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Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 10/27/2009
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/21/2009
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In my recent reviews forGrace and It's Alive, I wrote about the history of "killer baby" movies and how those films can be effective or completely lame. Some of those "killer babies" grow up to be bad kids, a genre that has certainly seen its share of entries over the years. From The Bad Seed in 1956 on through to The Omen and The Good Son, there have been plenty of movies which featured children who were capable of doing awful things. (The best one is still 1980's The Children -- the best bad movie ever made.) While this genre doesn't get as much attention as it used to (the recently released British film The Children (not a remake) being an exception), there is still an occasional entry. Orphan was dropped into a busy summer movie schedule this year and did moderate business. It has now come to Blu-ray Disc.
Orphan introduces to John (Peter Sarsgaard) and Kate Coleman (Vera Farmiga). (What? John and Kate? Really? OK, I don't have time to dive into that one!) They were expecting their third child, but it died in-utero. However, they still want to introduce a sibling to their children Daniel (Jimmy Bennett) and Max (Aryana Engineer), so they decide to adopt. (It's never explained why they want to adopt an older child as opposed to a baby.) Despite that fact that Max is deaf and Kate is a recovering alcoholic, this seems like a good idea to them. They visit the orphanage, where they meet Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), an extremely bright, polite, and mature 9-year old. They are immediately drawn to this child and soon bring her home to be part of the family. While John and Kate attempt to make Esther feel welcome, Daniel immediately distrusts her. However, Esther and Max quickly become playmates. Everything seems fine at first, but soon strange things begin to happen around the house. People are injured, privacies are intruded upon, and paranoia begins to creep into the family. It appears that Esther will do anything to cling to her new situation.
Allow me to go ahead and say that for the most part, I didn't like Orphan, and that's no one's fault but its own. The movie has a lot of potential, but it's hampered by some easily rectifiable mistakes. When we look at a film, we should attempt to judge just that movie and leave any external factors behind. But, that's not always possible. Orphan becomes a victim of its own sub-genre. This is one of those "Only one person knows the truth about _____, and no one will believe them" movies. In these films, the audience and one character know what is really happening, but that character is constantly discredited and humiliated until the truth eventually rears its ugly head. This idea is taken to the extreme in Orphan. Technically, several people know the truth about Esther, but she's frightened most of them into silence. When one is taking this route in a film, it must be handled delicately and Director Jaume Collet-Serra (House of Wax) and Writer David Johnson (who has worked with Frank Darabont in the past) don't seem to understand this. At 2 hours and 3 minutes, Orphan is way too long and drags out the "when will someone believe them?" theatrics to ridiculous extremes. Many viewers will become bored or desensitized to the film when it is less than halfway done.
The movie is also too serious for its own good. Is serious the right word? How about overly-dramatic. Is it a good idea for a family with a deaf child and a history of problems to adopt another child? This is the sort of movie where every 10 minutes another dark secret from the past arrives. The movie also shoots itself in the foot when DSS doesn't get involved.
All of this is a shame, because, as stated above, the movie has potential. For starters, I have to say that I've never seen that plot twist before. The twist here actually works and helps to explain everything which has come before. The shocker is both satisfying and somewhat logical. Unfortunately, we have to wait far too long to get there. Also, the cast here is quite good, most notably Isabelle Fuhrman as Esther. This pre-teen is asked to play a whole range of emotions and she does so competently. She's also pretty scary at times. Kudos on the day-glow paint used in the opening credits as well. The revelation of this idea is particularly cool. Normally, I would say that a film like Orphan would make a good rental, and some will like the film, but it's a big devotion of time involved for very little pay-off.
Orphan is always impeccably dressed on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source material. Much of the film takes place against a snowy backdrop and the fact that this doesn't reveal a lot of grain is a testament to the transfer. The colors look very good, and despite the white background, the film is never too dark or bright. The image shows a good amount of detail and the depth in the landscape shots is very good. The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 1.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are nicely done. They are detailed and do a good job of communicating off-screen sounds. For the most part, this is a quiet movie, so the shocking scenes make nice use of the surround sound effects. Car crashes and fires take full advantage here and fill the speakers. These same scenes incorporate impressive subwoofer effects as well.
The Orphan Blu-ray Disc contains only two extras. "Mama's Little Devils: Bad Seeds and Evil Kids" (15 minutes) is an odd little featurette. It purports to explore the history of evil children in horror films, but it doesn't do this until the very end. Before that, it's sort of a making-of featurette where we get on-set footage from Orphan and comments from the cast and crew who discuss the story and themes of the film. This is followed by interviews with experts in the field of psychology and film who discuss the deeper meaning of these films. The Disc also contains 5 DELETED SCENES which runs about 4 minutes. One of these is an "alternate ending" (which is heavily advertised on the cover) which certainly changes the ending, but makes it much less satisfying.
Warner Home Video has also brought Orphan to DVD. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing only a minute amount of grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look good, and the image is well-balanced. However, when viewed side-by-side with the Blu-ray Disc, one can spot some differences. The image on the DVD isn't as sharp or crisp as the Blu-ray and the picture is a bit soft here. The level of detail isn't as good and the picture looks flat. For a DVD, this looks fine, but it's not as good as the Blu-ray Disc. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are good, and well-placed. The surround sound effects come alive during the action sequences and these same scenes treat us to some mild, but overt subwoofer effects.
The only extra on the Orphan DVD are the DELETED SCENES.
Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long