Rain Man: Special Edition
Film Length: 134 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.85:1)
Subtitles: English, French, and Spanish
Audio: English - Dolby Digital 5.1; French – Stereo Surround; Spanish - Monaural
Director Barry Levinson’s Rain Man is a beautiful, touching tale about acceptance, change, and even certain aspects of life that are impervious to an individual’s will change them, try though he/she might. In addition to starting with a wonderful story, Levinson also received a big boost from the almost magical way Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman were able to breathe such life into their characters. This cinematic treat, which took home a total of four Oscars®, is a film that will glue my butt to the couch any time it is on, and a film that I believe rewards repeated viewings. Without further adieu, let’s dig in…
As the film opens, Charlie Babbitt (Cruise) is dealing exotic import cars out of a warehouse in Los Angeles, and due to a hang-up with the EPA he is threatened with imminent financial ruin. Right away, we see that Charlie is a cold, controlling, strong-willed person, who tries to steer the course of events in his life through sheer willpower alone. Early in the film, on the way to a weekend getaway with his girlfriend Susanna (Valeria Golino) he receives word that his father - whom he had been feuding with for many years - has passed away. We then fast-forward to Cincinnati, and the reading of the reading of the will, where Charlie gets a cold, although not totally unexpected, dose of reality, when he discovers that he has received almost none of his father’s estate (a rare 1949 Buick Roadmaster and prize roses is what Charlie gets). The real kicker is that the rest of the multi-million dollar fortune has gone into a trust for an unnamed beneficiary.
Confused and upset, Charlie does a little digging, and eventually learns that the trust fund is for the care of an older brother, named Raymond (Dustin Hoffman), that he never knew existed. It turns out that Charlie never knew about Raymond because he is autistic, and has been institutionalized for many years. When Charlie encounters his brother at Wallbrook, the institution where Ray receives care, he discovers a methodical, middle-aged man whose entire existence is built around rigidly structured routines. For instance, Raymond must watch his favorite television programs at certain times, and eat specific meals on specific days of the week. Any break in these routines, and Raymond becomes almost completely disoriented.
This meeting between the two long-lost brothers soon becomes the turning point in the film, as Charlie takes Raymond out of his “home” to get back at his father. Initially, Charlie believes this impulsive act will get him what he perceives to be his rightful share of the inheritance, and he quickly ransoms Raymond against half of the $3 million inheritance (“he’s not greedy”). Of course, the man entrusted with Raymond’s care refuses, and since Ray won’t fly, Charlie is forced to put his big bro’ in the inherited Buick with the “fireball 8” engine and embark on a cross-country trek towards sunny Los Angeles, California.
As they journey west, the reunited siblings have a whole host of misadventures, but for Raymond his trip is definitely not one of enlightenment, because his condition makes him almost incapable of completely comprehending any of the new things he is experiencing. To be sure, Raymond is a somewhat highly functioning autistic person, as he can carry on full conversations and adhere to his many intricate routines. He even possesses some grand “savant” abilities, like the ability to remember obscure baseball statistics or volumes of phone numbers, and do extremely complex math problems in seconds, an ability which Charlie later puts to practical use.
So, since nearly every movie takes the characters through changes, and a nearly complete resistance to change characterizes Raymond’s condition, what is the point of the Babbitt brothers’ trip, or of this movie in general? Well, I think that Rain Man is essentially about the transformation that must take place in Charlie, who is a real ass at the opening of the film. You see, Charlie Babbitt is much like his father, a man who valued possessions and had a very limited ability to show love or see things from other people’s points of view. In a way, Charlie is like an emotional autistic, and lacks the capacity to communicate his inner feelings, even with his girlfriend. The question is whether spending time with his brother will teach Charlie to relax and open up to the people in his life, because try as one might, a person can never be in complete control over all other people.
In addition to telling a great story, Rain Man features superb performances, crisp dialogue, and the light touch of director Barry Levinson. Even though this film is slightly long, at 2 hours and 14 minutes, it never feels that way, as Levinson paced the film adeptly. Tom Cruise also did a wonderful job of playing Charlie Babbitt the way he needed to be played. In fact, although Dustin Hoffman definitely deserved the Best Actor statue for his performance, I do not think Cruise has received enough credit for his efforts in this film. A great deal of Dustin Hoffman’s performance was reactionary, and Tom Cruise helped lead a lot of scenes in the right direction.
