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DVD Reviews

HTF REVIEW: Ella Enchanted (Recommended!)

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#1 of 23 OFFLINE   DaViD Boulet

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Posted August 19 2004 - 06:00 AM

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Ella Enchanted
RunTime:96 minutes
Aspect Ratio:16x9 encoded 1.85:1 OAR (separate 4x3 version available so beware!!!)
Audio:5.1 DD English, 5.1 DD French
Subtitles:English for the hearing impaired, Spanish
SpecialFeatures:Feature Commentary, Deleted and Extended scenes, Magical World Of Ella (Making-of featurette), Music Video, DVD-ROM material
ReleaseDate:August 24, 2004

The Feature...

Just how do so many good movies manage to mascquarade as "just another teen movie" and slip through unnoticed? Here's another one that may have missed your radar completely that deserves your full attention.

Charming, witty, and fun. This DVD review was my first introduction to this film, and my first impressions from the packaging and promo material were "oh, another teen-girl movie that will be drudgery to watch". Boy was I wrong. Ella Enchanted is sharp-witted (at times) and hilarious enough that it prompted spontaneous laughter from the group of guests who attended the screening. The best way to describe this film is some sort of blend between Shrek, Princess Bride, and Clueless. Similar to A Knight's Tale, Ella Enchanted mixes modern cultural iconography within a medieval backdrop--but unlike a Knight's tale which wanted you to take the juxtaposition seriously, Ella Enchanted is satire all the way. Ella Enchanted may not quite reach the revered level of classics like The Princess Bride...but it comes close. Ella Enchanted falls short at times by being a bit too predictable and catering to a somewhat saccharine love story...but it makes fun of itself while doing so, which makes it difficult to complain. Actually, the more I think about it, the predictability and mush actually *work* for this movie and are part of what adds sweetness to its charm and bite to its humor. Hey, being able to change opinions like that mid-stream is a sign of a complex yet flexible mind...

Based on the novel by Gail Carson Levine, the premise of Ella Enchanted is something of a "Cinderella-esque" tale that bears no strict allegance to any established fairytale storyline, but rather is a menagerie of many elements that each hint at their own unique origins...but come together nicely to compose a solid and comprehensive whole (reminds me of the Brady Bunch Movie which took scenarios from various TV episodes and wove them seamlessly into a unified 2-hour story). Upon Ella's birth, her fairy Godmother grants her the "gift of obedience" which destines Ella to do what she is told...no matter what no matter from whom. As a teenager, Ella sets out on a quest to find her fairy Godmother in the hopes that she will lift the curse/gift, and it is this journey that carries most of the film. The plot may seem unimpressive...and it's not really the point. The writers, director, and actors of this film conspire to breath an inspired (and unorthodox) satiricism into events as they unfold, and the result works marvelously. Ella Enchanted is also "safe" for family viewing with no overt sexual overtones to cause discomfort and no profane language to get in the way.

And we've got some great actors. Minnie Driver, Joanna Lumley, and Eric Idle (Monty Python) as the narrator. But the star of the show is where it's at...the incomparably beautiful Anne Hathaway who you may remember from the Princess Diaries. The last few years (since the Princess Diaries) have been ever-so-kind to Ms. Hathaway, who has blossomed into a stunningly beautiful young woman. She has the sparkle and innocence of a young Judy Garland and the bold features a young Elizabeth Taylor. She's also got personality, and she really is the fulcrum around which the movie pivots, though the rest of the supporting cast keep up the pace and balance out the performance. Hugh Dancy, who plays Prince Charmont, also has a refreshingly strong personality and doesn't just mimic the "pretty boy" role he would seem to fit. Cary Elwes (the lead Westley from the Princess Bride) assumes a contrasting role in this film (and does a great job) and the irony of his casting only points to this film's resemblance to his earlier film.


Stunning. Really stunning.

Not perfect however. There is the usual mild high-frequency filtering we see on all MIRAMAX titles that softens detail in far-ground shots, and a slight bit of EE that presents itself at times as edge-ringing halos around sharp objects (text and rooftops) but it's very mild and usually doesn't intrude too obviously. From a 1.6 screen-width viewing distance I was able to enjoy the movie without fretting about the ringing or without being constantly distracted...and of course all my guests were completely enthralled with the picture and just kept marveling at how "gorgeous" the picture was. And indeed they were correct.

Even with its minor faults, this DVD really impressed me. Most of the qualities of this image that seem so stunning are no doubt a reflection of the intentional film-style and visual language on the part of the filmmakers themselves. Nevertheless, the DVD preserves these qualities faithfully and thus deserves much praise.

So what's so great about this picture?

