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50 First Dates Print E-mail
Friday, 01 September 2006

Image Columbia has chosen Adam Sandler’s “50 First Dates,” directed by Peter Segal, for presentation in the Blu-Ray high-definition DVD format. While there are no really dazzling sequences, because of the extensive location shooting on Oahu and Jack Green’s masterful photography, the picture shines in high definition on this Blu-Ray disc. The photography is often lower-toned than most romantic comedies, but that matches the story—it too is “lower toned,” more serious, than most romantic comedies. The problem at the heart of the film verges on tragic; it’s to the credit of everyone involved that it logically works itself out to be life-affirming and happy.

“50 First Dates” is it’s mostly a gentle, intelligent romantic comedy that reunites Sandler with his “Wedding Singer” costar, Drew Barrymore. Most of the exteriors were shot on Oahu, but it’s the locals’ Hawaii—there isn’t a single shot of a stunning beach or Diamond Head. The locations are beautiful and well-chosen, but they don’t depict tourist Hawaii. It’s a remarkably attractive movie, and most of the characters are likeable. It has a few drawbacks, though knowing they’re coming up will easily get non-Sandlerites through the film painlessly.

We first hear of Henry Roth, Sandler’s character, before we meet him through a few lines of praise from a variety of gorgeous tourists now back home after a, well, stimulating vacation in Oahu. We learn he’s a smooth seducer who has a polished line of bull that gets him out of further entanglements when the tourists go home. This is largely a waste of time; the idea that Henry avoids commitment could have been dealt with in a couple of lines.

Henry works at Sea Life Park as an animal handler specializing in walruses. His co-worker is the homely, somewhat androgynous Alexa (Luisa Strus), a Russian, who’s the butt of the crudest, most unwelcome humor. The movie has barely started before a walrus vomits voluminously on her. Don’t grab your coat and head for the exit just yet. At a little café on the North Shore, Henry meets the attractive Lucy Whitmore (Barrymore), who’s having breakfast alone. They are attracted to one another, but go their separate ways, planning to meet there the next day. But the next day, Lucy clearly has no idea at all who Henry is.

Sue (Amy Hill), the motherly Hawaiian who runs the café, explains about Lucy: a year before, she was in a car wreck with her father Marlin. He came out of it okay, but Lucy’s short-term memory was wiped out. Her long-term memory is fine up to the night of the accident, but on awakening, she thinks each day is still the day after the accident. It’s kind of “Groundhog Day” in reverse.

Marlin (Blake Clark, strong and effective) and Lucy’s brother Doug (Sean Astin, rather wasted) do their best to make each morning seem like the morning Lucy always thinks it is by repeating everything that would have happened to her that day—which, of course, she really spent unconscious in a hospital. This is one way of coping with the problem, but not necessarily the best.

Neither of them welcome Henry’s intrusion into their lives. Henry is nonplused himself—he’s never felt like this about a woman before, and he also sees her as a challenge. Every day, he tries to meet her again; for her it’s the first time she’s met him, for Henry another day of frustration. But he perseveres, often with the help of his Hawaiian beach-bum pal Ula (an unrecognizable Rob Schneider).

Gradually, things evolve as Henry wins the trust of the skeptical Marlin and Doug. But what kind of future is there in a relationship that starts every day from ground zero? The screenplay by George Wing is inventive in providing Henry many “first time” encounters with Lucy, and adept in showing how all this changes Henry into a better person without his even noticing. The conclusion of the movie is both completely logical and very unexpected, even courageous.

There are some bad things. It IS an Adam Sandler movie, after all, and he hasn’t yet learned that crude sexual and body-function jokes have no place in some stories, such as this one.

Sandler himself is his usual character, nice guy who is (unaccountably) a chick magnet. This time, he doesn’t go through any violent explosions of temper or get involved in fights, but these are plot rather than character elements. Nonetheless, the role has been carefully crafted to Sandler’s strengths.

Drew Barrymore upholds her family name again—she’s very good, warm, funny and lively. The scene in which she learns (what for her is the first time) just what has happened to her must have been hell to play (and her commentary affirms this assumption), but she holds the audience captive. We’ve come to care for her and to share in what happens to her; she—and Hawaii—are the greatest strengths of “50 First Dates.”

Director Peter Segal has a flat, uninflected style, but his Sandler-starring “Anger Management” was a hit. He handles the gentler scenes better (and with more involvement) than he does the scattered slapstick comedy bits. The movie is very touching at times, and the ending is presented in a revelatory style that’s deeply engaging. The commentary track he shares with Drew Barrymore is genuinely interesting and thoughtful. It begins as if it will be nothing but silly jokes between a couple of friends, but both of them are intelligent and observant, and committed to the movie.

The combination of the great Jack Green’s eloquent cinematography and the expert sound mixing of David Bach place you there in the Islands, with a rich palette of colors and a broad spectrum of natural sounds. It’s relatively rare for movies to be both shot and set in Hawaii; most of the time, movies shot there are set someplace else entirely—Africa, South America, other islands.

Most of the supporting cast is unfamiliar, starting with a dour but affecting Blake Clark as Lucy’s father. Dan Aykroyd has a few moments, played absolutely straight, as the surgeon who operated on Lucy, and who has to tell Henry, Marlin and Doug that there’s no possibility of a cure.

From the commentary track, we learn the script was originally set in Seattle, and that it was Sandler’s idea to relocate it to Hawaii. It was a good idea and pays off spectacularly in high-definition. The crispness of the image is almost distracting in the several rainy scenes—you can get caught up in being amazed at how each drop is clearly delineated. You can count the freckles on Drew Barrymore’s face, and the many Hawaiian landscape shots are intensely beautiful. However, overall, the movie is primarily about the people, not about the landscape, not about its visual style; it certainly does look better in Blu-Ray’s high definition than it would in standard DVD format, but this isn’t a you-gotta-rush-out-and-buy-this-one disc.

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