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Blu-ray Disc Released: 5/14/2013
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/17/2013
I've written before about how the one drawback to reviewing home video titles is that I'm often seeing the movies after they've received a great deal of hype and try as I might to avoid this, it can set up expectations. I'm generally speaking of seeing a movie 3-to-6 months after its theatrical run, but in some cases, it can mean 20 years. I'm a film fanatic, but it's impossible for me to see every movie, even ones which are deemed "important". Thus, I didn't catch Philadelphia as it made its run for Oscar gold in 1993 and I never hunted it down in the intervening years. Now, the film has come to Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Twilight Time and, at long last, I'm checking it out.
Tom Hanks stars in Philadelphia as Andrew "Andy" Beckett, a successful attorney who works for one of the cities most prestigious law firms. He's just been handed the most important case of his career and despite some health issues, he completes the work on time. Then, Andy's world begins to crumble. He has AIDS and develops visible sores on his face. Meanwhile, his papers on the case go missing and aren't found until the last minute. Because of this second incident, Andy is fired (despite the fact that the case was won). Feeling that he was fired due to his illness, Andy approaches Joe Miller (Denzel Washington), a slick lawyer who advertises on TV and loves injury lawsuits, who reluctantly takes the case. While Joe looks into work discrimination laws, Andy's old bosses, lead by Charles Wheeler (Jason Robards), stick to their story. As the trial begins, it draws a great deal of publicity and everyone wonders, can Andy and Joe win against such a powerful firm?
Philadelphia offers some interesting choices both in front of and behind the camera. Director Jonathan Demme had just come off of his Oscar-winning work in The Silence of the Lambs and he most likely seemed like a perfect choice for a film with such edge (for the time) material. However, Demme handles Philadelphia very clumsily. The thing which made The Silence of the Lambs works it that Demme under-directed it. In other hands, it could have easily been a gory, straight-ahead horror film, but Demme was wise enough to take a step back from that and let the characters carry the film. With Philadelphia he introduces unnecessary camera movements and transitions (where the image "flips") which reminded of something out of an 80s sitcom. The score by Howard Shore is annoying, as it grows louder at inappropriate times and draws attention to itself instead of supporting the scene. In some ways, Philadelphia is a poorly-made film.
And then we have star Tom Hanks, who won his first Oscar for his performance here. Having just come off of Sleepless in Seattle and A League of Their Own, Philadelphia marked his first true starring role in a serious drama, a move which would mark a turning point in his career, as he pretty much turned his back on feature film comedies after that. Is Hanks good here? Sure he is. He's perfect for portraying someone who goes from happy-go-lucky (resembling his earlier roles) to gravel ill. Is he great here? No. I'm sure it's the scene where he describes opera which won him the Oscar, and while that scene is good, it's not ground-breaking. Otherwise, Hanks spends most of the second half of the film just looking pasty while Denzel steals the show. I can't believe he wasn't nominated.
So, twenty years later, Philadelphia doesn't live up to the hype of being a great movie which features a great performance, but it does still work as a cultural touchstone -- probably even better than it did in 1993. I've recently gotten into Mad Men (that should actually read, "My wife has recently gotten into Mad Men and I'm in the room), and it's fascinating to watch that show and see how women were treated. I had the same kind of reaction watching Philadelphia, despite the fact that I was nearly an adult in 1993. I can still remember the kinds of ignorance and bigotry portrayed in the movie and it works as a great time capsule showing what life was like then and how far we've come. Some of the dramatic notes fall flat (I'm simply wasn't moved at all during the movie), but the movie does offer good acting and a story which is still important today, if for nothing else to serve as an enduring lesson of tolerance.
Philadelphia asks us to not giggle when Roger Corman takes the stand on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Twilight Time. This release is being limited to a print run of 3000 copies. (Which seems small for a title like this, but I guess that Twilight Time knows what they are doing.) The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc carries an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mpbs. The image is sharp and clear, showing only mild grain and no overt defects from the source material. The colors here are subdued, just as in the Silence of the Lambs, and the image is somewhat dark at times. The picture does show off nice depth, as the actors are clearly delineated from the backgrounds. The level of detail is pretty good, which is important, as we must see how Hanks' face changes. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.8 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This track is somewhat flat, as it doesn't offer much in the way of surround sound. However, the audio coming from the front does have a nice resonance to it, which really makes the raised voices in the court room scenes come to life.
The Philadelphia Blu-ray Disc contains several extra features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Jonathan Demme and Screenwriter Ron Nyswaner. "Making of Philadelphia" (6 minutes) is an archival piece which plays like an EPK. It contains comments from Hanks, Washington, Demme, Robards, and Mary Steenburgen, who talk about the story and the themes, but it mostly consists of clips from the movie. The Disc contains six DELETED SCENES which run about 11 minutes. A very powerful scene where a settlement could not be reached should have been left in the movie, as well as a brief moment where Andy meditates. "Courthouse Protest Footage and Interviews" (4 minutes) offers video footage of the crowd which is seen for only a few moments in the film. This looks like a raw TV feed which has yet to be edited. Viewers can choose to watch the film hearing only the score on an isolated track. The final extra is the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.
Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.