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HTF REVIEW: "Far From Heaven" (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED) (with screenshots)

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#1 of 55 OFFLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted March 17 2003 - 11:21 AM

Posted Image

Far from Heaven

Studio: Universal
Year: 2002
Rated: PG-13
Film Length: 108 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.85:1)
Subtitles: English and Spanish

What imprisons desires of the heart?

It has been a full day since I sat down and watched
Far From Heaven and I need to confess that it
is a film that has been haunting my mind ever since.
This was a film that I opened blindly, not knowing
a single thing about its story but realizing that
its star, Julianne Moore, was up for a Best Actress

How can I begin to talk about this film? Let
me start by saying that Far From Heaven is
a stylishly sumptuous and superbly acted film. It's
a movie that can easily be described as an
extraordinary work of art -- looking like something
directly out of a '50s society page. At the same
time, the film is a daring and emotionally wrenching
melodrama about people trying to find a way to live
while they're dying inside.

Posted ImagePosted Image

Cathy Whitaker (Moore) has the perfect life. The
successful husband Frank(Quaid), the devoted children,
the beautiful house and popularity among the women
and social elite of her New England town. It's not
long before we learn that this family may not be as
perfect as they seem as we discover that Frank is
hiding a personal secret that is about to change
their lives forever.

Cathy's life is suddenly turned upside down. Worst
of all, she has no-one to turn to -- not even her
friends. What would they think? So, she begins a
timid relationship with her gardener Raymond (Dennis
Haysbert), a black man. One must remember that back
in the 1950s, when a white woman was seen socializing
with a black man, it ignited scandalous gossip,
resulting in social outcasting. The consequences of
her actions coupled with her husbands set them on
a course that will change their lives and their
outlook on the world forever.

Posted ImagePosted Image

The film boasts the best performances you will
ever see from its actors. Julianne Moore delivers
an exceptional performance as the film's emotional
centerpiece. I have never seen Dennis Quaid in
a role like this, totally convincing as an utterly
confused and misguided husband dealing with his
innard insecurity and pain.

How is the transfer?

Funny story to tell. I had just had my TV calibrated
the other day. The first movie I popped in to review
was this one. It probably was the worst choice of
any film to pick because at first, I thought that the
guy had totally screwed up the calibration. Picture
was looking a bit dark, and colors were looking
overly saturated. It wasn't until I got halfway
through the film that I began to understand what was

Far From Heaven is a film made exactly as if
it had been shot during the period it is set. Ed
Lachman’s lush cinematography gets the film to look
just like those in the days of Technicolor, from the
vibrantly colored leaves to the bright turquoise family
station wagon. The film looks like a visual buffet,
as if we were watching the works of a masterpiece
artist. Thankfully, the transfer perfectly brings
out the spectacularly lush atmosphere of this film
with no background distractions.

Posted ImagePosted Image

I am uncertain whether the inclusion of a DTS track
really benefits this film or not. This isn't the sort
of film that relies on effects noises. In fact, the
entire mix of this film is front-heavy, with sound
that comes across with a satisfying amount of dynamic
range. The real treat here is the score from composer
Elmer Bernstein. It's easy to see why the filmmakers
chose to use his score as representation of its 50s
theme. Bernstein was an accomplished composer during
that period of time, and his score effectively whisks
you back to that period with his subtle touches of
brass and winds that embrace the entire listening
area with its warm sounds.

Special Features

Posted ImagePosted Image

I heard pieces of the full-length commentary
by director Todd Haynes. Throughout this commentary,
Hayes compares the many styles that he borrowed from
Douglas Sirk, a director of competent melodramas. I
was kind of interested to hear how many of the film's
exterior scenes were not shot on a back lot, but rather
in Patterson N.J., which is less than 45 minutes away
from me. Haynes gets rather deep in his discussion
of the film's music, cinematography, choice of colors,
lighting and shadow. He emphasizes how he wanted to
keep everything simple, as it was back in the day,
never overemphasizing anything in order to prevent it
from becoming a parody. This is another one of those
exceptionally detailed commentaries that will be of
great interest to filmmaking students. It's told
almost as if it was by a painter who was teaching
his students the techniques behind every stroke of
his brush.

