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The Bucket List (2007)

Warner Home Video
DVD Released: 6/10/2008

All Ratings out of
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 6/9/2008

Throughout his career, Director Rob Reiner has tackled many genres, but he's best known for comedies and dramas. A quick glance at his resume reveals some classics in both genres, such as When Harry Met Sally..., This is Spinal Tap, The Princess Bride, A Few Good Men, Misery, and Stand by Me. (Of course, the comedies listed here contain dramatic moments and vice-versa.) And while Reiner hasn't has as many big hits over the last decade (did anyone see Alex & Emma?), he still continues to work. The trailers for his latest project, The Bucket List, look as if the film combines Reiner's love for comedy and drama. However, the film actually leans more in one direction than the other.

The Bucket List introduces us to two men from different backgrounds. Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman), is a working-class taxi mechanic who has just been informed that he has cancer. Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson), a multi-millionaire entrepreneur, collapses during a meeting and is diagnosed with a brain tumor. Cole owns several hospitals and his motto has always been “two patients to a room”, so his assistant, Tommy (Sean Hayes), insists that Cole be a in semi-private room so that he doesn’t look like a hypocrite. Thus, Edward and Carter become roommates.

Being total strangers, there is a distance between them at first, but as they are suffering similar symptoms, they soon begin to bond. Each man learns that their disease is fatal and this deepens their connection. Carter begins work on a “Bucket List”, a collection of things that he’d like to see or do before he dies. Edward loves this idea and states that he will use his vast resources to fulfill the wishes of both men.

The advertisements made The Bucket List look like a sort of terminally ill Grumpy Old Men, with lots of mad-cap action. Well, that’s not exactly the film that we get. While there are some lighter moments -- many of which were featured in the trailer -- most of the film is very somber and maudlin. This makes for a movie which never really gels.

The movie starts on a down note, as we learn that both men are ill as soon as we meet them. From there, we witness surgeries, vomiting, shaking, and more bad news. It's well over thirty minutes into the film before there is any real levity. Once Edward and Carter leave the hospital, their journey to fulfill their "bucket list" begins. The scenes in which they skydive and race cars are somewhat fun, but they are still tinged with sadness. These scenes are mixed with moments in which the two men discuss regrets, religion, family, and life in general.

This raises the question, at whom is The Bucket List aimed? Apparently, whoever it is, it found its target audience, as the movie brought in over $90 million at the box office. But, I still wonder who was seeing it. Younger viewers are going to have little interest in the story of two older men living out their last days. I can see older viewers shunning the film because it would remind them of their own mortality. However, I'm obviously very wrong on this.

Despite the depressing subject matter, the most notable aspect of The Bucket List is that we get to see two acting powerhouses go toe-to-toe. With 16 Academy Award nominations between them, Nicholson and Freeman are truly masters of the craft. And yet, these are also two actors who seem to play the same character over and over. Well, one of them almost breaks form here. Nicholson plays Edward as a cocky, rich man who is used to getting whatever he wants. In other words, the role that Nicholson usually plays. However, his illness humbles Edward, and Nicholson handles this change in character very well. The vulnerable, often angry Edward is a much more interesting character. As for Freeman, his Carter is an extremely intelligent, yet humble man who is wise in the ways of the world, but can be somewhat awkward in social settings. I would love to see Freeman break this mold at some point.

Upon final review, The Bucket List is a somewhat odd film. It attempts to combine a buddy movie with a story concerning the terminally ill. The result is a story which fluctuates between carefree and extremely depressing. While much of the film is distant, I must admit that the ending is quite gripping, and there's a subtle twist that I didn't see coming. Fans of Nicholson and Freeman will want to check this one out, and if you're into weepy movies, then put this one on your list.

The Bucket List decides to live a full life on DVD courtesy of Warner Home Video. The DVD contains both the widescreen and full-frame versions of the film. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is quite sharp and clear, showing only a slight amount of grain in some exterior shots. There are no defects from the source material. The film has been shot in a very natural style -- the colors look very good and the image is never too dark or too bright. Some of the travelogue scenes show some video noise, but otherwise the transfer is solid. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which supplies clear dialogue and sound effects. This is a dialogue-heavy drama, so we get a lot of sound from the center channel, with the film's score emanating from the front and rear channels. The skydiving and race scenes do provide some nice stereo and surround effects, with the roaring cars bringing the subwoofer into the mix.

The Bucket List DVD contains only two bonus features. "Writing a Bucket List" (5 minutes) is an interview with writer Justin Zackham who discusses the origin of the film and how the script evolved. He then talks about writing a book of bucket lists, but we don't get a lot of details on this. The other extra is a MUSIC VIDEO for the song "Say" by John Mayer.

Warner Home Video has also brought The Bucket List to Blu-ray Disc.  Once again, the film is letterboxed at 1.78:1, despite the fact that the Blu-ray Disc case states that the framing is at 1.85:1.  On my 16 x 9 TV, 1.85:1 films show a small line of black bars at the top and bottom of the screen, but those didn't appear here.  The Disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps.  Despite a fine sheen of grain, the image is very sharp and clear.  The colors look great here (just look at the sports cars!) and the image has a nice amount of detail.  The landscape shots show a nice amount of depth.  The image shows no video noise and no defects from the source material.  The Blu-ray Disc does not contain a lossless track.  Instead, we get a Dolby Digital 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and 640 kbps.  This is essentially the exact same track as the DVD, but it sounds a bit clearer.  Again, dialogue is clear and audible and the skydiving and car racing scenes sound particular good.  Still, when one is buying a Blu-ray, they expect a truly hi-def experience.

The Bucket List Blu-ray Disc contains the same bonus features as the DVD, plus three more.  The film can be viewed with a "Trivia Track" which provides information about the movie via "pop-ups".  "Rob Reiner Interviews the Stars", is divided into two sections.  "Part I Rob & Jack" (22 minutes) and "Part II Rob & Morgan" (17 minutes).  Both interviews explore how the actors got involved with the movie and the experiences on the film.  The talk with Nicholson gets fairly personal as he discusses how his own personal experiences affected his approach to the movie.  The third additional extra is "The Making of Say" (6 minutes), which shows behind-the-scenes footage of John Mayer at work on the video, and has comments from Mayer on the song.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long