|Written by Paul Lingas|
|Tuesday, 29 June 2004|
Inman is wounded shortly after the Battle of Petersburg, and the next day is set up in the hospital, where he is not expected to live. Thinking of Ada and tired of a war he doesn’t believe in, Inman is determined to get home. After recuperating enough to travel, he leaves the hospital and heads off on his own, at the risk of being caught and shot for desertion. Inman’s journey home takes him through swamps and over mountains. Like Odysseus, Inman is tempted by Sirens, taken captive, joined by a fellow outcast and tested by the war-torn area around him. As Inman makes his journey towards home, Ada and Ruby must fend off the ruthless Home Guard. What results is a story of discovery, war, love and faith.
An initial darling of critics, “Cold Mountain” faded during the awards season. Seeing it again on DVD, I must say I enjoyed it more than when I saw it in the theatre. While not the best picture of last year, it can certainly join with others to make 2003 one of the best in recent memory. Fine performances by Kidman and Law, as well as an Academy Award-winning turn by Zellweger (though her performance is overrated) help to turn what might be a slow, plodding film into a worthwhile and intriguing look at how the Civil War affected small towns throughout the South. Anthony Minghella’s style is one of a sort of extensive minimalism, which can have the effect of drawing great performances at the risk of slowing down the film too much. Since Ada and Inman spend most of the film apart, the performances of Kidman and Law become paramount in our caring for these characters to find each other again. It is beautiful to watch, and this helps fashion the world Minghella so painstakingly tried to recreate.
We can all be glad that we live in this time when transfers to DVD are done so readily and immaculately that, especially on large-format televisions, there is nary a speck of dirt, scratch or imperfection in the encoding. The transfer of “Cold Mountain” is exquisite, one of the best in recent memory. One benefit of the newly popular Digital Intermediary (DI) process is that subsequent video transfers are made off of the post DI film. (The DI process is where the entire film is digitized for the color timing that is done by the cinematographer and director during the post-production period.) This allows even more fine-tuning of the image for video, resulting in not only pristinely clean transfers, but perfect cinematographic execution. This is especially the case here, as “Cold Mountain” was shot by John Seale, one of the best cinematographers working today. A special treat on this DVD is a DTS 5.1 channel transfer, in addition to the usual Dolby Digital 5.1. The DTS really helps to fill out the soundtrack, which is very unique and utterly important to the film, as music plays not only its usual part in terms of scoring, but also readily expresses and helps to complete the canvas of the period. Often, due to its dynamic range, DTS mixes can cause some sound effects to simply become too loud, especially in the rear channel speakers. This DTS mix, however, has somehow solved that problem and instead of simply adding dynamic range, it adds what seem to be even more layers within each channel.
With over four hours of special features, there is plenty to keep you busy and interested after the initial viewing. As a period piece, there is surprisingly little overt emphasis placed on costuming and production design. “A Journey to Cold Mountain” contains many clips from the film, as well as short interviews with the cast and crew. It is relatively short and seems to have been produced for either a television event or press junket. The “Climbing Cold Mountain” 70-minute documentary, on the other hand, follows the production from script to the premieres. One portion that is particularly rare to see is the aspect of preview screenings, where viewers give feedback on the cut of the film to producers and filmmakers. The documentary contains interviews with all three stars, as well as numerous interviews with director Minghella. Clearly, video crews were present throughout pre- and post-production, as behind-the-scenes footage is collected and presented from a variety of locales, including Romania, South Carolina and England.
Over 20 minutes of deleted scenes make one thankful that they weren’t included in the final cut, not only because they would have pushed the final running time to three hours, but because these are scenes that were obviously deleted because they changed the tenor of the story in various ways. It would have been interesting to have audio commentary on these cut scenes. Included as a true bonus is the 90-minute “Cold Mountain” music special that was put on at Royce Hall. Sting, Diana Krall, Jack White and others perform songs from the film. It is an in-depth look into the care that went into the music that plays such a strong role in the film. The audio commentary from Minghella is interesting, but editor Walter Murch has a dull, monotone delivery that makes one want to skip past his long winded extrapolations. So it’s hit-and-miss overall. Finally, a small feature that what turns out to be a gem is a storyboard comparison on three sequences. What is most impressive about these is that they split the screen, so that the storyboards are shown as the sequence progresses. No going back and forth.
While it does have its tempo problems and the difficulty of having its two main characters separated for long periods of time, “Cold Mountain” is an admirable and technically superior film. The DVD’s sound and video transfers help to make it more of an event film than it turned out to be and a basket of fine special features help to round out this strong if sometimes flawed film.