Posted Image

Anatomy of a scene is an intelligently produced
Sundance Film channel featurette that is quite an
interesting watch. It begins by giving us some
background on the film. For instance, I had no idea
that Far from Heaven is a tribute of sorts to
the 1950s melodrama films of Douglas Sirk. This
featurette not only brings together the principal
actors (Quaid, Moore), but also the film's Production
Designer (Mark Friedberg), Cinematographer (Edward
Lachman), Costume Designer(Sandy Powell), Editor
(James Lyons) Composer (Elmer Bernstein) and
writer/director (Todd Haynes). This featurette does
a great job of picking apart every piece of this
film's production, showing us how its 50s themed
world was faithfully recreated and how it was
prevented from becoming a sappy parody of itself.
(length: approx. 27 minutes)

Posted Image

The making of Far from Heaven is a more
generic overview of the film with all the principal
cast members (Moore, Quaid, Clarkson, Haysbert). This
is nice to watch for those not familiar with the
works of Douglas Sirk. We get a little bit of
background on the director whose melodramic style of
movies became the inspiration for Far From Heaven.
It ends with a look at Elmer Bernstein conducting
his orchestra, as he gleefully refers to his score
as "the kind of score you don't hear anymore."
(length: approx. 11 minutes)

Posted Image

Filmed in front of a live audience, The Filmmakers
Experience: Q&A with Julianne Moore and Todd Haynes

is a personally revealing, but alas overly short
interview hosted by Rob Kendt. A must watch!
(length: approx. 5 minutes)

Rounding out the extras are Production Notes
that reveal how writer/director Todd Haynes sought to
bring the pristine look of mid-century Hollywood
studio films to the present. There is a nicely
detailed cast and filmmakers filmography as
well as the film's original theatrical trailer.

The film also includes the current theatrical
trailer for The Pianist, a film I also highly

Final Thoughts

Posted Image

I am absolutely intrigued by the artistic style of
Far From Heaven that managed to connect to
me in a way that no film like it ever has before.
It's sad to see that attitudes represented in the
film's 50s themes have changed so little in the
world today.

Far From Heaven is a lingering treat that
remains unlike any other film you are sure to see
this year. It's best to go into this film knowing
as little about it as possible. Don't pass up the
chance to watch this!

Release Date: April 1, 2003

All screen captures have been further compressed.
They are for illustrative purposes only and do not
represent actual picture quality


Ronald J Epstein
Home Theater Forum co-owner


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#2 of 55 OFFLINE   ThomasC


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Posted March 17 2003 - 11:25 AM

As soon as I saw that "Far From Heaven" was going to be reviewed by you today, I haven't been able to stop refreshing your profile until I saw your review come up as your latest post. Thank you so much for the review, I can't wait to buy this!!!

#3 of 55 OFFLINE   Joshua_Y



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Posted March 17 2003 - 11:55 AM

Sold me...Julianne is one of my fave actors and so is Quaid...

#4 of 55 OFFLINE   PatrickL


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Posted March 17 2003 - 12:38 PM

So pleased that this got the thumbs-up from you, Ron - both the transfer and the movie. This was the best and most lingering movie I saw last year.

[quote] Julianne Moore delivers an exceptional performance as the film's emotional centerpiece [quote]

And how. I think it's one of those rare performances - like Marlon Brando in Last Tango, or Ellen Burstyn in Requiem for a Dream - that is so indelible and fully realized that you can't imagine anyone else in the role once you've seen it.

I'm surprised that this disc features a dts track but I'm going to try it out; maybe that lush music score was what prompted it.

Thanks for the review, Ron!

#5 of 55 OFFLINE   Richard Michael Clark

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Posted March 17 2003 - 01:01 PM

Beautiful movie, but oh dear god! Just WHAT is that cover art doing on the disc? The original poster was one of the most evocative of the past year but the best Universal can come up with is this travesty? WHY OH WHY can they not just use the original poster art? It was SO colourful and eye-catching, I just don't get some of the decisions these studios make!? Also Dennis Haysbert is conspicuous in his absence from the cover.

#6 of 55 OFFLINE   Paul-Gunther


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Posted March 17 2003 - 02:14 PM

Universal did the same thing to A Beautiful Mind: took perfectly good poster art and replaced it with horrible disc art.

#7 of 55 OFFLINE   Thomas T

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Posted March 17 2003 - 02:23 PM

Given your admiration for Far From Heaven, Mr. Epstein, I urge you to check out the original film that inspired it, Sirk's All That Heaven Allows available on DVD from the Criterion Collection.

As beautiful a piece of work that Far From Heaven is and I consider it the best film of 2002, it remains, at heart, a copy of the original.

#8 of 55 OFFLINE   Brian PB

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Posted March 17 2003 - 02:56 PM

I loved this film when I saw it in the theater & preordered the DVD at the first opportunity. My copy of Sirk's All That Heaven Allows (Criterion) arrived in the mail today, so I'm all set for a nice double feature once Far From Heaven shows up.

#9 of 55 OFFLINE   Mark Walker

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Posted March 17 2003 - 03:25 PM

Ron- Thanks for your great review. I am as eager to pick up the DVD, as ever. Too bad the best picture of the year didn't even make the list, but then the Academy rarely gets it right, and this year is no different. regards, Mark

Paramount, please release DRAGONSLAYER on Blu-ray




Vermithrax Pejorative deserves to be seen in high-def.