Of course, Dustin Hoffman’s Raymond is the star of the show, a character that is impossible not to love, as bland as he is. I think Hoffman made the right choice in avoiding any over-the-top antics, or trying to be overly cute. Instead, Raymond Babbitt is nearly devoid of emotion, unmoved by most of the events happening around him, and appropriately fails to comprehend what is happening in many scenes. Indeed, the only real life he shows is when his routines are disrupted, at which point he will throw a fit until he is pacified. Yet despite Ray’s plain vanilla personality, the way this character affects everything else around him made me absolutely love him. I know Hollywood seems to love having big-name talent play individuals with mental disorders (I Am Sam and Radio are two examples), but the buck stops here with Dustin Hoffman!
Rain Man is a winner, a movie with a real heart that somehow manages to be humorous without making light of a tragic neurological condition that affects many people. If you haven’t already seen Rain Man, please stop reading right now and buy this film (or at least give it a rental)! It is that good!!!
SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
For the Special Edition of Rain Man, MGM offers the film in a gorgeous anamorphic widescreen presentation (1.85:1) that really does justice to this great piece of cinema. To begin with, colors are sufficiently saturated, but I did not notice any bleeding or dot crawl. I must say that the sequences on the Vegas strip looked particularly fabulous, with the city’s bold neon lights almost popping right off the screen. Blacks are also black, allowing for excellent shadow delineation, rich texture, and plenty of detail even in dimly lit interiors.
On occasion, the image does appear slightly soft, and a little film grain is visible but neither really becomes an issue. Further, edge enhancement halos are hardly noticeable, and fine detail is decidedly above average. Most impressively, I did not notice any compression artifacting. This is a very clean, by-the-numbers effort; which should allow viewers to concentrate on the film, and its many lovely outdoor shots, not issues with its video quality!
WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
Except for the many outbursts by Charlie Babbitt, and a few by his brother Ray, Rain Man is a fairly quiet film, so the Dolby Digital 5.1 channel audio track is similarly subdued. Nevertheless, the source material is represented about as faithfully as one could ask for.
More to the point, frequency response is solid throughout the audible spectrum, although there is not much in the way of real low bass in the source material. The surrounds are also not especially active, and mostly serve to churn out ambient noises and musical embellishment. Where this track really shines though, is in the delivery of dialogue and micro-dynamic sounds. The characters’ speech is full-bodied and clear, and faint audio information I do not remember hearing before (mostly during outdoor scenes) was clearly audible as well.
Finally, music reproduction is commendable, as the soundtrack is spread nicely throughout the soundstage. As such, the mix of percussion-oriented and new-age music that dominates the score jumps out at the listener. All things considered, I was thoroughly pleased with MGM’s handling of the audio information for Rain Man. Granted, this is not the type of soundtrack that will fatigue your system, or make your ears ring, but that is inherent in the source material, not a fault of this disc. In my opinion, Rain Man could not sound much better!
Feature Length Commentary – Director Barry Levinson
Since I like Rain Man so much, I was really anticipating a revelatory experience from the feature length commentary by Barry Levinson. After listening to it, however, I am not sure it should even be called a “feature length” commentary since Levinson really doesn’t have that much to say. Even more of a disappointment is the fact that more than a few of his comments are screen-specific, trivial, or redundant. As a filmmaker, I think Barry Levinson is one of the most talented guys out there, but in terms of talking about his work, particularly a film that is so highly regarded, he fails to deliver very much in the way of real insight.
Some of the few highlights included:
--- A discussion of interesting way the role of Raymond’s doctor was cast.
--- Levinson reveals that a lot of the events that transpire on Charlie and Ray’s road trip were improvised, particularly during the motel sequence.
--- Levinson talking about how he selected the Buick Roadmaster for the film.
Feature Length Commentary – Co-Writer Barry Morrow
Wow! This is what I was expecting from the commentary track with Barry Levinson! The feature length commentary by co-writer Barry Morrow is passionate, insightful, and contains a wealth of information on everything from the origin of this story through the movie’s production.
--- Morrow revealing in great detail how he came to write this story, and how familiar he is with autism.