Color. Wow. The color palette of this DVD is simply amazing. Hues are so rich and sumptuous that at times it feels like you're watching a Technicolor print from some 1940's era film. Despite being extraordinarily bold, colors never appear to oversaturate or challenge the DVD compression and was free from any "video" related noise. Watching this DVD projected from my BenQ 8700+ DLP projector onto my new Dalite HiPower screen was an awe-inspiring experience...scene after scene so rich and saturated that just the visual imagery alone was reason enough to stop and stare at the screen for 96 minutes. This bold presentation of color was supported by an equally forceful sense of contrast dynamics. The "sweep" from dark to light felt dramatic, and had a stronger impact that most DVD presentations. Blacks were solid and strong and provided a foundation for a picture that was rich, lush, and tangibly 3-dimensional. Even soft-focus shots had a sense of depth and richness that conveyed and I think a large part of this is due to the excellent contrast/dynamic range of the image. Spectacular.

One other minor quibble...there was one scene (when they are visiting the giants) where I saw some obvious MPEG-blocking noise in a few background images behind the fore-ground action. Nothing too serious and nothing that would have been noticed by your "regular" guest...but something worth mentioning for the videophile connoisseurs among you. At only 96 minutes, it's not a very long film for a single-disc (dual layer) presentation, but there are some healthy extras and I was impressed with how much SE content exists on this disc with the picture quality maintained at high a level as it is.

The 1.85:1 image is properly letterboxed in the 1.78:1 (16x9) frame preserving OAR to the letter. Most 16x9 viewers will not see the small black bars at the top and bottom of the screen, but those of you with minimal overscan on your projection or plasma screens may notice. Oh and *beware*...there is a separate 4x3 version of this film available (I don't care whether it's open-matte or P/S...it's MAR!!!)...so if someone is getting this as a gift or says "oh, I'll rent it and bring it over" be sure to give very specific widescreen instructions...

All in all I was very pleased with the gorgeous picture on this DVD. Had it not suffered the usual (though less than normal) HF filtering and minor EE, I would have been racing to give it 5 out of 5 stars.

Picture: 4.5/5
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Very impressive. I wasn't expecting a 5.1 mix with any real surround activity as most movies of this type generally seem to be "center mixed" with the occasional Left-Right orchestral spread. And while the surrounds in Ella Enchanted are not employed like they were in the Custom Home Theater Mix for the Lion King, the 5.1 mix on this disc is noticeably active at times (in a manner that sounds like a true discrete 5.1 mix and not just a "pro logic" presentation encoded in 5.1 channels) and always appropriate. I found myself repeatedly noticing how pleased I was with the mix...I think because it kept contradicting my expectations that it would be "just another run of the mill" affair, and it wasn't. Dynamic range was wide, and the musical qualities of the soundtrack were open and natural and spread nicely across the soundstage. Vocals were non-fatiguing and intelligible and presented with an easy naturalness. And there were times when the 5.1 mix really took advantage of all channels...the most dramatic of which was during Ella's big "struggle" scene in which you hear her mother's voice echo around the room...similar to the echo of the young boy's voice swirling around the room in Jumanji (for those of you familiar with the soundtrack of that title...used to use it as a demo disc at the stereo shop where I worked so it was right there at the ready in my mind for a comparison).

Well done.

Sound: 4.5/5
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Special Features...

There is a nice helping of bonus material on this single-disc release...

    [*]Deleted & Extended Scenes: Wow. What a healthy helping we have here: 7 deleted scenes and 4 extended scenes...each available with or without commentary and there is a "play all" option or you can view them individually (thanks for the "play all" feature Disney...much appreciated). Scenes are presented in 4x3 lbx with 2.0 DD audio. Except for one "video montage" deleted scene...I would have preferred to have had them all inserted back in the film...and all the guests who came over to watch felt the same way too. But even seeing them this way is better than not seeing them at all...but it does give one the "if only" sentimentality...life is a chore of never-ending pain for dreamers like me...

    [*]Feature Commentary: With Director Tommy O'Haver, Anne Hathaway (Ella) and Hugh Dancy (Prince Charmont): The commentary was enjoyable for fans of the film or of the two lead actors, but I don't think will hold much interest for those hoping to glean some movie-making insights for their college term paper. It's mostly filled with the three having fun reminiscing about great times they had filming, sharing stories about complications of certain shots, and good clean cutting-up fun. And don't get me wrong, there *are* tidbits of movie-making trivia intermingled that are interesting to learn, it's just that someone only interested in that content may find it difficult to patiently sit through the banter waiting for it to unfold.

