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The Help (2011)
Touchstone Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 12/6/2011
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/2/2011
Growing up in the South was a great experience, but it was often somewhat strange due to the media portrayal of the region. It seemed like all of the stories on the news revolved around New York or Los Angeles, and I never saw any areas near my home. Television shows like The Andy Griffith Show and Designing Women showed that people in the South were nice and moral, but they also wallowed in stereotypes. The Help offers an awkward situation. It examines a shameful period in Southern history, and presents some memories that I bet some would like to forget. But, it's also a really good movie.
The Help takes place in the small town of Jackson, Mississippi in 1963. Most of the white families have an African-American maid. Aibileen (Viola Davis) works for Elizabeth (Ahna O'Reilly), and she's essentially raising Elizabeth's baby for her. Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard) employs Minny (Octavia Spencer). These women treat their maids as second-class citizens and Hilly even goes as far as to think that Blacks are a different species. Hilly considers herself a good person, but she goes out of her way to make sure that the maids remain separate. Aspiring journalist Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan (Emma Stone), whose maid Constantine (Cicely Tyson) suddenly quit before Skeeter could say goodbye, notices how the maids are treated. She decides that she wants to do a series of interviews with the maids in order to portray their side of the story, but only Aibileen agrees. Skeeter is fascinated by the sad and shocking stories which she hears from the woman and decides that if she can get enough people on board, she could write a book. But, is the town of Jackson ready for a report which exposes the truth?
Any historical drama can tell the story of an event from the past. Quality ones attempt to tell a story which most viewers don't know or perhaps know little about. The Help is part of that elite group of movies which takes a look at a part of history which many would rather forget, and exposes the audience to secrets from the past. The story of the racial tensions in the South in the early 60s is an intriguing one, and there are elements of the plot which are so strange that they feel like fiction to us today. However, they aren't fiction. There really were people like Hilly -- people who considered themselves good, honest Christians, yet the belittled and abused other humans on a daily basis. The Help shows us many of the injustices suffered by Afrian-Americans during this period and we see how they were treated like less than second class citizens.
But, there have been movies about racism in the past. What makes The Help different? There are two factors which set it apart, both of which no doubt come directly from Kathryn Stockett's source novel. First of all, we have the movie's perspective. Much of the story is told through the eyes of Skeeter, who has lived in Jackson her whole life and was partially raised by a black maid. We watch as Skeeter begins to realize how poorly the maids are treated and decides to do something about it. Telling a story of oppression through the eyes of a white character is a risky ploy which could backfire, but it works. Today, we know that there was racial inequality in the South. Walking with Skeeter as she comes to grips with this helps to make the movie feel more like a journey. Secondly, the movie has a great deal of heart. The Help could have simply worked as a checklist which showed one dire situation after another. Instead, we become very invested in these characters, which increases the emotional impact. We cheer for Aibileen and Minny to have some sort of happiness. We want Skeeter to succeed in telling her story. And we hate Hilly. That last aspect is one of the most important parts of the story and Hilly may be the most villainous creature seen on-screen this year.
The Help was directed by Tate Taylor, an actor turned director who has made only one other feature film. In the making of featurette found on this Blu-ray Disc, we learn that Taylor and Stockett have a long history together and she lobbied for him to direct the film. Did the fact that he grew up in Mississippi and had a maid of his own help to make for a better movie? Would The Help have been just as good if, let's a say a British director, had made it? That's impossible to say, but the movie certainly has an intimate feel to it, and it's easy to assume that Taylor's familiarity with both the landscape and the material helped to make the film feel more organic. The bottom line is that The Help is a very well-made and moving film which pulls very few bunches as it shows the turmoil and quiet suffering caused by racism during that period. Davis and Spence are shoe-ins for Oscar nods and this is definitely one of the best dramas of the year. And boy did it make me hate white people.
The Help does more to damage pie's reputation than Jim Levenstein ever could on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Touchstone Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at 20 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no defects from the source material, but there is some slight grain in a number of shots. The most notable thing about this transfer is how bold and impressive the colors are, especially reds and greens. The image is never overly dark or bright. The imae is quite crisp, lending a nice amount of depth to the image. The level of detail is good as well, and we can see every line on the actor's faces. 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. Being a serious drama, we don't get a plethora of dynamic audio effects, but the track is well-done just the same. The stereo effects are nicely detailed and we always know when noises are happening off-screen. There are some subtle surround sound effects from crowd and street noises and the music during the social sounds fine.
The Help Blu-ray Disc contains only a few extras. "The Making of The Help: From Friendship to Film" (23 minutes) opens with the interesting revelation that Director Tate Taylor is a lifelong friend of author Kathryn Stockett. Stockett then goes on to talk about how her real-life maid was the inspiration for the story. Taylor takes us on a tour of some of the primary locations in the film, most of which he knows intimately. Throughout this, we learn the story of how the novel came to be and how the decisions were made to make the movie. From there, we learn about the casting, and the actors talk about their characters. "In Their Own Words: A Tribute to the Maids of Mississippi" (12 minutes) is a round-table discussion with Taylor, Octavia Spencer, and several real-life maids who share their stories. The Disc contains five DELETED SCENES which run about 10 minutes, including introductions by Taylor. All of these are new scenes which introduce some new ideas. They wouldn't have changed the movie, but they are interesting. The final extra is the MUSIC VIDEO for the song "The Living Proof" by Mary J. Blige.
Review Copyright 2011 by Mike Long