--- Discussions about some of the many ideas that were dropped either in drafting the story or during production.
--- A lot candid of talk about the process of pitching the film, including how it may have not been made because Forrest Gump was also in development at the time.
--- Mr. Morrow reveals how he was dismissed from the project for a time, and subsequently brought back on board.
This is a very thoughtful and informative commentary track, and it is well worth a listen, especially if you enjoy this film. Given that Barry Levinson also did a commentary track for this film, I can’t believe I am about to write this, but if you only have time for one of the three commentaries on this special edition of Rain Man, I recommend making this the one!
Feature Length Commentary – Co-Writer Ronald Bass
As surprised as I was by how good Barry Morrow’s commentary track is, I was equally surprised by how bad co-writer Ronald Bass’ commentary track turned out to be. For starters, he is much less talkative than his co-writer, and much less interesting as well. After a while, his breaking minutes of silence with obvious comments like “Charlie is helping Ray steer here.” Or “Now we are back in Hollywood.” became quite annoying. Towards the end of the film, he had very little to say at all, but by this point, I actually welcomed the silence.
I must confess that Mr. Bass did have my interest for a little while, while he was talking about some of the differences between the Vegas sequence as written, as opposed to what is in the final cut of the film. On the whole, however, this third feature-length commentary was easily the most disappointing, which is saying a lot considering my feelings about the Barry Levinson track.
There is one short deleted scene included, which features Raymond “sampling” merchandise in a convenience store. It was nice to see it, but I really don’t think it would have added anything to the final cut. Oh well, at least now I know where Raymond got the cheese puffs he is holding while wandering through the small town in the middle of the film!
This way too brief featurette from 1988 includes cast and crew interviews and some behind-the-scenes footage. Unfortunately, it is over before it gets a chance to become insightful. Since a retrospective featurette is not part of this package, I was really looking forward to this extra. I am sorry to say it was a letdown.
The photo gallery is actually divided into five sections, each containing a few stills. They are:
--- The Filmmakers – 11 pictures
--- Tom and Dustin – 19 pictures
--- Tom Cruise – 4 pictures
--- Dustin Hoffman – 3 pictures
--- Valeria Golino – 5 pictures
In addition to the nicely put together theatrical trailer, there is an “MGM Means Great Movies” trailer, a trailer for the DVD release of Bandits, and a trailer for the Special Edition DVD of Dances With Wolves[/i]. If that is not enough for you, MGM also offers the cover art for about 10 other DVD releases, including Moonstruck and West Side Story.
(on a five-point scale)
THE LAST WORD
Since I am only human, I must confess that I fully expected to stamp a “Highly Recommended” rating on this re-release of Rain Man on DVD. There was never any question about it. However, even though Rain Man is one hell of a movie, and certainly worthy of a special edition, I am not entirely sure that is what MGM has given us. Yes, the anamorphic transfer looks great, and the film also sounds about as good as can be expected, but the previous release boasted audio and video quality that was almost on par with this new release. The main difference between the two lies in the wealth of bonus content on the new-fangled “special edition” release, most of which, quite frankly, is not very good.
Seriously, did we really need three audio commentaries (two of which are lackluster)? Additionally, the other extras like the original featurette, deleted scene, and photo galleries, can be breezed through in less than a half hour. I have to be honest; the inclusion of three commentaries with one speaker on each feels like filler to me. I think this title really needed a new retrospective featurette to set it over the top.
Well, I suppose that even though the included goodies don’t quite justify the “special edition” moniker, anyone who doesn’t already have Rain Man in their collection should pick this title up. To quote Raymond Babbitt, this is one film that “definitely” belongs in everyone’s DVD library, so as a "must own" I will recommend it without reservation if you did not purchase it before it was placed on moratorium.
On the other hand, if you already own Rain Man, the spiffy anamorphic transfer may be reason enough to pick this release up, but I cannot justify double-dipping based upon the extras alone (except for Barry Morrow’s commentary). Deep down, I guess I am all about picture and sound quality over extras though, so the modest improvements in picture quality over the previous release is enough to allow me to bail myself out by saying:
Highly Recommended if you don’t already have it!!! Simply recommended if you do (for the anamorphic transfer and Barry Morrow’s insightful commentary)!
February 3rd, 2004