    [*]The Magical World of Ella Enchanted: A very nice 30 minute "making of" documentary that covered the usual swath of behind-the-scenes trivia, bloopers, and movie-making insights. Much of the special effects (and there were many) were mentioned here giving it interest for those of you who, like me, tend to be more focused on technical aspects of film production and less so on the practical jokes that the actors were playing on each other during rehearsal. This feature is hosted by the two leads (Anne and Hugh) and gives a nice feel that makes this feature enjoyable for younger kids as well without pandering down the real content for adults.

    [*]Music Video "It's Not Just Make Believe": Performed by Kari Kimmel. If you like it you like it. Posted Image

    [*]Ella Enchanted Red-Carpet Premiere Special: A 23 minute featurette documenting the opening premiere of the film. I had to chuckle when we're watching all the fans and cast entering and exiting the theater...and it's day time. I guess some films get there big debut at night and others get the day slots Posted Image. In any case, it's cute, and fans of the film or cast will enjoy this feature for sure.

    [*][b]Prince Charmont's Fan Club Set-top game: One of those use-your-remote-control games for little kids. Tried playing it for all of about 5 seconds, but hey...I'm 33 so I'd *hope* that this game wouldn't exactly appeal to my sense of entertainment anyway...

    [*][b]DVD-ROM content: Those of you with an enabled DVD-ROM on your PC please let us know.


    [b]All Together...

    What a cute movie. Great for group events where you want something light-hearted that will stimulate a good time and laughter but everyone complains that "we just watched the Princess Bride...don't you have anything else?". I'll shut up if you promise to just watch it. If you didn't like The Princess Bride, Shrek, or Clueless then I wouldn't recommend you watch Ella Enchanted either... but for everyone else...put it on your list.


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#2 of 23 OFFLINE   Tim Glover

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Posted August 19 2004 - 06:30 AM

Great review David. This was a cute movie. My daughters and I saw this together and I probably belted out laughing a few more times than they did. Posted Image It was sweet too. Glad to see the dvd is a nice one.

This is getting scary, I've been buying more of these type films for my daughters and I to enjoy together and less dvds of other genres.

#3 of 23 OFFLINE   DaViD Boulet

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Posted August 19 2004 - 06:46 AM


Glad you liked it too.

I totally get where you're coming from. When movies like Ella, Freaky Friday, and other "teen girl" movies are so good...it's hard to resist. In any case, you're an awesome dad for taking the time to watch these movies with your kids...that's a great experience in itself and one that matters. The best part of movies is how they can connect people when shared together.

But be sure to take care of yourself and get the occasional action or sci-fi genre film that you need. If watching movies with the family adds to the fun and it feels like a "let down" to watch your 'own' movies by yourself...then get a buddy of yours to come over and watch with you. I've found that's the best part of having finally set up my projector and gotten my HT together...having people over to share in the experience. The best part is to share movies with movie-lovers who have absolutely no technical knowledge at all. They mention their favorite title (that they no doubt own P/S on VHS) and you reach into your DVD collection and 2 seconds later are dazzling them with an 8 foot image that looks better than their memory of the theater. What fun.

Back on track...

Of course...if you only have a certain $$ to spend on DVDs and end up spending it all on the family movies with none left over for your own special films...then you need to get some good lists going for your birthday and holidays...

dave Posted Image
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#4 of 23 OFFLINE   Julio De Luis

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Posted August 19 2004 - 09:19 PM

This is a really great movie and I enjoyed it so much that I saw it twice in theaters. I wish the original poster art would have been used for the cover art of the DVD. Either way, I will still be purchasing this DVD. Posted Image

#5 of 23 OFFLINE   RyanAn



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Posted August 20 2004 - 01:11 AM

This film can appeal to all ages, I am 18 and loved it. Lately I have been recommending it to no end... I consider it the Princess Bride of this generation. Ryan

#6 of 23 OFFLINE   DaViD Boulet

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Posted August 20 2004 - 01:19 AM

It's cool to see other guys feeling the same way. Ryan, your notion of it being the "Princess Bride of this generation" is spot-on. That's exactly the way it felt...really a shame that on the surface (from the ads, promos, and cover art) this film looks like "another girl-teen movie" and so hasn't been noticed by many folks who would really enjoy it.
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#7 of 23 OFFLINE   Eric F

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Posted August 20 2004 - 02:13 AM

Just remember, this is one title you can purchase, knowing we made a difference: I'm fairly certain it was our outcry that got them to do it OAR.

#8 of 23 OFFLINE   Rocky F

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Posted August 20 2004 - 08:14 AM

I am glad to see that it's being released OAR. Every indication I've seen before this review was that it was going to only be release MARed. I must have missed that news, but that ok. At least now I can let my wife get it. I thought I was gonna have to tell her no.

