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.
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).
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.
[*]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 . 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.
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.