US Theatrical Release: September 23, 2005 (Sony Pictures/ TriStar)
US DVD Release: January 24, 2006
Running Time: 2:10:15 (28 chapter stops)
Rating: PG-13 (For Disturbing Images)
Video: 2.35:1 Anamorphic (Extra Features: 1.33:1 non-anamorphic)
Audio: English DD5.1, French DD5.1 (Extra Features: English DD2.0)
Subtitles: English, French (Extra Features: None)
TV-Generated Closed Captions: English (Extra Features: None)
Menus: Some intro and background animation.
Packaging: Standard keepcase; insert has cover art for other literary-minded Sony Pictures titles on the both sides.
THE WAY I FEEL ABOUT IT: 3.5/5
After decades of directing intense and thrilling films, Roman Polanski found himself wanting to head in a different direction. He realized that there was nothing in his large body of work that could be enjoyed by his young children, and wanted to make a film for them. Working with writer Ronald Harwood, he decided to make his own version of the classic tale of Oliver Twist.
Oliver Twist (Barney Clark) is a young boy who has graduated from a parish farm for orphans to a children's work house, where he is to learn a trade. Once there, however, he gets himself into trouble (immortalized in the simple request "please, sir; I want some more"), and is sent to apprentice for a coffin maker (Michael Heath). Life with the coffin maker, his monstrous wife, and his cruel servants proves to be intolerable, and Oliver eventually runs away, heading to London to seek his fortune.
After 70 miles on foot, Oliver finds himself alone and penniless on the street, his shoes worn completely away. He doesn't have anyone to turn to. Fortunately (or not, depending on how you look at it), he is befriended by an older boy, known as the Artful Dodger (Harry Eden). The Dodger belongs to a gang of street urchins who specialize in pickpocketing, and he takes Oliver home to join the crew.
The gang is run by a thoroughly creepy old troll named Fagin (Ben Kingsley). Although he is a rotten criminal who uses children for nefarious activities, he is practically the first adult to ever show kindness to Oliver. He becomes something of a father figure to him, as he is for all of the orphans in his care. Soon, Oliver learns the tricks of the trade and hits the street with two other boys to ply his new trade.
At the last moment, Oliver loses his nerve and is captured by the police, while the others escape with a man's handkerchief. However, in a stroke of luck, the man turns out to be kindly (and rich) old Mr. Brownlow (Edward Hardwicke), who takes pity on the poor boy and brings him home. Brownlow decides to dress Oliver up in fancy clothes and teach him to read and write like a little gentleman.
Here luck strikes again, but of the unfortunate sort, as the gang, at times under the bullying domination of the brutal Bill Sykes (Jamie Foreman), discovers Oliver's whereabouts and schemes to get him back. This leads to a series of adventures, as Oliver is caught up in the schemes of the adults around him. It's all he can do to simply survive.
And this is the weak point of the story. Perhaps it works better as a novel, but Oliver Twist violates one of the main rules of cinematic storytelling -- the protagonist is extremely passive. He has no power to control events, and spends most of his time being told what to do and where to go -- he has very little to do or say of his own accord. He does not drive the plot, but is driven by it. At the end of the film, we don't really feel as though we've gotten to know him.
Despite the inherent flaws in the story, Oliver Twist is very nicely put together. The sets and costumes show spectacular attention to detail, transporting the viewer to mid-19th-Century England. The colorful characterizations, especially Kingsley's Fagin, give the film the feel of a gritty fable. The child actors, nearly all unknowns (at least for now), hold their own with the top-notch adult cast. Rachel Portman's wonderful, whimsical score keeps a handle on the mood, keeping things relatively light-hearted at times when they might have gotten overly grim.
While the film does have its intense moments, its PG-13 rating is a bit of a stretch. Ironic, as well, since the film was specifically made for Polanski's children, who are quite young themselves. There is some violence, including scenes of cruelty to animals, but none of it is graphic. Of course, there is no sexual content, and the language is quite mild. Literate children under the age of 13 should have no problem with this film, although some scenes may bother the very young, for whom the film is probably a bit too long anyway.
THE WAY I SEE IT: 3.5/5
The image is generally good and film-like, but has its issues. It is just a little bit soft, with varying levels of detail from scene to scene. Close inspection reveals some digital artifacting, and there is occasional edge enhancement and fringing. There's not a great deal of EE, though. The browns and greys convey the 19th-Century underclass setting very well, with solid blacks and flesh tones that match the varying color palettes of different scenes.
THE WAY I HEAR IT: 4/5
The soundtrack is great, with a nice mix of dialogue, effects and music. The surround channels are present but not overdone, used mainly for the music mix. There isn't much LFE, but it's there when it needs to be.
THE SWAG: 2/5 (rating combines quality and quantity)
Twist By Polanski (28:35)
A solid making-of that includes plenty of behind-the-scenes footage and interesting comments from the cast and crew. It's heavy on production footage and light on film clips. There's some good material about how Polanski came to make this film and what he brought to the table from his own personal experiences.
The Best Of Twist (17:47)
More behind-the-scenes material, focusing mainly on the technical aspects of the production -- the production design, cinematography, editing, music, etc. There's a lot of really neat footage of the sets, including design drawings and models.
Kidding With Oliver Twist (5:41)
This featurette combines behind-the-scenes footage with young star Barney Clark reading selected entries from the journal he kept during the production.
Five trailers are included. The trailers for Fun With Dick And Jane and The Pink Panther play automatically when the disc is inserted. They may be skipped.
- Fun With Dick And Jane (2005) (1:23) (DD2.0; 1.85:1 anamorphic)
- The Pink Panther (2006) (1:38) (DD2.0; 1.85:1 anamorphic)
- The DaVinci Code (2:06) (DD2.0; 1.85:1 anamorphic)
- Open Season (1:33) (DD2.0; 1.85:1 anamorphic)
- The Baxter (2:28) (DD2.0; 1.85:1 non-anamorphic)
The Way I Feel About It: 3.5/5
The Way I See It: 3.5/5
The Way I Hear It: 4/5
The Swag: 2/5
Roman Polanski's take on Oliver Twist is a very well done version of a classic story that isn't necessarily the best source material for a film. Still, it makes for a solid family entertainment and a decent way to introduce kids to a piece of classic literature. The picture and sound are quite nice, and the extra features, which run just under an hour, are very interesting. All in all, this release is worth a look.