#9 of 23 OFFLINE   Nils Luehrmann

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Posted August 20 2004 - 10:58 AM

Well David, I had completely ignored this title until reading your review. Now you have me seriously tempted. There just seemed to be too many recent Cinderella style teen movies and I had somehow lumped this title in with them. Thanks for shedding light on what sounds like a little hidden treasure.

#10 of 23 OFFLINE   Dan Rudolph

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Posted August 20 2004 - 11:07 AM

I'm fairly certain it was always intended to be OAR and there was an error on the press release.
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#11 of 23 OFFLINE   David_Jr


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Posted August 20 2004 - 11:30 AM

In his review of Princess Diaries 2, Roger Ebert recommended this movie highly while panning the other. I am anticipating this is a movie that our whole family can enjoy. Thanks for the review.

#12 of 23 OFFLINE   Tim Glover

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Posted August 22 2004 - 06:11 PM


I hope this dvd makes it big and finds an audience. It seemed to quietly appear and disappear? But as already mentioned this is a really cute, strange, funny, and sweet film that will most likely get repeated viewings in your home.

Again, great review. Posted Image

#13 of 23 OFFLINE   DavidBL


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Posted August 30 2004 - 09:53 AM

Well, this thread was born and died while I was out of the country, but I came home to find that my wife had rented it and was pleasantly surprised like most of you here. However, I dug this thread up since I did want to add mention of an Easter Egg that DaViD missed in his 33 year old impatience: Posted Image

This 35 year old was reluctantly forced to play the game for the benefit of my own little kids, and after winning it (it's really not that hard), you get a "reward" (a la Harry Potter and the Socerer's Stone, but really, it only takes about 2 minutes to win this easy game vs. the maddening ordeal of HPATSS). The easter egg reward is, ironically, a little featurette on easter egg-like "hidden faces" that the FX team cleverly inserted into the movie.

Just wanted to make sure you didn't overlook the kiddie game and miss out on this hidden feature.

#14 of 23 OFFLINE   Sam Davatchi

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Posted August 30 2004 - 07:08 PM

Thanks for the recommendation, I saw it and indeed it's a good movie. I would not have seen it otherwise. Is this direct to video?

#15 of 23 OFFLINE   Michael Allred

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Posted August 30 2004 - 08:11 PM

IMO, I was thankful the movie ended when it did. Downright painful to watch (and yes, I *do* have an open mind when it comes to "family friendly" fare.) The FX and overall look of the film ranks right up there with the cheesiest made-for-TV or direct-to-video movie. It just looks cheap. Even mentioning this movie in the same breath with "The Princess Bride" is laughable. The only reason I rented this dreck was because they used Queen's "Somebody to Love" in it and unfortunately even that was a let down. Watch this with very low expectations.

#16 of 23 OFFLINE   Dave_P.


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Posted August 31 2004 - 09:31 AM

Nope it was in theatres for a while (according to Box Office Mojo it made $23 mil). Netflixed it and was shocked at how much I loved the movie. Kinda like a live-action Shrek (as a matter of fact when the ogres showed up I was picturing Mike Myers doing the voices). I just wish there would be a moratorium on singing cast scenes at the end of movies.

#17 of 23 OFFLINE   Tim Glover

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Posted August 31 2004 - 05:21 PM

We finally got to watch the dvd earlier today. Thought it looked and sounded great. Charming movie too. I want to marry Anne Hathaway.:b

#18 of 23 OFFLINE   Sam Davatchi

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Posted August 31 2004 - 06:50 PM

She looks exactly how a Disney animation character would look like! She already looks like a fairy tale character.

#19 of 23 OFFLINE   Rick Guynn

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Posted September 01 2004 - 02:53 AM

I'm going with Michael on this one. I was so glad when the end came, that I actually fast-forwarded through the last musical number. The only reason I didn't just turn it off at that point was that I wanted to see if Anne Hathaway was lip-synching or actually singing 'Somebody to Love'. I was really impressed that it turned out to be her. I rented this because I like to find movies my wife will watch with me (she's not a big film buff). And she had the same opinion of the film that I did. Ironically, she had gone to see Princess Diaries 2 just last week with some friends, and really liked that one. Oh, and I love The Princess Bride. Also, I think Anne Hathaway is very talented and I hope to see her in more films in the future. RG

#20 of 23 OFFLINE   LorenzoL


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Posted September 02 2004 - 12:44 AM

All of the B&M stores I have been have the Fullscreen versions of this movie. So does the video stores. I need to do a search the find the OAR version Posted Image

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