when George is continuing to work in the rain, the solid hiss of the rain echoes through the center and front speakers.

At the close of one day in Chapter 12, a trip down memory lane leads to George and Robin dancing in the dwindling sunlight reflected into the skeleton of the house from the rolling sea. Most of these shots are done in partial silhouette and with the sound of the crashing waves beyond the cliff. The music picks up, issuing through all the speakers and throbbing through the subwoofer on the beats.

The father/son conversation in Chapter 13 is emotional enough to give the viewer goosebumps. The sound of crickets in the night echoes from the front speakers. The scene is a mixture of pathos and humor, the perfect blend of sadness and might-have-beens.

In Chapter 14, the sound of a sprinkler hose shifts through the center and front speakers. The water is echoed in the tender but funny scene between Sam and Alyssa in the shower.

The cry of seagulls begins Chapter 15, threading through emotional conversations. The lighthouse in the background is a great visual touch, solitary and enduring, emblematic of what George has become. When Sam drives George’s truck away, the vehicle retreats through the sound system.

In Chapter 16, a scene of nearly-discovered clandestine sex features an alarm that pierces the viewer’s surround sound system, lending a frantic immediacy to the moment that ratchets the viewer’s interest up at once.

The rest of the movie is filled with the musical score, combined with the hard-working thunder of drills and hammers and saws and the gentler sounds of the seagulls and the surf. As all of the emotions play out, all of the inevitability of what must be and how far each character has come, the piano sounds pluck the emotions of the viewer. George’s life and the film play out together.

The documentaries provided with the movie are interesting and should be viewed for added impact to the story. Besides listening to actor Kline’s and director Irwin Winkler’s take on the story, learning how the community was built for the movie set is fascinating.

"Life As A House" is an awesome movie and well worth adding to the home DVD library. But beware: the emotions revealed in the movie are raw, captivating, and unstoppable.
more details
sound format:
English DTS 5.1 Surround; English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround; English Stereo Surround
aspect ratio(s):
Widescreen Aspect Ratio: 2.10:1; Enhanced For Widescreen TVs
special features: Commentary by Producer/Director Irwin Winkler, Producer Rob Cowan and Writer Mark Andrus; Original Documentaries: "Character Building: Inside Life as a House" and "From the Ground Up"; Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary; Theatrical Press Kit; Theatrical Trailer; English Subtitles; English Closed-Captioning; DVD-ROM Content
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Pioneer DV-C302D
receiver: RCA RT2280
main speakers: RCA RT2280
center speaker: RCA RT2280
rear speakers: RCA RT2280
subwoofer: RCA RT2280
monitor: 42-inch Toshiba HD Projection TV

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