Pelican Brief, The (1993) 
Blu-ray Mystery-Suspense
Written by Noah Fleming   
Wednesday, 18 February 2009

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The early and mid 1990s was the era of John Grisham.  Grisham is perhaps one of the most popular crime-suspense authors in history.  Numerous books of his have been adapted into films, most of them in the 90s.  “The Firm,” “The Chamber,” “The Client,” and “A Time to Kill” (also being released on Blu-ray by Warners) are all adapted from Grisham novels between 1993 and 1997.  Preceded only by “The Firm,” “The Pelican Brief” is among the earlier John Grisham adaptations.  Both were released in 1993.  Unfortunately, “The Pelican Brief” did not live up to the expectations created by its predecessor, earning about half the box office total of “The Firm.”

The late, Alan J. Pakula directed this adaptation, as well as contributed to the screenplay and assisted as a producer.  Pakula has taken part in some of the greater novel-to-film adaptations in cinema history, including “To Kill a Mockingbird.”  “The Pelican Brief” was the second to last film done by Pakula before his death in 1998.  “The Devil’s Own” was his last.

Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington are the main stars of the film, but are assisted by some great supporting actors/actresses.  Roberts plays Darby Shaw, a 24 year-old law student at Tulane University in New Orleans.  She is hard working, but is also secretly dating her law professor (Sam Shepard).  Roberts was actually 26 when she made this film, making it difficult to believe that she is just over 40 now.  Washington plays Gray Grantham, a reporter for the Washington Herald, is desperate to come up with a major story.

When two Supreme Court Justices are assassinated, Darby Shaw writes an essay spelling out her theory on the people behind the assassination.  This essay becomes known as the Pelican Brief.  It doesn’t take long before the brief is spread around the FBI and eventually the White House.  It is an even shorter time after that in which persons that know about the brief start dying.  Shaw’s mentor and lover, Callahan, is blown up in a car bomb that was meant for her.  The murders continue as the government hunts down Darby Shaw.  However, once Shaw and Grantham team up, their determination is unstoppable.

Where the movie fails is in the rollout of information.  It is confusing to say the least, and there appears to be information lacking (things that were explained in the book).  The film is far too long.  Each Shaw/Grantham discovery takes an enormous amount of time to get to.  All the dead ends and tiny leads are drawn out into long sequences.  It will definitely be hard for this film to hold you attention all the way through.

Roberts and Washington deliver superb performance.  As one of my top favorite actresses, Roberts does not disappoint.  She is a strong woman figure, with brains and courage.  Washington is a great opposite to Roberts.  The two play well on screen.  Supporting actors John Heard, Tony Goldwyn, John Lithgow and Stanley Tucci also do a terrific job.  Sadly, the script is lacking.

Warner Bros. presents us with a 1080p/VC-1 encode, with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the video.  For being a 1993 film, it has a pretty darn good transfer.  The black levels are a bit crushed in low-light scenes, and the shadow delineation is a bit blurred.  While, the colors a drab, the contrast level provides a realistic picture with accurate skintones.  There is some grain left over on the picture, even with the digital noise reduction that has been applied.  Minor edge enhancement also seems to permeate throughout.  Details are decent, as are textures.  Close-up panning sequences are blurred and rather hard to focus on.  The print is nearly perfectly clean.  There is rarely a scratch or blemish to be found.  The Blu-ray offers a massive upgrade over the standard DVD release of the film.  Still, with the movie being what it is, this is only worth the upgrade if you are a fan of the film.

Opposite of the video, the audio track is not very spectacular.  However, there is not much to be expected from the original sound design.  The Blu-ray comes defaulted with the English Dolby Digital track.  The second audio track however, is the lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track.  The sound is largely front-heavy.  Some of the ambience and music permeates into the surrounds, however, there is very little envelopment and no localization.  The LFE channel appears at random, but is largely absent.  The dialogue is clear and mainly audible.  The dialogue does dip a little low sometimes, but very rarely.  The dynamic range is decent.  The music sometimes jumps up to a level that is unexpected and a little brash.  Separation in the front channels is fairly good.  This is a standard audio track that provides a bit more clarity and dynamic range than the original DVD.

For some reason or another, Warner felt that the film did not deserve any special feature treatment.  The only item present on the Blu-ray is a theatrical trailer.

“The Pelican Brief” is not one of the greatest John Grisham adaptations.  The video quality is surprisingly good, with a decent audio track to supplement.  Still, I can only recommend this Blu-ray if you are a true fan of the film, John Grisham or of the actors in the movie.
Studio Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
MPAA Rating PG-13
Starring Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, John Lithgow, Sam Shepard, Tony Goldwyn, Stanley Tucci
Director Aln J. Pakula
Film Release Year 1993
Release Year 2009
Resolution(s) 1080p (main feature) • 480i (supplements)
Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
Running Time 2 hr. 21 mins.
Sound Formats English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 • English Dolby Digital 5.1 • French Dolby Digital 2.0 • German Dolby Digital 2.0 • Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles Danish • Dutch • English • Finnish • French • German • Italian • Korean • Norwegian • Portuguese • Spanish • Swedish
Special Features Theatrical Trailer
Forum Link
Reviewer Noah Fleming

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