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The Book of Henry (2017)

Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 10/3/2017

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/9/2017

If you are even a casual reader of this site, then you most likely know that I'm always complaining about the lack of originality in movies. I feel that I watch the same movie over and over (and subsequently write the same review over and over) and I yearn for something just a little different. Even if a movie were to take some original elements and put them in a unique order, that would be a welcome change. The Book of Henry does just that and then adds a new layer which is so bonkers that it taught me, yet again, be careful what you wish for.

The titular character in The Book of Henry is a precocious adolescent boy (played by Jaeden Lieberher), who just happens to be a genius. He lives with his mother, Susan (Naomi Watts), and his younger brother, Peter (Jacob Tremblay). Henry is the de facto adult in the house, as Susan works as a waitress, despite the fact that Henry's knack for investing would allow them to live comfortably, and she spends her free-time playing video games. When Henry isn't taking care of his family or trying to keep from being bored in school (he insists on remaining in public school for socialization), he likes talking to his next-door neighbor, Christina (Maddie Ziegler). However, Henry fears that Christina is being abused by her stepfather (Dean Norris), and he puts a plan into place to help her.

Oh man, The Book of Henry is one of those movies which is so full of bizarre turns that it's going to be difficult to review without giving too much away. Allow me to begin by describing some of the odd and cliched elements found in the first half of the film. As noted above, Henry acts like he's Susan's parent, and we've seen this before in movies, where the children are more mature than the adults. (My wife works in education and I asked her if she's ever seen this. She has not.) But, I can't ever remember seeing a drama in which the parent wanted to have a low-pressure job and play first-person shooters. The way in which Henry observes Christina being abused (and this abuse is quite vague) is reminiscent of Rear Window. I also couldn't shake the feeling that Screenwriter Gregg Hurwitz was influenced by the highly underrated Radio Flyer, given the film's tone and some of its plot points.

But, then we have the second half of The Book of Henry. Again, I'm going to try and avoid spoilers here, but allow me to say that the book in question is a guide written by Henry which gives the reader instructions on how to save Christina -- a plan which includes committing some felonies. Let's be honest, does the second half of the film present the viewer with a unique premise? Yes, I must say that I have not seen this exact plot in a movie before. And, there's a reason why we haven't seen this before -- it doesn't work. The plot turn takes a movie which is somewhat solidly grounded in reality and moves it into a place which borders on absurdity and fantasy. Would most people want to help Christina? Sure, why not. But, 99.9% would stop reading at Step 1 of Henry's plan and move on to something else. The fact that any adult would take this journey is nearly impossible to swallow and it will pull most people out of the movie. And don't even get me started on the finale. Those of you who know Maddie Ziegler from Dance Moms may wonder if she dances in the film. She does and her dance leads to one of the most ridiculous moments in movie history.

The Book of Henry comes from Colin Trevorrow, who directed Jurassic World and Safety Not Guaranteed and I can certainly understand why he would want to tackle a project which was different from those films. But, The Book of Henry may have been a little too different. I can genuinely see how someone could get excited about the premise, but it shouldn't have taken much reflection to realize that it was going to be very difficult to make this movie come across as believable and genuine. Given some of the events in the movie, this should have been an emotional roller coaster. But, it's hard to shed a tear when your eyes are wide with disbelief.

The Book of Henry could actually give impressionable viewers some bad ideas on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 33 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look very good, most notably blues and reds, and the image is never overly bright or dark. The level of detail is excellent, as we can make out textures on objects, and the depth works very well. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The talent show which takes place during the finale allows the track to show off its surround and stereo effects, as the applause from the crowed fills the rear speakers. Otherwise, we get a smattering of effects and a score which sounds fine.

The Book of Henry Blu-ray Disc contains only two extra features. "Filming The Book of Henry" (9 minutes) takes us on-set to see the production in action, while offering interviews with the cast and creative team who discuss the story and themes. "The Book of Henry: The Cast" (9 minutes) has Trevorrow explaining what they were looking for in actors, as we get to hear the cast discuss their characters.

Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long