#10 of 55 OFFLINE   Brian W.

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Posted March 17 2003 - 03:49 PM

Thanks for the review, Ron. This was one of my top three faves of the year... can't wait!

[quote] oh dear god! Just WHAT is that cover art doing on the disc? [quote]

Posted Image My friend, who saw the film with me and can't wait for the DVD, said the exact same thing: "Why did they put that ugly cover on the DVD? The original poster was great."

#11 of 55 OFFLINE   Brian W.

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Posted March 17 2003 - 03:54 PM

BTW, did you notice that shot where Cathy is talking to Raymond on the street, and her coat is patterened just like the stonework on the building behind her -- you can't even tell where her coat ends and the building begins? Considering the content of the scene, I thought that was a brilliant touch -- she cannot find the courage to stand out from the rest of her world.

#12 of 55 OFFLINE   Malcolm R

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Posted March 17 2003 - 03:59 PM

Great film, horrible cover art. What is this phobia the studios have with original poster art? Where is it written that DVD covers must be ugly, photoshopped, noggin fests? Looking forward to seeing this in the HT. The theater I went to didn't have the greatest viewing conditions.
The purpose of an education is to replace an empty mind with an open mind.

#13 of 55 OFFLINE   Joel C

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Posted March 17 2003 - 06:29 PM

The Canada disc has the original art, I'm ordering that.
"Why I laugh?"

#14 of 55 OFFLINE   Brian W.

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Posted March 17 2003 - 07:26 PM

[quote] The Canada disc has the original art, I'm ordering that. [quote]

Where are you getting this info? I pulled it up on two (edit: now three) different Canadian DVD sites and they both had identical cover art to the US version.

#15 of 55 OFFLINE   Kenneth Vestergaard

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Posted March 18 2003 - 03:31 AM

I can imagine that even if they Canadian version had the original cover art, you'd have to settle for a bilingual cover, seeing as Universal is releasing this one.

#16 of 55 OFFLINE   Marc Colella

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Posted March 18 2003 - 03:51 AM

Here's the Canadian cover:

Posted Image

As long as the contents are the same, I'll take the Canadian release. The bilingual cover doesn't bother me nearly as much as the lame Universal coverart.

#17 of 55 OFFLINE   Rich Malloy

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Posted March 18 2003 - 03:57 AM

I'm still catching up on viewing, but so far "FAR FROM HEAVEN" is my favorite film of 2002. And, Ron... excellent review! Posted Image

I know you've received some recommendations for Sirk films, particularly those from Criterion ("ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS" most notably), but don't forget "Imitation of Life". The disc isn't as good as the Criterions, but it's a fantastic movie that contains many of the themes Haynes brings to "FAR FROM HEAVEN".

And if you like the Haynes/Moore duo (I certainly do!), check out the vastly underrated (IMO, a minor masterpiece) "SAFE".
"Only one is a wanderer;
Two together are always going somewhere."

#18 of 55 OFFLINE   Lew Crippen

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Posted March 18 2003 - 04:01 AM

Very fine review Ron—your best yet, in my opinion. Of course it helps that I love the film. If you watch a few of Sirk’s movies, you might even come the realization that he was more than a ‘competent’ maker of melodramas. I agree with your assessment of the acting. While I was not surprised with Moore’s performance, I was not at all prepared for the very fine one by Dennis Quaid—as I would not have expected that the had the range for this type of performance.
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#19 of 55 OFFLINE   Rich Malloy

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Posted March 18 2003 - 04:27 AM

[quote] I was not at all prepared for the very fine one by Dennis Quaid—as I would not have expected that the had the range for this type of performance. [quote] I was also astounded and had no idea Quaid had it in him... of course, his was the one character allowed to "break out" of the stifling Sirkian 50's, even allowed to utter a curse, but this could have made his character rather unbelievable, at least within the near-synthetic context of this film. Damn shame he didn't get some sort of award nomination.

I'd also single out Patricia Clarkson, who in doing the Agnes Moorehead role very nearly outdid Agnes Moorehead herself. Another astonishing performance.

And the production design? I haven't seen anything to compare with it all year. As perfect as Elmer Bernstein's score, as Juliane Moore's performance, as Todd Haynes direction... this one came together as though it were the Platonic ideal of itself.
"Only one is a wanderer;
Two together are always going somewhere."

#20 of 55 OFFLINE   Jon Robertson

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Posted March 18 2003 - 05:54 AM

Yes, Criterion's discs of All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind are beautiful, with some terrific Sirk extras. Universal's Imitation of Life does not fare so well in the extras or transfer department, but is good nonetheless and well worth picking up.

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