Film Length: 91 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.85:1)
Subtitles: English, French, and Spanish
Audio: English - Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish & French – Dolby Digital 5.1
NOTE: Though you can “fast-forward to the main menu”, there are forced trailers for Dr. Seuss’ animated classics, the animated Sinbad, and Johnny English.
As Beethoven’s 5th begins, we are introduced to Sara (Daveigh Chase), who is on summer vacation with her lovable canine companion Beethoven. This is not going to be an ordinary, run-of-the-mill vacation though, for Sarah is going to be spending the summer with her oddball uncle Freddie (Dave Thomas), a mechanic in the small, former mining town of Quicksilver.
Once Sara arrives, she learns that her uncle clearly has no idea how to take care of a near-teenager, and that some of the townsfolk are a little odd. However, uncle Freddie pairs Sara up with Garrett (Sammy Kahn), “the smartest kid in town”, and she soon loosens up enough to get settled in. As she tours the town more extensively, Sara also learns of a local legend involving a large store of cash that was supposedly hidden somewhere in Quicksilver by two bank robbers during the 1920s.
Shortly thereafter, uncle Freddie takes Sara, Garrett, and Beethoven out for a relaxing fishing trip. While on their trip, Beethoven runs off into the woods, and happens upon an abandoned mercury mine. While nosing around inside, he finds a 10-dollar bill from the ‘20s that might be a part of the legendary loot. Once the townsfolk learn of this discovery, almost everyone in Quicksilver is suddenly combing the nearby woods, and even the lake, for the lost cash. Some of these folks even try to win Beethoven’s affections, in the hopes that his big, wet nose will lead them to the rest of the money.
Now, I won’t lie and say that I hated this movie, if only because I am a huge fan of Dave Thomas (SCTV baby!) and the simplistic plot allowed me to relax and chill out for a little while. On the other hand, it is certainly not a particularly memorable film, but let’s face it, Beethoven’s 5th is geared towards kids, not a 29-year-old. So, with that in mind, do I think it would entertain them? Well, I am honestly not sure, as there are not quite enough slapstick shenanigans to entertain younger children, although the frequent belches and flatulence seems thrown in specifically for them. Indeed, a lot of the comedy (if one can call it that) in Beethoven’s 5th is verbal in form, the type which the really small fries might not get.
In addition, the generally banal dialogue and “stiff” performances by the child actors hinders the film somewhat, and it seems like comedians John Larroquette, Dave Thomas, and Kathy Griffin were not given enough creative license, although that is the adult in me talking. Truthfully, although it is a little dull, the story is not entirely uninteresting, and the characters even exhibit some growth over the course of the film. The variety of weird inhabitants of Quicksilver also appealed to me, although most of them are only on-screen for a very short time. Clint Howard, in particular, was great as the seemingly deranged hombre who is perpetually wearing scuba gear and stating the obvious.
Although I cannot recommend purchasing this title to anyone except to parents of hardcore Beethoven fans, Beethoven’s 5th is benign family entertainment that might appeal to youngsters between 4 and 12. Most adults (particularly those that have less of an appreciation for “weirdness” than I do), however, will probably find it to be an effective cure for insomnia.
SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
Aside from a somewhat “soft” appearance, Universal’s anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer for Beethoven’s 5th looks pretty good. More to the point, the colors of the fictitious town of Quicksilver and its folk are vibrant, with flesh tones being especially accurate. However, bright reds do bleed a little. The images on this disc are also spectacularly clean, with nary a spot of debris interfering with the film.
Unfortunately, as I mentioned, the image is a bit on the soft side throughout, and fine detail is somewhat obscured. However, Beethoven’s 5th does boast a deep, dark black level, which provides plenty of detail in shadows, and a minimal amount of edge enhancement. As a result of these factors, I arrived at the conclusion that the quality of the visual presentation on this straight-to-video release is quite satisfactory, and probably even a little better than I had expected it to be.
WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack for Beethoven’s 5th won’t take anyone’s breath away, but it reproduces the source material well enough. Dialogue in particular, sounds fine, and is rooted nicely in the center channel. Further, although the front soundstage is not terribly expansive or engaging, the film’s score and effects come across quite accurately.
With respect to low bass, it is used somewhat sparingly, and the lower frequencies generally lack punch and definition. The surround channels, however, are used quite a bit more extensively than I would have expected from a film of this nature. Indeed, they are frequently called upon to generate effects or recreate the sounds of nature, since much of the story occurs outdoors.
One thing that I did like, which I ordinarily would not, is that the mix seemed to have been toned down by a few decibels. In the case of Beethoven’s 5ththis is a good thing, because developing ears and punishing sound pressure levels do not make a good match. On the whole, this mix is better than that provided for most direct-to-video “kids movies”, and it should perfectly suit most everyone that wants to go on Beethoven’s 5th adventure. Obviously, however, audiophiles need not apply.
It’s a Dog’s Life: The Making of Beethoven’s 5th:
In this 12-minute long featurette, which is orchestrated in a light-hearted, somewhat amusing fashion, the cast and crew discuss their experiences working with Stanley, AKA “Beethoven”. Animal trainer Karl Miller also offers an energetic account of how he gets his animals to perform the actions required of them by the script.
As you might expect, given its target audience, this featurette is not terribly deep or insightful. Nevertheless, I found it interesting because of its focus on the animals that appear in the film. Kathy Griffin and John Larroquette are also quite funny, and this is one of the few featurettes I have seen that should appeal to kids.
Obviously, a film starring an animal, especially a 175-pound Saint Bernard, is going to be filled with gaffes. Surprisingly, it is the humans that screw things up the most during this lengthy outtakes section. Most of these bloopers and blunders feature Dave Thomas, and consist of line flubs.
Trailers and Promotional Materials
The trailer, which is apparently being shown in theaters, for Beethoven’s 5th is included.
(on a five-point scale)
THE LAST WORD
Beethoven’s 5th is not a great, or even very funny, film by any means, but it might be appealing to youngsters in the 4-12 age range, or fans of the franchise. In terms of presentation, the sights and sounds of the large, lovable beast’s latest adventure are more than acceptable, and the couple of included extras should satisfy those in the Beethoven’s target audience. I will stop short of recommending a purchase for anyone that falls outside of those categories though.
December 2nd, 2003